Today was a great day. I spent the day doing something I love with the woman that I love.
My wife and I spent the day hiking around some of my favorite places. We took a lot of photographs. Our dog Brynn also came along for the adventure.
We enjoyed time at some of the best state parks you will ever find. We we hiked around and photographed starting at Taughannock Falls State Park, then we went over to Buttermilk Falls and started at the upper region of the park and hiked our way down the gorge a bit. We finished off our fun day by driving up to the upper gorge region of Robert H. Treman State Park and hiked down to Lucifer Falls and then back up to the top and our car.
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I have now run 7 half marathons but this last one I ran might just be the one that means the most to me. I ran my first 5k around 6 years ago and my foray into running dates to before that time. I never really thought I would have a chance to experience what I did in this last race and it was truly special to me.
When I started running my wife had no interest. As I began to run more and more she supported me but didn’t understand why I did what I did especially as I began to actually enjoy running and testing myself. Then a couple years ago my wife decided she wanted to run a 5k and then an 8k and she did both of those things. She never expressed any interest in running any event farther than that distance. She would scoff at the idea of running a half marathon. She loved watching me run and push myself at races but she said it was not for her.
Then at the 2018 Wineglass Half Marathon a friend of hers had decided she was going to run it. We were there to cheer on the runners as we had the past year. My wife was able to cheer on her friend and see her as she closed in on accomplishing her goal. My wife was so inspired by her friend that shortly after that day she decided she also wanted to run the Wineglass Half Marathon and that she would run it in 2019.
Once she had gotten the idea firmly in her mind that she wanted to do it she committed and registered for the race early on. The first step was done.
My wife would be the one to tell you she is not really a runner. She doesn’t really run and go on and on and equivocate about not being a real runner because she run walks and mostly walks and isn’t very fast. I have always tried to instill in her that if you do any amount of running at any pace and go any distance, YOU ARE A RUNNER.
I think that the “I am not a real runner” mindset is hard to break. I also think that this mindset makes other things even more challenging than they have to be.
When you first get the notion of running a race into your head, the idea of running the race seems fun and that is what you focus on. The hard part is committing to the training. This is especially hard early on in the process. It is even more challenging when you set an ambitious goal, but that goal is far way on the calendar. I think this is where my wife struggled. She wanted to do more running than she had at her previous races and fully recognized that she would need to train more in order to do that and to do it at a much longer distance than she had experienced, but there was just so much time between the present and that future race day that it was always easy to delay starting the training process.
Then when we finally did get the training process started there were all too frequent setbacks due to various injuries that would cause training to cease and then it was really a struggle to get back into training each time. So the process of training was really challenging.
As race day drew near we were able to finally find some consistency in my wife’s training. She was able to log miles using her run/walk strategy. We took a vacation and logged miles hiking and exploring, but then there was another injury. It was getting very frustrating for her with all the setbacks especially when she was finally finding her groove in training.
Then I was in the process of getting the in the final push for training for my 100 miler and trying to figure out how best to help her train. We decided on a strategy of focusing on her getting used to as much distance as she could. That meant mostly walking, but miles are miles. I would go out for my long runs on my training and my wife would go with me. I would run a mile then circle back to her and check in with her and we would go until I got as many miles as I needed and she would rack up miles all the while checking in with each other after each mile. This strategy worked out even better than I had hoped and it was so nice to be out there working towards our goals together.
In the last several weeks leading up to the race we tried to focus on race strategy and pace for her to execute at the race. My wife really wanted to be done in 3.5 hours. She felt that it was an attainable goal given how her training had went. So we had to devise a plan to get her there. We set out on various training runs trying out different walk run strategies and seeing how they felt. And then came more leg pains and setbacks to training. So much frustration in the training.
Finally we were able to settle on a plan of run for 30 seconds and walk for 1 minute that she tried out and felt pretty good. It allowed her to move at a pretty decent pace and run normally during the 30 seconds and then have time to recover before another burst of running and didn’t cause too much fatigue. It seemed like a plan that could be executed over 13.1 miles. Critically it also should get her in under her goal according to our estimates.
Then a week before the race I got sick, but I recovered in a few days. Then my wife got sick. Never a good sign. Colds have a tendency to kick her but. In a few days she was down and out. Leaving work early one day and then calling in sick the next. Not something my wife takes lightly she is kind of a workaholic in that way. So two days before her first half marathon my wife was so sick she missed work. Not ideal, obviously. We were both nervous. How would this impact her ability to run the race? Would she even be able to run the race? If she could go to the race would she be able to run at all or would it just be a long walk. Luckily by race day my wife was feeling much better and we took cold medicine to the race for her to use.
Emotionally at least, the days leading up to the race went smoothly and my wife, at least outwardly, seemed relatively relaxed despite what was approaching for her. She said she was nervous but really handled it well.
On race day we boarded the bus and got to the start line uneventfully, exactly what you want on race day, especially for ones first half marathon. We were there plenty early to stretch and get prepared. We talked about how to start the race. It would be very exciting and it would be fun to just run as much as possible at the beginning. But we discussed the importance of sticking to our plan. It will be hard to let people go by us as we execute our run/walk plan but it will benefit us in the end. We made a plan and now we need to execute it.
The race started and we crossed the start line. My wife was now running her first half marathon. Something I never thought would happen and something I bet she really never thought would happen. We executed our plan. We ran and we walked. Occasionally running or walking more or less as seemed appropriate. It was amazing. My wife was doing so well. Despite all the setbacks. The injuries, the nagging leg pains. The cold the week of the race. She was conquering it all. She was doing this. Not only was she doing it she was doing it well. She was executing the race plan exactly the way we had discussed. I checked in with her frequently to see how she felt and she felt good almost the entire race. No pain. Not much effects from the cold. We had packed my race vest full of tissues just in case, but we only ended up using a small handful of tissues over the course of the race.
I could not have been more happy for my wife at how this race was going for her. I knew she was nervous about it especially after getting sick. I know she had doubts about whether or not she could do it and do it the way she wanted to with a run/walk strategy. I always tried to reassure her. But I would be lying if I said I expected it to go as well for her as it did.
We went along at our intended pace and before you knew it 5k done. I told my wife think about this. You had so many setbacks this year, but you just ran a 5k and you feel fine. You feel better than you had on any of your other 5k races. You felt better than you did on your training runs. I tried to build her confidence by pointing out how well she was doing. It was just so great to see her out here feeling so well.
Then the next milestone hit before you knew it. We were approaching the 8k distance. I think that made us both a little nervous because we both knew what that meant. We were about you cross not uncharted territory. My wife had been able to walk longer distances, but she had never gone farther than an 8k at the pace we were going using this run/walk strategy. Still she felt strong. She was happy and in good spirits. We entered uncharted territory and continued to sail through it without so much of a hiccup.
It is kind of amazing to me to see someone running their first half marathon who is in as good of spirits as my wife was. She was happy and friendly. We talked a lot. She talked to everyone on the course she could. She thanked every single volunteer we crossed paths with.
Through mile ten she had barely a complaint. She felt fine. She was in good spirits. Our strategy was working. She was overcoming all the obstacles thst had been put in her path. After mile ten my wife started to waver. Her energy was starting to ebb. It was noticeable that she was slowing down. Then at just the right moment one of our friends who was volunteering at a water station. After we ran by, he road out onto the course to provide some levity and entertainment to lift us up and it really helped get us smiling though a tough stretch.
As we neared the end of the race my wife seemed to be in awe of what was happening. She was actually accomplishing this huge goal she never even thought she’d ever take on. In the last few miles she said multiple times “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” I told her “It is amazing when you start to find out just what you are capable of.” My wife was getting tired but she still felt pretty good despite everything. She could start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As we got close to the end it really began to hit my wife. She was going to finish this race. She said, “I can’t believe I am actually going to finish.” She began t get emotional and tears began to well up in her eyes. She began to cry. I don’t know if she ever really truly believed that she would be able to do this. She wanted to and dreamed about it and hoped to be able to do it, but I don’t know if she ever believed she could. Now she was proving to herself that she could do it and she was doing it and she was going to finish. Seeing my wife so happy and so close to accomplishing her goal and her tears of joy and emotions overflowing almost ha me crying. I had to keep my emotions in check so she could focus on what she needed to do, but I was just so overwhelmingly happy for her.
We turned onto Market Street. We continued to execute our plan. We ran the section of Market Street that we had planned to run through to the finish line and we ran through the cheering crowd and crossed that finish line together. It was an amazing feeling. I hugged my wife. Meb would have to wait.
This was the most amazing experience for me. As much as it was for my wife. This is the kind of experience I have dreamed about having. I think anyone who runs has had these thoughts. Thoughts of how great it would be to be able to go out and run with your spouse or significant other. To be able to share in this thing you love. To go out and move your bodies and enjoy what running has to offer together. For a long time I never thought this would be something I would experience. As I dove deeper into running my wife seemed to become more resolute that she was not going to be a runner. Then she began to get interested in running. We have now run around six events together including this half marathon. Being able to share this with my wife is so special to me.
Experiencing this race with her. Seeing her run her first half marathon up close and personal. See her enjoy running. Watching her smile and and talk to people and thank every volunteer. To see her joy in running this race. It makes me so happy. It is a memory I will never forget.
My wife will probably continue to say she is not a runner despite my admonishments. We don’t run the same pace. But we can still get out and have fun running together. We make time to do some running with each other and it makes all the difference in the world to me. I think she thinks it is a sacrifice or me to slow down and run with her, but for me it is the biggest joy I can get. I get to be out here doing something I love with the woman I love. There could not be a bigger gift that she could give to me. She will tell you she is slow and that she doesn’t really run, but I can see a day in the future when I am asking her to slow down and run a race with me.
My wife talked about how much fun she had running the Wineglass Half Marathon and how it was better than she expected. She is already talking about running it again next year. If she could do it this year despite all the setbacks, how much better could she do next year if things went smoother for her?
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Last year after running my first two 50k ultra marathons I decided to take the next “logical” step and test myself out at the 50 mile distance. Perhaps many people would not see any of this as logical but it made sense to me. I wanted to find a race that suited my preferences. My first two 50k races were very different from each other. One being very flat and one being much more rugged with a lot of climbing. I did not feel like either of those things suited me well for a 50 mile adventure. I really needed something in between, not flat but not too much climbing either, I needed to find something in my Goldilocks zone. I also didn’t really want to travel too far. I didn’t want to have to worry about any extra logistics other than the running of the race. So that obviously limited my options as well. But as it happens just the right race takes place not too far from where I live and even better I had some experience at this race. The Finger Lakes Running Club puts on the Finger Lakes 50’s race each year. This event is comprised of races of 25k, 50k, and 50 miles. I had already run the 25k in 2017 as my first ever 25k, so I was familiar with it. The biggest downside to this event is that it is held on the first weekend of July, and I do not generally do well running in the heat. In my first experience at this event I guess I was fortunate that it rained the whole time so that I did not have to deal with the heat.
Finger Lakes 50’s is a loop course event. Each loop is approximately 25k. So for the 50 miles I would run 3 loops, plus a half mile baby loop to round out the 50 miles. I was a little concerned about the course being loops because of the temptation to drop at the start finish line after the conclusion of each loop especially if I was struggling. I tried to reframe this as loops being a positive aspect of the race. I convinced myself that it would be good to get more familiar with the layout of the course as things went on and know what the course conditions were like out on the course. FYI course conditions can change mid race.
I was able to “convince” one of my best friends to go on this journey with me. And by convince I mean I casually mentioned that I was going to do it and then she was “convinced” to do it as well. We both have run the same two 50ks together and shared many miles of running and training and adventure. We are similar runners, so our plan was to run this thing together and share the miles, the adventure, and the suffering.
We spent the first half of the year trying to pretend that at some point we were going to be running 50 miles. We focused on all the other races we had planned. Once we both completed our 50k in June Finger Lakes 50’s loomed large. In mid April I had developed a some sort of injury to my hip/groin area that had not recovered by Worlds End 50k in June and really hampered me there. I already had tried just cutting back on training some prior to Worlds End. So, post 50k the only realistic option for me was to try and get some type of treatment for my issue and rest as much as I could and hope it would recover or I would never make it through a 50 mile race.
I went and saw a primary care doctor for the first time in about 20 years. I started a prescribed medication other than antibiotics for the first time. I began massage therapy treatment with Soul Ease. I also received chiropractic treatment from Market Street Chiropractic. Orthopedic doctor’s opinion was that it was likely hip bursitis.
The hardest part about trying to recover is that I was really cutting back my running, especially my long runs because that is what aggravated the injury the most. So since the goal was to rest it and not aggravate it I was not testing it either so I had no idea how it was going to respond on longer runs. Just over two weeks prior to the race I decided I needed to try to get a little feedback regarding my injury and test it out. I went for a long run on the Interloken Trail, a side branch of the Finger Lakes Trail and also a location of some of the trails I would have to run during the 50 mile loop race. I ran my planned 13 miles and I was pretty happy with it. I had no major issues. So for the next 2 weeks I did minimal running including zero running for the 5 days leading into the race. I wanted to maximize my chances of being healthy. I figured my best chance at completing this race was to be as healthy as possible. I could grind out the miles on tired sore legs if I at least had my health. After all my very first 50k trail adventure was a solo adventure on the Finger Lakes Trail with very little planning and no training and my longest run prior to that was a 25k, what could go wrong? That is was I kept telling myself at least.
So with less than ideal training and while recovering from an injury I embarked on a 50 mile race. Good idea? Only time would tell.
Race day arrived and it was going to be a hot one. As start time neared the temperature was around 70 degrees. 70 degrees is the temperature around which I start to be unable to sustain my running. Most of the races I have done in this temperature range have not gone great for me. The high temperature for the day would end up being around 88 degrees. Far hotter than I would choose to run in.
The 6:30 AM start time arrive and we were off. Down the gravel road we went and shortly we took a right into the woods and onto the trails. Pretty early on in the first loop before the first aid station there is a long downhill section that is on a gravel road. On a shorter race or at least a race of a distance I was experienced with this is the type of section I would love and run hard down to pick up time. In my one and only other experience on this course I ran down this road hard and was passing people, but that was a 25k race. With close to 50 miles still to go that did not seem prudent on this go around. We talked about how we wanted to handle this section and just decided to run casual, not trying to run hard but not putting on the brakes either. We just let gravity do the work, gaining some speed on some steeper sections and then letting speed dissipate on lesser grades.
As we made our way around the loop the first time the heat and humidity intensified. We played it cautious trying not to burn out before we got to where we needed to really hit cut off times. Especially in open exposed areas and other areas that felt particularly hot we took it easy and even walked. We walked when we otherwise could have run in order to save strength for later on. We were trying to strategize to mitigate the effects of the heat. If we felt like we needed to go easier we did just that without hesitation.
One good thing about the heat the past several days and on race day was that the trails were remarkably dry when the race began. They weren’t totally dry, but much improved from when I had been out in the area on a training run. This made running when we wanted to a much easier thing to do and made walking at a decent pace much easier too. When I was out on the trails two weeks prior there was significant water on the trails during the first loop of the course there was almost no water and not even much of anything that could be called mud except in a few spots.
We complete lap 1 in 3 hours and 35 minutes. That left us around 4 hours to complete a second lap. We took stock, refreshed ourselves, ate and drank, and then headed back out into the heat for lap number 2. At this point I was pretty confident we would get our first two laps done within the cutoff of 7 hours and 45 minutes. As lap two wore on the heat and humidity did not relent. I was having difficulty eating much of anything solid. At aid stations I ate watermelon and drank whatever non water fluids they had for calories, and I was able to eat some of the salt potatoes I had with me, but I wasn’t able to eat any of the other food I had been relying on for fuel that I carried and none of the other food at the aid stations were appealing. As the heat continued to wear me down I exchanged my hat for a buff that I could put ice in. Then at a later aide stations I added another buff so I could carry even more ice. Eventually, shortly before the half way point on loop 2, I gave up everything extra I was carrying just to try and keep from overheating. I gave up my food and I even gave up my camera gear which is saying allot for me considering I am a photographer who documents everything and that was the plan for this race.
Shortly after the half way point of the second loop I really started to feel the effects of the heat. As we ran, my hands started to go numb and I began to feel a little light headed and dizzy. I said I needed to stop running and walk for a bit. We walked and I recovered enough to run after a while. Unfortunately the same symptoms returned and we continued this walk run approach. My friend was not going to just leave me there in the woods even though I encouraged her to do so. We arrived at the first aide station after the half way point and I tried to regroup. I added as much ice as I could. I put ice in both of my buffs and in my shirt and in my shorts to try to cool down. The effect of the cold from the ice on the extreme heat of my body made me a bit dizzy and took me a moment to recover from. I used more ice at this race than I had ever used before at a race and more than I had thought I would. It was a necessity. It was the only thing allowing me to keep going. Unfortunately the ice did not last very long once you started running again. It lasted only mere minutes in the heat. After getting more fluids and fuel I needed more time to recover. I told my friend to go without me. I know she didn’t want to leave me at that aid station, but I knew that she did not have time to spare to wait for me and could not afford to move as slow as I would likely be going once I started off on the trails again. She looked back, frowned, then she went on without me.
I regrouped and then headed back out on the trails myself. I was moving slowly on the trails. The heat and humidity were nearly unbearable for me. Then it happened. First a trickle and then the skies opened up and a deluge of rain burst from the skies. In a matter of minutes everything was soaked. I was getting what I desperately needed. The rain cooled me off significantly. Not only did it help me physically but it lifted me mentally as well. It rained so intensely that the trails quickly flooded. It was like running up a stream. the trail conditions quickly converted from nearly pristine and dry to possibly worse than the conditions in 2017. I ran. I don’t know how fast I ran but I ran as fast as I could. I felt better and stronger than I had since the beginning of the race. I surged forward knowing that I had to beat the clock. I ran at a pace that took my breath away and eventually required me to walk and catch my breath. I repeated this run hard as you can then rest approach trying to surge through the storm. I was running so much better at this point that I actually passed a few people which would have been unthinkable even a few minutes ago. The change in weather and course conditions were so uplifting and provided such a sure of adrenaline with the chance to chase the clock that I completely forgot about the pain in my hip that had begun to bother me again. I kept looking at my watch thinking that I might actually be able to complete the loop in time to move on for a third loop. Could I actually do it?
The whole race my wife had been at each aide station to cheer us on. My friends husband joined our crew stating on the 2nd loop. When I emerged through the woods in the torrential downpour and arrived at the final aid station my wife was there in the pouring rain cheering for me as she had been all day. My friends husband had gone ahead to continue crewing for her up ahead of me as she continued to race the clock as well. As I arrived at this last aid station there was a new face there. Another of my friends had arrived to cheer me on and crew for us in this crazy storm. Seeing another familiar friendly face at the aid station helped to lift me up. They asked me what I needed. I just took a cup of coke. I told my wife I thought I still had time to make the cut off. It was then that she had to do the most difficult thing and break the news to me that I wasn’t going to make it. I had two miles to go, JUST TWO MORE MILES to complete the second loop. But I only had 9 minutes to get there. On my best days on completely fresh legs I couldn’t get that done. There was no way I could make it. My day was going to come to an end without even starting a third loop. As I write this I am fighting back emotions and tears are welling up in my eyes. This was not the outcome I was hoping for.
Despite the news that I could not possibly make the cut off I was determined to push through as hard as I could to what would be not the start of my third loop but my finish line. I somehow summoned the strength to overtake a few other runners on the road with me. I continued to run down the road, towards the end of the loop. I knew that the news of my imminent finish was demoralizing because as I headed down the road the pain in my hip that hope had vanquished returned more painful than I had felt it the entire day. I tried to push through it. I ran as hard as I could for as long as I could, but what was the point. I wasn’t going to make it in time. I walked and relieved the pain. Then when I could I resumed running again. This section of gravel road felt longer than any other stretch on the course even on the first go around, it felt interminable on this final approach before ducking back into the wood rounding the pond and emerging at my finish.
I don’t know if I would have been able to make the final cut off at the 10 and a half hour mark, but I wish more than anything that I had had the chance to find out. If you finish the second loop but do not finish in time to start a third loop they credit you with a 50k finish which is nice, but that is not what I was here for on this day. I was here to push myself to new limits. I was here to run more miles than I had ever run before. I wanted to get out there and try for that third loop more than anything. I would have rather start the third loop and not finish but run more miles than ever before then to finish my 4th 50k. I was here to test my limits and in some ways I did test my limits just not in the way I had hoped for. Apparently when I rolled into the last aid station I was not doing as well as I thought I was. My crew at that aid station told me after the race that I was a bit unsteady and wobbly during my time at the aid station and also appeared to be wobbly after I left the aid station and started running again as well. I did not get the result I had hoped for but I got an experience like nothing I had experienced before. Pushing through pain again, fighting off heat exhaustion, having a resurgence in the rain, and running with fun and joy when previously it had dissipated.
There is nothing better than taking on a new challenge like this race and having my wife and friends there to cheer me on. Running through most of my race with one of my best friends was the only way to take on this new challenge. I am so grateful that she went along on this crazy ride with me. I am even happier that she did make the cut off to start a third loop and then the final cut off to be able to finish that third loop. And I am overjoyed for her that she finish that race and that I got to cheer her on for that third loop and see her finish. That made the day a good day. Seeing my friend overcome the adversities I could not and succeed at this race that stopped me in my tracks was what I needed after not being able to finish. Having our other close friends there at the end was also a blessing. They were there to console me and cheer and celebrate her accomplishments. I am fortunate to be a member of this group.
It is really easy to second guess myself about this race and how we approached it. Should we have run harder on the first loop especially in places we took it easy? Should we have moved through aid stations faster? Should I have started taking on ice sooner? Should I have worn the arm sleeves and filled them with ice as I had planned to? Should I have not carried as much as I did for the first loop plus? What could I have done differently to produce a better outcome for myself? These are all pointless questions because there is no way to know how a change in any one thing would have effected everything else that occurred that day.
Looking on the bright side I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I can maintain enough fitness to run a 50k without a whole lot of training between races. I learned that my hip while not completely healed is actually getting better. I was able to run much farther in this race before experiencing significant pain than in my last race. I learned that if I ever run another long summer race I need to have a real strategy for dealing with the heat. I learned that I can run a 50k without having to change my shoes and have no major issues as a result. I learned that I still have not found socks that my toes will not poke a hole in. I continue to learn that I have a lot more to learn.
One of my goals with this race aside from finishing the 50 miles was to capture as much of it as possible on camera. I carried 4 devices for this purpose: my cell phone, a chest mounted GoPro, a hand carried GoPro, and a small mirror less Nikon camera in my pack. I was not taking many photos in the beginning because I wanted to save it for later when I was tired and needed to take my mind off things especially on the third loop. Then I realized what if there is no third lap. When I evenutally realized I had not been taking many photos and that I would be giving up all my camera gear at the next aid station I just turned on my chest mounted GoPRo to capture as much as I could of the race until the memory card fillled up.
I utilized my chest mounted GoPro the most because it was the easiest to use in the circumstances. I used my hand held go pro a few times. I took a few shots with my cell phone in just one spot. I never even took my Nikon out of my pack. The lack of photo taking was due to the heat and humidity requiring all my energy to just remain focused on the race. There really wasn’t much time where I felt comfortable enough to either stop and take photos or to just make the extra efforts to use cameras. Plus as I ended up losing to the clock there really wasn’t time for it anyway. An even more disappointing factor is that after not finishing the 50 miles I got home and uploaded my photos to the computer and for a variety of reasons, many of which are beyond my control a lot of the photos did not turn out well. So that was extra demoralizing.
The day after the race I needed to do some recovery. I tried to recover with Avital’s Apiaries products I was given to test out. I soaked my sore and tired legs in a hot bath with Avital’s Apiaries Recover Bee bath fizzies. I used their Recover Bee soap. Then once I was done tired soaking my legs I gave them a rub down with Avital’s Apiaries Recover Bee massage oil. After that my legs did feel a little better.
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It is always nice to be able to check one of your running goals of the list for the year. I was able to check off one of my running goals for 2019 at my first race of the year. So that is obviously a great way to start of the racing season. I ran the 2019 Skunk Cabbage Classic hosted by the Finger Lakes Running Club . My goal was to improve on my half marathon PR that I set at this raced last year. The race went well for me and I was able to knock 5 minutes of my previous PR and that could be the end of the story but it’s not.
Achieving a new PR at this race while something I wanted to accomplish this year it was not on the top of my list as I wrote about my running goals earlier this year. What lead to my success at this goal was the focus I placed on other goals this year; Enjoy running more, Run with my friends, and Enjoy the process. This year while I have been training and have a training plan I have not been a slave to my training plan. I have been flexible and done what I can when I can that fits in with other things I want to do even if it means doing different workouts or different distances. I have been fortunate enough to be able to run more frequently with my friends this year than last year during my training. A big help in achieving that came when I was able to change my work schedule. But prioritizing running with my friends once again meant being flexible and doing what makes it work so that we can run together so I can enjoy running more and share more miles with my friends.
Race day was a great day. The race takes place right around my birthday and what better way to celebrate ones birthday than with a race. The weather was nice perhaps too nice, but better than the previous year’s winter wonderland. My wife, who is amazingly supportive of all my running shenanigans was there to support me and cheer me on. The plan for the race was for me to run the entire race with my friend while I achieved a PR. I was looking forward to sharing miles together because we have never actually run a race together before. She’s a roadie and I’m a trail junky so our preferences and skill sets do not often align. 3 miles in she knew it wasn’t going to be a good day for her at this race. She knew that I had a goal to PR at this race and she told me to go ahead and leave her and run the pace I wanted to because she knew it wasn’t going to work out the way I had planned. I am thankful that she did that because if she hadn’t I would have stayed with her and I wouldn’t have had the race I ended up having. I would have enjoyed running with her but I would not have been able to see what I was capable of. I am thankful that she was willing to run on alone knowing full well that the day for her was going to entail some suffering and I would have stayed with her and she could have had company and support to help make the race more enjoyable for her but she wasn’t going to ask me to give up my goal to stay with her.
Through three miles I knew I was still relatively close to what my goal pace of 8:40 minutes/miles would need to be in order to achieve the PR that I was after, and you can see that looking back at my mile split times. I figured I would just need to speed up just a little bit in order to achieve a new PR. I made a conscious effort to pick up my pace a little bit. I was running at what left like a good relatively comfortable pace. I was working a little but I wasn’t exerting myself too hard. When I look back at what my pace ended up being it seems hard to even think that because I never expected to run this pace. I run with a Garmin Forerunner 230 watch to track my runs. Prior to the race I set up pace alerts on my watch to notify me when I was going too fast or too slow. The too slow pace alert was set with the purpose of making sure I stayed close enough to my goal pace to achieve a PR and I had set that at an 8:50 pace. The too fast alert was set to make sure I did not run too hard and burn myself out so that I would crash later on in the race resulting in a different way of not achieving my goal. This is a relatively hilly course with approximately 600 ft. of elevation gain over the course of the half marathon distance. I fully expected that there would be times when my too slow alert would be chiming me. I expected that most of those alerts would be chiming off on some of the steeper or longer sections of climbing the uphills. I also fully expected that there would be times when I would have the too fast alert chiming at me. What I expected was to have the too fast alert chiming at me during the steeper downhill sections after completing the climb up a hill. And those two occurrences did come to pass.
What I did not expect to happen is to have my too fast time alert chime at me pretty consistently for probably 9 miles of the race. As my watch began to beep and buzz pretty regularly alerting me that I was going too fast I really wasn’t sure what to make of it. I am not an experienced runner at trying to run races with a goal time and pace in mind. This is only the second time I have gone into a race with the specific goal of setting a PR at a specific time goal. So as my watch continued to alert me I began to think more and more about my run. Once I got to the half-way point I really wasn’t sure what to do. Each time my watch sounded an alert that I was going to fast I began to actively think maybe I should slow down. I thought about my experiences and how I have felt training. I thought about how my body felt. I knew from my training that I was capable of running as fast or faster than I was currently running, but that was for shorter distances. I knew from my training that I was capable of running more miles than was required for this race, but that was typically at a slower pace. I was pretty confident that I could run my goal pace for the entire race and PR just as planned. What I did not know is if I could keep this pace up for the rest of the race and finish without blowing up and destroying my shot at a PR.
I listened to my body. I felt pretty good. I did not feel like I was working too hard. I did not feel like I was getting tired to the point I would need to slow down. I listened to my heart and I listened to my soul. I run because I want to find out what I am capable of. I run because I like the feeling of challenging myself and succeeding. I like to push myself to do new things. I was feeling good and I was running better than I ever expected to. My heart and soul was telling me not to waste that. There are many days when a run feels bad and you have to grind. Enjoy the day when everything is clicking. Let your body ride this wave as long as you can. See what you are truly capable of on this day. I could slow down and try to ensure a PR, but who knows what effect that would actually have. But if I slowed down and was cautious I would never know what I could do I pushed myself on this day. Would I PR? Probably. Would I be happy with a PR? Sure. Would I be satisfied? Would I feel like I did my best? No. I would always know I left something on the table that day. I decided I would continue at the faster than anticipated pace and listen to my body and if my body told m,e I actually needed to slow down not as a precaution but because my body just couldn’t go that pace anymore then and only then would I slow down. If this lead to me not getting that PR it would be a disappointment but at least I would know that I left it all out on the course.
Around mile 8 my right hip got a little tight. This made me a little nervous. I reconsidered slowing down. Was the tightness in my hip a sign that I was pushing too hard and I should slow down? After just feeling the sensation in my hip out a little to get a better sense of it while I was running it seemed like even though I could feel tightness it wasn’t necessarily pain, it was more like a slight discomfort. More importantly the tightness did not seem to be affecting my running. My gait seemed to remain essentially the same gait I normally have, which by any standard is not pretty but gets the job done. I decided I would proceed as before. Continue running the pace I was running comfortably until it became necessary to slow down. If the discomfort in my hip progressed to something more like pain then I would slow down. Fortunately that did not happen and I was able to run without any increasing pain the rest of the race. That was such a relief.
It’s funny how you can be essentially be running the race of your life and then still find yet another goal to strive for in the midst of it. When I got to within a couple miles of the finish I looked at my watch and I thought maybe I would have a chance if I pushed myself a little faster I would be able to run this half marathon in under 1 hour and 50 minutes a time that previously I had not thought possible for this race. It is hard for me to reconcile how my training, the race day, and my body all coincided to let me have this great day of running where I could be running at a pace I really did not expect to be running and then still have enough left in the tank to try to surge for the last couple of miles to strive for an even faster time. I ran the fastest splits of the entire day on those last two miles, which to be fair are a bit of a downhill. I don’t know how that would have went if they weren’t. When I got within sight of the clock and could finally read the official time I saw it closing in on 1:50. I ran as hard as I could, but I was just short of going sub 1:50. I couldn’t quite get there in time. I finished with a time of 1:50:11.
It’s funny how you can have the best run of your life and then still be just a bit disappointed because you didn’t quite get this goal that you just made up on the fly mid run because you were having such a good race. I was super excited to have run a half marathon in the time I did. I was even more excited that I did so without any significant pain by the end. The first 3 half marathons I ever ran I remember the end of them feeling excruciating getting through the finish and then post-race. Training is really paying off in terms of result times I run and in how I feel during and after a race.
I said repeatedly after the race that I was happy with my time and I don’t think it is a time I will improve on any time soon since it was much faster than I had even planned to run for this race. I ran about 20 seconds faster per mile than I planned on running. I took 5 minutes off my previous PR. It wasn’t long before my mind started to shift and think differently about this though. I achieved this outcome for a half marathon while I have been in the midst of training for a succession of trail ultra marathons. The training has not necessarily been geared towards running my fastest half marathon specifically. My results are just the product of my improving level of fitness due to overall improved and consistent training. I like the half marathon distance on the roads so I like to run at least 1 each year even if it is not my main goal. So what would I be able to do if I actually trained specifically for a half marathon and trained specifically to improve on my new PR in the half marathon distance? Maybe this is something to think about for next year.
Another unusual aspect of this race for me was that I was completely focused on my time so I took zero photos. Something I almost never do. So all the videos and photos we taken by my wife.
I have been trying to volunteer at some of the races I photograph. Usually my volunteer duties keep me stationed at the race start line and then I can head out to photograph the race before it starts. For this edition of the Southern Tier Running Club Red Baron Half Marathon I volunteers to help with course set up. This entailed putting cones and signs along the entire 13.1 mile course. I really didn’t know how long this process would take, but I was pretty sure we would be back in time for me to get prepared to photograph the race. As we slowly drove the course and set up the necessary equipment it seemed to be taking a long time to me. As the time neared noon I began to have a significant increase in anxiety, fearing perhaps unrealistically that we would not get back in time for the start of the race. I think the biggest problem for me was that I was not in control of the situation. I couldn’t just leave (We were all riding in one car together doing course set up.) when I needed to and there was nothing I could do to speed things up. Also, I was 13 miles away from where my camera was.
We did arrive back to the staging area for the beginning of the race in plenty of time despite my anxiety. There was even enough time for me to help out getting some last minute stuff done there as well. Then I headed out to the start finish line to take a few photographs of the beginning of the race.
When I photograph a race I want to not only get great shots of the runners themselves but I want to get shots that have great backgrounds that show off the race course as well. Last year I was able to photograph the race from two separate locations, one near the beginning of the course on a more scenic location and one at the finish line in town. Due to changes in the race course layout (which were significant improvements over the past) the field of runners would be much more spread out than last year by the time they arrived at the location I was at last year. That would require me to stay there for a longer time to get photographs of all the runners, which is generally my goal, before moving down to a different location. I was afraid that with the speed of some of our great runners I would not be able to photograph all the runners near the beginning and get back to the finish line in time to capture the race winners.
I made a strategic decision to pick the one most scenic location I could that I felt embodied the race at which to take the vast majority of the race photographs. I think I made the right decision. I was able to capture a few photographs at the stat line of the race beginning. Then I drove down to about mile 10.5 and waited for the runners to arrive scouting the spot a little better and finding just the right place and angle to take photos from.
The location I chose is where on road turns onto another nice wide road right in front of where I was positioned. I would be able to see the runners approaching and turn the corner to move towards me. This to me is the most scenic spot on the course that in my opinion as one who has run it is pretty nice and scenic. There is a steep cliff that parallels the road the runners are turning on. There are a variety of deciduous and evergreen trees as well as other vegetation growing or attempting to grow up the vertical cliff. I love the combination of runners pounding the pavement combined with the natural beauty of the course with the rock cliffs and tress in the background. I really wanted to get as much of that cliff into the photographs as possible while still filling the majority of the frame with the runner themselves. To do this I decided to shot at a slightly upward looking angle for a lot of the shots. The photos that I took from that angle came out great. My clothing decisions for that idea did not mesh nearly as well. It cost me a pair of jeans. Check out my post on Instagram to see that outcome. So I did not shoot from that angle quite as much as I would have liked. But I am still very happy with how the vast majority of the photographs came out.
I was able to post the photographs to the runners the next day. People seemed to be looking at the photographs as soon as I posted them in the morning as a few orders were placed as well as receiving a few messages from people interested in the photos. Comments are always great from the running community. I receive great feedback from them and I always appreciate reading their words of support on social media.
If you have any questions or comments about my photographs from Red Baron or any other aspect of my race photograph please feel free to reach out and get in touch. Thank you.
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