Monday, March 19, 2012

Race Report: Shamrock Anthem Half Marathon!

Well friends, I did it! I somehow managed to run my first ever half marathon in under 2 hours (barely!) with a finish time of 1:59:05!

And you know what? It wasn't that bad! Dare I say, I may have even had fun? At the end I didn't feel like dying or like my legs were going to pop off or anything. Today my legs are a little stiff, but really that's it!

Expo/Packet Pick Up - B

J and I arrived in Virginia Beach for packet pick up on Saturday around 3:30 pm. The pick up was at the Virginia Beach Convention Center which was pretty easy to get to and had plentiful parking.

Virginia Beach Convention Center - kinda pretty!

 Just like at the Virginia is for Lovers 14k, the actual packet pick up area was completely deserted.

I walked right up and picked up my bib and then my bag (a drawstring pouch) and my race t-shirt. No pictures now, there is going to be an entire section on race swag later!

I had one mission for this expo: to obtain a pair of compression sleeves for my calves. Last week after running my 11 miler, my calves were extremely tight for the next few days. Of course I have been reading advice about avoiding injury after long runs for a while, but had stubbornly refused to buy any compression gear. After the calf pain I experienced this past week, I then decided I needed some compression socks and figured that the perfect place to buy them would be the race expo. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me that there would be some vendor there selling them. Wouldn't it make sense? I mean, here are thousands of people about to run half and full marathons and some of them are probably in need of compression garments, right?

Although packet pick up had been deserted, the vendor side of things was decidedly crowded. It seemed to me that perhaps they should have given the vendors more of the space and condensed the packet pick up and t-shirt pick up areas. At any rate, J and I set out on our mission. We got distracted by sunglasses and neon race clothing.

Hey Neon Blonde Runner, I think I found your mecca!
But alas, despite spending more than half an hour and circling the vendor area twice, there were no compression sleeves to be found.

What the heck.

And this is why I'm giving the expo a grade of B.

Race Day Arrival/Parking/Start Area - A

The "A" is really only for 2/3 of this category. After examining the map and experiencing Virginia Beach's horrible traffic patterns the night before when going to dinner, I decided that we would not be attempting to park the car near the start.

Our hotel was 2 miles from the start of the race and at first I had delusions of hoofing the 2 miles, but when I realized it was actually going to be cold in the morning I convinced J to drive me up to the start line area where I would jump out, then he would go back to the hotel and our guaranteed free parking. When he got my mid-race alert text, he would then walk to the finish line (about 1.3 miles from our hotel) and meet me there.

Race morning, I got up at 5:15 am and got ready.

Race Day Outfit (toe to head):
Lululemon Groove Biker Shorts
Lululemon Run: Stay On Course Tank in Glacier Lace
Target C9 Sports Bra

The plan worked out beautifully. Nervous about traffic, we left the hotel at 5:50 am (start time was 7 am). Luckily there was no traffic to be seen, probably because the road closures hadn't started yet. I ate my usual 1/2 peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat bread and drank a Gatorade Prime in the car on the way there. Jason got me from 18th Street (our hotel) to 42nd street by 6:00 am. I jumped out of the car and immediately thought, "Crap. It's really cold."

There was hardly anyone else there at this point so I wandered around for a few minutes trying to find a place that was shielded from the pretty cold breeze that was whipping around. I came across the start line, very sad and empty at the moment:

After taking this picture I decided that I was going to walk to the nearest hotel (The Cavalier) and hang out in the lobby until closer to start. Of course some other early-comers also had this idea, but not too many. I found a relatively peaceful corner and killed some time on my iPhone, then went to the bathroom (ahhhh, nice warm, clean, flushing  indoor bathroom), then stretched. Then killed more time. Then stretched. By now it was started to get more crowded. I betcha The Cavalier really hates Shamrock race weekend and all of the runners who invade its lobby at 6:30 in the morning. I especially felt bad for the people who had the bad luck of having a room on the first floor.

At 6:40 I took advantage of the indoor facilities again, stretched some more, then decided I should walk outside and make my way to my starting corral. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea at about the same time that I did, so there was a huge bottleneck of people trying to get in. I ended up walking down the street parallel to the corrals for 3 blocks, then taking a side street to access my start area.

This race was organized by the same folks who did the Virginia is for Lovers 14k, so I had learned my lesson about corral signs and made sure to get in front  of the sign for Corral 3.

In summary: I can't comment on parking because I didn't dare attempt it. Hanging out in the lobby of the hotel was nice (sorry/THANK YOU Cavalier Hotel), but if I had had to stay outside there were plenty of port o johns available and the lines didn't look terrible. I always appreciate a corraled start and the actual corral areas were large enough that I didn't feel like a sardine.

Course - C

Yet another disappointing course! Call me crazy, but when I go to participate in a race in a city with "Beach" in the name, I kind of expect a good part of the race to actually take place within view of the beach. Especially when said beach has a perfect boardwalk on which to run!

But I digress. Let me be positive first.

The good:
1. Flat. Flat. Flat. I looooooooooove me a flat course.
2. Good course support. For the first few miles and then last few miles there were lots of spectators, which is always a nice thing. Water and gatorade were available every 1.5 miles along with port-o-johns (thankfully I did not have to utilize any of them). The website claims that there were carb-boom energy gels at mile 6 but I sure didn't see them. This could be because I carried my own water and basically tried to steer clear from water stations.
3. Paved with lots of room. For the majority of the course we had at least 2 full lanes of road to run in and even in the beginning there was not a lot of traffic or bunching. This also made it easy to zoom through the water stops, as there was more than enough room for there to be water on both sides of the road and for people to keep running down the center.
4. Nice ending on the boardwalk next to the beach. (Imagine that!) The only time spent actually running on the waterfront was the last .5 miles, but those .5 miles were pretty glorious because there were tons of spectators, the beautiful ocean, and a clear view of the finish line!

The bad:
1. B-o-r-i-n-g. We spent time on a tree lined highway, then a few miles on Ft. Story (yawn). Not very stimulating. Where's the freaking beach????

Actually, I'm gonna say that's all that was bad about it. I was just really disappointed, obviously. Here I had imagined running on the boardwalk with the ocean and beach as my scenery and instead I get a highway, an army base, and more highway.

Finish - A+

The finish was my favorite part (isn't it always, though?). That last .5 mile flat, straight shot to the finish line was just great. I had pulled out my earphones and was looking/listening for J, but was unable to see him. Then I saw the giant race clock on the finish line and it said 2:02:40. I knew I had started 3 minutes behind wave 1 and that if I was going to get in under 2 I needed to book it. So I did! When I crossed the line I was so excited that I forgot to stop my Garmin right away, but when I reached down to shut it off it showed 1:59:17 - meaning I DID IT! I was so excited. Then I heard someone yelling my name and there was Jason on the sideline. I showed him my Garmin and got a quick high 5, then back down the chute.

The chute was large and wasn't overcrowded when I came through. First stop, medal.

How awesome is this medal? I love it.
Then water, gatorade, a race hat, Nature Valley Oat & Honey granola bars, a shamrock shaped sugar cookie, bananas, pretzels, and a Finisher sweatshirt (!). I never do this, but this time I stopped to get my official picture taken (first half marathon, gotta do it!) then made my way out of the chute to find Jason.

Once we located each other, he took some photos for me.

My only teeny tiny complaint about the race finish was that I had signed J up for text alerts so he'd be able to know when I crossed the finish even if he didn't lay eyes on me (and I'd have an immediate official time result) and it took a full hour for the text to finally show up!

I didn't participate in the post-race festival. I don't drink beer, so I had no interest in it. Honestly, I'm pretty sure I'll never have an interest in a post-race festival. When I'm finished all I want to do is drink some water, eat a granola bar, and get to a shower as quickly as possible.

Swag - A+

This race had some pretty impressive swag, in my opinion (as it well should have for the $95 registration fee!)

I got the drawstring bag and short sleeved tech race shirt at the Expo. The shirt is nice, but as usual, I should've sized down (I got a small and should've gone extra small... some day I will learn).

At the finish I got the medal of course, then the technical finishers hat and hoodie sweatshirt. Both are very nice. The hat is super light weight and comfortable - I can see myself wearing it this summer. The sweatshirts were available in sizes XS to XXL and you could get whatever you wanted, so I was able to get that in an extra small and it fits perfectly. Plus it is a hoodie and fleece lined, making it extra comfy.

Overall Grade: A-

I think I would run this race again. In fact, I just might try to run the full marathon here next year. The only thing I would change is I would try to get a hotel closer to the start line (this was my fault - I registered and then procrastinated on the hotel room and as a result everything was sold out). The course itself was disappointing but it was  flat and easy (relatively speaking of course). I believe that the marathoners get a better course that includes more ocean front:

Marathoners, taken from my hotel balcony
Personal Performance: A+

How could I give myself a grade of anything less? Not only did I run my first half, I managed a sub-2:00!

I did a few slightly daring things - I wore my arm warmers for the very first time and this was only the second time wearing my new Ravenna 2s. This could have ended in disaster, but I'm happy to say that the Ravenna 2s are nearly identical to my beloved originals and that the arm warmers turned out to be a new favorite item as well. Once I got warm around mile 4 it was very easy to roll them down and let the air hit my arms.

After much internal debate last week, I decided to run with my iPod. I did, however, pull out my earphones during the last half a mile to fully drink in all of the cheering and hoopla.

My first mile was pretty slow. I was afraid of going too fast and burning out. Eventually I worked into a comfortable pace and just went with whatever was feeling good. Once again, my left hip was bothering me slightly but other than that I felt pretty great. At times my legs got heavy, but I just powered through. I hardly looked at my Garmin at all. I drank my full 12 oz hand held water bottle, finishing it off around mile 12, but only ate 2 of the Swedish Fish that I had brought with me.

I checked in with my Garmin at mile 10 and realized that I had a lot of ground to make up if I was going to sub-2:00. Throughout those first 10 miles I knew that I wasn't running fast enough, but I honestly stopped caring. My body felt good, my breathing/cardio was absolutely fine, so I wanted to stick with what I was doing. I was going to finish a freakin' half marathon, so what if it wasn't in under 2 hours?

Then at mile 11 I saw a sign bobbing ahead of me in the crowd of people. At th start, I had been standing next to a pair of pacers who were dressed to the 9s in Irish gear (suspenders, kilts, socks, crazy green glittery glasses, etc). The man had a stick with a sign on the end that said "2:00" on it. They had taken off and were far out of my sight during most of the race. But then I saw that 2:00 sign waving above the heads of the runners ahead of me as I passed the mile 11 flat.

I thought to myself, "If you just catch them and hang with them, you can do this."

So I caught them. And hung with them for much of mile 12. And then something crazy happened. I wanted to run faster than they were. So I did! Then Gaga's "Bad Romance" came on just as I started mile 13 and I knew that I was going to do it. It was my song! How did my iPod know that I needed it right then? Who knows... but with the help of those pacers and Gaga, I ran mile 13 in 8 minutes and 23 seconds!

As I approached the finish and saw that I had just 20 seconds to achieve my goal, I opened it up and went full throttle, absolutely determined. Crossing the line with seconds to spare was an amazing feeling!

I am a half marathon finisher! Can't believe it.

So when's the next one????


  1. Woohoo Kathryn, SO excited for you. Congrats on a fabulous first half marathon, you totally deserve an A+ rating haha :)

    And thanks for the shout-out...they must have read my blog and decided that neon is cool these days hahaha.

  2. Congrats on the half! I have to say, I enjoyed my experience (ran the full) but unfortunately wouldn't really recommend the full's double boring as far as the course goes ;)

    1. Boo on the course. I need all the distraction I can get. Congrats on your full! WOW! =)

  3. Well done on the time. You'll get faster the more you do it. I have still to run a half marathon. But I guess my time will come.