Race report: Shamrock Half Marathon (Virginia Beach)

aka THE BEST RACE EVAR but not just because I got my damn PR. Well, okay, maybe it’s mostly because of that, but still. πŸ˜€

So, yes: I chose this race because it takes place in a completely flat city and because I wanted something easy to help me gun for a PR. Hills of any sort do not help me do that, so this was the obvious choice; I knew from running in Virginia Beach last year that I’d enjoy running races here later, and that was true back in December when I did a ten-miler with a friend. (We took it easy, and finished at 1:59:57. Yes, this becomes important later.)

The weather forecasts hadn’t looked great, so I was not exactly pleased when we arrived Saturday evening and it was windy as all get-out. I know, it’s right next to the ocean, how can it not be windy, but this was a bit much. During dinner, it started raining, but I was okay with that as long as it meant that the rain would clear out for the next morning. It ended at some point, and when I woke up Sunday morning, the pavement was dry but the flags were whipping in the breeze. It took me forever to decide what to wear – the weather channel said it was 44 degrees but felt like 42, even though that didn’t seem to take the wind into account – but I finally settled on a t-shirt and capris, with a headband to keep the sweat off my face, gloves for my hands, and a light jacket for before the race that would go in my dry bag. (I heat up quickly, but the first few miles of a run always suck if it’s cold outside.)

I went through my pre-race routine, roused Saint to let him know I was leaving and that I would see him at the finish, and made my way outside. Wheeeeee windy! My first thought was holy shit, it’s gonna suck when I ditch this jacket. I took shelter in a 7-11 with a few hundred of my closest friends and waited as long as I could before heading outside to ditch my dry bag and join my corral for the scheduled 7am start. At 6:55, I sucked it up and left.

By 7:00, I was jacketless and lined up at the front of my corral and jumping around to keep warm. The wind was fierce, and made us all put on faces of “ugh, why do we do this again?”

By 7:10, we hadn’t started.

By 7:15, we hadn’t started.

By 7:20, we were starting to get really pissed off that we hadn’t started, for what was no apparent reason. I was mostly pissed because I was cold and wanted to get moving, and I’m sure I’m not alone, but some sort of announcement other than “We’ll get started shortly!” at what must have been 7:02 would have gone a long way towards easing my irritation. (This was a very uncharacteristic misstep for the race organizers; the company behind them does a fantastic job otherwise, in my experience, so I’m totally willing to write this off as an aberration.)

Since I had no watch, I of course estimate these times, and once we did finally, finally start (I was in the sixth corral, so it seemed like it took forever to get the first five through), I guessed that about five minutes had passed before I started asking around for the real-time time. When I finally got it, I was shocked to find out that it was 7:35, which meant that my first thought was oh crap, Saint’s gonna freeze his butt off waiting for me at the finish, because he expects me to finish close to 9:00. Well, shit… But, having no phone with you to call him and tell him this, what can you do?

Keep running. So, I did. My goal for this race was a sub-2 hour finish, when my previous best was a 2:15 finish. That’s an ambitious goal, but on a flat course and with more weekly mileage and better training behind me, I thought that it was still attainable. Since I had no watch, and haven’t for some time, I had to do what I’ve been doing for a while, which was run by feel instead of by numbers. This is my scale: can I talk to the person next to me? Easy pace, good for a long run (11-12:00 minute miles). Can I gaspingly talk to the person next to me? Tempo pace, good for shorter runs (10:00 minute miles). Am I breathing audibly and with obvious effort? Near threshold pace, good for mini-speedwork in a run (9:00-9:30 minute miles). Do I feel like I’m about to puke? 5k pace, good for short races or sprinting (anything under 9:00 minute mile runs, usually closer to 7:00 minute miles for sprinting, only good over short bursts or a few miles). This helped me gauge where I was in my race, and helped me expend energy accordingly.

I started out at a good clip, at the front of my corral on purpose so I’d have room to get clear and settle into my pace without tripping over anyone. I thought at first I’d gone out too fast, so I checked myself (literally) with a beer at the Hash House Harriers’ beer stop at mile 2.5 – it was about a shot’s worth of a clear lager, so I figured, hey, hydration! – but knew also that I’d have to be very smart with my water stops in order to not waste too much time. I also knew I’d have to do what’s called ‘running the tangents’, which is when you take all possible inside lines of curves in the course, to also not waste time, because running on the outside of turns can actually add a lot of time to your race.

Miles 3-5 proceeded along without much indicident. I took a Shot Blok at mile 5, and got some water at mile 6, and about then started feeling pain in my knees and the backs of my legs. I wasn’t surprised, since I knew I was running faster than I normally would anyway for such a long race (my breathing told me I was in the 9:40ish/mile zone, but I knew I was going to have to speed up soon to meet my goal time). I did think for a hot second about slowing down to see if that felt better, but I knew it wouldn’t, so I just decided to plod on and forget about it. I kept thinking of what was waiting for me at the finish line – Saint, beer, hot food, a hot shower, the awesome finisher’s swag (yes, I am motivated by shallow things, but it works, dammit!) – and that helped a whole lot.

Miles 8 and 9 also proceeded without incident, though I’d started to pick it up a little in preparation for the last 4 miles. I took another Shot Blok at mile 9, and was hoping desperately for some water before too long (I got it at mile 10), and then I turned it up. 5k pace, torrid breathing, wanting to puke, until the end. I did at a couple of points pause and think, if you hurt yourself, is it worth the PR? And I wrestled with this for a bit, and decided that I was just being a wimp and trying to justify slowing down because I was uncomfortable with my pace. If not here, if not now, then when? Do what you came here to do, you jackass, I thought. So I pushed on. And my hurting bits subsided, though they made it clear that they’d be back to yell at me later.

I’d had no idea what time it actually was in the race before the 5-mile mark, and no other gauge of time until the 10-mile mark. Figuring on a 5-minute delay from the time the race started to the time my timing chip and I crossed the start line, I knew I was okay but needed to push it when I hit the 5-mile mark at 55:00. I hit the 10-mile mark at 1:35, which meant that I had been going faster, but was really going to need to push it over the last 5k. I was encouraged somewhat when I heard a guy behind me tell his buddy “we’re okay, we’re at 1:40”, somewhere in mile 11.5. Two-ish miles in twenty minutes? I got this!, I thought. I was doubly convinced that I was going to haul it in when another woman’s voice behind me said not too much later “Dig deep. You got this!” She wasn’t talking to me, but she may as well have been.

So, I dug. It helped immensely that we were winding our way back towards the crowds and the boardwalk finish with all of the people and things making noise, but I had one thing on my mind the last mile: Get the PR, no matter what. I even passed up the Hash House Harriers’ insistingly free beer at mile 12, which tells you how badly I wanted it (I wanted the beer, too, but priorities!). I’ve never run with such singular focus in my life, and I knew that I was also running my hardest and my best at that moment. It took Saint two or three times to yell my name before I even saw him on the side of the boardwalk cheering for me, and I smiled and yelled, “I got this, baby”, fully believing at that point that I did. I could see the finish line ahead – what did the numbers on the clock say?

I got closer and closer. Just get there. Yeah, it hurts, but good God YOU WANT THIS. Get there. The red numbers slowly came into focus: 2:04:25. Figuring on a 5-minute delay… you better make it there in the next minute, bitch! I picked up my legs and ran. I had nothing resembling a sprint left, but I picked up my legs and I ran. I picked out a girl in front of me and vowed to pass her before the finish, and I ran. I ran and I ran and I caught her! and I crossed the finish line, finally, at 2:05:25.

I was ecstatic. Even if I didn’t make the sub-2 hour cutoff, I’d still obliterated my previous PR, and set a totally awesome new PR. I got my postrace fixin’s – water, banana, cookies, hat, gym bag, blanket (! – and totally crucial on such a windy day, because while I did indeed get quite hot during the race and was glad I’d left my jacket behind, as soon as I stopped moving I started to wish I’d packed a snowsuit in my dry bag, and this blanket was the next best thing) – and found Saint. He knew what time I’d crossed, but neither of us knew what the lag in start time was, so I had no idea if I’d met my goal or not. Having no way to check – the results were not streaming, which we quickly discovered – we decided to enjoy the postrace party and stick around to see if we could see the first marathon finishers come in.

So, we had free beer, and I had free (delicious) hot Irish beef stew (did I mention this was on St Patrick’s day, so there were Irish-themed everythings going on? I’ve never seen so much green on a race course in my life; it also alarms me somewhat that so much of my running wardrobe is green, based on the choices I packed), and we hung out and chatted and I deliriously recapped my race experience and he recapped his spectating experience. We did eventually make our way back outside (the postrace party was in a tent – good call, race organizers!) to see the first marathoners finish, which was cool, and as we made our way back to the hotel we cheered on other marathoners making their way along the course to the halfway point, near where we had started our half.

Since our hotel gave us a super-late checkout, we (read: I) took our (read: my) time showering and stretching and changing and snacking. About an hour after we got back, I couldn’t resist looking up the race results to see if the chip times had been posted. I narrowed the results down to age/gender group, and scrolled through the first page of 100 names, which ended in the 1:51 timeframe. Nah, not me, I thought, and went on to the second page. I started scrolling; 1:56, 1:57, 1:58, no “my name” and we were getting to the bottom of these next 100 names. 1:58:50… 1:58:52…

Then, I saw it: number 199, at the very bottom of the page.

My name. 1:59:05.

I SHRIEKED. I yelped, I danced, I blinked three times and walked away and came back to make sure it was true. Saint had been napping, but I woke him up because I FREAKING DID IT. I met my goal, I smashed my PR, I ran a god-damned sub-2:00 half-marathon when a year ago I thought it absolutely inconceivable to run 9:00/miles for more than one or two at a time. I was so damn proud of myself (well, and still am, actually) for digging in and finding the will and the strength to keep going and give it my all when it would have been easy enough to quit.

Later, I got an email saying that I had placed 2337 out of 8469 overall finishers, 198 out of 901 in my age group for women, and 945 out of 5226 overall women. That’s top-25% for the last two groups, and just out of top-25% for the first group. Y’ALL: I cannot believe that. Look what I did! When I go after something, I am freaking awesome.

(also, remember that 1:59:57 time for the ten-miler I referred to above? This time is nearly a minute faster than that, and covers 3.1 more miles. Ridiculous!)

Anyway, enough crowing and self-congratulation. The race was really a great one; the course was fun, the crowd support was amazing, the expo and logistics were flawless (except for the oddly delayed start), and the post-race care and swag were beyond compare. I have half a mind to run the full marathon here next year, but plan to at least be back for the half, because it was such a positive and rewarding experience.

Doesn’t hurt that I got that damn PR, too. πŸ˜€

And yes, I am a bit sore today – mostly in my hips and knees – but it’s nothing that a week of easy running and cross-training won’t fix. I did do a slooooow 2-mile recovery run this morning in the snow (winter’s not done yet, I guess, or at least hasn’t checked the damn calendar) – and I do mean slow, about 12:00-13:00 minute miles! – and felt okay, but my body now is telling me that it’s going to have to be that for the rest of the week. I’m cool with that; said body did everything and more that I asked it to yesterday, so it gets what it wants this week, which may or may not mean a few more donuts and beers here and there. πŸ˜‰

Aaaand that’s it! If you’re reading this and are looking for a seriously fun, seriously flat, seriously easy race next year, please consider this one. I already can’t wait to sign up for the 2014 iteration. Shamrockin’, indeed.


4 Responses to Race report: Shamrock Half Marathon (Virginia Beach)

  1. Mary says:

    Wow! Great job, congrats on the PR!!

  2. I found your blog actually trying to figure out why the race was delayed myself. Congrats on the PR, it was seriously such a fun race despite the cold. Being originally from that area (and moving to upstate NY) it is def one of my favorite races to date. Certainly my favorite half marathon. Congrats again and I look forward to perusing your blog a bit! πŸ™‚

    • kmt4n says:

      Thanks! Still no idea what the delay was about; I guess it’s just one of those things that will remain a mystery.

      It was definitely a fun race and one that I look forward to running again in the future! I live in a very hilly area so it was nice to get some flat terrain for once. Plus the crowd support is just awesome.

      Thanks for stopping by and having a look around! Cheers πŸ™‚

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