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.

 

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