Never did I expect a race experience to exceed the one I had at Boston last year, yesterday though, at the Shamrock Marathon I had an experience that surpassed my expectations and will be a day I will not ever forget. While the time on the clock doesn’t show it, I do believe it was my best marathon to date.
First the stats, then the recap with a little backstory. As you can see in the below picture, I was 3rd overall female. I think everyone is aware that I really wanted to make top 3, it determined our entire race strategy for the day but I’ll get into that later. I did not negative split like I had hoped. Weather conditions were unreal. Over ten miles of extreme headwinds with gusts of 30mph and side winds just as bad. We did have a tailwind for the last three miles, which I was so grateful for. If we needed it anytime, it was then. So all things considered I am thrilled with my time, placing, and pacing.
The backstory. Going into this race I was a bundle of anxious nerves. I knew I was fit and ready but the truth is, I hadn’t had a great marathon in two years since the Philadelphia Marathon in 2013. I spent 2014 injured. I ran Boston 2015 coming off an injury and Philly 2015 was a bust after reaching for an OTQ and crashing bad. While I appreciate my experiences at Boston and Philly in 2015, they didn’t leave me with the most confidence. I fought so much self doubt these last few months. I confessed to close friends and my coach in private that Philly really messed with my head. The amount of mental prep that went into yesterdays race was extensive and necessary.
Last Tuesday we started getting hints of bad weather. I felt awful for our out-of-towners, the volunteers, and the race staff but selfishly it took pressure off me. I know I can run in gritty weather. I had the advantage of knowing the course and training on the course in every element. I wasn’t worried. That being said, we hadn’t anticipated the winds. There is always wind in Virginia Beach, there is always wind during the Shamrock races, not wind like this past weekend though. It was much worse and had everyone a bit worried. The gusts were knocking over port potties and even walking was difficult. So my coach and I talked the night before the race and we threw away the old plan of hitting the halfway mark in 1:25 and then slowly speeding up and making an attempt at a negative split and possible PR. With no real reason to hit a PR other than pride, the goal was properly placed on overall placing. I wanted to place as I high as possible.
Thank you to my friend, Megan ,who volunteered to help and was told to walk me from the race hotel to the start. I was a bundle of nerves and she was a calming influence. At the start I saw friends, Steve Speirs and Stacin Martin. We decided to work together and that quick decision was one of the best I made all day. I know these guys well. They are experienced, fast runners and I trust their judgement and pacing expertise. We stayed together for a good 15-17 miles and every time my mind felt a little worried or overwhelmed I knew I was just taking another brisk run on my favorite streets with friends. They quickly became the leaders in our pack of 8-10 runners but by mile 18 we were all strung out. A few times I told myself out loud- “Nothing flashy” as a reminder that I needed to stay at a safe pace, nothing aggressive. Females 1 & 2 were already gutting it out minutes ahead of me and in the back of my mind I was worried I would hit a wall and be passed by other female runners. Nothing flashy was my way of reminding myself to race smart. I didn’t have much to gain but had a ton to lose by taking a big risk.
I won’t go over the middle miles too much. My nutrition was good but I know I did not consume enough fluids, something that is sometimes difficult for me (those cups are so hard to drink out of while running!), and I paid for it later in the race. I should have taken more time at each aid station but I skipped many because I was so concerned about staying with my pack. I knew if I fell off the back end I would helplessly be alone for miles. At the halfway mark I felt AMAZING. I saw Megan and my husband Steve and I gave them a huge smile and wave to let them know that I was feeling fantastic. The amount of course support I received was unreal. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who cheered for me! Somewhere around 16 I saw my coach and he told me I was running a perfect race and that was a huge confidence booster. Around mile 18 I started to tell myself that I only had an hour left and I could do anything for an hour. At that point I was still feeling very strong. Around that time period (I could be remembering the distance wrong) Steve Speirs surged ahead. My biggest regret is not going with him and instead choosing to stay with another group. Not that I think I could have stayed with Steve, he was flying, but because it would have put some faster momentum in my legs. The pain was starting to creep into my calfs but the end of the marathon is supposed to hurt real bad. I didn’t hit the real pain train until mile 23ish and I wish I had been a bit braver a little earlier. All good though, no point in overly analyzing it.
From miles 23 to the finish I was hurting bad. A good friend Cardave gave me some words of encouragement that I am so thankful for. My coach told me to race until mile 25 because I can always dig out another mile and that was a huge piece of advice. It’s so true. I got to see him twice in those last few miles and we were both smiling like crazy. At the last stretch on the boardwalk I felt amazing. My legs were in agony but I knew I was going to finish 3rd female and I knew that my friends and husband were at the finish line area waiting for me. Best…feeling…ever. It was arranged by the J&A Racing staff that my husband would be in the medal area and place my medal on me. That was PRICELESS. My heart was full giving a few of my training partners hugs and I just can’t even describe how perfect it all was. My legs were in agony but I had the happiest smile and tears. I had worked SO hard and it paid off.
Many thanks to my running coach, Jerry Frostick, for telling me I didn’t need high mileage or doubles to be successful, that I am faster than I think I am, and that fast times aren’t the most important thing in our sport anyway; it’s the people and experiences that matter most. Thanks to the whole J&A Racing staff for another perfect event. Thank you to Running, Etc. for their support and endless advice. I love going into their stores and chatting running for way too long🙂 Thank you to Direct Performance, Raeswear, and Handful for helping me out this training cycle and a few others. And big thanks for my friends and family..you’ve all been amazing! Congrats to all the Shamrockers. I want to name specific names but there are too many fantastic ones to include. You were all incredible and this entire Shamrock weekend was also incredible. We survived the storm! Celebrate well & enjoy your recovery! I got to celebrate with friends post race and last night and we obviously had fun. Take care all!