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.
Once a year we all reach that date where we mark that we have been graced with yet another year on this earth. I am generally not a big celebrator of holidays or birthdays. I like low key things not big celebrations or doing something fancy. This year I had no real plans as to how I was going to spend my birthday. The only thing I knew was that the day after I was going to run a race with my friends. However, for the actual day of my birthday I really had nothing special planned. I basically just wanted to relax and enjoy the day with the simple parts of life.
I had thought that my wife and I could spend part of the day walking our dogs. So we took our foster pup, Comet for a walk. When we got back home however, he decided he was not going to be coming back in the house until he was good and ready. Eventually I was able to coax him back into the house with some sliced ham. He knows how to get what he wants. But the delay it took to get him back in the house made it harder to have time to walk the other dogs and do anything else in the day.
I had thought that I would like to go hike at one of my favorite state parks, Watkins Glen State Park, but when I visited the website it stated that the gorge trail was still closed due to snowy and icy conditions and that was what I really wanted to do. So I was not sure what I was going to do for the rest of my birthday. Luckily I have an amazing wife who knows me really well and knows that I love nature and I love buying plants to spruce up our yard to attract wildlife and other critters to our yard, so she suggested we head out to one of our favorite gardening places, Horning’s Greenhouse & Garden Centers. She also suggested that we could stop and get something to eat at another place I really enjoy Seneca Farms in Penn Yan. We toured around Horning’s checking out their already impressive for so early in the season selection of plants. When you love nature and you are also a photographer you do things like pick out plants specifically for their potential use in photography. I wanted plants that were already in bloom so that I had some photography subjects to work with on some potential photography projects I had been thinking about. I also picked out plants with blooms that looked particularly interesting to me. I picked out some that were new to me and some that were plants I was not familiar with. Then once we were done picking plants/photography subjects we went and ate.
I thought that since we were already up that way we could stop by a state park I enjoy that I thought would be a nice place for some photography. So we ventured on over to Seneca Lake State Park in Geneva, NY. This park is nice because it has a nice long path along the northern border of Seneca Lake perfect for a walk or a run. We strolled along the path and I watched the birds, hoping that some of them would get close enough for some decent photography. The birds did not cooperate. My wife petted dogs. We took some photographs of the scenery. I even modeled a little in some photos for my wife, not something I normally volunteer to do but it was just such a nice day I figured why not.
After we were done at Seneca Lake State Park I realized it was just a short drive further to one of the best birding spots in our area, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, where eagles and osprey nest and you can see many different species of migratory birds this time of year. This was an unusual visit for me because normally when I go to Montezuma I am driving, which means I am driving a car, looking for birds, and balancing camera equipment all at once. This time my wife was driving and I actually sat behind her on the driver side, because most of the viewing opportunities would be on the driver side not the passenger side. It was a really nice change. It was like having my own private guided tour through the refuge with a chauffeur. We saw lots of different birds, most of which were too far away for good photographs. The lighting was also pretty terrible for photographs, but it was still a very enjoyable time watching the birds and enjoying nature. We did get to see one eagle perched in a tree and then take off. Seeing eagles is pretty much the highlight for my on any bird watching trip, so I was happy.
My birthday was a very enjoyable and fun day and I owe it all to my wife who knew I was getting disappointed when I thought we wouldn’t be able to walk all our dogs like I had wanted and still have time to do something else and then found out the trails I wanted to hike were closed. She suggested making a trip I hadn’t thought of and she was willing to roll with all my other ideas for things to do. She is always supportive of my adventures and ideas even when it is not my birthday. I could not have thought of a better way to spend my birthday this year then out exploring and enjoying nature with her.
I have been pretty fortunate as an artist. I have been able to have an exhibit featuring my artwork each of the past four years. I had an exhibit featuring my photography of shelter dogs at the Chemung County SPCA hosted at the Chemung County Historical Society. I had a joint exhibit with my father showcasing our wildlife art hosted by the Community Arts Of Elmira. Last year I had an exhibit featuring my photography from my running adventures hosted by the Tioga Arts Council. Currently I have an exhibit that I recently installed at the Hinkle Library at Alfred State College. This exhibit showcases a variety of the subject matter I have photographed in the last several years. The exhibit will be on display through April 2019 and possibly longer.
I love creating photography, but having an actual exhibit does not come natural for me. From the contacting venues to the planning, to the setup it is all as challenge for me. One of the biggest challenges of having an exhibit is choosing what artwork to showcase. Past exhibits I have done have had some sort of theme so that helps to narrow down the selection process. But, for this exhibit I wanted to display a variety of my past works of all types so that left the gate wide open for possibilities. I had some images that I knew I wanted to display such as my shelter dog photography and two images that to me have become representative of my work, a peregrine falcon and an Eurasian eagle owl other than that I didn’t so much as choose the images as just let my natural tendencies dictate what work I put on display.
The space at the Hinkle Library is nice and big. It is able to accommodate quite a few of my images. I was very happy with the amount of space I had. There were also glass display cases and a table that I could use to display smaller pieces that are on stands and photography books. I was really happy with those options because that is not something that is often available at other venues where I have had exhibits. With the large space and the number and variety of photographs I was able to bring for display I was very happy that my father, a talented artist in his own right, join me to set up my exhibit. My father has a much better eye for layout and formatting than I do. He is great at making sure my images are hung in a way that they are easier to see and have good spacing as well as arrangement. During the set up process I spread out the photographs along the wall with a rough idea of how I think I would like to arrange them and then we look at it and think over the arrangement and he makes recommendations to me for adjustments. My dad is great at getting the fine tuning and details correct for the exhibit, those are not my strong suit. He sees things that I do not see including ways to display pieces that I didn’t even see.
The way I ended up setting up the exhibit essentially had feature walls. Each wall of the exhibit featured a different subject matter. One wall was all of my larger 20 x 30 inch shelter dog photography. The opposing wall features my small woodland creatures with a transition into nature photography that continues on the adjoining wall as it transitions into scenic views of nature. On the wall that is directly across from you as you enter is a series of avian photography. In the center is a table and two glass display cases. The table features several of my photography books I have created as well as photo album to flip through and a large framed set of three images standing on the table. The display cases each feature some of my small metal print photographs that have stands for displaying on a desk or table as well as a larger framed photograph in the bottom that can be hung on a wall.
I am very happy with the way this exhibit turned out. I really did not know what to expect or have a good vision for what I was going to do with the space. It really came together in the process with the help of my dad. The photograph featuring shelter photography has always been and continues to be in service of supporting the Chemung County SPCA. For any purchase of those dog photography I will continue to donate 50% of the cost directly to the Chemung County SPCA as I have always done. Please stop in and check out this exhibit in this very nice space if you can. You will have an opportunity to see some things you may not have seen a other exhibits I have had.
If you want to see more opportunities like this please support my work through my Patreon page: KRNaturalPhoto.
Training for my first 50 mile race continues. I have several races built in as more serious training runs essentially prior to my 50 mile race. I “planned” other races into my training before I reach my date with a 50 miler, but I will admit most of them were not particularly strategic. They are more that I just want to run that race.
I am a little under a month away from the first race of my race season. My first race is a road half marathon. It will probably be my only half marathon and possibly my only road race. This will be the third time I run this particular half marathon, Skunk Cabbage Half. I have enjoyed this race in the past and I ran a PR there last year and achieved my goal of my first sub 2 hr half marathon. This year I would like to PR again. PR’s at half marathons have really been my only time goals at races these days. To that end I have been trying to be much more consistent and attentive to doing speed work during my training plan. I had speed wok on my training plan last year but I would not say I took a very good approach to it. Most of my gains in speed have simply come due to consistent running not by any specific strategy.
So far during this year’s training I have seen significant improvements in my speed at the 10k distance. I never really thought of this distance as on I could show much improvement in as I did not feel I had the stamina to run hard that long. I have generally focused on running longer and farther not necessarily faster over the last several years. My runs have been long but relatively slow. Earlier in the year on a cold wintry day I found myself running hard for my entire run because I was simply freezing cold and running hard was the easiest way to stay warm and also get done faster and get home and get warmed up. On that run I ended up running a 10k PR. Then I started incorporating speed work into my training plan. I decided to use fartlek’s as my speed work because I am not well versed in speed work, as in I basically no nothing about speed work, and fartlek’s seemed easiest to understand and easiest to implement. I decided to run 1 minute fast 1 minute rest fartlek’s for 4 of my miles on either 6 or 7 mile runs with a warm up mile in the beginning and at least 1 mile cool down at the end. Since I started that routine I have achieved multiple PRs at the 10k distance. Also depending on which running app you subscribe to Garmin or Strava I either PR’d or ran my second fastest time at the 5k distance on my most recent speed work, with the difference in times between the two apps being only 1 second.
To be clear I am not a particularly fast runner. I am very much a middle of the pack runner if not back middle of the pack depending on the race. But it is very nice to see these added benefits of speed work really showing up in measurable visible ways on my training apps. It really helps me to stay motivated and keeps my drive up to stick with these hard speed workouts. I have never really done much speed work and these are definitely some of the hardest workouts I have ever done. It is really easy to stop doing something hard if you don’t feel like you are getting results. I am glad to be seeing these results or I would be very tempted to give up on the speed work.
I am looking forward to seeing how this new emphasis on speed work translates to my first race of my season at my only race with a time goal at this point. Hopefully it results in another half marathon PR.
Today I got in the run that I really needed. I love running and I really do enjoy it most of the time, but sometimes when I am training for a race the monotony just bums me out. This is especially the case here in upstate, NY during the winter when the weather can really limit the running options.
Today my training plan called for seven miles which is fine. That usually means that I will be running the seven mile loop I have worked out in my neighborhood and run countless times. Also, today it snowed all day long. So that means running the same old route, which most days I like, but is just boring upon continuous repetition on the snowy slushy roads trying to keep my footing and also being extra wary of cars driving in the snow. Not really the recipe for a fun and enjoyable run. I realize that every run won’t be fun and enjoyable, but I really felt like I needed on today.
I started to think about running somewhere on the trails. I thought it would be run to run through the fresh snow before it gets packed down and becomes too slick to really run on at all. It was the perfect amount of snowfall to run in just a few inches. It would add a little extra challenge but still be manageable. I started to think of places I could go where no one else would have gone yet and I thought Steege Hill Nature Preserve would be the perfect place.
I was a little nervous going into this run. I haven’t had much experience running on trails in the winter in the snow. I also hadn’t had much experience running on trails at night which it likely would be by the time I was done. I had all the proper gear including ahead lamp for when it got dark. I knew I could handle it and get it done. But it was that nervous excitement of doing something a little bit new and different.
And that is exactly what I needed to do. I needed to remember what it is that made me fall in love with running. It’s the challenge and the adventure that I love, especially as it applies to trail running. I like to be out there doing something new and connecting with nature. I like to challenge myself and do things that I enjoy just because I enjoy them, it’s not all about the training plan. Doing something a little bit different that isn’t exactly what the training plan called for is not just ok sometimes it is necessary. It is not going to ruin my training and it might just save it by keeping me from burning out. I have a long way to go with this training so I will feel free to mix it up from time to time and go off plan to get a little extra joy and you should too.