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Shamrock Marathon, Virginia Beach

Posted Oct 22 2008 6:15pm
I'm feeling recovered from the weekend and I've decided to talk about the race first, since that was the main reason for the trip. Several months ago Sandy asked if I was interested in running the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, VA. My immediate reaction was to say nopers, it'll be too cold so I don't wanna. Then I thought about it. And thought about it. And thought some more. Looked it up in marathonguide.com, looked over the website, checked into airfare and hotels, changed my mind. I told Sandy that yeppers, lets do it! In fact, she had to decide definitely RIGHT THEN so we could book our flights.

Apparently every single time she suggests a race I'm initially a negative nelly, then I change my mind and am full speed ahead until every detail is planned. I'm just one big marathon pain in the ass! But she agreed to go, and even agreed that we'd have to run the 8k on Saturday so that we'd get the very special "whale challenge" pin. So we made our reservations, sent in the registration form, and started "serious" training again. Then I got the confirmation and I had registered for the half, instead of the full. I still don't know how I managed that. Hysteria reigned until I got a note from the race contact that all I had to do was send another registration form and the difference in price. Whew, crisis averted! Luckily, that was the last thing that went totally wrong.

Sunday morning didn't start as early as most marathon days; the race didn't start until 8:00 am! I got up at 6:00 am and jumped in the shower. I heard an awful ruckus and realized that the half marathon, scheduled to start at 7:00 am, was actually starting right outside our hotel. We listened to the music and announcements, to the anthem, and they were off! It was sold out and we watched about 6000 cold people take off running. And walking. And running really fast because they started so late.

We walked over to the start area (which wasn't nearly as close as the half's start) at 7:15 am. It was cold and pretty damn windy. Luckily we had both bought long running tights at the expo so our legs were warm. I had on a long sleeved top, a light weight jacket, a disposable rain poncho and gloves, a running hat, and a buff around my neck. We had plenty of time to wait in line at the bathroom in the nearest hotel before getting into the start area. There weren't corrals, just some pacers with signs. We lined up between the 5:00 and 7:00 pacers. It didn't look like it, but according to the results there were about 2000 people there.

Once again, announcements, anthem and we're off! We crossed the start after only a couple of minutes and said goodbye to each other. I chucked the poncho after about a mile and realized that I didn't really need my jacket either. It wasn't that it was warming up, I was just having a body heat day (yeah, you can laugh when you reach your 50s and have your own personal body heat days). I really didn't want to spend 6 hours with it tied around my waist and came up with a plan. I saw 4 people standing by the side of the road, honest and trustworthy (yeah, like you can really tell from looks!) and looking like they were actually cheering on the runners (as opposed to accidental tourists who just happened to be there) and asked the nice senior citizens if they'd be going to the finish line area. They said yes, and I asked if they'd pretty please take my jacket with them and turn it in at the sweat check. I had luckily put the tear strip with my bag check number in the pocket so all they'd have to do is turn it in. They quite nicely said they'd be happy to. Yay!

I was feeling pretty good, a little worried about -- oh, everything, but running pretty smoothly. I passed mile 5 and my split was pretty long, but then mile 6 was short so I figured it was just mis-marked. Shades of Vegas. So far we hadn't really run straight into the wind so it went well.

There were several spots where they had set up dj's with very very loud speakers, blaring music. What is it with 80s music and races anyhow? I swear, if I heard Mony Mony once I heard it 3 times - the Billy Idol version mostly. Then someone started blasting Footloose and my feet started doing the Keven Bacon happy dance. Damn you Kenny Loggins for such a catchy tune! I had to make a concerted effort to slow down, but the stupid song stuck with me through the whole race. Except when Mony Mony blasted it out again.

At about 5.5 miles we turned around and started running north-ish. Yuck. The wind wasn't directly in our faces, but close enough. Now, this wasn't just a little spring breeze, it was a big whopper blowing a steady 15-20 mph, gusting 10 mph more in swirly directions. We ran a little loop in Camp SomethingorOther, one of the many military bases in the area. Then we re-crossed the Rudee Bridge, the biggest hill of the day (oooh, 40 whole feet elevation!), ran another little loop, and went onto the Boardwalk at about mile 10. That pretty much sucked the worst of the whole day. There was no protection from the wind and we were running on hard concrete. I put my head down and just concentrated on relentless forward motion (yeah, I stole that expression from an ultra runner's blog a couple of years ago, I wish I remembered who so I could give credit where credit is due-sorry!). I saw my jacket at about mile 12; apparently they hadn't made it to the finish area yet. I pretty much kissed it goodbye in my mind then. But then again I was feeling pretty negative about the whole experience because of the wind.

We popped over to a street parallel to the boardwalk at about mile 12 and got a teeny bit more shelter, but at least we were back to running on asphalt. And then we just kept running that way for the next 4 miles. Directly into the head wind. I could see the fast runners coming back along the same street, heading for the finish. As I counted my miles up I also saw their miles counting down. I made note in my mind that it wouldn't be too long (hah!) until I could see the markers going that direction.

Finally at mile 16 we turned into a more sheltered area. It was still windy, but not in our faces. I was pooped by then. The road was pretty well deserted except for the runners, and there weren't too many of us back where I was. I didn't mention that at a turnaround between miles 5 and 6 I counted everyone behind me (hey, I was bored). I counted 50 people, almost every one of them walkers. There wasn't the usual crowd of 5:45-6:15 runners. I wondered where they were, and figured that I was the slowest runner around, even if the walkers were even slower. So anyhoo, it was pretty sparse out on that sheltered road. Luckily someone had put lots of signs with cute, pithy and (not always) amusing statements. Y'know, like "there's too much blood in my caffeine system" or "do pigs pull their ham-strings" and that type of thing. Maybe a faster runner would have missed them, but I got to read each and every single one. I'm soooo lucky!

Mile 19 we headed back in the other direction, running through Fort Story. There was a cross wind at that point, not horrible but enough to throw me off my stride. Another thing I haven't mentioned: I was doing my standard 9:1 run:walk until we got on the damn boardwalk, where I went to a 4:1. I went back to the 9:1 afterward until about mile 15 where I switched to 4:1 for good. I was pretty determined to finish before the 6 hour mark and the extra walk break insured that I didn't just start walking for no other good reason.

Virginia Beach, except for the boardwalk and close surrounding area, is a pretty little town. Not spectacular, but pretty. Probably looks better in the spring and summer when there's some greenery. I tried and tried to have an Anita moment (someday I'll explain that) but I was hard pressed to come up with one. The ocean was nice, but not spectacular. The wooded area was nice, but nothing special. Saw a few birds, maybe even a hawk, but ho-hum. The only thing that was close (but not quite) were the two lighthouses. Yawn, I've seen better. Sorry, I like the left coast better. Don't get me wrong, it was very NICE in VB. But nice doesn't really cut it.

Back to running. When we finally left Fort Story (hey Sandy, did you know we were running in Fort Story or were you going too fast to notice??) it was what I'd waited for all day. We were finally running south, with the wind at our backs. It certainly didn't help any, especially when the gusts felt like some giant put his hand in the middle of my back and shoved. But at least it wasn't hindering any longer. I started counting the streets backward, knowing I had to do from about 80th down to 30th. At that point I didn't really care about my surroundings. I was insisting to myself that I had to keep up that 4:1. It was hard since I was passing lots of people walking. My brain wanted to join them but uh-uh, no walkin' for me.

I saw the Overlook and realized that I was getting really close. At this point my breathing was pretty bad, heavy gasping during the running parts and trying to catch my breath during the walks. I ignored it. My legs were getting heavy and hurting, oh, everywhere! I ignored that too. Passed the water stop where the volunteers were dressed as belly dancers. With heavy coats, scarves and gloves, so the effect was kind of lost. I saw Sandy walking back to the hotel when I had less than a mile to go and waved to her. Good, she knew I made it. I kept the running, and the walking, and the running. I took my last walk break at just about the 26 mile mark. Hey, I earned it! I realized that I could possibly break 5:50 if I didn't wuss out. I wanted it BAD! So I ran, passed the 13 mile mark left from the half, ran harder, ran harder, sprinted and crossed the finish line at 5:49:06! Whoofreakinghoo! It was pretty comical, I'm sure, to see someone so excited about finishing in 5:49, but I didn't care. Didn't care either that I couldn't breathe and was talking big gasping breaths to get some air. Didn't care that the kid just handed me my medal instead of putting it around my neck. I had such a big grin on my face I probably looked like the Joker!

I had my chip removed (it was the velcro-strap-on-the-ankle-type), got my cape of awesomeness (y'know, the space blanket), a bottle of water, a finisher's cap (how cool is that!) and hobbled through the sand to the beer tent. Yes, the damn beer tent! The title sponsor of the race was Yuengling (that's "ying-ling" not "yung-ling" for those non-beer drinkers, the oldest brewery in the US with pretty darn fine beer) so of course there was beer involved. When I entered the tent I got a bracelet showing I was old enough to drink (and hey, didn't even have to show any id; go figure) and got four drink tickets. Now who in the hell is going to finish a marathon and drink four beers?? They also had beef stew but it looked pretty vile to me so I passed. I drank some of my beer and gave the 3 other tickets to a thirsty looking dude hanging around in real clothes. I really wanted a shower and my bed, so I left. I had to throw out my beer when I left the sand (boo! stoopid drinking regulations!!) but I did manage to drink about a third of it.

The 12 block walk back to my hotel, again into the headwind, took forever. I think it took me 40 minutes to stagger back! It was probably good for me, but I just wanted my shower.

This was my fastest finish in over a year, my 9th fastest of the 24 I've run so far. I was proud, not because of the time (because, hello! it's still pretty darn slow), but because I tried and I pushed and I did not give up! I'm used to just phoning it in, strolling along, not caring whether I finish in 5 (not in this lifetime!) or 7 hours. I really wanted it this time, and was thrilled that I could get it done. Distance running is truly a mental challenge and it's nice to know I'm still mental!
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