Monday, March 23, 2015

Race report: Shamrock Half Marathon, March 22, 2015

I ran the Shamrock Half Marathon yesterday, finishing in 1:28:29.  That's a half-marathon PR, and one that's been a long time coming, so I'm happy.  But still unsatisfied, as I still think I don't think I've run this distance to my potential.

Running this race was a late decision.  I had originally planned to run RNR USA half the previous week, but decided to do Shamrock instead a few days before RNR USA.  Shamrock was the better course, and the weather for RNR USA didn't look great.  So, Virginia Beach it was.

(an added benefit was that this gave me another week to get past the bad head cold I picked up after the St. Patricks Day 10K)

The drive to Virginia Beach from DC was wonderfully uneventful.  I left DC around 8:30 am (had been shooting for 8 am, but oh well) - that was early enough to keep the traffic issues to a minimum.  The drive from DC to Virginia Beach normally takes a bit over 3 hours, but traffic on I 95 or elsewhere can easily expand that to 4 or even 5 hours.

The timing worked great - I hit the expo around 11:30, then got lunch, and then managed to get early check-in at the hotel.  I stayed at the Holiday Inn North Beach, which was great.  Right on the start line for the half marathon, and right across the street from a 7-11.

(Amusingly enough, the 7-11 was selling Cliff Shot Bloks at the register, along with bananas.  The marathon is a big deal in Virginia Beach.)

The rest of the afternoon, I just hung out in my hotel room, watching streaming Grand Prix show jumping and foam rolling.  I've found that I race my best when I have a very chill and low key afternoon/evening before. 


Race morning was convenient as one could hope.  Walked out of my hotel room a bit after 6 am to drop my stuff off at bag check (half a block from the hotel), then did my warm-up jog before stopping back at my room to hit the bathroom (the true luxury of having a hotel near the start line).  Then went back out, did some drills and three strides, chatted with my coach, and lined up.

My instructions were to hang back and go very easy for the first three miles - leaving myself plenty of people in front of me to chase down.  And then spend the rest of the race chasing them.


We lined up and the gun went off.  And we started running into a mild headwind, as we had expected.  I started looking for people to duck behind.  After a few minutes, a friend of mine, Dan, offered to block the wind for me in exchange for a mention in the blog.  (No, seriously...).  I took him up on it.  His plan also was to start conservatively, and then pick it up.

Unfortunately, Dan's conservative start was a bit faster than what would have been a conservative start for myself.  Part of this is that I run best with a hard negative split, while most people prefer to pace a bit more evenly, and part is that Dan is in monstrously good shape right now. 

So, the upshot is that we went out at a pace that was slightly uncomfortable for me, and I was never able to relax into a rhythm.    I race best when I warm up extensively beforehand, then go out slowly and ease into the effort - trying never to be uncomfortable early in the race.  Once I'm totally relaxed and in my groove, I can rachet the pace down, and close very hard.  But the key point is staying relaxed and not getting uncomfortable early on.  

Which I didn't do here.  I hadn't dug myself into a huge hole, but I was still uncomfortable enough to be running tensely, not loosely.  I saw my friend Rich on course twice, and each time he yelled at me to stay relaxed, which was just about the best and most helpful thing he could have said to me.


I usually have wordy descriptions of races, but the rest of this one was essentially a blur.  By mile 5 I was distinctly uncomfortable and not at all happy.  And of course, racing through my mind were all sorts of recriminations for not easing into the first few miles.  But I could either focus on the reasons that my race wasn't going as well as I would have liked, or  I could work with what I had, which was one foot in front of the other.  I chose the latter.  I noted the mile markers from then on, but tried not to count them - I was way too far from the finish, and I didn't want to know.

It honestly felt more like a marathon than a half marathon - it didn't feel like I was tempoing, but rather like my form was falling apart, and I was just grinding the miles away, slowly.  I never felt good during the race.  But I'm good at being stubborn, and that's what I did today.  With the unlikely result that, for possibly the first time ever in my racing career, I ran just about even splits for a race.

Even when we finally turned onto the boardwalk, I had no kick to give.  I gave everything I had, and even tried to hang onto a teammate who sprinted by me towards this finish looking like a rock star, but I had no juice. 

Splits were:

Miles 1-2: 13:28 (6:44)
Mile 3: 6:41
Mile 4: 6:44
Mile 5: 6:42
Mile 6: 6:46
Mile 7: 6:42
Mile 8: 6:55
Mile 9: 6:46
Mile 10: 6:42
Mile 11: 6:47
Mile 12: 6:47
Mile 13: 6:45
Last bit: 41 seconds.

So, truly mixed feelings.  On the one hand, it was a 30 second PR for me, and I also won my age group, which was nice.  It's really hard to be upset.

And many of my teammates had fantastic races, which was great to see.  I had been somewhat considering pacing a friend through part of the Shamrock marathon, but I dropped that plan when I decided to race the half (and I felt a twinge of guilt over it).  It was great to watch her destroy her first marathon - she didn't need no help from anyone!

On the other hand, I don't think I ran the best race I had in me today, and that's disappointing.  But there's always another race.   And I can also now conclusively say that I've run a race in even splits and it doesn't work for me.  Back to a hard negative split for the next one. 

Other notes:

  • For asthma meds, took a puff of Foradil in the morning.  I've been suffering from allergies the past few weeks, but anti-histamines just make me sluggish.  I skipped the antihistamines for this race, and I was glad I did.  With spring allergies, I can feel like crap but once I'm running, I'm fine.
  • As always, Shamrock runs a great race.  What was really nice was that they were giving away towels as a finisher's gift.  Why was this so perfect? Because I had brought my swimsuit with me, and I wanted to stop by the pool on my way home from the race, but had forgotten a towel.  Serendipity.
  • My one recommendation to Shamrock for next time.  PLEASE do not organize the gear trucks by corral.  The end result is that you get bottle necks at each truck post race, since people in the same corral will likely be finishing around the same time.
  • Coming back from Shamrock this year was oddly reminiscent of my life 20 years ago when I was horse showing - to save time, I bought lunch to go and ate whenever I had the chance in stop-and-go traffic.  And I once again drove the back roads of Spotsylvania and Stafford counties to circumvent nasty back-ups on I-95.  Only differences were the compression tights, the Sirius radio, the Android phone that I could use to check traffic, and the Chipotle (over 7-11).
  • I'm debating whether to run Monument Avenue 10K this coming Saturday.  I had ruled it out when I decided to do Shamrock, but my coach raised it as a possibility after this race.  I'm already entered, so I'll just see how I feel and decide later this week.  Since I'm not marathon training, there's no urgent need to get miles in.  I can just keep stuff very easy and low key, and see how quickly I can recover.
  • Still haven't executed a half marathon well. I keep saying that I don't have the feel for the distance, but that's because I have yet to execute it the way I should - use the first 5K to get in the flow, and then fly from there.  So...I need to run another.


  1. Congrats on the PR! The splits look pretty even to me, and even though you say you do better with a negative split, you now know that you can run well even if you go out faster than planned. An age group win at that race is really impressive. Nice!!!!

  2. Congratulations on the PR and the AG win. I'm surprised that you feel you executed poorly, considering the fairly even splits across each mile, but I know what you mean about good races - my best ones I've always felt unbelievably in control and comfortable (and amazed at my pace). There is always another race, though! And I like the idea of racing a 10K next.