Tuesday, April 12, 2016

2016 Symplocarpus Foetidus Half Marathon

The 35th annual Skunk Cabbage Classic 10K and Half Marathon is one of the biggest and oldest races in the Ithaca area. Held this past weekend over open roads and rolling hills, it seemed like a good opportunity to help build some speed and maybe nab a half marathon PR.

Shortly before the start I found myself torn between what to wear during the run. At 9:45 am, the sun was out and the temperature was something in the low twenties after windchill. Not exactly traditional weather fare for mid-April around here. After some internal debate I opted for warmer clothing - an Under Armour long sleeve compression shirt with another long sleeve tech tee over it, some compression tights over my lightweight running shorts, some light gloves, and my FLRTC beanie. The shirt and pants were skin tight and did a solid job of keeping my core and appendages comfortably warm.

The air horn sounded and runners took off.  I hoped to maintain a 6:50-7:00 pace for the first half, then pick it up in the second half if I felt up to the challenge. I'd been running track repeats and tempo runs once or twice a week to work on building some speed and improving leg turnover. (One of the advantages of an unusually warm Upstate winter is the ability
to do speedwork without breaking an ankle on slippery nice.) Surprisingly, I did quite well holding the target pace over the first mile and not going out too fast like I usually do in road races. 

Fast forward to mile three. Although still maintaining an even pace, I was starting to burn up. The sun was out in full force and even with the chilly winter air I was starting to overheat big time! I removed the hat and gloves and untucked both shirts, desperate for some ventilation, but it didn't seem to do any good. I was prepared to start suffering immensely over the next hour, and imagined meeting a spontaneous demise ala former Spinal Tap drummer Mick Shrimpton.

I knew Hayley was planning to watch the race from an intersection somewhere between mile 4 and 5 (where Ellis Hollow intersects with Turkey Hill). Approaching the intersection, I quickly decided to veer off the road over to her. 

Despite my best efforts to impersonate Clark Kent sans phone booth, I was heavily outmatched against the close-fitting compression clothing. I removed the tech tee with the bib attached, then struggled with the sleeves on the compression shirt. The pressure I felt to hurry probably didn't help. Eventually I managed to remove the sweaty thing and be rid of it, slipped the tech shirt back on, and awkwardly got to work on the tights.

Trying in vain to remove the compression tights over my shoes, I glumly subdued to the inevitable - the shoes would have to come off too. Hopping around like "a man wrestling with an octopus on a conveyor belt #," then leaning on my patient and embarrassed wife for some stability, I violently ripped my pants off to the awkward glances of passing runners. I considered pleading my case and shouting an explanation - "It's okay, I'm an ultrarunner!" However, I thought better of drawing extra attention to the debacle and letting them move ahead in bewilderment. After tying the shoes and thanking Hayley for taking care of my ineptitude and lack of foresight, I took off down the road feeling like Superman. The cool breeze and the ventilation of the lighter clothing felt so fresh! I began ticking off the miles and passing people who just had passed me during the three minute striptease. No one commented, so I guess I was safe. 

The rest of my race was rather uneventful. I remember a water stop around mile nine where Jessica Kerns called me out by name, offering a beer and really trying to entice me. "C'mon Pete, you know you want a cold one!" Nearly out of breath and legs really starting to ache, my refusal was something like "Tempting, but I'm pretty sure I'll be puking all over you if I do *." 

I finished about 4:30 slower than my PR, and couldn't help think that I'd have improved on it if not for the wardrobe malfunction. Nevertheless, I had a good time out on Ithaca's back roads and enjoyed catching up with friends after the race. Staving off mid-race spontaneous combustion was also a plus. 

Big kudos, on Strava and in real life, to my friends Scott and Ellie for their stellar performances. Scott won the half marathon masters division (Scott's blog post), and Ellie defended her 2015 title and set a new HM course record. (Ellie's blog post.) Even bigger kudos to the Finger Lakes Runners Club and all the volunteers who selflessly stood out in the cold for hours to ensure the safety of the runners. 

# The words once used by an anonymous sports commentator to famously describe Olympic legend Emil Zatopek.

* The last and only time I drank beer on a street corner on a Sunday morning was in Nassua, Bahamas, while on vacation. Apparently Sunday morning suds is  commonplace there, at least in the tourism sector. 

Symplocarpus foetidus, commonly known as skunk cabbage.

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