Category Archives: Race Reviews

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!

The “Battle at Bristol Mountain” – My Quest to Join the Ultra Marathon Club

Named “The Battle at Bristol Mountain,” Fleet Feet Rochester and Yellow Jacket Racing teamed up July 30, 2016 to offer runners just that, a battle. With distances ranging from 1k (straight up the mountain) to 50k (several thousand feet of elevation change), there was a battle for everyone.

Setting my sights on my first-ever ultra marathon, I signed up for the 50k and began training for this event 3 months prior to race day. Running mileage increased as the weeks went on, hill workouts and training runs on the mountain itself would quickly become the norm. Every weekend for the last six weeks leading up to race day included a 5 to 10 mile loop on that mountain. Not fast. Not pretty. Not enjoyable. But I was ready. I had a plan of attack and I was going to win this battle and join the Ultra Marathon club.

Race day came like most others. The race was about 40 minutes from home meaning a 5:30am wakeup call would leave me plenty of time to get ready, get to the course and mentally prepare for the 31+ miles and many hours of running I would soon face. A total of 49 people had registered for the 50k distance, but just 34 of us would line up in the starting coral, ready to “battle.”

Chris Young, Chris Herman and Josh Kramer from the Fleet Feet / Brooks Racing Team prepare to do "battle."
Chris Young, Chris Herman and Josh Kramer from the Fleet Feet / Brooks Racing Team prepare to do “battle” at Bristol Mountain July 30, 2016.

The course began with a trip up “gravel grind,” somewhere between 1.5-2 miles that took you from the bottom of the mountain to the top – albeit for the first time. All said and done, the course featured nearly 12,000 feet of elevation gain (and loss) at up to a 40% grade. To put that in perspective 12,000 feet is the equivalent to over 11 Eiffel Towers, 10 Empire State buildings or 79 Statue of Liberty’s. Over 2.25 miles up – and 2.25 miles down we would go.

I had done previews of the course, including gravel grind, several times during my training and come to the conclusion that this “run” would not be completely a run. My plan of attack was to walk anything that went up and run everything that went down. Keeping this in mind, I began the first accent, trekking poles in hand, walking. I carried my hydration pack, plenty of fuel, food, aspirin, allergy medicine and even duct tape in case I encountered blistering. I thought of everything, even an extra battery should my cell phone start dying before completing the course. Nothing was coming between me and completing my first Ultra Marathon.

Around 5 miles in, having made it up and down the mountain a couple of times, it was something I hadn’t planned for which would provide the days first unforeseen obstacle; rain. Though it started off as a welcome cooling down, the rain was, in retrospect, the beginning of the end for my quest to become an Ultra Marathoner.

The constant pounding of my toes into the front of my shoes became more and more painful the more saturated my socks and shoes became. The grassy downhill running became tougher as things got wet and sometimes slick, and that welcome cool down became a nuisance once everything, including me was soaking wet.

As I continued towards the 10-mile completion of my first loop, I was sure that both feet must be completely covered in blisters. The pain was something I had never encountered, but I knew if I could tough things out a little longer I could address things at the bottom of the mountain.

Finally completing that first lap, I was met by members of Fleet Feet working the aid station who provided both refueling of the body and mind with some great words of encouragement. After taking off my shoes and drying my feet I decided to take advantage of the duct tape I had packed and tape both feet to prevent blistering which had somehow not happened to this point.

Sean Hendrick gives me some words of encouragement as I complete my first lap. Photo Courtesy of Fleet Feet Sports Rochester. Copyright 2016.
Sean Hendrick gives me some words of encouragement as I complete my first lap. Photo Courtesy of Fleet Feet Sports Rochester. Copyright 2016.

I took my time leaving this aid station as I would begin my second climb of gravel grind. Almost immediately, I began to encounter my second unplanned and previously un-experienced obstacle, cramping. This wasn’t the run of the mill tight calves that I’ve encountered in longer distance running, and was far worse than anything I felt even after completing my first marathon just months earlier. This was both calves and both quads screaming how much they hated this “battle,” and how badly they wanted me to raise the white flag.

As I continued up gravel grind that second time, my calves and quads began to pulsate on their own. Being a stubborn SOB that doesn’t give up, I made it to the top of the mountain unsure of how I would proceed. Whether it was the look on my face, or the “gimping” I called running at that point, it must have been evident that I was in some major discomfort as “Mike” and a few of his buddies stopped and offered up salt packets to help ease the cramping.

Runners make their way up "gravel grind" as they begin their second loop. Photo Courtesy of Fleet Feet Sports Rochester. Copyright 2016.
Runners make their way up “gravel grind” as they begin their second loop. Photo Courtesy of Fleet Feet Sports Rochester. Copyright 2016.

I was able to make it down the mountain and back up again before hitting the aid station at the top of the mountain around 12 miles in. At this point, I was fairly certain that I would not be finishing this race, but Laura who was volunteering, did a fabulous job in talking me into believing that I could, and off I went.

Down the mountain and back up again I went as I continued to push forward. I hit mile 13, 14, and 15. The miles seemed to get longer as my pace continued to worsen. The pulsating quads and calves seemed to get more painful with each step. Whether I could keep pushing physically or not, I was now faced with the reality that I would not be able to complete my second lap within the allotted time cut-off. Reaching the bottom of the mountain at around 17 miles I made the decision not to head back up the mountain and headed towards the timing tent. And just like that, my day was over. My race was over. My quest for Ultra Marathon status was over. And I had my first and only DNF on my racing resume. I had lost the Battle at Bristol.

Ann Marie Bedelyon poses with me after completing her half marathon on Bristol Mountain. No thumbs up for me after falling short on the 50k.
Ann Marie Bedelyon poses with me after completing her half marathon on Bristol Mountain. No thumbs up for me after falling short on the 50k.

In the days following the race, my running friends would congratulate me on a solid effort on the mountain that day. My non-running friends would tell me how insane I was for attempting something so crazy as they were totally in awe of the 17 miles I logged that day in July. While I could step back and be both proud of the effort I gave that day and acknowledge the “accomplishment,” I now have 365 days to train and to plan my attack for next year’s “Battle at Bristol Mountain.”

Race Review: Caesar Rodney Half Marathon (Wilmington DE)

April 3, 2016 was the 53rd running of the oldest half marathon in the country – the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon in downtown Wilmington, Delaware. I was glad to finally get to participate in this renowned and historic race in some especially memorable conditions. Having lived in Delaware for some years, I had heard how challenging and hilly the race is, but also how well run it is as an event. After missing it a couple of years of scheduling conflicts, the stars had finally aligned. I was especially excited because I was coming back from a down year+ after recovering from ongoing ailments and injuries, and having a baby last year. I registered for this race 6 days in advance, having only run up to 5 miles a couple of times, but i had also just lost 45 pounds at the time, so I really had no idea what i was capable of. I felt a nervous excitement leading up to this event. Hal Higdon’s Novice program got me through my first marathon, and i have read several of his books. Coincidentally, he highlighted the CR1/2 as the oldest half marathon in the country in his most recent book, “Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Handbook” which dropped 2 days before the event!! I thought that was a very cool coincidence. Hashtag it was meant to be. So here is the top to bottom on the 2016 Caesar Rodney Half.

Even before the race, the packet pickup was smooth, although far from an expo, there was some information from some of the local vendors and sponsors present in the pickup area. The pickup location was a few blocks from the starting line the downtown YMCA. Some runners could care less and others are all about the swag. No matter which camp to which you belong, you are sure to appreciate the gorgeous tech shirt! This is definitely one of my top favorite racing shirts. I heard several people say it was their favorite shirt of all time. There was also a virtual race bag with tons of sponsored offers sent to our email account in advance.

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The first thing I noticed and thought was great was the later than usual starting time of the race. The half start time was at 9:30 AM. This was great for me as I could take my time in getting to the event; i only live a short distance from the starting line and was able to walk there in less than 10 minutes. I also heard this was attractive to a lot of runners coming from New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The pre race area was festive, there was a complimentary bag check but I think the weather put a damper on things for a lot of people. It was extremely cold and windy this day, so it truly felt like a winter race. Having lived in Chicago, I was having flashbacks. The volunteers were amazing. They were present in numbers, upbeat and extremely diligent in attending to all the needs of the event. After the singing of the National Anthem, we were off!

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The race starts with a nice downhill. If you’ve heard anything about this race, you know you will either be going up or down for most of the race, but it was a pleasant start nonetheless. The start wasn’t too crowded, and I heard the numbers were down a bit this year due to a date change and the proximity to Boston. Either way, I felt comfortable as the early passing ensued. A lot of people always reply “DelaWHERE?!?!” when I mention where I live, but much of our city is beautiful, and the course weaves through it. You can see the course map here: http://www.mapmywalk.com/routes/fullscreen/638738100/.

We made our way down to the Riverfront, ran along the river and back through downtown. It was extremely windy to the point when i thought, that i wished they had lifeguards because I was sure to end up in the water. Luckily, no one was blown away and it was a fun experience to say the least. Up to this point, the race was relatively benign hill-wise. As we made our way back toward downtown, we headed toward the Delaware Art Museum and Rockford Park. This is a long stretch of uphill mileage. I am not going to enter into the debate many runners make about what constitutes hilly, but in the world of road runners, Wilmington is HILLY! I happen to be an Obstacle Course Racer, so many of my events take place on mountains, so the hills are a welcome part of my training. One of my main training routes includes this very section of road as well, so i felt very comfortable knowing how long the hills are and how to pace myself. I am far from a fast runner, but when I pass people, it is usually going uphill. Between the wind and the hills, a lot of people looked worked over throughout the middle part of this race. One other thing i noticed was that the relay hand-off was out of the way, had water and seemed to be running very smoothly.

Some of the race was a blur as i was realizing that i was actually having a decent race after about 8 miles, i felt good and judging by my time, i was headed for an unexpected PR. The back end section of the race was windy and mostly tree-lined. Old bridges, the park and the double-back of the race leaders made for a good time. The water stops were ample and the volunteers were extremely spirited. Each stop was always loaded with water (courtesy of Service Mark) at the ready and friendly volunteers to encourage you and hand you a cup or two of either water or gatorade. The downhill section leading into the last miles was great, yet deceiving. The last 800m or so leading to the finish line was a stretch of uphill section. I had been eyeing my watch and new i was on track for a crazy PR, so i was really trying to run hard and smart the last miles of the race. This last hill though! (I know what i just said about hills, buuuutttt) This was the first time i slowed down and nearly walked until a mature fellow racer encouraged me to keep going and that we were almost there. I could see the finish line and pushed it to the end.

As you near the finish line, you hear your name being called and cheers of volunteers, which was a great touch. Once across the line, a voluneer adorns you with your medal. Now, again with the race swag, this may be one of the coolest medals you may receive. It was a spinner medal! Check this out!

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The post race festival was one of the best I have ever seen. I mean, any race sponsored by PIZZA is a win in my book!! They had a LOT of food! The post race menu included: Herr’s chips, pretzels and popcorn etc., 120 Seasons Pizzas, tomato bisque soup (great for dipping your pizza into), an assortment of pies including pumpkin, berry, apple and pecan etc., bagels with cream cheese, bananas, apples and oranges, Cliff Bars, bottled water, cases of grapes, assorted fruit drinks, tea and lemonade and coffee and hot chocolate. The overall and age group winners received growlers as awards. Each participant also got a free 2-week membership to Core Ten Gym and CrossFit CR10. The volunteers even received crew t-shirts provided by the City of Wilmington Parks and Recreation, so they really stood out.

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Altogether, this a great event and a fantastic race. Despite cold, wind and hills everyone seemed to really enjoy the event. I know I did. People who weren’t ready for the half were able to run the 5k or the relay, so there was something for everyone from the very fast front-of-the packers to the first-timers. I talked to a few friends who either ran or were with someone who ran their first race. This race also benefits a good cause by raising money to support the mission of the American Lung Association. And are you wondering about my PR? Thanks for asking! I got a Personal Record or Personal Best by FIFTEEN minutes!! As i said before, i am not the fastest runner. i am a mid-pack runner. But this was a very welcome and rewarding result of my weight loss and recovery journey. What better way to do it than in my hometown. This is definitely a race to attend whether you are nearby, are looking to get one of your 50 states or just need a different race with a historic feel in a perhaps overlooked area. You will not be disappointed!

Please enjoy these additional photos of the 2016 Caesar Rodney Half

Some of the most amazing volunteers.
Some of the most amazing volunteers.
Finisher medal close-up.
Finisher medal close-up.
A service member ran the half in full gear. That is always inspiring to see.
A service member ran the half in full gear. That is always inspiring to see.
Black Girls Run won the team contest with the most members registered. They are always great to see at a race because they are making a huge difference in the community with health and fitness, and they are some of the best cheer squads on the sidelines.
Black Girls Run won the team contest with the most members registered. They are always great to see at a race because they are making a huge difference in the community with health and fitness, and they are some of the best cheer squads on the sidelines.
Here is the BGR team doing some dymamic warm-up before the race.
Here is the BGR team doing some dymamic warm-up before the race.
The local police were great at keeping us safe from traffic and keeping the race running smoothly.
The local police were great at keeping us safe from traffic and keeping the race running smoothly.
This is me, elated at my PR and and having completed this wonderful event. Now, where is the pizza??
This is me, elated at my PR and and having completed this wonderful event. Now, where is the pizza??