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Race Review: 2017 Yuengling Shamrock Marathon (Virginia Beach, Va.)

Less than two weeks removed from a devastating windstorm which featured 80+ mph winds that left over 100,000 people in the Rochester community without power – and days after Winter Storm Stella dumped in excess of 2 feet of snow or more on the same Upstate NY communities, it didn’t take a hard sell to get me to pack up the family and make the 9-hour drive from Avon, NY to Virginia Beach, Va. to participate in the 45th running of the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon.

The race, which was first held in 1973, promised a “flat, fast and scenic course along the beautiful oceanfront” and a “huge finish line celebration on the beach.” With five events to choose from, 30,000 participants over the 3-day weekend, and an average temperature of 60.6 degrees in March, thoughts of frolicking on the beach post-race, Yuengling beer in hand definitely crossed this Western New Yorker’s mind.

Victoria McLaughlin (left) of Brighton NY and Ann Marie Bedelyon (right) of Avon NY pose for a pre race picture.

The weekend kicked off on Friday afternoon with packet pickup and a Sports and Fitness Expo at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. In addition to a wide variety of equipment, apparel, footwear and accessory vendors, a number of notable speakers including Jen Yuengling (Yuengling), American Olympian Shalane Flanagan, New York Times Best Selling Author of Run Fast, Eat Slow, Elyse Kopecky, Runner’s World’s Chief Running Officer, Bart Yasso and several others were featured during the 3-day expo.

Reviewing my “Final Instructions” email, the race website at www.shamrockmarathon.com and clicking through the race mobile app, it was evident that this would be a well put together event. J&A Racing had everything from parking and road closures, to course support and pacers, live athlete tracking, dry bag checks, VIP experiences, on course race photographers, post-race family reunion area and post race party featuring live entertainment covered. Everything that was, except the weather.

Ron Barras (center) of Philadelphia Pa. and Victoria McLaughlin (right) of Brighton NY make their way down the Boardwalk to finish the Anthem Shamrock Half Marathon.

Runners participating in the TowneBank Shamrock 8k, Leprechaun Dash and Operation Smile Final Mile on Saturday morning had to deal with unseasonably cool temperatures. Those running the Anthem Shamrock Half Marathon or Yuengling Shamrock Marathon on Sunday morning, however, experienced most of the four seasons, and everything else Mother Nature could throw at them on Sunday.

I arrived to the course early Sunday morning as my girlfriend Ann-Marie and training partner Victoria were both running the half marathon which began at 7:00am. We were greeted by a brisk 45 degrees and steady rain. With my race not starting until 8:30am, and the temperature reaching 39 degrees and expected to continually drop as the race went on, I was fortunate enough to have a lighter weight winter coat stashed in the trunk. I’d look more like a hockey goalie than marathon runner, but decided I’d rather be warm, and hopefully dry, than soaked and stylish as I attempted my third marathon since taking up the sport.

“It was my 3rd Shamrock Half. J&A always puts on an amazing race, too bad they cant control the weather! This years weather was by far the worst conditions I have ever run in. The volunteers were absolutely awesome for standing in those conditions for hours. I initially said no more, never again, but the excitement of the weekend will always keep me coming back!” – Sherry Warner, Hampton Virginia

An excited Sherry Warner of Hampton, Virginia crosses the half marathon finish line.

Regardless of temperature and regardless of weather conditions, there will always be a buzz in the air as the National Anthem is performed and runners, lined up in corals, await the countdown to begin their race; especially when that countdown comes from one well-dressed leprechaun who was apparently unfazed by either the steady rain or near freezing temperatures while rocking his green tuxedo.

The race began with runners heading out on a mostly flat and fast 12-mile loop made up of roughly a 6 mile out and back. The loop would consist of several water stops, a live band, disc jockeys and radio stations. Around 2 miles in (then again around mile 10 on the way back) runners were treated to views of the Atlantic Ocean as they crossed the Rudee Bridge and its minimal 48 feet of elevation change. This was also the first time that runners would experience the 20-30 mph winds that would factor into the race a few miles ahead.

A quick selfie before the start of the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon.

Though the next few miles should have been the prettiest miles of the race as they meandered down the boardwalk within a few hundred yards of the ocean, they were some of the ugliest. Though they should have been some of the easiest miles being both flat and full of distractions, they were some of the hardest. Runners were challenged by Mother Nature as they took on these next few miles making their way directly into those aforementioned winds as white caps pounded the shore. The rain did let up momentarily – as it turned into sleet that pelted the faces of runners. Gone were any thoughts of frolicking on the beach or a celebratory jump in the ocean.

As we made our way off the boardwalk and back onto the main roads to begin the back half of the marathon, the sleet turned into a very light snow. I could only laugh and think to myself how I drove almost 700 miles and 10 hours to escape this weather. I over packed for the weekend trip, but was sure I didn’t bring this weather with me. I tried to use the fact that I was from Upstate NY and spend a good amount of time training outside, in far worse conditions than this, as a motivator. “They are going to expect more from me, I’m from NY” I kept telling myself.

“First Shamrock and had a great week-end at expo, cheering on 8k runners and PRing in the full. The weather could have better but we can’t control that.” – Michael Jordan, Dewitt NY

Michael Jordan of DeWitt, NY makes his way past the Cape Henry Lighthouse.

Miles 14 through almost 20 got really tough both physically and psychologically. This stretch of miles were all road miles, and all run directly into a headwind that demanded such an increase in effort that many runners took to a run/walk method to try to just keep moving forward. Every step was physically draining as your quads and calves were punished with each step. It was also around this point which both half marathoners who were still fighting through the elements and the marathon race leaders, who were so very much closer to the finish line then us middle of the pack runners began to pass heading in opposite directions.

We passed a handful of water stops with very encouraging volunteers, a couple more radio stations and a live band before approaching the historic Cape Henry Lighthouse, a landmark which marks the southern entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. The original lighthouse dates back to 1792 while a second was built in 1881 following concerns of the stability of the original. To me it signaled that Fort Story and mile 22 were in my near future.

Christopher Herman of Avon NY crosses the finish line with a new PR at the 2017 Yuengling Shamrock Marathon.

As we ran through Fort Story, which is operated by the United States Navy, you could quickly see that this would be a prime training environment. The 1,451 acres had a combination or sand dunes, variable tide conditions, forest and open land. As we made our way through the fort, we ran through what could only be described as “sand storms,” with winds that could knock you over, every time we passed a cross road leading to the beach.

The strong headwinds we ran into just a few miles earlier seemed to quickly disappear as I had hoped they would help me regain time I lost on the second half of the marathon and push me through the remainder of the course. Having run the first half of the marathon in 2:05:50, and knowing that I had lost a good deal of time to the wind and weather, I pushed through the pain for what felt like an eternity before making the final turn back onto the boardwalk.

Finishers of the 2017 Yuengling Shamrock Marathon received this spinning Finisher’s Medal.

The finish line was now in sight. Having to beat 4:29:54 I took a final look at my Garmin as I headed down the home stretch. Disappointed for having lost so much time due to the weather I would still PR at Shamrock even if it were only a mere few minutes. 4:24:55. Knowing this course had a high rate of qualifiers for the Boston Marathon, I was anything but ecstatic by shaving a mere 5 minutes off my time. “Five minutes?” asked Ann Marie. “More like 15.” Apparently somewhere along the way, my target of beating 4 hours and 30 minutes worked its way into my head as my PR. My previous best was actually 4:39:54 – I had PR’d by just under 15 minutes!

As I made my way through the finishers chute towards the party tent, the swag started to pile up. In addition to the standard banana/water/cookie/granola bars, runners received a very nice spinning finisher’s medal, t-shirt, hat, beach towel and bag to carry it all in. There were also tickets affixed to our bibs for a free bowl of stew from Murphy’s Irish Pub, and for 4 Yuengling beers.

The after party featuring live entertainment at the Shamrock Marathon.

With registration fees for the marathon ranging from $75 to $140 depending on the date in which you register, I found this race to be well worth the money. The course is indeed flat and fast as advertised giving all runners an opportunity to post a PR (regardless of weather). The post race swag is above average (with more available for purchase) and the post race food, drinks and after party are a blast. Add to that the race weekend expo and speaker series, oceanfront running and free race photos and this race has to be one you consider running. J&A Racing has done a great job with this race and their attention to detail is noticeable. Though they can’t control the weather, the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon is definitely a race worth adding to your schedule – just remember to check the forecast!

Completing my First Ever Marathon Wasn’t Even the Proudest Moment of My Day

My son and before the start of the Two Rivers Marathon.
My son and before the start of the Two Rivers Marathon.

I’m a MARATHONER! Those are certainly three words I NEVER thought I’d use to describe myself. I’d never even run before June 2014, and even then – the 1 minute running intervals on Day 1 of the Couch to 5k program I was using were nearly “impossible.”

This wasn’t my first attempt at 26.2 either. After completing the couch to 5k program last year, I ran my first 5k. There were then several more. I ran a 10k and a couple races of slightly longer distance. I signed up for the Four Season Challenge through our local Fleet Feet running store. That was a series of four half marathons, one every season. I thought that too would be impossible, but one-by-one I managed to finish them and began training for the last piece of that resolution. Then, towards the end of August, having logged 120 miles that month in preparation for an end of year marathon, I threw out my back on a 16 mile training run, ending my bid to complete a race of all distances between 5k and marathon in 2015.

Jack was hard at work while dad was out running.
Jack was hard at work while dad was out running.

Having taken some time off from training to recover from my back injury I found a group on Facebook, Streak Runners International. I was immediately intrigued. Though you can join the group, it isn’t until you log 1 mile of running every day for 365 consecutive days that you can become a member of the club. I wanted in. So, October 4th I began my run streak and decided that I would find an early spring marathon in 2016 to train for.

Right around that time I saw a post on Twitter that a runner was using a marathon to raise funds for an organization called I’mME, an organization which started after former Buffalo Bill (and current Pittsburgh Steeler) David Nelson visited Haiti in 2012.

A sight for sore eyes! Jack and Ann Marie suprised me with signs at the finish!
A sight for sore eyes! Jack and Ann Marie suprised me with signs at the finish!

“i’mME is a non-profit organization who exists to End the Orphan Cycle through care, prevention, and partnerships. Since beginning its efforts in Haiti during the summer of 2014, i’mME has provided over 22,000 meals, educated 250 children, rescued 11 orphans, created 37 jobs, and prevented close to 200 children from being abandoned. They are currently in the beginning phases of expanding their efforts to a couple of new countries.” You can read David’s account of his trip to Haiti – and the experiences which led him to start this organization at The Players’ Tribune. I was moved by his story and decided to start a fundraising campaign based around completing a marathon. To date, the campaign which had a goal of $500 – has raised $670 and continues to grow.

Two Rivers Marathon in Lackawaxen PA was one of the first marathons of 2016 (March 26) – and it was within driving distance from Rochester NY. I would have ample time to train for the race and raise awareness and funds for I’mME. Whenever I posted a training update (and I have run every day since October) I also put it out there that I was using this race to raise funds for a great cause. As the miles started to add up, so did the donations. Contributions came from friends at work, family members, numerous running friends from the Rochester running community – and folks I’d never met, runners from running groups I belong to on Facebook were sharing my posts and contributing to the cause. Somewhere along the way, this race became bigger than a runner banging out his first 26.2 mile race and crossing the finish line. Even while running this race, the total raised continued to climb.

Proud to finish a marathon, and more proud of the contributions to I'mME
Proud to finish a marathon, and more proud of the contributions to I’mME

The race itself was awesome. First off, you’d find it difficult to find a value priced race ($70 registering later on) with better swag. In addition to the standard finishers medal and t-shirt, runners received a branded pair of socks and backpack! And with the Pennsylvania hills surrounding this course, runners experienced nature all around them as they ran much of the course along the Lackawaxen River. Though it boasted a net elevation drop of 600+ feet, there were plenty “rollers” as the race director called them, along the way as well. Where I’m from in New York, we call them hills. We would also describe his “small hill” somewhere just short of a mountain but with the first two miles of the course being run downhill you were able to bank some time for the previously mentioned rollers. After around mile 10, the course basically flattened out the rest of the way.

The plan for this race for me was simple. Just finish. I targeted about a 12 min/mile pace shooting to finish in 5:30:00 or less. I figured 5:15:00 to be an achievable stretch goal and anything under 5 hours to be barely out of reach. Aid stations were placed every 2 miles so there was nothing to carry as I planned to hydrate with water and Gatorade every 2 miles and refuel with GU every 4-6 miles.

When the race started, and I hit that downhill start I committed the cardinal sin. Adrenaline pumping and running downhill I hit Mile 1 in 9:29. Conscious of the possibility of burning out by going out too fast I slowed down. Or so I thought. Mile 2, 9:28. I made a real effort to try slowing things down and the “rollers” and “small hill” helped by doing their part. Miles 3-8 ranged between 10:06-10:34.

I did it! I AM a MARATHONER!
I did it! I AM a MARATHONER!

Still feeling pretty good, I hit the 13 mile mark at 2:15:59 which was only slightly slower than my half PR of 2:15. The remaining 13 miles were in the 12’s and 13’s with my slowest mile being mile 24 at 13:48. I knew those last 4.2 miles would be tough though as my training plan maxed out with a 22 mile run, and tough they were. I resorted to my run/walk strategy somewhere around mile 18.

Overall, I just tried to stay within myself, stay at a comfortable pace (even if faster than planned) and enjoy the scenery and experience. There was never a doubt that I would finish, and I knew that the struggles and pain I would endure in my first marathon paled in comparison to the struggles the children and their families I had been fundraising for endure on a daily basis.

I finished my first ever marathon with a chip time of 4:59:25. Proud to have just completed a marathon, and super proud to have finished my first-ever in under 5 hours – the support that all of you have shown in supporting I’mME through my race and fundraising campaign makes me the most proud. Proud to be part of such a wonderful group of people called runners, and proud to call you my friends.

The fundraising campaign runs through 3/31/2016. If you’d like to contribute, Click Here!

A post-race celebratory photo with my son.
A post-race celebratory photo with my son.

Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow – My 20 Mile Adventure

Having never run before last year, I have encountered many things in this running journey that I thought I could never do. Completing a 5k, 10k, Half Marathon; me?…. “yeah right.”

Much to my surprise, I HAVE completed each of the above distances several times even, while posting halfway decent times to boot. Yesterday’s training run for my upcoming Two Rivers Marathon on March 26th, however, would put both my mind and body to a test even I wasn’t sure I could complete.

Pre-Run Selfie
A quick photo before beginning my training run with Ann Marie biking alongside.

The 20-mile training run along the canal path in Rochester, NY started off like most of my other runs, a quick pre-run selfie with my girlfriend Ann Marie who decided to bike the distance to make sure I had no problems and then we were off. The weather was beautiful, especially for Upstate NY at the end of February. The temperature was in the upper 40’s and I was pumped!

Knowing I had completed my last half marathon at a 10:04 min/mile pace I had every intention of pacing myself at around 12:00 min/mile – with a couple of simple goals being to just finish and to complete the run safely, as my prior attempt at marathon training last year came to an abrupt end with my 16 mile training run resulting in a thrown out back.

The first mile passed, 10 minutes and 37 seconds. “Slow down” I thought, still feeling great. Mile 2, 10 minutes 26 seconds… not exactly slowing down. I remember two thoughts crossing my mind early in the run, “I need to slow down,” and “this must be how a race leader feels” in regards to having my girlfriend biking behind me.

Training Run Splits
Splits for my 20-mile training run as tracked by smashrun.com

Around mile 5, I realized I had made a big mistake. I packed plenty of fuel for the run but somehow managed to forget the water before leaving the house. “No worries” I told Ann Marie, there are plenty of water fountains along the route so I should be ok. Except, after all, this WAS still Upstate NY – and we WERE at the end of February meaning they had all been shut off for winter.

Before we knew it, we had finished the first 10 miles of the run. I took a minute to fuel up with a couple Gu packets and then we were headed back knowing an out and back would “guarantee” a 20 mile completed run.

Shortly after beginning the 2nd half of the run both calves started to tighten and cramp. I knew it was the lack of hydration as I hadn’t experienced this during any previous runs, even my 5 completed half marathons.

Without sending my girlfriend ahead to find water somewhere I wasn’t left with too many options. But, there was still plenty of untouched snow lining both sides of the path the entire duration. It’s crazy the things you think of on long runs. I would NEVER even consider eating snow and here I was seriously wanting to do just that.

By the time I hit mile 12 I knew what had to be done to make sure I’d finish this run. So off the path I went – and there I found the most delicious, ice-cold water I’ve ever had in the form of melted snow. Just “don’t eat the yellow snow” I remember thinking as I downed a handful of this wonderful “treat.”

The next few miles followed the same pattern. Run a mile, grab a handful of snow to eat and start running again. It got me through mile 16 or so, and my legs started to feel much better.

Then things got really tough. “I only have a few miles to go” I thought. It wasn’t working. I had to sit for a few minutes. I seriously considered letting her get the car and pick me up from the rest area as there weren’t too many more road accessible stopping points along my finish.

I thought about my grandpa who passed a few years ago. He’s a former NYS Trooper. His toughness, even in his later years, has gotten my through many runs. ‘I HAVE to finish this.” I thought about the caramel iced coffee sitting in the car waiting for me. I thought about the charity I’mME who I am fundraising for*. The work they’re doing in Haiti to break the orphan cycle. The children.  I decided right then that whether I ran, walked, or crawled, there was no way I was hopping on that bike or having a car whisk me away from this challenge.

The last 4 miles were some of the toughest I’ve ever run both physically and emotionally. They certainly weren’t pretty. I maintained the run/eat snow walk pattern and pushed on. I remembered thinking how this run was both something I was ashamed of and most proud of, all wrapped into one.

I found a second wind, albeit in very small bursts. “You’re not really slowing down when you’re running” I remember Ann Marie saying. All I knew was that with each painful step I took I was closer to being done with this. And then I could see the parking lot in the distance.

Post Run Selfie
All smiles refueling with a garbage plate after completing the 20 mile training run.

I gave it everything I had that last half mile. I wasn’t going to leave anything in the tank at this point. And somehow, if even for a quarter-mile or maybe even less, I recorded a 6:34 pace for those final few paces. And then it was over.

I had just completed a 20 (point 02) mile run at a 12:25 pace (not including my rest break)! And like every runner before me and every runner who will come after me, I uttered the words “I guess if I could finish that run, the marathon is only 6.2 miles more.”

*If you’d like to contribute to my fundraising effort for I’mME to help their fight to break the Orphan Cycle, Click Here!

Ever Gone Streaking? I Started And Can’t Stop

Late this past September, shortly after my birthday I was online late at night and came across something I had never previously considered doing… streaking.

Now I know the first thought that comes to mind – and this wasn’t about taking off my clothes and running across a football field trying to outrun security.

I had come across a Facebook page for a group, Streak Runners International (https://www.facebook.com/groups/95577453452/). I was instantly intrigued that there were people posting that they had just completed 1 year, 5 years, 20 years and even 50+ years having run a minimum of 1 mile per day.

I was interested. I’ve only been a “runner” for a little over a year now, but like many, I was hooked after signing up for my first 5k in September 2014. I’d managed to have completed several 5ks, a handful of longer races and even 4 half marathons at that point, but this streak thing got my attention.

According to the United States Running Streak Association and Streak Runners International (http://www.runeveryday.com/) “The official definition of a running streak, as adopted by the Streak Runners International, Inc., and United States Running Streak Association, Inc., is to run at least one mile (1.61 kilometers) within each calendar day. Running may occur on either the roads, a track, over hill and dale, or on a treadmill.”

Seemed easy enough I thought, and I wanted in. So, on October 4, 2015 I began my attempt to gain entry into this “club,” needing to complete a minimum of 365 consecutive days running 1 mile or more per day. Yesterday was day 125.

The past 125 days have taught me many things, the first of which being that maintaining a streak is not as easy as it seems. I ran on Thanksgiving, I ran on Christmas, New Years. I ran on days I felt like running and days that I dreaded it. I ran when I felt great and days I was under the weather. Like Forrest Gump said, “I just kept going”

gump
My costume for Fleet Feet’s “Pumpkins in the Park” felt fitting 3 weeks into my streak. Photo Copyright Fleet Feet Sports Rochester – Kim Smith

Streaking may not be for everyone, and there are plenty of arguments to be made that you need your rest days during training. I’ve been using the 1 mile minimum as my rest days and am finally starting to see results.

I completed my 5th Half Marathon on January 9, 2016. I had run this event last year and posted a respectable time of 2 hours and 30 minutes. The same race this year and I PR’d at 2 hours and 15 minutes, shaving 13 minutes off my best ever Half Marathon finish.

Dropping 21
Dropping 21.2 pounds in the past 4 months is one great motivator to keeping my streak alive.

I also have seen some health benefits as a result of my streak. Having not changed any eating habits (I still get a dozen wings every Monday night), I have dropped over 21 pounds since the streak started back in October.

And last night, Day 125 of my streak I decided to “push myself” a little harder than usual.

I normally run most of my indoor treadmill runs between an 11-12 min per mile pace, that “best ever” half marathon equated to a 10:04 min per mile pace, and my fastest 5k pace ever was 9:05 min per mile.

As the streak continues, so does the improvement as shown here, shaving 33 seconds of my previous "fastest mile."
As the streak continues, so does the improvement as shown here, shaving 33 seconds of my previous “fastest mile.”

So wanting to see exactly what logging all of these miles and consecutive days of running could provide, I turned up the treadmill. I remained in control and didn’t over exert myself but managed to finish the fastest mile of my life in just 8 mins and 18 seconds.

It may not be for everyone, and it certainly isn’t “easy,” but if you’re looking for something to stimulate your mind (and body), streaking may be something to consider. And who knows, with a year or two of running a mile or more per day, you might just be able to outrun those security guards at the local football game.