The Shamrock Marathon weekend of 2014 provided many highlights for the whole family. This was our second year participating in the race festivities and visiting Virginia Beach. The great thing about Shamrock weekend is that the whole family can find something fun to do.
We live about four and a half hours from Virginia Beach, so we loaded up the SUV and headed down the highway on the Friday before the race. As usual, we hit traffic and the four and a half hour drive turned into five and a half hours. This year we went straight to the race expo to pick up our race packets since Connor was running in the Operation Smile Final Mile on Saturday. The expo offers a lot of vendors selling their running and fitness gear. Nothing really jumped out at me this year. I bought a new SPIBelt to hold my gargantuan phone. Just like last year, Connor had his heart set on Planet Pizza for dinner. The alien and UFO decor alone is enough to make any 7 year old boy’s day. After dinner, we headed to our hotel which was located four blocks from the marathon finish line. Last year we were about 10 agonizing blocks away. Lesson learned. Settled into the hotel, we called it a day and crawled into bed to rest for a big day Saturday.
We had signed Connor up for the Kids’ Operation Smile Final Mile Race when I signed up for the marathon. The participants accumulate 25.2 miles prior to the race and run the final mile (to add up to 26.2 miles – the equivalent of a marathon) on Saturday. Of course Connor made sure he had exactly 25.2 miles added up in his RunKeeper account. Race morning, he was ready to go. This mile race is quite a spectacle. There were over 4500 little runners in a wide range of ages. They grouped the kids in six corrals to ease the congestion at the start. Connor got corral 2, so he started 10 minutes after corral 1 hit the course. With so many kids, we had to plan the best way to get Connor safely to the start and find him at the finish. I took Connor to the start and got him situated in his corral. Jen and Cole went toward the finish to round him up when he crossed the finish and herded into a big finishing corral to keep all of the kids together. I saw Connor speed by and Jen caught him on video, even though she didn’t actually see him run past. You can see him streaking by in his florescent yellow shorts below.
The event was chip-timed, so I got an alert to my cell phone with Connor’s finish time almost immediately after he crossed the finish line. His pre-race goal was anything below 7 minutes. His previous best mile time was 7:44. I told him that would be a pretty drastic leap and to shoot for a low seven minute mile. He set his new PR at 6:49! Very impressive! He was thrilled! Here are some photos of Connor running his Final Mile.
After the race, we grabbed lunch and then headed to the Virginia Beach Aquarium. This was the thrill of the trip for Cole. I was worried that at two years old, he would not have any interest and just want to run all over the place, driving us insane trying to keep an eye on him. Fortunately, he loved the exhibits and animals. He has talked non-stop about going to the aquarium since we got home. All four of us really enjoyed our time there, so I highly recommend checking it out if you make your race weekend a family affair.
Night-before-the-race dinner was a pasta buffet at the Holiday Inn – a tradition we started last year. I ate fairly light to avoid any digestive issues the next morning. We then headed back to our hotel, laid out all of my clothes, pinned my race bib to my shirt, and settled in for the night.
Finally race morning was upon us. I got up early (5:15 AM) to shower and grab breakfast from the hotel lobby. I stuck to half a bagel with peanut butter and a banana. I put on all of my race attire – shorts, long sleeved Running Dad shirt, my new SPIbelt loaded with Hammer Gel, and my trusty SKORA Phase running shoes. This year I decided to carry a water bottle with a hydration mix by Skratch Labs. I had trained with it and wanted to remain consistent during the race. The previous two marathons, I had used the water stations to hydrate. I always ended up wearing more liquid than I actually managed to swallow from those little paper cups. I figured that if I can’t stand carrying the bottle, I’ll chuck it and resort to the drinks along the route.
Stepping out the front door after whispering goodbye to my slumbering family, I realized it was stinking cold out there. And windy. I was tempted to go put more clothing on, but I decided to tough it out. I remembered that there were some tables outside of the Sheridan near the start line that had firepits built into them. I found the tables and squeezed in to warm up while I waited for the race to get close to starting. I ran into some friends from my local running club to chat with, which helped pass the time while I nervously waited for the race. With 20 minutes to go before race time, I stretched and warmed up.
Stepping into the starting corral, I worked my way up to the front just behind the elite runners. Here, I found the 3:05 pace group. I always am a nervous wreck before a race until I get to the start line. Then the nerves just fade away and I am ready to go all out. After the National Anthem, the “Ready, Set, Go” was announced and I was off for a twenty six mile endurance test. My goal was to finish in under 3 hours and 10 minutes. That is the time needed to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I wanted to have a bit of a cushion in case something went wrong during the race, like a bathroom break or slowing down due to running out of steam. Having the 3:05 pace group really helped me to both keep my pace in check, and take my mind off focusing on my watch every mile to see if I was hitting the 7 minute per mile pace I had planned.
The course is almost a figure 8. You run out to a military base at the beginning of the race. Here, hundreds of cadets cheer you on and offer high fives and hoo-rahs. I made sure I high fived as many of them as I could. After the base, the course heads you back toward the start, passing runners who are making their way into the base. If you have never experienced the running community, it is really impressive the amount of support runners give each other. All of us are competing with ourselves – setting new personal records – and not trying to beat the runner in front or behind us. Unless you are an elite runner and actually stand a chance of winning, we are all there to set personal records. Most of us aren’t quite elite. Yet.
The course comes back to the boardwalk, which on this day felt like a wind tunnel. The wind was coming off the ocean right into our faces. Our group all tucked in together and fought the wind as a pack which made it a bit easier. I knew my family would be standing outside of our hotel at mile 11, so I finished what was left in my water bottle. When I saw them, I tossed Connor the empty one and grabbed a full one from Jen. A smooth handoff.
The other half of the figure 8 goes to another military base. Miles 16-19 are shrouded by trees, so we had a break from the wind. On this stretch, I started talking to one of the pacers, Tom Purcell, a local gym owner and personal trainer, and shared my story about Lucas. He also has a son who had complications at birth, so he could relate to my experience. Tom and I also share the same birthday, just 10 years apart. The conversation helped to tick off those miles. At mile 20, I ended up beside another runner and started a conversation. It’s funny how you form a bond with the people that you run with for hours at a time.
By mile 23 there were a small group of four of us running as a pack, cheering each other on. I also saw some friends from home, Wendy and Marci, who were heading out on the final loop of the course. Rounding the corner onto the boardwalk, I knew the finish line was coming up. That last turn went head first into the wind and almost brought me to a complete stop. But I only had one thing on my mind – I just wanted to find my family to wave to them as I closed in on the finish line. I spotted Connor holding his “Finish Strong, Daddy” sign and waved to my fan-club-of-three as I crossed the finish line with a time of 3 hours 4 minutes and 17 seconds. Mission accomplished! Below is a video of me waving to my family as I finished the race.
Here are some photos from the race. I especially want to thank my family for their support, my running coach, Kyle Kranz whose plan helped me achieve my goal, the pacers and friends I made on the course, and all of my friends who have followed my progress leading up to this race.