Racing the Skunk Cabbage Classic 2018

I’ve written hundreds, maybe thousands, of articles, but I’ve never written a race report until today, so we’ll see how it goes. It’s been fun reading some of the other race reports, which I’ll link to below, because of the different perspectives. For me, this race is about as familiar as it gets — it is laid out on roads where I run several times each week. I definitely have the home court advantage.

Skunk has a 10K and a half-marathon distance, and I’ve raced the 10K four or five times previously, at least once as a teen and this was the third time as an adult runner.

Why Run Skunk?

What’s special about Skunk is the way a huge crowd of runners shows up, so I get to see a lot of my running friends; the fact that on some years everyone is juiced-up on the first few days of springtime sunshine — that did not happen this year; and the scenery, which takes in about a mile of Cornell University and quite a few miles of tree-covered hills and rolling farmland.

Switching Down

I thought that it was time to try racing the half marathon distance, something I’d not done before on an all-road course. Also, some of the reason for this race is to run by actual skunk cabbage plants, and the swampy area of the course where they grow is only on the half-marathon route, not the 10K route.


Last fall, I could go out and run a dozen miles whenever I wanted. But, come February, I hadn’t run that far in a while, and when I tried, it was too hard. I felt heavy and uncoordinated for the last few miles, and recovery took several days. I figured that I’d get through the winter track season, and then craft a proper training plan for Skunk.

But, by the time I’d raced my last mile in early March, there weren’t enough weeks left to sensibly train up to where I wanted to be. I held out hope for a few more weeks, trying to follow my training plan and doing a long run on the weekend. But those long runs were being problematic. I did reach the point where a 10-mile long run itself was fine and fun, but recovery was being too hard. I finally decided that it wasn’t happening for me this year, and I contacted the race organizers to switch down to the 10K race, and then a day after sorting that out, I came down with the flu. So, given the flu, I have no regrets about the switch to the 10K.

But, having switched, I wanted to beat my previous time, which was 53:59 two years ago, with an average mile time of 8:40. I checked in my RRCA coaching notebook which has Amby Burfoot’s pace charts, and found that based on my recent times in other races, I ought to be able to beat a 53:59 easily. In fact, the main question was how much faster I ought to aim for. Since I was still not feeling 100% from the flu, I decided to try to beat my previous time, but not to aim for the speed that the coaching chart said I could probably handle. That would make the race more fun, too.

Pre-Race Blahs

On race morning, I drank a few cups of my usual pre-running breakfast, a smoothie made from homemade yogurt, a handful of strawberries, and a banana. I usually like to toss in some cardamom and ginger, too. The weather was gray and cold, so I put on my usual Icebreaker underlayer (I have about a half-dozen of these excellent shirts) and this great green running top that I got as a Christmas gift. I also wore running tights on my legs, and gloves and a hat.

It was too cold to be excited about doing a warmup — what I wanted to do was to curl up with a cup of coffee and a book. The 10K distance seemed long enough on its own as an amount of running to do in one day. I did my usual pre-run lunges and leg swings (as encouraged by Jay Johnson), and then I did a few short striders. Skipping the warmup run turned out to be a mistake.

Racing Blahs

The race began and I was carried along in a wave of cheerful runners. A frequent mistake that I make when racing is running the first mile too fast. It’s challenging, because I don’t want to lose time, and because over the past few years my times have dropped quite a lot, so it can be hard for me to know what pace is right. Also, I get excited at the start of a race, and it’s hard to stifle the adrenaline. So, I did my best to slow down, but at the end of the first mile, I was on the fast end of the range my pace chart had suggested, 8:17. That was great until I started to feel tired in the middle of the second mile. And grumpy. My inner monolog was something like “Why do I race? I hate racing. This is too hard. Why don’t I slow down and enjoy the run? How am I supposed to enjoy this run when it’s another cold, grey day when spring won’t come? This hurts.” etc. Not the best. But, I eventually pushed all that down and thought about nothing for a while. My Garmin chirped in another mile. I thought it would be about a 9:30, but when I looked down at my wrist, I saw that I had ground out an 8:37. Not bad! I was actually still running faster than last year, even if this mile was only 3 seconds faster than my 8:40 average mile last year.

Warming up to a Smile

And, it wasn’t exactly fun, but it was satisfying to push the road back behind me, moving quickly and with determination. So, I kept on running, wondering what my 3-mile split would be. When I run and it’s being hard, I like to focus on the current mile, so I stayed in that mile mentally and turned off the thinking part of my brain—I kind of merged with the view and became a body moving through the scenery. Another 5 minutes or so it was like a wheel turned over… you know, the wheel that might have turned over a lot sooner if I’d gone on a warmup run. My pace picked up a little, my smile came back, my breathing eased up. My 3-mile time came in, 8:32, another 8 seconds up on that 8:40 average.

I’ve Got This!

I’ve got this, I thought. The rest of the race was difficult, but fun. It snowed lightly for a while and the wind blew at me, and I kept on propelling myself across the landscape. The last mile was when I reminded myself that I had trained all winter to run the mile faster, so I turned on the after burners and concentrated on powering through. I’m happy to report that in the final analysis my time was 52:18, and I and won in my 50-54 age group—thanks to everyone in my age group who ran the half marathon instead! What with my post-flu situation, my unusually poor attitude, and my lack of a proper warmup, I believe that I have more 10Ks in me, and that my fastest times are still to come.

I enjoyed the post-race food and socializing quite a lot, and I appreciated that there was still hot coffee available. It was fun to watch some of my friends who ran the half marathon arrive covered in snow—Amy Dawson and David Keifer, I’m talking about you! It looked as though they’d run their last few miles in a blizzard!

In an ideal world, I’d start training for a half marathon quite a bit sooner, and wrap my head around the idea that to run a half marathon in one day I’d really be running 15–16 miles on that day so that I could do a good warmup and cool down. In June, I’m hoping to run a half marathon and the 25K distance in the Finger Lakes 50s trail run, so I should have made my training plan yesterday!


Scott Dawson and Amy Dawson also wrote blog posts about their Skunk experiences, and drdanweb, a first-time Skunk runner who came all the way from Fairport, NY, also wrote a post. And, Kyle Reynolds.

3 thoughts on “Racing the Skunk Cabbage Classic 2018”

  1. I LOVE that you had the briefest bit of a negative mantra … and then snapped right out of it 🙂 Congrats on an awesome race and the good choice to switch to 10K given the circumstances.


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