Monday, March 18, 2013

Race report: Shamrock Marathon, March 17, 2013

When I was 17, I showed horses.  I rode a feisty mare named Bar Brat in the Junior Jumper division.   And somehow, we got ourselves named to the team representing the mid-Atlantic area in the national championships at Harrisburg, PA.  I was excited.  Really excited.  It was what I had dreamed of.  And then we got there and I walked the course with my trainer, and realized that I was over my head.  Literally.  The jumps were huge and spaced very technically (too big for the division – the course designer was apparently trying to make a statement), and I honestly wasn’t at this level.  My trainer didn’t disagree.  But I was there, I was representing my area, and I had to go out there, though I wanted nothing more than to go hide in the camper.

A bit more than 2 decades later, I found myself battling the same feelings on race morning.  OhshitwhathaveIgottenmyselfintonow.  I didn’t have quite the same basis for my feelings – I’d trained for the marathon with successful long runs and mileage peaking in the mid-70s, and I’ve always seemed to be happiest with longer runs.  Plus I had a coach and friends who emphasized to me just how ready I was.   Honestly, absolutely no indication I was over my head, and I had felt confident all the way up to race morning.  But feeling are feelings none the less, and they hit on race morning.


Up until then, I had been pretty firmly in my zen.  Getting down to Virginia Beach had been more or less uneventful.  Allergies were killing me when we got there, but I know I can run with those.  My left piriformis had gotten really aggravated by the long car ride down (the fact that our pricy hotel room at the start/finish had a Murphy bed instead of a real mattress didn’t help), but that was why I arrived a day ahead, so I could have 24 hours to fix it with soft ball, foam roller, and stretching.  All under control.  We ate good dinners at Mahi Mah’s (excellent - try the rutabaga).  And I carbo-loaded at breakfast, lunch, and dinner via potatoes, bananas, and rice.  Plus steak.  Always steak.

But the feelings hit on race morning.  And I did the same thing I did 20 years ago.  Told myself that I was doing this because I wanted to do this, and I’d never have a shot at doing well at Harrisburg/running a good marathon if I didn’t go into the damn ring/start the damn race.  So that was that.  I jumped in the elevator and headed down to the race start to drop off my bag at bag check and check out the temperature – to resolve the all important “bra or singlet” question.

And whoa.  Significantly colder than I had expected (good) but also fairly windy (shit).  The risk with this race was always the wind.  Oh well.  I couldn’t control the weather, but I could control my attitude and what I wore.  I was running this race.  And with that, I turned the doubting voice to “off” and went into full-fledged positive attitude mode.


About 40 minutes later, I came back downstairs for the final time to go to the start.  I debated what to wear, and settled on singlet, shorts, long throw-away t-shirt, and headband, plus my standard gloves/handwarmers/sock combination.  And a handheld water bottle.  And gels.  Gels everywhere.  I had a total of 7 gels on my person, plus two I had given to Brian and two I had given to my coach.

[I should mention at some point that I had wrestled previously with the issue of whether to use my Garmin for pacing or just run off of feel.  I race very well off of feel for shorter distances, but this distance was new, and I know a lot of people who insist that you need to use the Garmin to hold yourself back in the first miles.  I went back and forth, and finally just decided to turn the screen blank from the start.  There’d be pace groups (both a 3:05 and a 3:15), and I could just use them as a check – if I was pulling up by the 3:05 group, I was going too fast.]

Met my coach and teammates, lined up, and the race started.   And I started just like a long run, jogging with three of my teammates – Ann, David, and Jessica.  I kept telling myself, “just another long run.”  We jogged at what felt like a manageable pace, slowly upping the effort each mile.  My left foot was a bit crampy – but it freed up about two miles in and I felt good.

I’m not sure when, but at some point our small pack separated, and it was Ann and I.  We were swallowed by the 3:15 pace group, and I was fine with it.  Still very early, and a long way to go.  This distance was the great unknown.


The first 6 miles had been with the wind, but then we turned and started heading into the wind.  And that’s when I became both grateful and frustrated by the pace group.   I had six miles down, and I was starting to feel confident.  I only had a bit over 20 miles to go, and I've run quite a few 20 milers.  I was on familiar ground now, and the 3:15 pace group was holding a pace that felt miserably slow.  At the same time, the wind was pressing hard (supposedly gusting up to 20), and every time I pulled ahead of the group, I started working at a disproportionately greater effort, and even risking oxygen debt.  I saw another big clump of people about 20 seconds ahead, but I couldn’t seem to catch up to them without working harder than I wanted to so early.  So I settled.  I wasn’t happy, but far better to be a bit too slow than a bit too fast, this early in the race.

The 3:15 pace group had several official pacers – I started talking with one, and he mentioned that he was actually thinking of going for 3:10 – I guess he was just a back-up pacer.  He generously offered to help me out a bit (he was a lot bigger than I) and I accepted gratefully.   We were heading north into the wind, but we knew the worst was yet to come when we hit the boardwalk and would be right on the ocean – before that point, we wanted to catch up to the pack ahead.  So we picked up the pace and sustained a push that got us to the tail end of the bigger group right before the boardwalk.  Perfect. 

And then we hit the boardwalk, and the wind hit us even harder.  Everyone slowed again.  Argh!  So I fell back on “hopscotch” – I’d find a pack, work my way through the pack while resting up until I hit the front, then look for a target about 5 seconds ahead to “jump to.”  I was pacing in repeated surges, which I hate, but it was my best option.  The good thing was that the the middle miles of the race flew quickly this way – it was just one big game of leaping from shelter to shelter, interrupted by an interlude at the halfway point to see Brian and tell him I loved him (today’s our anniversary).


And so I continued.  By mile 16, I had realized a few things.  Bad: my left quad was starting to hurt, along with my left TFL.  Enough to be concerning.  But I only had 10ish miles left.  10 miles was easy.  I run 10 miles on my recovery days. I could hold together.  Other than the left leg, I felt great.

The Good:  I was having a (cheesy) revelation along the lines of…wow, I am pretty good at this.  Shit, maybe this is the distance I was meant to race?  I’ve always been annoyed when told to keep my long runs to 14 – it feels like I barely get warmed up and then I’m done.  I understand why 20-22 is our max long run in training, but even that’s felt a little inadequate.  Like I’m being shortchanged.  26.2?  That feels just right.   

Not scary, comfy.  Wow.  Cool.

So I kept on keeping on.  By now, the course had turned into a wooded area that actually was very slightly downhill and sheltered from the wind – a nice respite.  I was running totally by myself, but I didn’t care – I’ve ended up soloing the last third of my long runs, and so running by myself through the woods felt normal.   

Just another long run.   

The downside of the slight downhill (hardeharhar) was that it was aggravating my left quad more.  And now my right hip flexor was starting to tighten.  Not cool.  But nothing to do about it, but keep on.

Just then, like an angel, Ann showed up again – we ran together and I chatted with her, which helped me divert attention from my damn left leg, which was stiffening and starting to lock.  The less I thought about it, the better.


Ann and I ran together through Fort Story, getting separated at some point (I’m not sure when).  Mile 19 passed, and then mile 20.  No change (though I was annoyed that the tailwind I was counting on ended up being more of a side wind).  No wall.  Mile 21, mile 22 – just meaningless decorations. 

Where is this wall I’m supposed to hit?  When am I supposed to start feeling bad?  To have my emotional world narrow to a point of pain?  It wasn’t happening.  Sure, my left leg hurt more and more, and the right leg was starting to stiffen to, but I still felt that this running long was what I was meant to do.  I physically hurt, but physical pain is such a very small thing. The rest of you can have your super speedy miles and 5ks (though I know why they’re good for me to do) – I was at home and at peace just holding my steady rhythm, dropping the pace a bit more each mile. 

I couldn’t drop my pace as much as I would like – aerobically I was breathing easy, and I felt like I still had plenty of energy – but my legs were too stiff at this point to do much changing of gears.  I was locked into cruise control, with no brakes and just a tiny bit of gas.  But that was fine.  All I needed to do was maintain or build a bit.  Brakes?  We don't need no stinking brakes.


And then, around mile 23, I developed a damn side stitch.  Every once in a while I get one, and they’re miserable.  But I wasn’t stopping now.  Not when I was so close, with so much left in the tank.  I dug my right thumb deep into my side, as if I was plugging a hole, and kept on.  It hurt, but I had plenty of other things hurting as well to distract me.  Yay for options.

I also had an ace in the hole.  You see, I’m stubborn.  Pretty damn stubborn.  I once received the dubious accolade of “the stubbornest runner I have ever coached.”   And my stubbornness may be irritating, but it’s also a strength.  No side stitch, screaming quad, or anything else was going to stop me – my hard head overcomes all.  And damn straight I wasn’t going to slow either – I had one gear left at this point, but it was a good gear, and I’d ride it to the finish.

And so I surfed the tide of my obstinate nature home.  I was passing person after person, some walking, some jogging, but I only noticed as scenery.  Nothing mattered except my own steps.  Eventually I figured out that if I twisted my torso slightly a certain way, it relieved the stitch and I could remove my thumb from my side.  And so twisted, stiffly, I held my pace.  I had no choice.  I couldn’t slow down, I couldn’t speed up.  I chanted to myself, silently... ””  And, as weird as it sounds, I felt at peace.  Happiness is engaging in something you're good at, and I'm good at closing long runs hard via my own unique blend of impatience and obstinacy.   It was mile 24 of my marathon, and there was nowhere else I'd rather be.

And that was it.  Stubborned my way down Atlantic Avenue, then turned and went onto the board walk for the final bit, with the finish line ahead.  I stubborned past a woman who was struggling with a half mile to go, and noted that fact with a bit of satisfaction – one more up in the rankings.  I had a hunch I was top ten (I had been in 12th at the 12 mile point, and I had passed at least three women since then), but I didn’t know exactly where.

To her credit though, my passing her gave her new life, and she surged past me just past the 26 mile marker.  I wanted to catch her, but the legs were locked into one mode.  I could have gone another mile, but I wasn’t going any faster.  Ah well. I finished two seconds behind her and we immediately handslapped.  I HATE HATE HATE anyone who passes me during a race, but as soon as I cross that finish, we’re friends.  And the fact that I got outkicked in a marathon by a woman in her late 40s tells me that I’ve still got a future in this sport – I’m not too old yet.


So that was that.  Final time was 3:08:51. Running watchless, I negative split it as:

First 7 miles: 51:55 (7:25 pace)
Next 6.1 miles 44:12 (7:15 pace)  [hit the half at 1:36:07]
Next 5 miles: 35:38 (7:08 pace)
Final 8.11 miles: 57:07 (7:03 pace) [second half in 1:32:45]

(I have manual splits for each of the mile markers also, but apparently the mile markers were not accurate, especially in the first miles - I heard a few people complaining, and my Garmin reads distances between 1.08 and .95 between mile markers.  I'm glad I paced off of feel)

I ended up 9th overall female and winner of my age group, but that’s icing on the cake (yes, the posted results say 10th, but I got a separate email saying "9th").  The cake was getting to run the race, and enjoying it as I ran it.

Oh, and that story I told in the beginning, about being terrified to go in that ring at Harrisburg back in 1991, but putting on a brave face and doing it anyway?  I ended up ninth that day.  Despite everything.  In my first national level competition.  It’s still one of the things I’m proudest of in my life – I was terrified, but I sucked it up, and it paid off.

Two decades later, after facing the same emotions?  I was ninth overall female in my first marathon.   Plus ḉa change….

Other notes:
  • Took a puff of Dulera (my asthma med) pre-race.  Breathing was easy – I also credit the cool air, and the fact that the morning rain washed away the pollen.
  • Took hydration and nutrition very seriously – 5 gels on course, drained two water bottles, and drank water at every aid station I passed when I didn’t have a water bottle.
  • Carb-loaded by way of baked potatoes (both normal and sweet), rice, and bananas.  Did basically a 2.5 day carb load, with my last big meal being a late lunch on Saturday.  Saturday night dinner was light, and then I ate my normal pre-long run Sunday breakfast, about 2.5 hours before race start.
  •  My nutrition plan on course?  Eat and drink as much as I could without being sick.  I decided it was stupid to wait 40 minutes to have another gel - as soon as the sickly sweet taste was gone, I'd take another slurp.  I also gelled continuously - instead of downing a full packet and then waiting, I'd take a swallow at a time, gradually finishing the gel over a mile or two.  As for water?  Every chance I got.
  • Kinda cool that my last 8+ miles were 7:03 pace.  In my last long run, I finished with the last 8.5 miles at ~7:00 pace.  Interesting, in a training/geeky way.
  • The wind was pretty shitty.  Not as bad as the two worst races I've ever done - the Crawling Crab half and the By George 5K, but still pretty bad. Weather reports say sustained was generally at 10-20 mph, gusts higher.  I believe it.


  1. Fantastic! That is the way to do it, girl! I am so proud of you. Rest. Heal. Recover. You are awesome.

  2. So awesome! It was so fun tracking you and THANK you for having it on FB!! You were seriously kicking butt!


  3. Aaaah! So happy for you! I love this recap, and damn if I didn't just break out into a big smile when I got to the end. MARATHONER.

  4. Fantastic. Perfect. Powerful.

  5. It sounds like you truly, deeply enjoyed the race. Congratulations, and nice negative split.

  6. Woot! Yay you! That's an amazing first marathon (well, other than Philly :-) and that you did it on a windy day, that's even MORE amazing!

  7. Fan-frickin'-tastic, Cris! It'll be so exciting to see your progress from here. Congratulations, fastie!

  8. CONGRATULATIONS!! Loved the report. You kicked ass. I hope you have some great race photos with you all twisted with your thumb stuck in your side. :)

    Mahi Mah’s is fantastic. Also, congrats on your anniversary!

  9. What a fantastic report! I was on the edge of my seat even though I already knew the punchline! I'm so proud of you and soooo glad you finally ran a marathon after all these years!

  10. Congratulations!! I was in a hard week of marathon training myself and missed this. Damn it! I would have loved to track you! With how bad you felt I thought you were gonna say 3:4X. 3:08 is awesome!!! That wind sounds worse than it was at Crab. You were very brave to tackle that course and it paid off!! Good job!

  11. Hi Cris - I just wanted you to know that this race recap helped me tremendously this past weekend. I ran Shamrock last year as well (2013) and that wind got the best of me with a disappointing 3:24 finish. I ran it again this year, and was determined (despite 15-20mph sustained winds) that it wouldn't take me down again. I read your recap several times in the week prior to the race - and two things you mentioned were in my head on race day. I remembered your posts about leapfrogging from pack to pack on the boardwalk, and that pushed me to catch up to (and stick with) a big pack to get through that section. Even though we all took turns leading the pack, it made a huge difference to have that shelter from the wind. And secondly, when things got ugly around mile 22-23, I remembered one line from your recap: "I had one gear left, but it was a good gear, and I'd ride it to the finish" That helped me convince myself that I could gut it out and stay in the gear I was in and not let up. I finished at 3:09:52 with seconds to spare in meeting my sub-3:10 goal. So I just wanted to say a big "THANK YOU" for this post - you helped me reach my goal on Sunday and I"m grateful!!

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