Not sure where to start with my 2016 Shamrock Marathon Race Recap, but here goes anyway. Some of my regular readers may have heard me mention the sub-3 hour marathon streak I’ve got going on. Basically, I’ve managed to log a sub-3 marathon each year since 2005. Not a huge deal in the big scheme of things, but something I’d like to keep going as long as possible. Last year I left it until December to gut out a 2:58:19 at the Cayman Islands Marathon, so the plan for 2016 was to hopefully knock out a sub-3 fairly early in the year to avoid any pressure later on. I figured the local Shamrock Marathon would be as good a race as any to have a go.
The last couple of months have been a mix of steady base building with a few local races and an Ultra thrown in for good measure. The Ultra went well, but being a 100 mile race it took a week or two to get the legs back, which in turn left me a bit short on time to do any serious marathon prep. No matter; always better to go into a race slightly undertrained than struggling with a few aches and pains from doing too much.
Race day soon arrived, along with not-so-perfect, but fairly typical, Shamrock weather conditions, and also an abundance of questions about time goals and race plans. Good weather or bad weather, my goals were the same – shoot for a sub-3:00 and aim to get as close to a 2:54 which I believed my recent training and racing pointed to.
At the start I connected with local runners and good friends, Stacin Martin and Kris Lawrence. We chatted briefly as the clock counted down and agreed to stick together and work as a pack for as long as possible. I also hooked up with Cayman Islands resident Aaron Walker who had flown in 2 days previous to attempt a BQ. I can’t imagine what it was like coming from the sun drenched island to a cold, wet and windy Virginia Beach, but as we headed south on Pacific Avenue I could tell he was up for the challenge. We’d already exchanged emails about the course and conditions, so he knew to stick with our pack and save as much energy as possible for the challenging into-the-wind sections later in the race.
With a strong tailwind, the early pace felt really comfortable. However, my Garmin was buried beneath my long-sleeve short, so it was only when we passed the 10km timing mat in 40:40 that I had an idea of our actual pace – 6:33/mile. A little quick perhaps, but not too surprising considering the tailwind. The next 10+ plus would be a different story though, and as we headed north into the brutal wind it was Stacin and I doing the majority of work at the front of the pack.
The boardwalk was typical-Shamrock – full on wind in your face – but it’s a battle I’ve faced many times and was determined to win. The next few miles were more of the same; Stacin doing his turn up front, with me taking over if and when the tempo dropped. Fun stuff, and a joy to be part of. The middle section of the marathon is probably the noisiest of the whole race, and it’s easy to get swept along by the enthusiasm. I spotted daughter Shannon on the sidelines at mile 12.5 and decided to toss her my Injinji Buff and gloves, as believe it or not, I was getting quite warm. The halfway point came up right after this and it was the only time during the race I looked at my watch – 1:26:47 which was right around my stretch goal of a 2:54 finish. I felt good and sensed there was still something left in the tank for a strong 2nd half.
Mile 13 to 16 was another tough stretch, but at least there were other runners to share the load with. Atlantic Avenue is a long stretch of road when the wind is against you, but I find counting down the streets helps take your mind off the immediate struggle. At Mile 16 as we turned northwest onto Shore Drive, there was finally some respite from the wind and the Tailwind Nutrition I’d consumed at the last water stop started to kick in. My legs felt springy and I was getting antsy to make a move, but in the back of my mind I was also a little concerned about being isolated a few miles later on in Fort Story. I lasted a couple more miles with the pack before deciding to make a move at Mile 18 – just 8 miles left and less than an hour of racing. Go big or go home, right?
Fort Story was much tougher than I expected, and for a few fleeting moments I kind of wished I’d stayed with the pack a while longer. Too late now though; I’d made the break and had to keep pushing on. Just before the Cape Henry Lighthouse I managed to catch and pass a couple of runners who were clearly suffering. I offered as much encouragement as I could muster and forged on towards the exit gate and the turn onto Atlantic which would hopefully signal the end of the wind battle.
The final 3+ miles is all about how much you’re willing to suffer. You can’t gain much time, but you can get caught from behind and lose vital position in the overall and age-group standings. On Sunday I was willing to suffer, and managed to close out the race with 3 of my 4 fastest miles of the day – 6:23, 6:21, 6:18 [Mile 4 was a 6:20]. Seeing daughter Shannon and wife Ally in the final mile was a huge boost, and then the crowd lining the boardwalk was enough to keep me moving to the finish.
As you can see, official time was 2:52:14, which gave me a nice little negative split [1:26:47/1:25:27] on a tough day to run a marathon. Huge thanks to Stacin, Kris and Aaron for making the 2016 Shamrock Marathon one of the most memorable marathons I’ve run. It was a real pleasure to share so many quality miles with you all.
Thanks also to Injinji for keeping my feet happy and my head warm, and to Tailwind Nutrition for the pre-race/race nutrition. It’s so good to have products and brands you can rely on in the most challenging of conditions.
Finally, after adding the latest sub-3 marathon stats to my Marathon History spreadsheet, I noticed that age-graded, Sunday’s 2:52:14 is my fastest ever marathon; even beating my marathon PR of 2:45:22 set at Boston a few years ago. There’s life in the old legs yet. Can’t wait to turn 50!