Recap: Yuengling Shamrock Marathon 2017

Well it has been just over a week since I completed what is probably the most grueling race I have attempted in the three years since I started running. It is not completely out of laziness that it has taken me 7+ days to put the experience into words. Wanting to allow my head to clear and reflect back on the good, the bad, and the windy!

It was no surprise to most that Marathon Sunday would offer “less-than-ideal” conditions, but the extremes were beyond my expectations. At 11:00 p.m. on Saturday evening, while I was in bed unable to fall asleep, the Weather Channel App reported conditions at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront as cloudy and winds at 5 mph. Five miles per hour! Somehow in the next 8-12 hours gale force winds were predicted. Maybe they would be wrong…MAYBE NOT!

As my iPhone sounded the alarm at 3:30 a.m., I sat up in my warm, comfy bed wondering what I had got myself into. If I hadn’t click the “Register Now” button on the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon website six months ago, I could be wrapped up like a caterpillar with my fluffy duvet. But there I was, heading out of my bedroom to go take that much needed shower to awaken my body and prepare it to battle the elements and 26.2 miles along the Atlantic Ocean.

As Rob and I left the house at 6:00 a.m., we traveled to our headquarters for the morning, Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub. What’s wrong with starting the day off at a pub? After all I would be torturing every muscle in my body for nearly six hours today, a drink or two might help. Of course I’m not crazy enough to partake in a little boozy “hydration” before a race. Murphy’s was the location for the J&A Racing Training Team‘s private team meeting location. As I spent the next 90 minutes in this mini-oasis from the weather and crowds, members of the Wolfpack (our training team) began to file through the doors each with a different set of emotions. Some were excited, others nervous, and most were questioning their choices in running gear for the day. I was no different. While this wasn’t my first marathon, I was apprehensive of the miles ahead given the rainy and windy conditions ahead. Thankfully, one of my running wives, Jennifer Olson, convinced me to go to my car and grab a poncho, even if I only kept in on for a mile or so. NOTE: The poncho is still on in the photo below at Mile 20.

After moving out to the start line for a pre-race team photo, it was time to get in Corral 4 with the rest of my pacing group. We were excited and ready to embark on the journey before us. I knew I wanted to spend the race with my Welsh running wife, Leonora, who was running her very first marathon. We had spent many of our last training runs together, so I knew if anyone was going to keep me going with laughter and stories it was her. We ran the same pace and run-walk intervals so it seemed like a no-brainer. At just after 8:30 a.m., the moment had arrived. Shoelaces tight–check; hand warmers–check; JMU poncho–check! Let’s do this! Seconds later the horn sounded and we were off.

The first couple miles seemed to go by quickly. As we trotted down Atlantic Avenue, heading south past many of the tourist traps, I mean landmarks, of Virginia Beach, the wind was picking up and the misting precipitation was turning into a light rain and drizzle. Nothing we couldn’t handle–nothing we hadn’t experienced before. Traversing the only true incline of the 26.2 mile course, the Rudee Inlet Bridge, was blustery but honestly not too bad. The miles passed as did the water stops manned by amazing volunteers of all ages. We couldn’t help but think that this just felt like another long training run.

As we neared an intersection near Mile 5, I saw one of my dear friends, Villa. She was cheering us on and even passed me a special note of inspiration. That was completely unexpected but much appreciated! Thank you Villa! We continued along the course, passing the 10K (6.2 Miles) check-in mat, turning our way towards Camp Pendleton, a state military reservation. Once on the base, we were greeted with small groups of Virginia National Guard personnel scattered around the property, there to inspire and push us on. They weren’t the only surprise feature at Camp Pendleton, we were also greeted with strong gusty winds and additional rain. The wide open spaces left nothing between the gale force winds and our plastic bag covered bodies. We pushed through and made it out only slightly beaten up.

After exiting Pendleton, I was immediately faced with another set of friendly smiles, my coworker and friend Diane, and her husband and son. Thanks to the power of tracking via “Find My Friends” we were able to connect and swap a cold, wet hug before I pressed on to tackle the remaining 17 miles! We’ve got this. No problem!

A wise woman once said, “See what had happened was…” And that was true here too. Things were going well until we neared Mile 10 and our return visit to the bridge, when the moderate rain had suddenly turned to ice pellets. No joke it was like a 4-year-old had fired up his Snoopy Snow Cone machine and decided to hurl the results at our faces. And it stung! The ice and snow flakes began to accumulate on our clothes and gloves. We had not trained for this!

The deteriorating conditions continued as we headed side-by-side with our new-found running buddy Debbie down the Boardwalk. A look to the right highlighted how miserable the day was shaping up, as the ocean waters were churning with anger. No sooner than we were on the Boardwalk we were back off the cement path and headed due north on Atlantic Avenue. I knew Rob was waiting for me in front the Hilton at Mile 12. Once I saw him standing there, taking candid shots of us running, I knew the one thing I needed from him to make it though–his gloves! Mine had been 100% soaked for the last 3 or 4 miles. After squeezing my fingers together dozens of times to create a tight fist to wring out the rain- and ice-filled accessories, I knew hope of salvaging them was gone.

Departing with my new, yet slightly damp, gloves, I sprinted to catch up with my running peeps who had managed to get about a block ahead of me. Little did we know about a surprise that should appear at the upcoming water stop only nine or ten blocks away… Our coaches Ryan Conrad and Josh Wade! I knew I would see them later on after the conclusion of the race, but seeing them at the critical point, the half-way point, of the race was truly unexpected. Ryan asked, “How are you doing?” I responded, “Good. Hanging in there!”

The only problem with this check-in with our coach was that I knew I was lying to him. With another 13.1 miles ahead of us, I knew that I was feeling drained, my calves with aching, and I was lacking on the energy to keep going. But in order to push out the negative thoughts I had to tell him (and myself) I was good. But in the next few hundred yards, it became abundantly clear that I wasn’t good. I was slowing down and starting to mentally tear myself down. I was taking our previous 3-minute run intervals down to as little as one minute of running before the need to walk took over. This is not how it was suppose to go. I turned to my hero, to my rock, Leonora and said “Why is this so f***ing hard right now!” She reassured me that we were doing great and we could take a break from our normal pace and we’d be okay. I didn’t believe her. Even when she told me we were ahead of many of our other running friends, I didn’t believe her. I proceeded to get slightly emotional and had to break the news to her that we were passed by just about all of our friends way back at the bridge. Now she didn’t believe me!

Fifteen minutes later the first of our friends flew passed us. Leonora looked at me and I knew at that moment she was right. We weren’t as bad off as I thought. It was time to turn my trust over to her and let it help me through the next couple of miles. As we neared Mile 16, due to a dense grouping of trees and a slightly elevated side, the winds subsided and my outlook looked brighter. To be honest, I’m not sure if it was the lack of gusts cutting through to our core or it was the generous high school students offering us Oreos and Chips Ahoy cookies that turned things around. Many runners (not Leonora however) have commented on how amazing those simply chocolate cookies filled with cream hit the spot at just the right moment!

While I knew I would dread the long lonely path along Shore Drive, I was glad to get to run at least a mile or more with my friend Jamie nearby. A little comic relief is always appreciated. The elusive turn into JEB Fort Story at Mile 19, seemed like it would never arrive, however once we entered the military base, we were welcomed by a single gentleman in his military uniform. His mission, his goal was to push us through a 150-foot section of road that was covered by a dense layer of sand. This sand was being blown onto the course by the strong northerly winds coming off the beaches of the Chesapeake Bay. He was forceful, but motivating, and only served to highlight yet another unique aspect of today’s race.

We continued our way through the base, passing both the Old Cape Henry and new Cape Henry Lighthouses, still sporting the latest in running gear, the plastic poncho! After spending three miles at Fort Story, it was time to get the hell out of there and head south again! The motivation we needed was just beyond the guarded gate and the infamous Dolphin Statue–Mr. Steve Lambert. Steve and Kristy Maute, two of our stellar teammates, had decided instead of running the races they would tag team to run half marathon and marathon runners from 89th Street down to 80th Street. After a huge hug from Steve and a few pats on the back, his pride and humor was contagious and we continued on. A quick dash with Kristy brought us to Mile 23 and a “simple” 5K was ahead of us.

The good news was that the strong winds were now pushing us towards the finish line. The bad news was that my partner-in-crime was starting to feel some exhaustion from our previous 23 miles. But just as she had done for me, I was determined to get her through this and onward to the finish. The next couple miles we accomplished through the art of negotiation. “How about we run the next two blocks?” “Ok, now let’s run from that stop sign to the traffic light.” “Ok let’s just run a block, walk a block.” Whatever it took to get us through. And it worked!

As we began our final mile together, we saw all the familiar buildings we had passed on so many training runs. But more importantly we started to see familiar Wolfpack faces like Renée Britt, Stephen Phillips, Lisa Newell, and too many more to mention! As we started our approach into the finish line, we ditched our trusty poncho and trash bag, after all we had to look our best for the on-course photographers! The last couple blocks were conquered quickly and with many smiles. Here it was, we were going to finish this “character-building” marathon just as we had started it–”upright and smiling!”

Seeing our Training Team members at the finish line meant so much to us. Leonora’s husband was there standing with pride for his wife, even after he had just completed his first half marathon a few hours prior to our finish. I was so proud to have stuck it out every mile with my dear friend, finishing this race by each other’s side. After collecting our bling and our finisher items (beach towel and cap), we headed down to the sand and into the celebration tent to join our fellow teammates and raise a glass (or cup of Irish stew) and honor each other for a job well done. With rain, wind, sleet, snow, ice, and sand (no locust), we definitely earned those medals!

I could not have accomplished this race if it hadn’t been for the support of the J&A Training Team, especially our coaches Ryan Conrad and Josh Wade. They have been there for us each week with guidance and race support. I am forever grateful for all that they do. They represent all that I love about the J&A Racing organization and its employees! A special thank-you goes out to our #fulloncrazy pace group, led by the amazing Jessica Tower. She has always been there for each of us with just the right motivating words or post-run pep talk. Thank you to the rest of my pace group (Jamie, Elise, Keisha, Emily, Jackie, Lucy, Ashlee, Monica, and Maia) for weeks of laughter, fun, and maybe a tear or two! Additional thanks go out to Jen, Bill, and Erin for helping push me on various runs throughout the season! I love you all!

I can’t wait to see what we all will accomplish next!

4 thoughts on “Recap: Yuengling Shamrock Marathon 2017”

  1. Funny how the “little things” like almost dry gloves make your heart flutter with joy!!!! Excellent first attempt – can’t wait to read some more and I am looking forward to the next adventure….Richmond??? ❤️ ????❄️??(Good times!)

  2. Brian, reading your blog is like re-living it all over again. While I escaped the sleet, the conditions for my very first half marathon were definitely less than ideal. (I have spent many hours since the race surfing the internet for the perfect rain jacket). I am so so proud of you. I am so so proud of all of you who stuck it out in that crappy weather and leaned on each other to bring it home. I really wanted to be there for the marathoners to cheer you on, but my hubby was ready to go & he had already been way more patient than I expected. I am looking forward to many more training seasons with all the Wolfpack !!!

  3. Great memories if a super challenging day. Glad u did not find the trash bag I get in Ft Story. Literally like hitting ice. Took a little wind it if my sail but no major injury

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