Unlike previous years, we decided to head down to VA Beach on Friday, both to make it more of a vacation, as well as a less stressful drive. Without the rush to get checked into the hotel, eat, get to expo, etc, it just made things more relaxing. And relaxing is exactly what I wanted in the days before the race. No reason to add excess stress on top of pre-race nerves! The drive down was easy - just 3 hours. Weather was chilly and windy, much as I expected race day to be, but that didn't stop a certain someone from getting his dig on. I mean, if you're used to digging in a tiny sandbox and find a whole beach filled with the stuff, wouldn't you be excited too?
|This is the largest sandbox ever!|
By the time Saturday rolled around, much nicer weather found it's way in, and we were awakened to the sounds of race day, as the 8kers were making their way toward the start line. We quickly got our stuff together and headed over to our favorite breakfast joint in VA Beach, Pocahontas, which also happened to be right on the course for the race. We sat at a table that looked out at Atlantic Ave. so we could watch the runners come by. It helped me get into my race mindset, while I continued to stuff myself with some wonderful gluten free french toast (ie lots of carbs). Not too long after, I met up with a fellow =PR= runner I coach through our distance training program, and we went off for a short shakeout run. Nothing fancy, but a quick easy mile, followed by 2 x 2:00 at marathon pace, then some more easy jogging. Nothing more than a chance to spin the legs out a bit faster to create some muscle tension and get rid of some nerves.
After the run, we drove over to the expo to pick up my packet. As is usual for Shamrock, there were very few lines if any. Pickup is always a breeze, even when you go on the busiest day. I didn't need anything at the expo, so we were in and out, even with a little exploring, in less than 30 minutes.
|See, no lines!|
|Family Beach Shot!|
The sleep before race day is always interesting. Sometimes I sleep incredibly well, other times I barely get any. This was one of those cases where I WAS sleeping incredibly well...until a certain little one was so excited from his big day playing in the sand that he decided he wanted to go back out there at 1 AM. Rebecca amused him for a bit, he ate a snack, then went back to bed. Then got back up at 4:30 AM for good. So that was that. Not much sleep. But if there was ever a testament to the saying that the sleep the night before a race doesn't matter, I'm pretty sure I've just verified it.
|1 am snack time!|
After killing about 3 or so hours by continuing to stuff my face with a bagel at 4:30 am (carbs) and sipping sports drink (more carbs), I followed it up with my actual go to race day breakfast of applesauce, protein powder, and a banana (more carbs). I felt full, but with a solid 2 hours before race time, I knew I'd be in good shape by then.
At about 7:45, I made my way down toward the start for a short warm up. Only a mile total of running, with 2 x 1:00 at marathon pace as pickups and then a few more strides closer to the actual race start. I met up with some other =PR= runners, including Erin, who was my training partner this cycle for our long runs. We met last year on the course at around Mile 2 and we formed the unofficial 3:10 pace group. We started training together this cycle when we both decided to sign up for Shamrock again. Our plan was to stick together and at the very least, work through the winds ourselves if we couldn't recruit others to join us. Our plan was broken into race segments:
- Miles 1-5: Try to start out at 7:20/mi and then slowly progress, with 7:15/mi avg by Mile 5.
- Miles 6-12: Pick up the pace a bit, hanging around 7:10/mi.
- Miles 13-18: Goal pace time, sitting around 7:05/mi
- Miles 19-23: Hold onto goal pace or anything under 7:10/mi
- Miles 24-Finish: Anything under 7:15/mi
Erin and I were lined up about 8 rows back from the front. At exactly 8:30, the horn sounded and we were off. As per usual, some people were flying down Atlantic Ave. With a slight tailwind and race day nerves, we just let all those runners go and stuck to our plan. We were running easy and just chatting it up like any other long run. Shortly after the start, another =PR= runner Liz, who Erin runs with during the week, joined our group. Her stated goal was 3:25 and I knew we were running a fair bit faster than that, but she seemed to look and sound comfortable running our pace, so I welcomed the company. By the time we hit Mile 1, the three of us in our =PR= gear were racing down the road, chatting it up. No stress, just smooth running, clocking 7:16 for our first mile. A little fast, but I figured with the tailwind, it was close enough and we'd kept our effort super easy and would continue to for the early miles, so if that's what easy effort dealt, so be it. I tried to not focus too much on the actual pace and just made sure I felt like I was out for an easy run and was seriously holding myself back. If that feeling was confirmed, I was running the right way. Pace was only a reflection of what that yielded me. There would be plenty of time to work, but early in the marathon should not be one of them.
The next few miles were pretty calm as we continued chatting. Around Mile 3, a group of 5-6 runners were chatting away, so I struck up a conversation with a few of them about their plans on the day. Turns out, they were all shooting for 3:05-3:10, so I figured we'd be running together for a while. Just like last year, I explained our plan to see if they'd be interested in joining when we got to the boardwalk later in the race. Without hesitation, they all agreed. I assured them that they'd all get equal time to recover and rotate, unlike our experience last year.
Shortly before Mile 5, we hit the same spot that causes issues for everyone every year - the Mile markers were off. This being my 3rd time running the race, I knew they'd be off. So when everyone's watch beeped around us and they all groaned when they saw how far Mile 5 was still away from us, I quickly assured them that this happens every year and not to panic. Those who were hand timing their splits would have a really slow Mile 5 and a really fast Mile 6. Not sure why they haven't fixed this yet after all these years, but it helps to know it, so you don't suddenly speed up or panic when your splits aren't where you want them to be. So with the proper Mile 5, we came through in 7:13, averaging 7:13/mi over Miles 1-5, which was very close to our 7:15/mi goal - right where we wanted to be.
Shortly after, we hit the turnaround and made our way back up the road with a chance to see all the other runners pouring down the street. It wasn't too long before I'd be hearing my name or shouting out to others. Literally, every 15s or so, there'd be another person. The runners we were with were joking if I was some celebrity. With a lot of runners in our =PR= distance training program and others that I've coached in year's past, it was quite the contingent. Once we made our way up the road a bit further, we turned off to head into Camp Pendleton. And unlike last year, this year was packed with service people cheering us on. I was thankful to have the support, as we did 3 years ago, but was careful not to make the same mistake I did then and speed up too much. I joked to one of the runners with us that Erin would speed up through this section, and sure enough, as we ran threw it, he put a 10 yard lead on us. We caught back up soon after, but the excitement of the streets being lined always gets the adrenaline pumping a little more. Looking back on our splits through that section of the course, we ran 7:07/mi, which was about 3-4s faster than we ran the other portions. Just goes to show that it does have an impact.
|Coming off the Rudee Inlet Bridge|
Before we knew it, we were heading out of the camp and back into the road to head over the Rudee Inlet bridge. Some in our group charged the hill, but I took it as easy as I could and caught back up on the downhill. Just trying to save every ounce of energy, as it was still early in the race. We crossed Mile 10, which meant it was now time to head over to the boardwalk. Our group assembled in four sets of two, lined behind each other line a pace line. Each set of two would take 1-2 minutes out front, then fall back to the end to recover. This seemed to work really well and we were picking runners up who were fighting solo along the way. Group run tactics are the only way to battle these kinds of sections. The boardwalk wasn't actually as bad as it has been, so the time flew by pretty quickly. We actually threw down one of our faster splits on the day, running 7:04/mi at Mile 12 as we turned off the boardwalk and onto Atlantic. By the time we hit Mile 12, we averaged 7:08/mi over Miles 6-12, which was right where our goal was.
Every year, this stretch of the course seems to be the most difficult, which it probably is in any marathon. You've been working for a while, but you're only halfway there, with most of the actual work yet to be done and it only gets harder. Running up Atlantic, I'd spot a few more =PR= runners that ran the half marathon and were out cheering. Our pack was still full in tact, though I could tell a few were starting to fade as I could hear their breathing, which is never a good thing to hear only 13 miles into a marathon. The bulk of our group continued to paceline it up Atlantic and onto Pacific. It was right at the turn into Pacific that we crossed the 13.1 mark in 1:34:42 (same EXACT split as last year) and I saw Rebecca and Z waiting to cheer me on. It gave me a sudden burst of energy and I mentally reset myself to keep my head down and run strong through this tough section.
|The pack - and then there were four|
The 4 miles up Pacific are some of the longer miles in the race. No turns, an ever so slight uphill grade, and only your mind to bug you about how you're feeling. Fortunately, I had the pack to amuse me and half marathon runners going the other direction to distract. We cheered for the half marathoners and continued joking around, which was good, because it meant everyone still in our pack was feeling alright. We were down to four now, as the others dropped off along the stretch up Atlantic/Pacific, and we made our turn onto the tree lined streets away from the winds. It felt good to be running strong and even easier without the wind. We were clocking miles between 7:05-7:10, so I wasn't too stressed about sitting at exactly 7:05 per our goal. As long as the effort felt right and my legs were behaving, that's all I needed as confirmation that I was running the right pace. We just keep plugging away, hitting Mile 18 in 7:07, averaging 7:08/mi through this section.
Now it was time to get down to work with the serious part of the race in front of us. We were right on pace, but we just needed to hold it. Mile 19 was my fastest mile on the day, 6:59/mi. It wasn't my intent to run that fast, but that's what happened. I quickly passed the mark where I cramped up and had to back away from our pack last year. I gave it the finger and hoped it wouldn't happen this time, so maybe that's where the 6:59 came from? Of course, it wasn't too long after that moment where I felt the ever present (for me) hamstring twinge. I immediately backed off and thought my day might be done, but quickly shut that part of brain off and focused back on positive thoughts. I told Erin to go ahead and he pulled a few steps ahead. After a few moments, the tightness went away and I was back on his shoulder. He looked back to see if I was there and gave him the thumbs up.
We had now made the turn back toward the finish, but were slammed with some serious winds. I think if you asked anyone where the worst wind was on the course, everyone would say Fort Story. Maybe it was because it was later in the race, but it hurt. Our pack had fallen off and it was just Erin and I. We picked up a few others who were ahead of us fighting the winds solo, and got them to join in. It became 5 of us, but I'm pretty sure Erin was the only one doing much of the work. I was barely hanging on, as I was worried about pushing too hard with 5 miles still to go, so I just stayed at the back of the group and ran my own race. Erin on the other hand seemed to be feeling strong. At Mile 22, he dropped us with a sub-7 mile surge, that put a 50 yard gap between our group and him. I could still see him up ahead, but I just wanted to keep my consistent running without risking further cramping. I was still running around 7:10, so I knew if I could just hold pace, I'd come in easily under 3:10. So despite the urge to bridge back up and run the rest together, I played it safe.
|Stupid wind, go away|
|Cruising down Pacific - almost there!|
Once I entered Fort Story around Mile 20, I covered my watch with my arm sleeve. I knew this part would get tough, but I didn't want a slow pace reading to influence my mindset. I peaked down once during that section and saw 7:07, so I knew I was doing fine. Once I exited Fort Story and had only a 5k to go, I took another peek at Mile 24 and saw a 7:07 mile and started playing the math game. I basically figured out that I could run an 8:00/mi and still get in under 3:10. Of course, I had no interest in doing that, but it was comforting to know. I slowed a tad in Mile 25, possibly due to that knowledge, posting a 7:17, but still well within my goal range at that time. I slowly began picking up the pace over the final bit after I could see the hotels located along the boardwalk in the distance getting closer.
|Amazingly still able to celebrate!|
|I'm sure he'll appreciate this moment when he's older :)|
I have a lot more to say about the race, my thoughts, etc. but I'll save that for another day.
Here are some of the final stats on the race, including my splits:
Pace: 7:12/mi (Garmin had me at 7:09/mi with extra weaving/running)
Overall Place: 84/2788
Age Group: 22/208