Shamrock Dolphin Challenge race report: Sparkle Skirts and PRs!

Two weeks ago I picked up my rental car (a cherry red Hyundai something; the cherry red was the best part!) and made my way south to Virginia Beach for my third year participating in the Shamrock race weekend. I did the Dolphin Challenge (8K + half marathon) in 2014, then the Whale Challenge (8K + full marathon) in 2016. This year, I’d planned to do the Whale Challenge again, with the marathon being my big goal race for the spring. But as my last bloop described, I had a nasty bout of piriformis syndrome in the 5 weeks before the race and my interrupted training left me uncertain about being able to even complete the marathon, never mind attempt a big PR. Thankfully I was able to drop down to the Dolphin Challenge a couple weeks before race weekend, which eased my anxiety considerably.

Saturday

We got up nice and early on Saturday morning to run the 8K, which I think is the largest of the three races offered. You get four beer tickets for each race, so the beer:miles ratio is definitely tops in the 8K. There are always lots of people dressed in their best green running finery, and I was no exception. Sparkle skirt #1 of the weekend!

8K outfit

 

 

My 8K PR was from this race in 2014, when I ran a 44:55. I was absolutely gunning for a PR this time, since I’d improved so much as a runner in those three years, and I knew that, bum hip or no, I could definitely run faster than a 9:00 minute mile for 5 miles. My plan was to start out at my goal pace for the half (8:25) and see how things went from there. When Mile 1 clocked in at 8:08, that plan was clearly out the window. But I felt good, and my hip was holding up, so I figured what the heck? How bad could things get in 5 miles?

8K homestretch

Mile 1 – 8:08

Mile 2 – 8:12

Mile 3 – 8:14

Mile 4 – 8:11

Mile 5 (technically 0.98 miles) – 7:48 (!!)

8K finish line

Official time: 40:35, and a PR by 4 minutes and 20 seconds! Definitely a great start to the weekend. And best of all: my hip felt completely fine the whole time!!

 

The weather for the 8K was chilly and fairly windy, but not too terrible by Shamrock standards. Things were definitely about to get worse though.

Sunday

Shamrock is a little weird in that it starts the half marathon at 7:00 on Sunday, and the full at 8:30. So I got up super-duper early and tried to eat my bagel very quietly so I didn’t wake up Abs and Ang, who were both running the full. I’m sure I wasn’t as successful as I wanted to be, but they were good sports about it regardless.

I tentatively looked out the window to have my fears confirmed: it looked like a freaking hurricane outside. Pouring rain and whipping winds. The weather app confirmed a “feels like” temperature in the low 20s due to the 30+ mph winds from the north.

But fretting about the miserable couple of hours I had in front of me wasn’t going to make them any less miserable. So time to get dressed!

Sparkle skirt #2 of the weekend!

Half outfit

I dawdled in the warm, dry hotel room as long as I could, but finally had to start the mile or so long walk to the half marathon start line (our hotel is right near the finish line, and the marathon start line, but the half starts at the 13.1 mile mark of the full, so it’s a bit of a hike). I wrapped myself in a foil blanket from an earlier race (I love saving those – they always come in handy!) and donned one of the plastic rain ponchos that Santa brought me for Christmas and headed out the door. It was every bit as wet and cold as I expected. My shoes were pretty well saturated before I even found the start line. But misery loves company, and it was kinda fun to share this particular misery with all the other runners in my corral. There was even a photographer on hand to capture our “excitement.”

Half start line

(ok, my “excitement” was actual excitement because it was race day!! And given the weather, my healthy decision to drop to the half kinda worked out pretty well…)

After a few minutes of standing around, we were off! Well, sort of. The wind was coming straight out of the north, and guess which direction we were running? Yep, straight north into the wind. It was so very cold, and so very wet. The wind made the rain quite painful as it hit us directly in the face. I realized quickly that my goal of holding the 8:25 pace that I’d been training for was just not going to happen with this kind of headwind. My goal became just trying to keep it under 9:00 and not blow away before getting to the turnaround point at Mile 7 (at which point the wind would hopefully be at our backs!).

Mile 1 – 8:42

Mile 2 – 8:56

Mile 3 – 8:54

Mile 4 – 8:47

Mile 5 – 8:44

Despite the weather, I was reminded that I really do like the Shamrock half course. The first few miles go through neighborhoods, and then the next few are through the woods, which is a peaceful change of pace for this city dweller. Usually there are Irish-themed jokes and riddles on signs next to the road through this stretch, but I think the wind was too much for them this year. I saw a couple, but not nearly as many as in past years. We didn’t even see any vertical mile markers until Mile 5 I think; they’d all either blown over or hadn’t been put out in the first place because of the wind.

We finally got to the entrance of Fort Story, and started the gradual turn back towards the south. Changing direction meant that for a while, the wind was coming at us from the side, and this section coincided with the presence of big sand dunes next to the course. Can you see where I’m going here? It was like running through a sandstorm! I had to keep my eyes closed for much of it, and just hope that I didn’t run into anyone. The sand was building up on the road, and was already a couple inches deep when I ran across it. I imagine it was considerably worse by the time the full marathoners traversed this section! When I got back to the hotel to change after the race, I not only had sand covering the side of my face (great exfoliant?); it managed to get through both of my shirts and get all up in my sports bra!

We made it through that section, and went past the two lighthouses on the course. There’s always a photographer near them to get cool pictures of the runners with the lighthouses.

Half with lighthouse 2

The wind gave me a bit of a Marilyn moment, but the woman behind me was definitely struggling with her trash bag. It was an impressively long time to keep the trash bag on though!

Mile 6 – 8:29

Mile 7 – 8:29

Being out of the crazy headwind improved my mood tremendously! I was able to acknowledge the fact that my hip felt totally and completely normal!! I realized that a PR (sub-1:53:44) wasn’t totally out of the question if I could take advantage of the tailwind and push the pace for the rest of the race.

Mile 8 – 8:20

Mile 9 – 8:24

Mile 10 – 8:37

Mile 11 – 8:30

Mile 12 – 8:32

I really, really wanted to get under 8:00 for the final mile of this race. I did it in the Reston 10-miler two weeks prior, and in Saturday’s 8K. I was definitely feeling gassed at this point, but tried to dig deep for my last dregs of energy.

Half homestretch

Mile 13 – 7:58 (!!)

Mile 13.14 – 1:04 (7:29 pace)

Official time: 1:52:24, a PR by 1 minute and 20 seconds!

Half with medal 2

I picked up my half marathon medal, my hat, towel, snacks, backpack (Shamrock is great at swag), and Dolphin Challenge medal as quickly as I could and hustled back up to the hotel room to thaw out! Once out of the rain, I took a minute to enjoy how well that race had just gone:

Half medal selfie

Abs and Ang were out running the full, so I had the room to myself and enjoyed a nice long, HOT shower. Eventually, the shivering subsided. I had another couple of hours before Abs was likely to be back, so I took myself out to breakfast nearby since I was hungry, and the beer tent isn’t much fun when you’re alone.

Abs got back after surviving twice as long in that crazy weather, and Ang came in not too long afterwards. Once they were thawed out and in dry clothes, the three of us headed out to the beer tent.

But first I stopped to ring the PR bell!

PR bell

The cold beer and hot Irish stew in the beer tent tasted pretty good, and we’d all had races worth celebrating!

Yuengling sign

Some people celebrated a whole lot!

beeramid

 

 

Monday morning dawned infuriatingly sunny and beautiful.

sunny monday

 

Seriously, where was this weather during the race?? I dropped Ang off at the airport and headed back to DC. The weather was perfect the entire way.

 

Not the spring I’d planned, but for once that’s ok

Oh man. Since my last entry, I’ve run a half-marathon (Philly), a marathon (Rehoboth Beach), and a 10-miler (Reston, VA), started and almost finished a new-to-me training plan, gotten injured, and come most of the way back from it.

After Rehoboth, I kept my runs easy for a couple of weeks and then jumped into the Hansons Marathon Method beginner plan in preparation for marathon #12 at Shamrock. I’d used the Higdon advanced training plan for my last couple of races and was feeling eager to step up my intensity a little bit. A few running friends have had amazing results with Hansons, so it seemed like an experiment worth doing. I chose the beginner plan because that was still a pretty decent increase in both weekly mileage and intensity from what I’d been doing, so jumping right into the advanced plan felt like a bridge too far.

I must admit that I enjoyed working my way through Hansons a lot more than I expected to! I was more than a little intimidated by the weekly speed workouts, especially the first one of 12×400. 12 is just SO MANY. Each week’s workout increased in distance and decreased in number, and I really liked the variation. With Higdon, every week is 800s, and you do more of them as the plan progresses. I hate 800s. But with Hansons, only one workout was 800s! I still hated them, but that was the week I learned how to set up intervals on my Garmin, so I started taking my speedwork “free range” rather than on the track. Turns out that much of my hatred for speedwork stemmed from my hatred of running in small circles, so I had a lot more fun doing those workouts over the more varied terrain of bike trails and the National Mall.

It was a lot (a LOT) of miles for me, and it made for some very long days when I had 10+ miles of workout to do after working all day. But I was so enjoying seeing myself improve! There was one particular week where things just seemed to click, and suddenly those 8:23/mile tempo runs didn’t feel like an endless struggle, and hitting a 9:06 pace on my long runs felt (almost) easy. I broke out of the “speed” category of speedwork and into the longer intervals of the “strength” workouts. I actually really loved the 4×1.5 mile one. Few enough repeats that I felt like I was almost done after the first one, and short enough intervals that I nailed my goal pace without feeling like I was dying the whole time. The 16-mile long runs (following the 10-mile easy runs the day before) didn’t wipe me out for the rest of the day like 20-mile runs had in the past. This plan definitely worked and I was really eager to see how things played out in my attempt at a 3:40 marathon at Shamrock.

Until February 11th. It was the second-to-last 16-miler, and the cap of my highest mileage week ever (60 miles!) following two monthly mileage PRs in a row. I set out on the Capital Crescent Trail for a challengingly hilly 16-mile route, and around mile 5 my left hip/glute got super tight. I stopped to stretch it, then proceeded with my run, hoping that it would loosen up with movement. Yeah, not so much. Despite the fact that it was just getting tighter and more painful as I went on, I finished the run like an idiot. By mile 13 or so, my hip hurt so badly I could barely lift it up to step up a curb. This was not good.

I gave it a few days off, stretched and foam rolled, and got a massage. The next couple of weeks were spent in that awful cycle of optimism, failed test runs, more stretching and rolling (with the addition of a lacrosse ball to really dig in deep – SO PAINFUL but effective), and trying to find any cross-training activities that didn’t hurt. At the worst of it, I couldn’t go more than 2 miles without serious pain and muscle freak-out. I didn’t run anything other than a super easy pace or more than 6 miles at a time (and that was only once) until March 5th. I was getting increasingly despairing about the Shamrock marathon: my PR hopes were long out the window, and I was far from sure that I could even cover the distance.

On March 5th, I ran 10 miles and it was almost ok! I’d signed up for the Reston 10-Miler because it coincided with what was supposed to be the last long run of the training plan and I figured why not get a medal and a shirt out of it? Plus, my bestie and her adorable kids live in Reston, so I could pair the race with a sleepover at their house and post-race breakfast with them.

I figured this would be a good make-or-break test run for Shamrock. I had the option of deferring to 2018 or switching down to the half until March 14 (thanks for being so flexible, Shamrock!). Race morning dawned sunny but so very cold! It was 20 degrees at the start line. I ran into a runner friend in the high school where we were all congregating (and waiting until the last minute before having to go outside), so it was nice to catch up with him a bit. We went outside a few minutes before the start, and I made my way back to the 9:00-10:00 pace area. My plan for the race was to keep the pace easy and just see how my hip did. I was a little nervous about the elevation because Reston is pretty hilly in general, and inclines definitely aggravated my hip. There were some rolling hills, but nothing too crazy, and thankfully Shamrock is flat like a pancake so at least that wouldn’t add to my concerns.

The first few miles clicked off in 9:08, 8:42, and 8:53. Other than it being considerably colder than I was used to given how mild the winter has been, I felt pretty good. My hip started feeling a little tight in mile 4, but it was tolerable. I walked for a minute and took a Gu and some water. 9:31. It still felt kinda tight, but wasn’t getting any worse. I pressed on. 8:35, 8:26, 9:07. Around mile 7, it actually started feeling better! This was a happy new development! Last three miles: 9:05, 8:45, 7:43 (yeah, I don’t know where that came from either!). I finished in 1:28:03, celebrated with some chocolate chip pancakes, and decided that the half-marathon at Shamrock felt doable. So I switched my registration from the Whale Challenge (8K Saturday, Full Sunday) to the Dolphin Challenge (8K and Half) because getting the extra challenge medal is something I enjoy probably more than I should.

I was more sore than I would have liked after 10 miles, and the hip was noticeable, but definitely not as bad as it had been over the last few weeks. I took it easy the next few days and opted for an elliptical shakeout rather than running. I had a so-so 4-miler on the 9th, and a few genuinely good-feeling treadmill runs since. I’m cautiously hopeful that I can put in a couple of decent performances this weekend, and even if I blow up spectacularly, it’ll still be a fun weekend with a couple girlfriends.

I’m honestly less disappointed about not doing the full than I thought I would be. Maybe I’m gaining some of that mature runner perspective?? Sure, that’s one less full that I’m doing less year, and now I most likely won’t hit 17 lifetime marathons in 2017. But that was a silly, arbitrary goal that literally no one but me cared about. And yeah, that 3:40 marathon might take me a little longer to achieve than I’d hoped now that I’ll need to re-start some of my winter training, so I might not bring my time down as much by this fall as I’d hoped. But I’ll get there sooner or later, and then hopefully to 3:35, and 3:32, and maybe even 3:30. I’m 30 now, and have until Boston 2021 to qualify at the current standard (thanks, May birthday). So there’s no rush. 2021 is as far into the future as my very first marathon (with its 4:48 finish time) is in the past. And that feels like eons (and 6 marathon PRs) ago, so how’s that for perspective?