NY23 congressional candidate Ian Golden is emceeing the starting line, and a handful of cries of "Golden for Congress!" arise from the pack. I decide then and there that a double long-sleeve shirt is overkill, so I remove the base-layer and tie it around my waist since I can't spot anyone to toss it to. Then we start running the slight incline up Tower Road and everyone's all like "It's a new dawn, it's a new day, and I'm feeling good."
Four miles in and I'm not feeling too good going up Dodge Road. Things don't improve over the next few miles and the
minute-per-mile pace starts creeping upward. I'm moving slower than expected, given the effort, and still have another entire hour to go.
The sun makes a short but sweet cameo and suddenly I feel things starting to click, like a huge hit of serotonin straight into the bloodstream. I charge up the last little incline and make the left onto Ellis Hollow Creek, straight into some sort of unidentifiable transient weather event. This is when the proverbial wheels violently detach themselves from the proverbial chassis, breaking clean off and leaving me suffocating deep inside the proverbial hurt locker.
Turning left, I run northwest into the headwind and snow and the aforementioned UTWE is quickly sapping my remaining energy. In the next few miles I feel more miserable than I can remember ever feeling during an ultra. Pete Dady and His Merry Hashers try to pawn a beer on me as I slog by. For a split second, I have a Merlin-esque premonition of myself projectile vomiting PBR and PB-banana smoothie into some stranger's driveway. I politely decline the brewski and keep on truckin'.
Around mile 8 things actually start to turn around as I cruise downhill. I definitely won't be making up enough time here to hit 1:27, but I'm able to give my legs a breather while still managing a 6:40-ish pace. For the most part, the cumulative fatigue and aggressive headwind combine to relieve me of any perk I might gain from the gradual downhill.
Now approaching mile 10, I make a hard right for the brief stint up Turkey Hill — the very bane of my existence. I remember running the Skunk back in 2014, when I felt like I was simply floating up this little spike on the elevation chart. Every other run I've had here, I'd been forced to ride the struggle bus to the top, then hop off and feel the lactic acid dissipate while gliding back down Stevenson.
It's all down hill from here, for real, but now it's snowing and the headwind ain't giving up an inch. The snow isn't sticking on the ground but it's enough that the entire anterior of my torso is colored whiter than a Scooby-Doo ghost. I hear another runner close behind. He passes and I discover it's Mike. He obviously paced himself much better than I did and he's in good position to meet his 1:30 goal. Mike tries to con me into running it in with him but my meter has been near "E" for so long I tell him fuhgeddaboudit. He pulls on ahead like a greyhound in the final straightaway and with him go my hopes of even nabbing a PR in this mess.
Now things start to get weird.
Just past mile 10 I encounter an athletic-looking and grizzled old vet walking alongside the road with a stopwatch, barking out splits and commands to any runner within earshot, yours truly included. This guy reminds me of the over-exaggerated portrayal of a high school or youth football coach, like that rival coach in Little Giants. I'd seen the guy on the course earlier, and now here he again, barking out lines like "C'mon, let's see some turnover! Move!" Despite a complete lack of profanity-laced, xenophobic tirades, I decide he's Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket, out to provide a little extra motivation during his Sunday morning saunter.
I'm kind of caught off guard when I see G.S. Hartman again a mile later, barking out "Let's go! You trained for this! Show me what you got!!" Then around mile 12, just after I turn onto the Cornell campus while wallowing in misery, here he is again. By this point I'm ready to crack harder than Leonard "Private Pyle" Lawrence and wish I could just disappear down the sewer grate on the corner. This is probably the closest I've ever been to a breaking point, and with the fatigue and frustration and physical pain I seriously contemplate getting right up in G.S. Hartman's face and screaming "[Expletive-delete] you, you [expletive-deleting] [expletive-deleter]!" The dude could probably crush me with his pinky, and if not, I might still end up receiving a lifetime ban from the Skunk Cabbage and get booted off the FLRC Board. I hang onto my sanity by a fraying thread and shift my focus to the final downhill mile.
G.S. Hartman makes one more appearance with half a mile left and cruelly reminds me that I won't be breaking 1:30. I can only assume he's out there coaching someone who's running the same pace as me. The Tower Road downhill is smooth sailing right through a snow squall. I take the final left turn before the finish and can't see a thing through the oncoming snow. I hear the PA blasting music and hope the finish line is down there somewhere. MC Golden is still rockin' da mic. I hear my name announced as rhyming with "chess sock" and I try not to wipe out on the timing mat and then remember it's finally okay to stop running.
I'm not too pleased with my time until I realize that times are slower across the board for everyone, including the winners. This is my sixth Skunk Cabbage and easily the worst weather I've encountered at it, and I still managed my second best time at the race. RD Alex and her huge volunteer crew were phenomenal as always, and it's great when everyone comes out of hibernation for Ithaca's first large-scale race of the year. So I'll look at the positives and move on.
Then Monday morning rolls around and I'm all like "It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me. And I'm feeling good."
|Somewhere in the home stretch. PC: Matthew Gowers|