When I mentioned to people that I was running the Shamrock Half Marathon, I heard many times “You’ll love it, it was my favorite race!”
This is going to be a long post… But I’m adding pictured to make it more interesting!
We drove down on Friday night, had dinner on the way, checked into the hotel around 11pm, and went to a local bar for a quick drink. My friends from the running group were getting in on Saturday.
I was NOT looking forward to driving down to VA Beach in March, when it would be cold and the beach unusable, but as luck would have it, the weather was spectacular, the temperature hit mid-70’s, and I was even able to snooze on the sand for a while (it was very windy, so I had a sweatshirt on, but my face got burned, and I had tan lines on my legs from the shorts I was wearing — who would have guessed I would need sunscreen in March?).
We woke up on Saturday morning and walked out to the convention center to pick up our packet. There were no lines, I got my bib within seconds of arriving, I was even allowed to try on the race shirts and pick the size it fit me best. The t-shirts were nice — short sleeve technical shirts that I can actually wear for running. My one beef: I hate when they provide tech t’s and don’t have separate women and men’s sizing. The x-small size was what fit me best, but it was still loose on the waist. You’ve seen my pictures: I do not have an extra small body! I feel bad for all the girls who ended up with very baggy x-small t-shirts.
I was surprised to see that my bib had my name in it — it’s the first race I ran where my name imprinted on the bib, and I loved it! Why can’t other race organizers do the same? Such a simple thing to do, but makes it for a much better experience! We also got a reusable drawstring bag to stash our stuff — I love it!
The rest of the expo was uneventful — there were not much free stuff at all, not any new vendors (at this point, it seems like it’s always the same thing in every expo), but I bought a new ifitness belt that I’ve been wanting to get for a while (I’ll post a review of it later), and Karl and I got tricked into spending $50 for two Power Balance bracelets (we’re suckers, but maybe the placebo effect will work?).
We attacked an all-you-can-eat sushi place for lunch (it was awesome), and the rest of my running group arrived at the end of the afternoon, after dealing with some car trouble.
Shortly after 5am on Sunday, our alarm rang and we started getting ready. Karl, who hated running in the army and got into it because of me, grumpily uttered what I now got used to hearing “weekends with you are awesome!” We had a couple of tablespoons of chia seeds (after reading Born to Run, we now stock it up on it — yes, we believe everything we hear), and went downstairs to meet the rest of the group.
Margaret was nice enough to bring us bananas and bagels, since we forgot to get anything for breakfast pre-race. We walked down to the start line — it was freezing. I knew it was going to warm up a lot later, but was glad to be wearing my long-sleeve shirt, after much debate of what to put on that morning.
The porta-potty lines weren’t too bad, we waited about 10 minutes to use it, then made our way into our corrals. Unfortunately, like in every other race, our corral was full of walkers with a different color bib, that should have stayed behind in the right place. It always annoys me to no end that walkers don’t line up correctly! I don’t mind if you walk, but please go to the back of the pack so we’re not dodging you during our run, and if you do need a walk break during the run, please stay on your right!
Said that, the start wasn’t too bad — we had the full road to run in, so four lanes was enough for the crowd to spread out and there wasn’t much dodging needed. Margaret and Erin, who had started with us, dropped us quickly — they’ve been training for a marathon, and kept up the running while I rested my many injuries, and got a LOT faster. Karl ran his first race wearing his Five Fingers, and stuck to my side to keep me company.
I started the run hoping for no foot pain (even took some pain meds before the start), and I knew for sure I would be crossing the finish line, just much slower than I had expected when I first registered for it. I thought that it would be nice to run the whole thing, but certainly didn’t expect to do so. I’ve been running 1-2 times a week, and between the snow and the rain, I haven’t ran nearly as much as I should, skipping some weeks completely. My foot pain also kept me from running more often, and although I had a great 4 mile run on Wednesday, when I went to run on Thursday, I had to stop during the first half mile as I couldn’t take the throbbing pain.
I also warned Karl ahead of time that I’d be walking the water stops and while eating Gu — not that I needed the break, but sometimes drinking or eating while running messes up with my breathing, and I didn’t want to risk getting those annoying side stitch pain!
I was feeling good however, didn’t worry about form like I’ve been worrying lately — if heel striking is what we’ll keep me from overtiring myself, then so be it. I didn’t look at my GPS once. Running for me is totally psychological — if I see that I’m running faster than I thought, I instantly react by feeling tired, if I see I’m running slower, then I start second doubting myself because I was feeling good before I looked. So in some long runs, when I know it’ll be tough, I start the GPS but don’t even look at it, not even when it beeps with each mile.
I hit the 5 miles mark under an hour, so I knew I was keeping good pace. The first half of the run we went through a residential area, I found it completely boring, but Karl was enjoying looking at all the nice houses. Then we got to Shore Dr. I usually hate running among trees and nothing else — it’s boring and the scenery doesn’t change, but every 10 feet or so, there were signs on the side of the road with jokes. Karl kept laughing at them. My favorite was “Caution: Heatbreak Hill” then 10 feet later “This is the hill” (the course was mostly flat, and none of the “hills” could be qualified as one in any other place).
I was reading the race reviews and a lot of people complained about the part of the route that went into Ft. Story. That was actually my favorite part of the route! Not only was I able to find a porta-potty with no line (I should learn not to drink so much water pre-race), but the scenery was beautiful. Sure, there were residential areas that were nothing to write home about, but you could see the ocean from afar, some humongous ships, and every so often there was a beach access point, and you can see the sand stretching up to the beach.
There were also two lighthouses at the Fort, the oldest-looking one was built in 1792! All these things helped distract me that I was in fact running the whole thing, feeling good, and even things like the annoying wedgie I kept fixing (TMI?) didn’t make me frustrated during the run.
We left the Fort, and around mile 9 I started to get tired. Plus, the Gu was messing up with my stomach. I am now convinced that I don’t have the so-called runner-trots, that it’s all Gu related, because only when I eat it do I have the need to run and clench (TMI again?). I have been trying other brands, but since I knew Gu DOES work when it comes to giving me energy, I didn’t want to risk experimenting during this race.
At mile 9, I also remembered something a friend had told me that helped her run the marathon: start dedicating the last few miles to people you love. Sure, this was not a marathon, but I figured might as well try!
Mile 9-10 I dedicated to my mom. It was only one mile, right? I couldn’t stop running now, I could handle one mile. Mile 10-11 I dedicated to my grandfather, who passed away 1.5 years ago and was one of my favorite people in the whole world. I could definitely run one mile in his name, even if the sign for mile 11 took ages to appear. Mile 11-12 I dedicated to my father, one of the people I look up to the most. I definitely couldn’t give up now for him.
At mile 11, we also started seeing some of the marathon runners pass by (the second half of the marathon was through the same course we ran). I always love when you can cheer for the top runners like that! The fact that they had their names on their bibs, helped, and I distracted myself cheering for them.
I told Karl that the last mile was going to be dedicated to him, but to be honest, by that point, I had definitely hit my wall, I was just putting one foot in front of the other, kept reminding myself it would be over in less than 10 minutes! I can run 10 minutes, for god’s sake. I even checked my GPS for the first time to see how much longer was left (half a mile left at that time, but that felt so long!). Karl kept cheering for the marathoners, but I was out of gas.
That’s was the time that the crowd really helped — the girls on the sidelines with green tu-tus were good for a laugh. There was even one dressed as super-woman, cape and all.
When we finally got to the boardwalk, I could see the finish line, but I had nothing left on me. I told Karl I’d sprint the last tenth of a mile, and took off when I saw the sign for 13. The longest freaking tenth of a mile in my life.
Apparently my friends were right on the sidelines cheering us, but I didn’t even notice!
The announcer was calling EVERYONE by name, definitely a nice touch. It was good to hear him call my name out right as I was reaching the finish line. (The smile in the picture below? TOTALLY fake… I wanted to die.)
The finish line was awesome! We got tons of schwag!! Aside from getting the coolest medal EVER, we got a nice finisher’s hat, with 13.1 in it, made of dry-fit material and we got a long-sleeved finisher’s shirt saying “I shamrock’d this race!”. As we continued, we got the usual water, granola bar, banana, pretzel bags…
We were both so tired, we didn’t even bother getting our free beers (plus, we were checking out of the hotel and driving back home too), but two of our friends were already enjoying it.
I surprised myself with my finish time: 2:37 — true it is still slow compared to my friends’ time (Erin and Margaret both had personal records finishing at 2:17, and Tracey finished in 2 hours!). But I was not properly training, dealing with an injury, and it was still 14 seconds faster than my time at the Rock n Roll Half Marathon, which I was much better trained for (both physically and psychologically). I didn’t even expect to run the whole thing! I walked the water stops, and even had a quick pee, and still got the same time as the RnR last summer. It gave me hope for the other races this year!
We went back to the hotel, I finally took care of my stomach issues (damn, you Gu!), showered, finished packing, checked out of the hotel, loaded up the car, then back to the finish line to see Jeff, our only friend running the marathon, finish.
By then it was mid-70’s, the weather had definitely warmed up, and the heat really affected Jeff. And, what for us was funny, for Jeff, the “this is the hill” sign by the woods at the second half of the marathon ended up being his wall — from there he walked 5 miles due to exhaustion, that hill, which none of us really felt, took a big toll on him, and he finished his marathon with his worst time to date. He was aiming for a 3:50 finish time, but ended up far from it. He still did great, and it was good to catch him at the end!
This was the MOST organized race I’ve ever been to (and I ran 12 last year, so I have something to compare with). The volunteers were incredible! There was a water stop every 1.5 miles or so (I never had a chance to go thirsty), and while there were still lines on the porta-potties throughout the course, none of them had more than 10 people in line (for every 4 porta-potties), so we didn’t witness many people going to the woods to relieve themselves.
Karl’s knee, that has been bugging him since we got back from vacation in January, really bothered him during the race, despite the Five Fingers shoes (they do hurt less with the Five Fingers than they do with normal running shoes). So he’s taking a break from running, and I’ll be running solo for the next couple of weeks, while he rests and ices the knee.
We again attacked the sushi buffet on our way out of town, and then dealt with ridiculous traffic on our drive back to Arlington. The weekend was great, and I’d do it over in a heartbeat. If I’m still in DC this time next year, I’m definitely signing up for the Shamrock again!
Monday I woke up limping — my quads were sore to an extreme, as if I had spent the night doing squats. When I mentioned it to Karl, he said “maybe Jeff was onto something when he said there was a gradual uphill for those 5 miles he walked…”