Shamrock On, 20.3.11

Shamrock SportsFest: Anthem Half Marathon Race Report and Weekend Recap

Race: Shamrock SportsFest: Yuengling Marathon, Anthem Half Marathon, TowneBank 8k and Children’s Races
Location: Pacific & Atlantic Aves, Fort Story and Boardwalk, Virginia Beach, VA
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 20 March 2011, 0700
Distance Travelled to Compete: 441 km (274 miles)
Weather conditions: 41F, windy (NNE 13mph) at start, 65F, calm at finish
Course conditions: Flat, slight incline at mile 7, most of the course through the neighbourhoods, about 2 miles in the woods, 3 miles at the Fort Story base. Finished on the Boardwalk.

Preview:

Normally I would not pick a race too far from home, however, the opportunity to race in Virginia Beach (VAB) arose on family affairs and perfect timing. So in essence, I got lucky being able to pick this race, and as such I decided to take advantage. Everyone that’s run previous iterations of this race has had nothing but good things to say; additionally, this race is in the thick of spring break season and St. Patrick’s Day. Parties abound everywhere on the beach, and the chance to meet up with any tweeps/fellow runners if that were to allow.

The USATF-certified half and full marathon 2011 courses are mostly flat courses. Looking at the elevation chart, the half has an ever-so-slight incline on the 7th mile, but all distance stays below 25 feet. The full has two elevation spikes crossing the bridge going south, but half marathoners proceed northbound and never hit the bridge. (Full folks start an hour later going south, the north half of the beach is the second half of their race.) The vast majority of both races is on Atlantic/Pacific Avenues (1-2 blocks from the beach) and ends on the Boardwalk itself. There were 2 miles or so in the wooded area outside the Navy base Fort Story and another 3 miles in the actual base itself.  (Military and race personnel oversaw our route, likely checking to make sure all entrants had their bibs intact whilst inside the base, I’m sure…)

My goal for this race is working on my pace/times and working in hills as I improve my speed in the half marathon. Therefore, I slated for the half here in VA.

The Expo:

The Shamrock Marathon directors held their Expo at the VAB Convention Center, which was conveniently (and coincidentally) located one block from where I was staying.

I stayed at the nearby Doubletree Hotel (19th St. and Pavilion Ave.), infamous for their awesome cookies that they serve warm upon check in. Walnut and chocolate chip, baby!

Haven't had these in awhile. 18 March 2011.

We woke up first thing on Saturday and headed to the convention center. Overall, the organizers did a bang up job, especially since the race itself lives up to its reputation of having some oh-so amazing swag out there. Even better, considering how the cost of technical shirts and stuff add up, it was even cooler they sold products from their past races at deep discounts – and I’m talking DEEP discounts – $5 for short and long-sleeve technical shirts and $1 for running hats.

Sigma Nu's can display for the race's food drive. 19 March 2011


Leprechaun hat made of cans. 19 March 2011.


Welcome sign at the Expo. 19 March 2011.

And the most awesome part about their swag? I might not have been running for too long in such events, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone wear a technical shirt that has come as close to pure coolness as this one!

Tech shirt for half marathoners. 19 March 2011.

Not to mention the streets of VAB were all decked out as well.

Banner over Atlantic Ave. 20 March 2011


Light pole banners. 20 March 2011.

Meetup!

Finally after I was through with the expo, I met up with Elizabeth, whom many of you know as @FiftyForBilly on Twitter! Currently in law school, Elizabeth is travelling around the country and running in marathons in memory of her father, whom she lost in 2006. She is raising money for the Center for Grieving Children in Portland, Maine and she documents her journey on her way to running in all 50 states. I had met her once when she was in Philadelphia and I was thrilled to see her again and catch up!

Elizabeth and I relaxing in the sun. 19 March 2011

And Now the Race…

This was it. 4:45am wake up call, needed to aim to be at 30th Street by 6am to hike the 12 blocks to 42nd St. and Atlantic Ave. and 7am gun time. (Full marathoners had a gun time of 8am from 33rd and Atlantic, although I heard later their start was delayed until 8:15am for reasons I’m still not entirely sure of.)

I was wired, inspired and on fire, ready to go. This was what I’d put 12 weeks or so conditioning myself for. I just wanted decent weather conditions and a good race.

Around 6:15am, my dad dropped me off at 30th Street and followed a steady stream of spectators and half marathoners up Atlantic Avenue. It was 40F and VERY windy.

The queue at my bag check truck. 20 March 2011

I checked in my bag, and queued up to get in my corral on Pacific Ave. The massive amount of people made it impossible, however, and by then it was already 6:45am. As the announcer kept announcing the time, I soon realised it would be next to impossible to get to my corral by waiting in line. Next thing I knew, a local VAB resident was singing the national anthem, and finally as I did with a few others, I jumped the fence into the first corral and wormed my way back until I found where I needed to be. I ran into others who were trying to find their way forward as well. Just so many people, and as this was the first race I’ve run with over 2000 participants, dealing with a 10k-participant event turned out to be somewhat of an awakening for me. Even worse was how windy it was, it made the pre-race waiting period all the more unpleasant.

And then it was on. 7am. Wheelchair participants were off. Then the elite corral. Then Corral 1. And then we made our way to the start line. This was it. I was so psyched. I’d heard so many great things about this race, and I was finally here.

Little did I know that my experience would come with the challenges that it did.

The horn sounded. We were off. I hit my pedometer and took it all in.

Mile 1: We started off with the Cavalier Hotel to our left on 42nd Street and with Nickelback music blasting in the background. In usual fashion, I veered off to the left of our path as much as possible. Off to our left were loads of supporters holding signs, I looked in vain for the people I knew, and especially my father, unfortunately he was nowhere to be found. There were several leprechauns dancing by the time we hit 50th and northbound, and towards the next mile marker, I had witnessed two collisions. Lord, I thought to myself, so many people…

Mile 1.5: I had been told that water stops would vary as to which side they’d be on, unfortunately for me this first one was on the right of our path. Dodged right, grabbed a cup and then darted back left, barely avoiding a collision.

Mile 2: Several women in green, white and black tutus passed me. A man in nothing except a pair of suspenders and boxing shorts passed us all. It was quite amusing seeing the lot of costumed runners that I did, although I knew the most dressed up individuals were in the rear. I checked my pedometer again, and then a nasty pull seared through my right calf.

Mile 2.3: I had to stop, annoyed at myself. Thankfully I was back far left. I slowed down, and readied to keel over the traffic cone. And then…BOOM. Next thing I knew I was sailing into the cone; a towering sprinter behind me was unable to stop in time. My left knee – the weaker of the two – had hit the pavement hard; the sprinter himself tripped fell on his side. He had to be at least as twice as huge at myself. I was doubly annoyed at myself; I’d stretched like hell, how did I allow this to happen? I got up, but now my left side wasn’t the same. I shook it off. And again. I started to brisk walk on my way. Alright, calm down, feel yourself up, you’re not going to die. I started to jog slowly again.

Mile 2.8: The first of two Yuengling beer stops (the second was at Mile 10). I voluntarily skipped both of them, but at this one, I saw a man wave a huge “BEER” sign and screaming “Beer at this stop!” Even more amusing were the reactions of those who took in the beer, some cheered, others were like “oh wow, this really IS beer!” I can only imagine what the reactions of the under-21 runners would have been though…

Mile 3: Second water stop and the intersection at Shore Drive. I had been told that water stops would vary as to which side they’d be on, and luckily this one was on my left. It was really hard, at least at this water stop to tell which ones were holding water and which ones were holding Gatorade or Cytomax. I took a cup of water from one, and the second cup, I was hoping was the energy drink, but nope, second cup of water. I needed sugar, but I figured I’d be okay until Fort Story…

Mile 4: My left leg started to feel somewhat okay, but I found myself having to shift slightly more weight to my right side in order to compensate. What became more worrying was how – or if – I was going to get through nine more miles of running like this. Talk about mind over matter. I was also frustrated because I’d travelled far for this race and barring a broken bone, it would kill me not to finish. And then, as if on cue, it was then we started running into signs on either side of Shore Drive detailing both funny and lame St. Patty’s Day and leprechaun jokes. The chuckles of the crowd around me took my mind off the pain, if nothing else.

Mile 4.7: A DJ was off on the right side blasting music. I personally choose to run without headphones in races, but this time, I couldn’t have been more thankful hearing rap music.

Mile 5: “Sweet Caroliiiiiiiiiinnnneeee!” There it was, Neil Diamond’s classic, and one of my most favourite songs to sing on karaoke. I can’t stress how much that song lifted my spirits. Off to the left was a band playing songs from the 70s and 80s, if I recall right, they were called The Rivets. I sang along to the chorus of Sweet Caroline, and mentally it helped push me along onward to Fort Story even as the muscles in my legs started to tighten up. It was also then we hit the 5M split clock.

Mile 6: Entrance to Fort Story, the west gate, and another water stop. And yes! This was where we got our CarbBoom gels. Except between my trembling hands, and the toll the cold the wind had taken, I had a very difficult time getting the gel down. I swallowed the last of my water after taking all I could – a wildberry CarbBoom gel (they also had strawberry as well). We started to see more sunlight as well and to my relief about this time, the winds started easing up.

Mile 7: Anzio and Vung Tau Roads. Just over the halfway point. “YES!” I exclaimed to an older lady next to me. But my muscles continued to tighten and I was hoping to see the numbered streets again. Unfortunately for me, those wouldn’t reappear until after we left the base – Mile 9.

Mile 7-8: Mind over matter. One sandy street after another. I took in the sights of Fort Story and the lighthouse. So beautiful, the view of the northern end and I’d never seen a lighthouse in my life! More people dressed as leprechauns passed me…singing in Gaelic. Wow, seriously? I needed every ounce of energy to continue and these people were singing?

Mile 9: Exiting Fort Story! I couldn’t have been happier to see the condos, the houses and – YES – 89th Street! We were back on the numbered streets. Just hold steady…for another 60 blocks. Yes, our finish was on 30th and the Boardwalk. Another water stop helped, but having coughed up snot a decent portion of the morning, that’s when I realised that going foward I needed to buy the iFitness belt that I was eyeing at the runners’ expo. (Current training hydration belt is a tad too bulky…)

Mile 9.5: Winds were picking up. But something deep inside me lit up, and I started really picking up in spite of the wind. I didn’t feel the pain anymore, though I consciously did not run at my top speed in fear I’d hurt myself again. And then more supporters around 80th Street. 50 more blocks!

Mile 10: The second of two Yuengling stops. I passed it, but saw others two fisting the small cups of beer. And saw another person waving his sign and yelling “Beer here!”

Mile 11: Another water stop. Grabbed more Gatorade here as well. I had one muffin for breakfast, but I needed the sugar so badly. “You’re almost there!” I heard spectators scream, and I slowed down in some exhaustion, only to hear another man encourage me to pick up the pace. “Keep on going,” he said, “you can do this!” The only pain I had was my right ankle, apparently from the toll of shifting my weight off my bad leg.

Mile 12: 47th Street. Oh God. I’m almost there! I heard more Nickelback music blasting in the background. I crossed over to the right, looking in vain to see if my parents would catch me before the finish, and I barely avoided a pothole…except the lady behind me did not. She tripped into me, and I crashed to the ground again.

WOW….seriously Master Fate? Once was bad enough, but TWICE?!?!

I partially broke the fall with both of my hands, but both my knees hit the pavement. And with my left side hurting, that second fall really hurt. Rinse and repeat. Shake it off. I tried not to panic.

Listen to your body, can you do this? I told myself. Can you? Do you want to? If it’s not broken… You’re at 45th..15 more blocks. If you have to walk the last bit, it’s alright.

Except when you’re hurt, 15 blocks feels more like 15 miles, even though I’ve lived in downtown Philly and walked city blocks for the last 10 years of my life. Ugh.

Mile 12.5: I pushed through. The winds picked up, and I slowed my run to a jog. My muscles were as tight as ever. I tried to stop thinking in city blocks. We made a left on 37th and then the Boardwalk…oh my the sunlight was so beautiful! We passed King Neptune on the way to the finish.

King Neptune on 37th Street. 20 March 2011.

And then, the sight I thought I’d never see.

Finish line. 20 March 2011

Afterparty and the Aftermath:

It was over. I broke my pace as soon as I crossed the last sensor line. It was over. I survived. My legs were killing me. I was handed a finishers’ shirt, my medal, a finishers’ hat and loads – and I mean loads – of food. Bananas, cookies, granola bars, water, pretzels, chocolate…wow. I grabbed my bag from the check in, and made a beeline for the aid tent.

A medical assistant directed and escorted me directly to the party tent, where there was a section cordoned off for people who needed iced and treated for minor injuries. I sat keeled over for 10 minutes icing both my knees and calves and answering questions from the staff as the music played on. I took some ibuprofen and answered a call from my dad who had unfortunately gotten lost in the crowd.

Shamrock Marathon after party. 20 March 2011.

Once I was well enough to move a bit around the tent, I did so, limping around to take in the beer and stew that I was dying to take in at that point.

Queue up for the beer! 20 March 2011.

And it flows. 20 March 2011

There was a nice sculpture outside the finishers’ tent.

Sand sculpture! 20 March 2011.

I met up with my folks, and chatted with them outside the tent as I continued to ice my legs. It was then that I saw the first of the elite/corral 1 full marathoners hit the finish line and even they weren’t immune to injury. I had seen twofull marathoners collapse right after they finished and medical staff literally fled through the crowds to get to them. I can only imagine how much worse it must be in May-September when the heat is so much worse.

And in closing:

Overall, between the expo, the so-called Shamrock Schwag, the after-party, the attentiveness of the staff (pacers and medical staff in my case) and the massive volunteer effort, these guys did a bang up job running this event! I VERY strongly encourage anyone if you haven’t run this race, this MUST be on your bucket list. Numerous publications state the swag is certainly worth it, and the finishers’ medals are so nice!

Finisher's medal. 20 March 2011

Injuries aside, the course was flat, fast and festive, albeit a slight incline at mile 7. I would definitely like to run this again if life should ever permit me to come down here again; as for my misfortune, it will have been a lesson learnt in dealing with injuries during a race, both physically and mentally.

I am so grateful for the ability to run and to be able to share in this experience with a lot of other people. And I hope to be back on my feet soon as I train for my next half – 22 May at home in Philadelphia. But there’s no shadow of a doubt that this race exceeded all expectations in every way and the organisers deserve every bit of credit they get.

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