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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!