Thursday, June 18, 2015

Gorges Ithaca Half Marathon---Where did that Performance Come From???

The story begins with myself at 80 miles for the week. I have been preparing for the rigors of the Whiteface Skymarathon that is coming up June 28th and decided for two weeks out to shoot for a 90-mile training week. What I did not have planned was to make my last 13.1 miles a half marathon with hills.  Well, that is what happens when you get persuaded to give it a go!  And you know, I ran much better than I could have expected on a well-rested day let alone with 80 miles and roughly 6-7k of hill training around Binghamton under my legs.

It all started with Ian, the RD and Owner of Finger Lakes Running, who asked me on a Thursday evening if  I wanted to run the race.  He gave me 15 minutes to think it over. When he came back to check on my decision, a smirk his way was enough to solidify the decision.  I was running a Half Marathon.

As many of you might already know about me, I feel that Ultra-Marathons are my forte. I love the idea of running a consistent pace and effort forever which I feel is one of my strong suits for ultras. I now run many of the shorter road races as mini-workouts to test my fitness though have never really tapered for an event and made it my prime focus. With the Gorges Ithaca Half Marathon being a Red Newt Racing Event, I was excited to represent the RN-MPF Trail Running Team as well as my other amazing sponsors: Mammut North America, Boom Nutrition, Fits Socks, Redfeather Snowshoes, Karhu/Craft Sports North America with pride. I prepped as best as I could for the race, hoping to run the event hard and see what happens. If I end up exploding from a fast pace, then so be it. This was some uncharted territory for myself and on race day,  the test would be whether my body could hold up to the abuse this tough course would bring.

Also little did I know, this course boasts about 900ft of ascent. Ya, that is quite a bunch of uphill! On a solid training run, I shoot for a value such as that. So for a race with that amount of ascent, my legs were going to feel it especially on top of 80 miles. The Gorges Ithaca Half Marathon is truly a solid, beautiful, and challenging course. Running the course opened my eyes to how this race had its fair share of uphill all in the middle miles 4-9 but with 2 sections of flat or downhill which helped break-up the quad-crushing ups.

Race-day came and with a 9am start, I had plenty of time to drive up from Endicott, NY to Ithaca without having to wake -up at extra early!

The race atmosphere was fantastic!

With different vendors, a beer tent, and a band, the race was set-up really nice.  I did my mile warm-up as people began to fill in the street. It was almost race time.

As we lined up for the race, I was thinking about running strong and curious to see how the body would handle the hills and all of the other miles I had on my legs.

**** I took a classic Boom gel to give me the even flow of energy needed to off-set any fatigue early-on in the race. This has been a strategy I have been doing since signing on with Boom in late 2013 and this has been a very effective technique for reducing any residual energy lows from taking hold early on in a race.

*Note that I am disclosing my secret to success. Please use at your own discretion. It is known to boost  performance!

Photo Credits: Megan Reynolds

Photo Credits: Megan Reynolds

The Start of the Race- Miles 1-4- "Starts Off Easy then Ouch": Starting off, I followed the lead bike as we headed out to Stewart Park. I went into the lead with another gentleman as I continued to run my pace. He soon dropped back and then it was just me and the lead bike. We whizzed through the downtown of Ithaca and then headed by Ithaca High School on our way to Stewart Park.  I split the first mile in 5:25 a perfect pace. My next mile along the park was 5:18 and then as I headed out of the park after doing a nice loop in there I split a 5:11 next mile. The fourth mile would then have us leave the flats of the downtown of Ithaca and the flats of Stewart Park along Lake Cayuga, to then head up the infamous Remington Hill, known for a full uphill road race during the year. I was getting a little warm already but I figured that would be the case with temps that could finish the race near 80. I made sure at each aid station to dump water on my head. My first mistake was that I ended up taking a gatorade bath the first aid station. This got my barely sweating body soaked in sticky lemon-lime goodness. Yeah, bad idea Cole!  I kept going. 
Heading up Remington Hill, the long mile plus climb was already zapping my legs which I felt some sting in them with going out too fast the first 5k. What was I thinking? Am I going to blow-up? Is my race done already at mile 4?  I continued to work with the lead bike and run the hill as comfortable as possible. I was working very had at this point and was struggling a little bit. I kept thinking this race was going to kill me.  I kept pushing along.  Once past the top of Remington, the road had us flatten out then up ahead would lead into a series of winding hills and switchbacks of the roads occasionally followed by a short flat section.  We then approached the Cornell Campus.

Photo Credits Rebecca Lee.

Miles 5-9-"The Hard Part":  It was great to see so many fabulous volunteers out along the course and I totally appreciated hearing the "GO Cole" chants which helped me power through. These next miles I was tiring and putting on my suffer-fest face on. I was feeling pretty tired running up these hills and was just counting down until the downhills would come. The bridge into the Cornell Campus had a magnificent view that showed really how much hard work all that uphill running had done for us. I admired the view and began to surge into the Campus loop. We turned onto another road and guess what?  There was another hill. I was getting hot at this point and looked for every cup of water I could get my hands on.  I hit the 10k point in 33:23 which I felt was moving quick!  No wonder I was so tired. Past the 10k, I was given the chance of having some nice downhills. I decided to run them hard but fairly relaxed not to destroy my quads for the last few flat miles. I then came along some of the other runners. People were cheering as I came by and with myself in the hurt locker pretty bad, the most I could muster was an occasion GRUNT in recognition. I wanted to smile to give thanks to their support but my concentration was on suffering and trying to get through that suffering. Also, I kept seeing these signs mentioning about "Smile Ahead" but I was hurting so bad that I felt like I did not have enough energy to smile. As we drew nearer to the 9 mile mark, I was getting excited to enter the nice downhill down Remington. I was ready. With the last small gradual climb, I began to surge and pick up my pace. I was ready to be done but knew I had to be patient. I knew that I lost my pace from 10k-mile 9 significantly but I was just hopeful to finish.  I could feel the week's worth of hill running (7k of vertical and 80 miles) catching up with me. My legs began to cramp, twinge, just feel weak overall. 

Miles 10-Finish-"Sweet Victory!": As the Remington downhill section came, I aligned with my lead biker who I had been talking with during the run and had been keeping my pace honest. We both worked very hard to put on a solid day. We reminisced about how those hills both beat us up pretty well and were happy the hardest part was finished. I used my downhill running technique I mastered while training at Greek Peak Mountain Resort, the home of the Virgil Crest Ultras by employing a light flat grounded foot landing while momentarily floating down on the hill like a leaping mountain goat. It worked great as I flew down the hill running another 5:24 mile and then came in for the Stewart Park lap. It felt great to be on the flats again. My legs were shot, but I still had some more energy left in the tank. I just paced out the first mile in the park and then surged the second mile as a gulp of Gatorade helped give me some boost. Coming through the park, I knew I had the win but did not know what my lead was. As I surged that second mile, I now could muster some smiles as I knew all that hard work was almost completed. I hit the last 1.1 miles ready to take a nap but kept up a solid pace.

Photo Credits: Megan Reynolds

The Finish--"Success": I crossed the last straightway looking at my watch and just cruised in. I knew I had a great time coming about and with about half a mile to go and my watch reading 69 minutes, I was amazed the time I would run.  If I needed to I felt I could have picked up my pace the last straightaway, but man I was just happy my body did not fail.  Those miles were tough and well-earned. I came across the line in 1:12:45  which was only 30 some odd seconds off of my time at the Binghamton Bridge Run.      It felt so great to be done. I was so pleased with how I ran. with 93 miles for the week and a half marathon that had almost 900 feet of uphill, I felt that the race was a huge success and solid training for Whiteface.  It was great to see the other runners come into the finish shoot as the warmth of the morning began to creep forward. It was getting hot and I was ready for  some chocolate milk, a bath, and a nap. 

Photo Credits: Megan Reynolds


I had a great time spending time with people, chatting about the race.  I was very pleased with how I ran. For such a tough course, to be able to run the time I did with so much mileage and uphill vertical training in one week, I never thought my body could respond the way it did. I hope that this is a great sign for Whiteface Skymarathon. In the next two weeks,  I am going to take it easier. The mileage and volume is done. Now I can just sharpen my body for the race and enjoy the experience. 

Photo Credits: Megan Reynolds

Photo Credits: Megan Reynolds

Overall,  it was an incredible day.  Ian Golden did a fantastic job as well as my lead bike, the volunteers, and all of the sponsors. It was a wonderful day.  I was super pleased with my run as I have had many struggles with running a solid race in quite some time as I place a ton of pressure on myself. This race by far surpassed my expectations. It validates for me that I have been putting in quality training and work and it is just a matter of time before I start reaping the benefits.

Thank you to my sponsors: Mammut North America: Though no photos show the gear here, I had them on as warm-ups and at the running store as I worked right after the race; MPF/RNR for the great gear and support of such a great group of people; Boom Nutrition for constant energy fueling all the way; Fits Socks for the best blister-free socks and best fitting socks around; Redfeather Snowshoes for keeping me fit in the winter; Karhu North America for the sweet trusty Karhu Flow Trainer; Craft North America for the fantastic performance track shorts which kept me nice and cool. Thanks to Ian Golden for the amazing race and Chris Dunn for always supporting my running endeavors.

This race is a must race event.  Yes, it is hard but so rewarding.  Most half marathons are not scenic and provide a balanced course.  This course with its hills, views, lake parks, flat sections, and downhills, the course suits someone that can run the uphills well then make up the time on the flats and the downhills. The race t-shirts, growlers, and whole event atmosphere is something you should really check out.    It is one Gorges race and you better check it out and see what all the hype is about next year.

Some other Photos from Finger Lakes Running Company of the Ithaca Gorges Half Marathon:

Miles 7-10
Nice Roads of Ithaca!

Miles 7-10

Mile 4.5

Old Trusty Karhu Flow Trainers

Turning the Corner (Mile 7)


  1. Way to race Cole! I hope to race an ultra with you someday :-)

  2. You are fit dude. Great form in those pics. Much respect to you as the ultra community should as well. Look like you were focused but having great fun out there. Recover well.