Race Recap: Skunk Cabbage Classic Half Marathon, Ithaca NY 4/12/15

“…talent means nothing, while experience, acquired in humility and with hard work, means everything.”
Patrick Süskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

   

 

Well, I did it!  I finished my second racing half marathon!  It wasn’t at all as I had planned–this was supposed to be the race I would PR in and where I finally hit sub 2:30, but that didn’t happen and I am okay with it.

Training for this half was touch and go and there were times where I wasn’t sure if I should stick with it.  At the end of February shortly after a 10K training run I was hit with the worse case of flu/bronchitis that I’ve experienced since college.  It hit really hard and took me out of training mode for 3 weeks.  Three weeks might not seem like a huge chunk of time, but it was and it left me with just 4 weeks to retrain my body to run 13.1 miles.

I went in without high expectations and accepted the fact that this would not be the race I had initially hoped for.  What I didn’t account for was how mentally challenging it would be.  This race was probably one of the most difficult ones to date.  I was (and still am) fighting yet another cold with a cough and the medication I take does wonders, but it also dries me out.  By mile 4 I was regretting my decision to stick with the half–I kept wishing I had just downgraded to the 10k.  I was parched and my lungs burned as I sputtered out dry coughs.

The inner dialogue I had with myself was at times comical, but mostly I kept repeating, “FUCK! Why is this so hard?  What am I doing here.  Why didn’t I downgrade.  9 more miles?!  What in the actual fuck?  How will I make it through”.

I am a slow runner, but this is the first time I’ve truly experienced true back of the pack racing.  It adds to the mental challenge.  You find yourself racing solo and the walk breaks are so much more tempting.  The urge to quit is that much greater and every ounce of pain is magnified.  I had no music to distract me and no friends to push me forward.  It was hard.  I felt like I was failing.

The rolling hills didn’t feel like rolling hills, they felt more like a constant gradual incline with the occasional downhill.  With the steeper hills I found myself walking and fighting so hard not to lose momentum.  I’m not typically a run/walker–I would much rather keep a slow and steady pace than break and restart.  This is the first race (aside from the full marathon) where I continually needed to walk and it was frustrating.

Though I spent a lot of time running alone, I was sandwiched between a couple of runners, yellow shirt guy and neon shirt lady.  Both had pulled ahead of me at various points during the race and my goal was to stick with them.  I didn’t want to finish behind them so I did my best to conserve my energy for a strong finish.  I took advantage of the downward hills and used them to catch up, but they still remained ahead of me until mile 11-12.

Having the finish on one of my regular routes was definitely beneficial for my final stretch.  I knew after mile 12 that the remainder of the course was on a slight downhill.  I knew that I’ve run down that same path on Tower road and that I would always finish my lunch runs strong.  I knew that I already had 11 miles behind me and that giving up in the last mile would have been for someone weaker than myself.  I knew that my heavy legs still had some life in them.

I powered through and pulled ahead.  I passed both yellow shirt guy and neon shirt lady.  I know it probably didn’t mean much as far as boosting my finish time, but I dragged myself across the finish at 2:55:30.  It was 21 minutes past my PR and I was legit 592/598.  It almost embarrasses me to post that time and place, but what can I do?  Why be embarrassed?

It’s these moments of humility that strengthen us.  It’s these moments where we wanted to quit but didn’t that show us we are capable of greater things. I know I will do better and that this race doesn’t define me as runner.  If anything it has taught me a lesson about perseverance and pride.  Pride for those back of the pack runners.  No one knows true strength and determination until you’ve experienced running a race at the back of the pack.   It’s an experience every runner should feel.  I know it’s opened my eyes for appreciation of what our bodies and minds can achieve.

Did you race this past weekend?  Were you at Skunk Cabbage?  Have you ever experience a lesson in humility during one of your races?

On Being A “Larger” Runner & Preventing Injuries

I’m not a small person and I don’t carry the (stereo)typical “runner” physique.  I’m still working towards my weight loss goals and my body isn’t light and lanky.  I have heavy, solid legs and curves.  My mommy tummy still shakes and jiggles when I run and I pound the pavement hard.

nearing the finish of a 5K race

Running at this weight might not be ideal, but it still feels pretty damned good!  I’m pushing 185-188lbs these days and on a good day can push a 10:10 pace for a 5K.  My long runs are much slower, but I can go for miles and miles without needing to rest.  Really though, none of that matters–I am a slow runner, I am a larger runner, I am a mother runner, I am a runner.

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It doesn’t matter which adjective I use to describe it, it all boils down to the fact that I am a runner.  I am strong and powerful and I can accomplish more than my mind knows.

BUT, that doesn’t mean that running larger doesn’t come with its challenges.  Having a heavier build often means that you’re exerting more wear and tear on your body. Pounding the pavement hard can take its toll on the body if you do not take the proper precautions.  Many of us larger runners take on running as a means to lose weight.  Eager to go hard and hit big goals, many new runners are faced with the dread that is a running injury.

Believe me, I’ve faced my share of running related injuries and I know what my body can and can’t handle.  Surprisingly, most of said injuries occurred before I even became a runner.  In college when I participated on the woman’s rowing team I faced multiple overuse injuries to my knees.  I had IT band issues and patellar tendonitis.  There really wasn’t a time where pain wasn’t present.  I resigned to the fact that I had bad knees and thus couldn’t be a runner.

Fast-forward to today.  I haven’t faced any real injuries (aside from the time I didn’t change shoes soon enough) since my running ventures began in 2013.  In the first weeks of running I did make the mistake of using my 2-year-old running shoes and soon enough I began to feel pain in my shin.  This is when I learned the importance of a good shoe and how easing into training is the best course of action.  So, I’ve decided to use my own experiences and compile them with additional tips for preventing injury as a larger runner.

PREVENTING INJURY AS A LARGER RUNNER (aka Clydesdale/Athena runners)

*Please Note:  I am not a running expert nor a physician.  These tips are based on my own experiences and research.

  1. Ease into your training.  If it hurts when you do it, then don’t do it!  I know this seems counterintuitive because running can “hurt” in a good way without causing injury, but what I’m saying is that you need to ease your body into running so that you don’t get injured.  If you try to go too fast or too hard too soon, your body will pay the price.  I strongly advise that you take a couple of weeks to build and develop strength in your legs.  I usedP90X as my foundation builder and I think it’s what helped me feel like I could actually be a runner.Having a proper base is a great way to prevent overuse injuries.  This can also be achieved by using one of the beginner runner programs like Couch to 5K.  Programs like this ease your body into running and it’s important to follow the program as advised, it is not the time to be an overachiever (which can actually set you back instead of push you further).
  2. Buy proper footwear.  Because we are built heavier, it’s very important to make sure we make the effort to get a proper shoe and to make sure we change our shoes when they lose their support. A good rule of thumb for bigger runners is to find a shoe with a strong midsole support system.  For me this just so happens to be Asics Gel Kayanos.  Every shoe’s life expectancy varies depending on the runner’s stride, the shoe type, and the conditions the shoes are run in (i.e. concrete running vs. trail running).  For myself I usually find the 300 mile range to be my sweet spot.  It’s all about listening to your body though!  If you start to feel aches and pains that weren’t there a few weeks ago it might be time for a new pair.
  3. Choose your running surfaces wisely.  Not all running surfaces are created equal!  Concrete is by far the worse surface to run on, it doesn’t offer any form of shock absorption so your body is faced with the brunt of it.  When possible it’s best to opt for softer surfaces–this is why you often see runners on the road when there is a perfectly good sidewalk next to them.  I’ve grown to love trail running for this particular reason. My stride is cushioned by the soft ground and the scenery and terrain change makes for a fun run.
  4. Listen to your body.  With any fitness routine it’s always important to listen to your body.  If you feel achy and it’s just sore muscles you won’t do too much damage by going out for a quick jog.  If you feel pinpoint pain that worsens upon running then you might want to cut back and let your body heal.  If you’re not sure what your body needs then you might want to consider seeing a doctor.  Persistent pain is a big red flag and ignoring it can lead to permanent injury that can derail your running completely.
  5. Go your own pace.  This goes hand in hand with easing into your training.  Group runs are fun, but running with others means that you might try to push yourself too hard.
  6. Fuel your body. With any new routine (even if weight loss is the goal) it’s important to fuel your body.   This is not the time to skimp on your diet.  Your body needs to be properly fueled and fed in order to prevent injury.  Malnourishment can lead to prolonged recovery and an increased risk of injury and illness.
  7. Dress the part.  Clothing attire might not be something that seems important, but for myself I think it helps!  Having the proper clothes can save you from jostling around with each stride and can help prevent chafing.
  8. Allow for rest and recovery.  If you’re just starting out running there is no reason to be running everyday.  Your body will need time to recover and repair those hard-working muscles.  Ignoring rest days can lead to fatigue and poor form which can cause long-term injuries.  As always it’s important to be mindful and listen to your body.

I know that a lot of these tips may seem like common sense, but as a once newbie runner I know that it’s not always so easy.  I didn’t know that running shoes weren’t one size fits all.  I didn’t know that running surfaces mattered and I didn’t know that a gradual build to running was best.  It’s still a learning experience for me, but I am eager to keep running and work on that speed.

Are you a larger runner?  What tips do you have to offer?  What have been your biggest obstacles?