It’s so nice having a teenage driver. On a busy Thursday afternoon, my daughter drove my son to his haircut, then continued afterwards to Ithaca to pick up our Gorges Half Marathon bibs. My wife and I were registered to run and schedules made it tough for us to get in to get our race numbers and t-shirts. My phone rang.
“Uh, Dad?” It was Elizabeth.
“Yeah?” I hoped everything was all right.
“Yeah, so …” Elizabeth sounded like she was going to ask a far-fetched, theoretical question. “I’m here at the running store.” Then, after a beat, “I got your bibs.”
“Excellent.” I said. Why was she calling, then?
“But there’s more.” She continued, “Why would there be … a packet for me and my brother?”
“What?” I furrowed up my brow, confused. I was sure it was just Amy and me running, not the whole family. The kids certainly weren’t trained for a half marathon. “That’s really weird.” I said. “Hold on.”
I went into my trusty email folder marked “Receipts” and did a quick search. There it was. Gorges Half Marathon. Confirmation. Scrolling … scrolling … scrolling. And yes, in black and white, evidence of total absentmindedness on my part. Four registrations for the race, two for a few reasonably well-trained adults and two for a pair of kids who were not. Excellent! I told Elizabeth to come on home with all four packets.
We were so excited about this year’s race that we registered on December 1, the earliest one could register. Six months ago, the world looked a lot different and the kids said they were totally down for a half marathon. Come springtime, their exuberance must have faded to the point of forgetting they’d signed up, and we adults didn’t have the presence of mind to remember either. Thing is, Amy and I are always training for a race so we are jumping from plan to plan without much of a break. The kids are busy with school, spring sports and music, so ... there you go. Xander was coming down with a cold (Amy already was in the middle of one) so he decided he wasn’t feeling like running 13 miles. We thought about logistics for getting him into Ithaca to enjoy the post-race festivities but he was quite content to stay home. Elizabeth thought it’d be fun to see what she could do. Her decision was all the more fun since she’d told one of her teachers that she wasn’t registered to run. She’d run after all!
I had followed the Run Less, Run Faster half marathon training plan for this year’s Skunk Cabbage Half. It treated me so well for that race that I just jumped right back into the plan after a week off to train for this race. The plan calls for fewer, but faster, miles. Three key weekly workouts — intervals, tempo and long run — progressively built on each other to add intensity but not massive mileage. I’d fill the rest of my time with cross-training: hiking, BodyPump, vinyasa yoga and Bikram. I was talking with Amy about the plan as the race date approached and how it may take less time due to the curtailed mileage, but none of those miles are pleasurable when you’re in ‘em. It’s ALL tough, sweaty work.
We could have opted to drive a car into Ithaca during race morning, leave it for the return trip, and take one of the buses to the start (included with this year’s race registration). However, that’d be a lot of driving for a race morning! I decided to position the car the night before. I drove into Ithaca, parked our Subaru a few blocks from the finish, paid for the half hour remaining on the parking meter for the day and boarded one of the TCAT buses heading back to Trumansburg for the evening. It worked out beautifully.
I slept really well for a race evening. We woke at 5, as is our custom, and I made us some coffee. I eat religiously two hours before the start of any event, so I chased my coffee with an "everything" bagel with peanut butter. Normally I’d write or do some light correspondence in the early morning hours, but unfortunately I’d been troubleshooting a problem with a web site for which it turns out the owner didn’t renew the domain name. It was a total distraction for me on this race morning, and the free hour I had quickly passed by.
We had arranged a morning ride to the start line with my father-in-law the night before. Last year, we drove our other car to the Racker Center building a mile from the start, but Ray would get us closer and without having to leave a car. We approach from the north end of the start line, said goodbye and each found our own hedgerows to pee in. Charming, I know, but we were there close enough to the start time that I didn’t want to fight the port-o-pottie lines.
Me, Amy and Elizabeth
There were about 1,000 runners this year. The view of the colorful mass of runners was awesome at the start. I took a picture of me with Amy and Elizabeth, then Ian Golden indulged me with a picture before his pre-race remarks. The sun was out, everyone was smiling, and the temperature was not too hot, unlike last year.
As I was talking with Mark Jauquet (who’d go on to win his age group) at the start, I felt something on the bottom of my shoe. One of the treads was halfway torn off, right at the heel. I ripped the rest of it off. These were fairly new Altra Escalantes, so I was really surprised! I doubted it would affect my footfalls and carefully tucked it away in my running belt (I’d successfully re-apply it with some superglue later). A short time later, Ian blew his ram’s horn and we were off.
Me and Ian Golden just before the race started
The first mile felt really smooth and even, especially on brand-new asphalt. Trees provided ample shade on the northbound stretch, but the morning sun was unrelenting as we turned eastbound for a few minutes. I was happy to turn south onto the shaded Black Diamond trail. I ran alongside Dillon Shaffer for a few miles. We were clocking even 6:00 miles. I asked how he felt about the pace since we seemed to be pushing each other. He said it was a good pace for him. It did feel somewhat easy given the downhill. I shared it was definitely not sustainable for me, at least after we exited the trail onto Cass Park’s flat paths. Midway down Black Diamond, we ran past Jon Shaff who was in the late miles of a 17-mile training run. It was nice to see him and get some encouraging words from a friend!
Me and Dillon Shaffer, pushing the pace on the Black Diamond
I decided to hydrate by walking through the water stations, taking only water (no Tailwind this year). The first one was staffed with volunteers from Trumansburg’s robotics group. I took a water and thanked them. As I started running again after a few seconds of walking and drinking, one of the volunteers said, “Hey, that was Scott. That was Scott Dawson!” That made me smile and gave me a bit of extra energy. I believe this was where Dillon and I parted ways. I’d run alone for the remainder of the race.
Near the end of the trail, photographer extraordinaire Ron Heerkens, Jr. was crouched on the side of the trail. He said something as I went by, though I couldn’t make it out. In my semi-daze, I convinced myself that he said, “You’re going to have to go faster than that.” I admit, it made me not give up much pace as I made my way off Black Diamond and onto Cass Park’s maze of sun-drenched blacktop trails. Talking to him later, what he actually said was something like "That'll be a better picture", since last year I was running so close to someone it was hard to get a good shot. A large group of spectators clapped and cheered at the trail’s exit and I found pockets of supporters throughout the park. I think it’s wonderful when spectators cheer for everyone, not just their own athlete. I know from experience it can feel awkward, but it really helps the runners so much! Once you get over the ridiculous feeling of saying practically the same thing over and over (Way to go! You’re doing great! Looking strong!) it really isn’t that bad. I am always so grateful for all of the spectator support!
Nearing Black Diamond's exit
Cass and Stewart Parks
I took on more water and marveled at the fine sidewalk chalk art near the ice rink. The sounds of bagpipers stationed farther down the course floated from across the inlet. Brenda Michaud had told me she’d be course marshaling at the intersection by the Jewelbox, so I set my sights on seeing her. I was tired and alone, so setting landmarks was going to help immensely. I smiled and shouted as I saw her, and then turned onto the waterfront trail. As I weaved my way around the stands of kayaks for rent, a few Ithaca bike cops pulled in front of me on the trail. It was purely coincidental, but I smiled at the prospect of getting a police escort for this stretch of the race! I was passed by a runner as I took more water near the Ithaca College and Cornell boathouses. I passed the bagpiper duo. They were wisely spelling each other, providing an endless stream of fantastic aural fabric to run by, yet providing each other with much-needed breaks. I tried to keep a steady pace. My watch told me what my average pace was, but I had no idea what I’d need to do well. What were my goals? I realized I didn’t have any, just to run my best race against my prior self. I hadn’t looked up any times in advance. I soldiered on, trying not to lose precious seconds as the sun beat down near the Ithaca Farmers Market.
The next landmark for me was exiting Stewart Park after bouncing over the footbridges. I love running over these bridges as part of the turkey trot we do each year. Someone had circled goose poop on the Stewart Park sidewalks near the waterfront. It was very nice gesture, but dare I say a shitty job? I laughed inside at this corny joke in my head. Joe Reynolds was course marshaling at the railroad track as I exited the park. It was another emotional lift from a familiar face. Shortly after that I got another boost from Adrian Western as I ran by Ithaca High School.
My thoughts turned to my love for the running community. Here in Ithaca, it’s the same with road races, trail races, short races and long races. Everyone is so supportive and encouraging, even people I don’t know well. I happened to be running by myself, but I knew that I was not running alone. None of us are.
I made the final turn onto the “home stretch”, a ¾ mile straightaway to the finish. 17-year old local Guthrie Kuckes came up alongside me, seeming fresh as a daisy. I was flagging, but we encouraged each other and I matched his speed for a few minutes. Soon he surged ahead as I kept a laser focus on the finish banner looming in the distance. I smiled inwardly and then outwardly as the finish chute came into sharper relief. Two blocks away. One block away. The spectators lining the finish area cheered. I crossed the finish line exuberantly, smiling and clapping my hands. I didn’t know yet what my time meant for me, since all of my race times are a jumble of numbers in my brain. I was happy to finish the race without feeling totally depleted, knowing that my training and even pacing resulted in the best I could do on this specific day.
I walked back along the course with a brand new bottle of refreshing, cold water. I clapped and encouraged runners as they finished, even high-fiving a few. I saved my best announcer-ish voice for Jeff Cronk and Peter Korolov, both good running friends. Back at the final turn, I sat on the curb next to two spectators with signs and waited for Elizabeth. I’d used Find My iPhone to see where she was. I shouted encouragement to Amy as she made her final turn. I gingerly stood up when Elizabeth came around the corner and started running the final stretch with her. She said she was feeling surprisingly good for not having trained and ran an even race to get where she was. I enjoyed this last mile with her, not talking much, just running.
That’s it. It was done! The three of us had fun milling about the Ithaca Commons as we cooled down. The post-race food and Ithaca Beer were delicious, but even more delicious was the opportunity to catch up with friends who’d also raced. At the awards I learned that the first masters runner had finished a few minutes ahead of me, but I took the prize for first in the M40-44 age group. Yeah! More money, albeit a modest amount, to spend in the running store!
We walked the few blocks to get our stashed Subaru and drove home. As I waited for my watch to sync to Strava, I thought about my Corning Half Marathon PR from 2014. In that race, Jason Husted was my unofficial pacer. He and I ran step-for-step for much of the latter half of that race, and I credit much of that PR (1:26:23) to having him racing hard next to me to keep me in the game. How would today’s effort stack up? I looked at my time, and thought … Oh. My. God. 1:23:17. Three minutes faster? This was a new personal record for the half marathon! Granted, this course has a lot more elevation loss, but it’s not without its challenges. I never thought I could challenge the Corning time, especially as I got older. Yet here I was, just over 3 weeks shy of my 45th birthday, still challenging myself and running healthy. That was cause for celebration, indeed.
Many, many thanks to Ian Golden and Alex Kleinerman for co-race directing and all of the fantastic volunteers on and off the course. Our local races are top notch, in no small part due to their efforts and enthusiasm. I’m honored to be a part of the community. Thank you.
By the Numbers
Time: 1:23:17 (PR!)
Age Group 40-44: 2/48
Full Results: http://leonetiming.com/2018/Roads/GorgesNet.htm Age Group Awards: http://leonetiming.com/2018/Roads/GorgesAwards.htm
The watermarked photos on this page are from Allison Usavage (finish photo) and Ron Heerkens Jr. of Goat Factory Media. They are both incredibly talented whether they have a camera in front of them or not.
Goat Factory Media: https://galleries.goatfactorymedia.com/gorgeshalf-rnr2018 Allison Usavage: http://photos.allisonusavage.com/ithacahalf2018