Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Shamrock Marathon Weekend - 2015

I started running marathons in 2012 with the 37th Marine Corp Marathon (MCM).  While I was not happy with my time, I used it as a jumping board into the world of marathons.  I wanted so badly to break 4 hours, I signed up for the Shamrock Marathon later that year.  Five months after completing the MCM, I ran the Shamrock.  It was cold, windy, and rainy, but I finished in under 4 hours, and I was hooked.

Traveling to Virginia Beach

Sallie and I traveled to Virginia Beach, Va in the Friday evening of marathon weekend.  Unlike previous years, Sallie would be running the half marathon versus the 8k, which is run on Saturday mornings, meaning that we could head to the Expo on Saturday, versus Friday.  After a long drive from Herndon, Va, we reached the hotel and checked in.  I have always had a hotel on the course, near the finish line, with this years hotel being the closest to the line then all previous years.  Through out the drive I ran through the race plan in my head.  My goal was 3 hours and 30 minutes, and I was going step by step through the course, working out each point and how to get past it.  By the time we got to the room and unpacked I was mentally exhausted.  Sleep was needed or I might drive myself crazy overthinking the race.  We picked a time to head to breakfast and then to the expo.  Then it was off to bed.

We woke up at around 7am, a bit earlier then I had wanted, but I couldn't sleep beyond that.  I grabbed my running clothes and headed out for a shakeout run.  At around this time, the 8k would be running outside of our hotel, so I did the 30 minutes parallel to their last 3-4 miles.  I was hoping that running with the racers would get my mind away from the continued stress of tomorrow's marathon, and it almost worked.  It distracted me throughout the run, as I cheered the runners on while heading back to the hotel.  Once I got back into the hotel, tomorrow's race came charging back into my head.  It was time to grab a shower and breakfast, with the hopes of distraction at the Expo.

Breakfast and the Shamrock Expo

We headed off to Pocahontas Pancakes, one of the best breakfast cafes in Virginia Beach, a little after 8am.  We knew there would be a line, so we called ahead of reservations, then headed off.  One of the benefits of eating here on the Saturday of the Marathon weekend is our ability to watch the kid mile fun runs as we ate.  Each age group ran in front of the restaurant and it was inspiring to watch the kids joyfully charge down the street, hoping to win, and not caring if they did.  Once we were done eating, we wandered to the Expo.

The Expo for Shamrock is reasonably large, close to the size of the one done for MCM when it is housed in the DC Armory.  The bib pickup was to the right once we entered the expo.  There was no line and we went straight to our respective booths and on to the race merchandise.
Entrance to the Expo, just before it started on Saturday

Entrance to the race store.  Got to love the leprechauns!
With the race centering around St.Patrick's Day, the theme tends to be beer related.  The shirts focused on Irish themes and drinking, and the accessories were the same.  We grabbed our shirts, some jackets and hats, a pint glass, and we headed into the main Expo area.  The expo had many local running stores, as well as several local races displaying their medals.  We wandered around a bit, grabbed a few things we thought were interesting and headed back out.  I was hoping to run into Jessica Myer Hofheimer and her husband, who would be running the next day, but we were never able to meet up.  Now it was time to eat again, rest, and relax.

Saturday and the Start of the Troubles

We headed back to the hotel and then decided to wander out for a bit.  Sallie needed a jacket, as it was still cold outside, so we hit up a local shop that did custom jackets.  She ended up with a light Redskins jacket and we found a new doughnut shop, called Dough Joes just a block away.  We both grabbed a doughnut and wandered to the beach for a short walk.  I still couldn't get tomorrow's race out of my head, even while we walked on the beach, so I suggested we head back for some lunch.  We hit up a bar a few blocks away and Sallie ate pasta, while I ate a burger.  Most of what they had was seafood, which I knew would not settle well for me.  Eating a burger was risky, but it was the only safe thing on the menu.  We spent some time at the bar, since service was slow and there were some games on, chatting about the race, our plans, and expectations.  Once we finally got the check, we wandered back to the hotel to relax and rest. 
For once, we had great weather to wander the beach
Our little snack while wandering the expo and beach
We spent the rest of the evening, before dinner, organizing our gear for the next morning and planning out breakfast and how things would work after we woke up.  Sallie's race would start 1.5 hours before mine, so she would be out of the room well before me.  I knew at some point we would pass each other on the course, so we talked about where that may be and how to get each others attention.  After a few hours of planning and setup, we headed down to the hotels restaurant for the buffet pasta meal.  There we met several runners from around the country, with a small group from Buffalo sitting right next to us.  We talked about how much the Redskins and Bills sucked and the complete implosion of the Sabres.  We took our time eating and when we were finished, we wished everyone good luck tomorrow, and headed back upstairs for final preparations and sleep.  At this point, tomorrow's race plan came screaming back into my head and the worrying came back with a vengeance.  I tried to put it all aside and head to sleep early.

Race Day

The alarm went off early and we both got out of bed to eat breakfast.  I try to eat 4 hours before the race, to make sure everything digests and makes it through the system.  I also start the poo process with a pre-poo (TMI, I know), as I don't drink coffee, so I need to prime the system before it can work completely.  Sallie got dressed for her race and I headed back to bed, after resetting the alarm.  I was not feeling all that excited about the race and I was hoping another hour of sleep would shake off the cobwebs and get me back in the game.  Sallie wished me luck and gleefully headed off to the half marathon, all decked out in her Shamrock outfit.

Sallie's Shamrock outfit
The sunrise seemed to be a good sign of a perfect race
With Sallie gone, I was now alone with my own mind.  It took me a bit to stop thinking about the pace I wanted and my concern about keeping it, eventually falling back asleep.  The alarm came quickly, and when I woke up, all I thought about was how I could just hang in bed, not go for the run, and wander back out in 4 hours.  Sallie wouldn't be any wiser at that point and I could sleep more and not have to run the race.  It would seem I stressed myself out so much I had burned myself up mentally.  I didn't want to run the race, even if I could make the 3:30 time.  It just wasn't going to be fun, and I wasn't in the mood.  I eventually talked myself into running the race, got up, and got ready for the run.

The Beginning of the Race: Miles 1-3

I got to the start line later then normal, with only 20 minutes before the race start.  I dropped off my bag at bag check and did a quick warm-up.  I would be in the second wave for this race, with some truly fast runners.  I always feel awkward this far up in the corrals, as I don't see myself even remotely close to their level.  I met up with the 3:30 pace group and chatted with a few of the runners.  We were all on the same page on pace; we wanted the pace but we were unsure if we could keep up.  The anthem was sung and the gun went off, with our wave going 2 minutes after the lead wave.  We all started off with the pacer, the first two miles being a straight shot down the main road heading south.  Just after mile 2 we make a turn and head over the only "hill," known as Rudee Bridge.  I had a few glances at my watch, and our pace was disturbing.  The pace seemed to be around 7:30MM versus 8:00MM, meaning that we had gone out far faster then I had planned.  At this point a comment Coach Adam Lesser made last year reared its head.  The faster pace group pacers at Shamrock tend to bank time on the first half of the race to make up for time lost in the winds on the second half.  By mile 3 I started to back off and curse myself for trusting the pacer to do the right thing.  I started to plan for how I would check my status over the next 10 miles, each time evaluating if I could keep holding the 8MM pace.  this didn't help my stress or care to keep running.  The mental fight had already started.


Mile 1: 7:39
Mile 2: 7:44
Mile 3: 8:02

Miles 4-6.75

For the next few miles we would be running south on the main road on the first out and back portion of the race.  It was quiet across a large amount of these miles, with the cross roads having the majority of the cheering support.  At about 4.5 miles into the race we hit the first "Radio Station".  These stations were actually DJs playing music and helping to keep the runners from thinking about what they were doing.  The water stations on this part of the course were well stocked and the volunteers were cheering everyone as they ran through.  At about mile 5 we started to see the elite runners coming back down the course. As they crossed, we cheered them on, especially when the first female ran by.  At this point I was feeling a bit better about my pace.  I was running with another runner who also backed off of the pacer, chatting about the race, previous races, and goals.  At 5.6 miles in we had to take a U-turn, and as we turned back down the course,we both started to vent about the pacer and his insane pace for those expecting not to burn out in the last part of the race.  We past the 6 mile mark agreeing to keep the 8MM pace and see where it would lead us.  I watched the crowd on the other side to see if I recognized anyone while trying to keep the pacing math out of my head.  It wasn't working.  We past the next water station and headed to the turn that would bring us onto one of two military bases the course ran through.


Mile 4: 7:57
Mile 5: 8:02

Miles 6:75-8

The turn off the main road lead us to Camp Pendleton, where we would run through the base for a little over a mile.  Normally there are a large faction of solders out to cheer us on, spurring a surge of adrenaline and thus a push in pace.  I new this could happen and focused on keeping the 8MM pace as we entered the base.  Unlike in years previous, the number of soldiers was low, to a point in which I asked someone if the base had closed.  This turned what would normally be an inspiring part of the course into a drag.  My spirits actually dropped, which wasn't what I was hoping for.  I was happy to get out of the base and back to the road.  Once we got out, I knew we would be heading back to the beach and the first chance of any real wind.  While my mind was still fighting the urge to want to keep running, the body was willing and happy to this point.


Mile 6: 8:00
Mile 7: 7:57
Mile 8: 8:01

Miles 8-13.1

Once we left the base, we joined back onto the street we initially came down on.  All of the marathoners had already passed by this point going in the other direction, so we had no oncoming traffic to worry about, or to occupy our thoughts.  We headed back over the bridge and took a quick turn to the right.  Mile 10 would be the last turn before we hit the boardwalk.  Last year I hit the bathrooms here, as the lines didn't exist.  Luckily I was good to go and just kept running.  We made the wide quarter of a mile counter clockwise turn and headed up the boardwalk.  The boardwalk is not made of asphalt and is harder them most people have run on, so I knew this would not be pleasant to the legs.

The boardwalk on a nice sunny day
This part of the course has decent crowd support.  Most of that support comes from the hotels, as people hang out on their balconies and play music or cheer.  This was a boost to my demeanor, and helped me get somewhat out of the mental hole I was in.  This was the first of two sections known for headwind.  Drafting was the name of the game while running up the boardwalk.  As we turned onto the boardwalk we got a taste of the wind.  The wind was a little strong here so I moved closer to a tall runner in front of me and hung behind him for a mile.  I then sped up to get in front of him to reciprocate.  Drafting without offing to shield at some point is bad form in races, and I did not want to steal someone else energy without returning the favor.  I was feeling good at this point, and with the focus on drafting back and forth, as well as the crowd support, I wasn't thinking about pace or time.  At mile 12, he jumped in front of me and we kept going until the turn off the boardwalk and back onto the main road.

It also occurred to me that the sun was now out in full force  Previous attempts at this course have always been run during an overcast or raining sky.  While the race started off overcast, the clouds and given way to the sun, causing me to sweat a great deal.  This may have contributed to the foot issues, as my shoes were drenched after the race and I did not put more then body glide on them.  Body glide, with the amount I sweat, needs to be applied every hour, and that wasn't going to happen for my feet.

We came up to mile 13, which ran us through the hotels and office buildings next to the beach.  I took a look at my watch to see my time and I was still on pace and mostly felt fine.  The only thing that felt off was my feet.  They felt a bit warm, almost as if they were being "burned" through friction.  I noted it and put it out of my head to move on.  I wanted to use the good feeling of the legs to drive me further, mentally and physically.  From here we would be heading up the second out and back part of the course and I knew we would see the back of the pack half marathoners heading to the finish line on the other side of the road.


Mile 9: 8:01
Mile 10: 8:02
Mile 11: 7:55
Mile 12: 8:04
Mile 13: 8:08
Mile 13.1: 1:44:30

Miles 13.1-16

At this point I started to look for Sallie.  I knew her pace would put her between the 11 and 12 mile marker of the half by the time I hit the halfway point of the marathon, if I had kept my pace.  I finally saw her at mile 14.  She was surrounded by other runners like a queen with her entourage.  I screamed her name many times, but she was in the zone, chatting it up with the other runners and never heard me.  Here is where she met her new friend Gabrielle Charbonneau.  Both were enjoying themselves, talking about Spartan races and plans for running together in the future.  While Sallie not noticing me should not have concerned me, it did become a downer.  I really wanted to have her hear that I was on pace.  I needed that pick me up, as the course support is limited, especially going into the second half, and I needed something to keep going.     

By 14.5 miles, the feet were getting worse.  I new this meant blistering, but I was hoping it would stay away for as long as possible, but it was slowing me down a bit.  At mile 15 we past the group that had green beers for the runners.  While it would be interesting to grab one, with more then 10 miles to go, that would just be disastrous.  From the half marker to mile 18 there would not be any music, just sparse cheering crowds, so my feet and the lack of personal support was starting to get to me.  At mile 16, we turned onto the highway and the loneliest part of the course.  The mental fight was turning into a war that I was losing.


Mile 14: 8:13
Mile 15: 8:09
Mile 16: 8:20

Miles 16-19

This part of the course runs alongside a swamp, with the majority of the road slanted to the right.  The majority of the runners try to stay on the lower shoulder, as it is level, but it is not flat.  This section is a beautiful section of the course, and should be a pick-me-up, especially because the road had a tree canopy to block out the sun.  I started to chat with a few people at this point, hoping to raise my spirits, as I was not much off my pace and I needed a distraction from my feet.  It was helping a little, as was the music from the two live bands and the DJ.  The first music we hit was at 17.6 miles, and it was a cover band rocking out some great tunes.  The DJ was at mile mile 18 and a local marching band was just a bit further down at mile 18.5.  

As we got to the turn at mile 19 we reached the Boyscouts cheering section.  Miles 19-22 are some of the hardest miles due to wind, no protection from the sun, and very little support, so the Scouts tried to pick everyone up as they made the turn.  At this point my feet were not in a good spot.  Blisters were yelling at me and there were many of them voicing their hate.  I had 7 more miles to go and I was slowing down, as each step started to feel unfriendly.  On to the turn and the wind!


Mile 17: 8:34
Mile 18: 9:07
Mile 19: 9:34

Miles 19-23

We made the right turn into Fort Story and passed the mile 19 marker.  Here would be wind as we ran towards the Cape Henry Lighthouse.  I was surprised to feel far less wind then I expected.  I pushed through the next mile, as the expected high winds were not so bad.  I knew I had limited time before my feet would stop me from running, so I wanted to press on until I couldn't.  My pace was now 1.5 minutes off of goal, but I was still moving, even with the pain.  As we round Cape Henry, the solitude, wind, and the fact that we have run 20+ miles finally gets to people.  this is the 14th street bridge at MCM or Queensboro bridge in NYC.  

This was a point in which runners started to hit the wall and I passed runners that were in many states of that pain.  This included a runner bend over and not in a good way.  We sent over some aid workers and police when we reached them, and I hoped he would be safe and fine, even if it meant a DNF.  As I got past the 21st mile marker my feet decided to express themselves, using sharp pin-like spikes into the feet as a reminder that they were there.  The feeling started to become unbearable, so I took a short walk to see if that relieved the pain.  I feared that I may DNF, and passing each runner that had stopped, bent over, or quit did not help.  I was losing the mental game, and I wasn't gong to have it.  

I started to focus on what I had left to do and how I would change my pace to get me there.  While the walking did not allow the pain to go completely away, it subsided enough to run again.  I did this twice during this mile and things felt better, so I picked the pace back up for the next mile, returning back to a 9:30ish pace.  This was a bad idea, as that just pissed the feet off more.  Now it was like running on glass, each step shooting pain through the foot to a point that I wanted to cry.  The next 3 mile were going to be interesting and painful, but I was not going to lose this fight.  Not today.


Mile 20: 9:46
Mile 21: 11:15
Mile 22: 9:35
Mile 23: 11:05

Miles 23-25

From this point on it became a fight against pain.  I had to walk twice per mile to let the pain in the feet subside, but I wasn't going to stop.  I learned from my NYC race that stopping for too long dooms you to tightening muscles and even more pain, so I let myself only slow enough to reduce the pain.  Tylonel may have been a good idea, but I wasn't thinking about that when I passed the water station.  Instead I was looking forward to the crowd manned Whiskey station at mile 23.  The last 2 years they had Jameson and I needed the shot to ease the pain and push forward.  As you could probably predict, they decided to give out beer instead of Whiskey this year.  Another brick on the large stack that was loading me down.  I pushed on and caught up to another runner in a similar situation.  He was limping and kept trying to run, so I trying to cheer him on and push him forward.  If I could get him going, maybe I could use him as a rabbit and mentally drag me with him.  Sadly he was far worse then me and eventually fell back, so I focused on just finishing.  As we got to mile 25, I could see the buildings and hotels that made up the beaches skyline and I started to use that as distance markers to help get my hopes up that I was almost there.  The pain was hitting my internal threshold at this point, which is normally dangerously high.  One more mile and change to go and this was going to be a knock down, drag out fight.


Mile 24: 11:44
Mile 25: 10:44

Mile 26.2

From mile 25 to mile 26 the crowd support started to grow.  People were seeing me in pain and they were pushing me to start running again, not to stop.  I used this to help me move forward, both by mentally telling them to screw off, as well as using the positive support to push on.  I tried to pick the pace up during my running part and I took a minute a mile back off mile 25.  At this point I said screw it and just ran mile 26.  Just before mile 26, we reenter the main section of hotels and building, and then turn left onto the boardwalk.  The pain was almost crippling and I wanted to just stop and sit, but here was the crowd, here was the support.  I couldn't let them down, I couldn't just give up this close to the finish.  I turned the corner to the left and entered the boardwalk once again.

The boardwalk was now a straight shot to the finish line, just .4 miles left, and the crowd was 4 rows deep with people.  Finishers were on the course screaming to push you to the finish.  I saw the finish and started to scream at myself to run, pick the pace up, screw the pain, suck it up and go.  Some observers looked at me strangely as I screamed loudly at myself, using words most people considered immoral or bad, others screamed with me.  I charged the line, in pain and pissed off, 23 minutes late, with tears coming down my face.  I wish I could say it was emotions of finishing and not the final expression of my pain tolerance finally breaking down from the last 7 miles.  Several volunteers and medical staff asked if I was OK, to which I told them I was fine and hobbled to get my medal, towel, and hat.  I had finished, I was done, and I wanted to just sit and cry.  Instead, I headed off to the bag pickup to get my gear and change clothes.  While I switched out of the clothes on the boardwalk (the benefit of wearing a kilt for recovery), I called Sallie to inform her of the situation.  I wasn't sure I could walk to the beer tent, but I would try.  Once I finished changing, I started the long .2 miles to the tent.  The battle was won, but the victory was bitter sweet. 


Mile 26: 10:34
Mile 26.2: 3:53.29

After Party

The last two time I have run this race, I left within an hour of the race finish, due to weather or other obligations.  This year I made it a point to stay an extra day to experience what I am told is one of the best after parties of any marathon.  Now, I was in no mood to party, as my feet hurt a great deal, I had failed in my expectations for the race, and I was tired.  That being said, I was not going to let pain and anger disrupt a party, so I wandered over to the food and beer tent.  Fatigue finally hit me as I staggered to the party tent.  I felt far more fatigue then I was expecting, and I couldn't figure out why.  I took extra GU this time (once per 3 miles versus 4) and I drank how I would normally drink at each stop.  did it really get that warm?

 One of the things that they do outside of the tent is stand up a large sand structure next to the PR bell.  

As I passed both the mound and bell, each ring of the bell cause me to be happy and pissed off at the same time.  I gingerly stumbled into the tent and went straight for the free stew.  As a reward for running the race, each runner is allowed a bowl (or three) of tasty stew from a Murphy's Irish pub, as well as two Yuengling beers.  I grabbed a bowl of stew and a beer and went to find Sallie.  I knew she was outside sitting in the sand, so I left the tent and searched for her, finding her just outside to right most entrance.  We sat out in the sun, on the beach towels they gave out at the finish line, drinking beer and chewing down stew.  I finally took my shoes off and looked at my feet.  It was not a pretty site, as both sides of each foot was full of blisters.  

Blisters in the Sun

That is salt, not sand, covering my arm

I finally had a look at my arms and face.  It would see there was a salt lick all over me.  I must have dumped out more then normal amounts of salt, which would explain the extra fatigue.  It would also explain to over abundance of water (sweat) in my shoes.  This would have to be looked at later in the week, becuase it needed to be solved for later races.  Not now, though.  I was done with thinking about running.  Sallie and I sat on the beach for a while, talking about our races, her new found friend, and the best way to get more free beer once you past your two beer limit.  Sallie had been here for over an hour before I got here, and it showed.  I eventually got up and headed in for more stew and beer.

One of the fun games they play in the tent is how high people can stack their beer cups once they are empty.  The theory is if you knock it over, you buy the next round.  

I was too tired to play, but I did play the cup flipping game while listening to the nice Irish cover band playing loud and cheerfully.  My spirits were slowly returning, partly due to the alcohol and partially because my brain finally reset to seeing the race as a problem to solve and not a failure.  We hit up the finishers store on the way out of the tent, where Sallie got the Neptune tights, which had an interesting placement for his stare.

The rest of the day was filled with pasta and doughnuts, then sleep.  I had a lot to think about, with the Cherry Blossom race two week from now.  I needed to understand what went wrong on this race, how to stave off the salt issue, and keep the feet from blistering.  I also needed to get fully out of this funk.  This wasn't a failure but a lesson that I need to learn from.  If I don't see it any other way, I will burn out mentally.  Doing that would not be a good direction.  Maybe a break was in order, though I had two races in the next three weeks.  Let us see what lessons I can apply to those races.