This was a strange race for me. It definitely wasn't the race I wanted to be running this weekend, as I mentioned previously, but it was the only one I was in, and I so really wanted to run the best race I possibly could. I didn't care about my time, as long as the effort was there.
The odds did not seem to be in my favor. Our trip down to Virginia Beach had been a long and stressful one. We sat for hours in traffic on 95 south before wisely forsaking it for US 1 (we probably should have much earlier) and made it to the expo at around 8pm (it closed at 9). On the way down, the scenario of not getting there for packet pickup for the 8K ran through both our heads. Such a situation would have eliminated Chris from the Dolphin Challenge (the 8K and the Half) and completely washed out my racing schedule. As we were stuck in traffic, a friend's advice re-routed us to route 17, which would bypass Richmond and take us more directly toward Virginia Beach.
Unfortunately, I missed the turnoff for 17 South, and we headed toward Richmond on 1. At least traffic moved, and it became apparent that we make it just in time. We picked up our packets at 8:00, bought some merchandise (Great selection this year, as I'll discuss in a future post), checked into our hotel, and at dinner around 10:00pm, making for a short night. As we left for dinner, our hotel fire alarms were going off, too, and we saw fire trucks heading toward it. Luckily, it didn't burn down.
I lined up in Corral 3, near the back, since I didn't know what to expect. My 8K PR was 42:42 at Al's Run in Milwaukee in 2009. I didn't really expect to touch that. I was tired, and my stomach didn't feel great, but my legs felt good.
And when my corral charged forth from the start, I gave it everything I had. It was strange to be running southward down Atlantic Avenue again, but with a bigger crowd and a faster speed. I think of the course as a highlight reel from the marathon course, the boardwalk and downtown portions of the course, and the finish southbound on the boardwalk just past the Neptune statue. But I didn't even notice the scenery for the most part, just the people I was passing. Complete focus was on weaving through the crowd. I did almost run over a middle-school age kid who cut from all the way over on the right to get to a water stop on the left. No problem, he probably should have looked, but I probably should have been a little more aware of my surroundings, knowing I was passing the water stop, and not calculating pace in my head and looking for the next opportunity to pass.
I didn't have my Garmin, and I missed the mile 1 and mile 2 markers, but I passed by mile 3 at 25:07, which would have been a very solid 5K time time for me. I continued to push myself as hard as I could, and I hit mile 4 at about 33:30. I knew at that point that a PR was in reach, but I'd run this 8K race as if it were a 5K, and I wasn't sure I could hold pace.
The journey up Atlantic seemed interminable, but I finally turned onto the boardwalk for the homestretch. My trainer had warned me last year during the marathon training to not sprint when I saw Neptune -- he's farther away than he looks -- but my whole race had been a sprint this time. Halfway up the boardwalk I tried to drop the hammer, but there was no hammer left to drop. But I'd done enough.
41:40 -- a new PR by over a minute, and I was fired up. It should probably come with an asterisk, as this course has a completely flat elevation profile. I still think I ran a better race at Celtic Solstice, which is pretty hilly, but fast course or not, I gave it everything I had and I'm thrilled to come home Virginia Beach with a PR.
I was very emotional during this race, especially for the boardwalk stretch at the end. The 8K was a flashback the end of my first marathon, except I was moving much faster and in much less pain at the end; a preview, I hope, to the end of my next attempt at the Shamrock Marathon in 2013; and a substitute for the marathon I was supposed to be running the next day. During most of the race, my brain was turned off, but I think other racers probably heard me reciting my new mantra to myself at times throughout the race. Unfortunately, my mantra is "Revenge!" I lost it a little as I crossed the finish line, because I felt like this race allowed me to feel like I accomplished something at the Shamrock Sportsfest this year, even though I couldn't run the race I was originally registered for. A small measure of revenge, perhaps?
While it's hard for me to talk about this race without its personal context for me, I want to be very clear that the TowneBank Shamrock 8K is an excellent event in its own right. The course is scenic and fast, the participant shirt was an very nice long-sleeve green t-shirt, absolutely one of the best race shirts I've ever received, all finishers get medals (I know they're just glorified participant ribbons, but I love 'em), and the post-race party is awesome. Just like the post-race party for the marathon and half marathon the next day, the party features a huge tent with beer from Yuengling, stew from Murphy's Irish Pub (I didn't have any this year, since it was 9am), and live music from Borderline Crazy, a fun cover band that Chris and I could both enjoy, due to their mixture of rock and country covers.
The unmatched post-race party, three distances, swag that's in my opinion as good as you're going to find w/o earning that "Boston" windbreaker, and a fun, scenic destination make me enthusiastically recommend the Shamrock races to any runner.
I focused on just my experience in the 8K here, but it was just part of a great long weekend in Virginia Beach, and I'll detail the rest of our Shamrock 2012 adventures in some other posts this week.