I have neglected my little corner of the interwebs over the last three months but when you get serious about marathon training, time is at a premium. I had intentions of writing separate posts about Sunday's marathon and the training team I joined for this training cycle but they can't be separated. The marathon is necessary for the training team and the training team was necessary for this marathon. I'll mostly skip over the expo and Saturday's 8k for this post, the marathon deserves it's own thoughts and blog post.
I do need to back peddle a little, however. Last fall, I registered for the Shamrock Training Team, sponsored by J& A, the same organization that puts on the Shamrock races. Having completed three Shamrock Marathons before, I wanted to kick my training up a notch...or rather I wanted to train. Each of the last three years, I took some time off after an October half marathon. With a March marathon, that means training starts in December. It's very hard to go from the almost hot early October weather to the sometimes snowy December conditions without having progressed through the seasons changing. This left me lurching back into marathon training in cold temperatures during the busy holiday season. It was easy to stick with a training plan for a week or two and get discouraged. Once I struggled to stick to my training plan, I turned to just trying to stay in shape. This year, I decided to kick things up a notch. I skipped the mid fall running break and did more races through the fall and I joined the training team.
Joining the training team was somewhat unorthodox given my location. There are team training runs every Thursday and Saturday along with several other team events and it makes for a really incredible experience. There's almost endless potential for friendships and comradery not to mention running improvement. BUT it all happens in Virginia Beach and yes, I do live in Pennsylvania. The training team is led by 2 certified running coaches and if you've spent even a few minutes checking into engaging a running coach, even virtually, good luck getting more than a few minutes of their time for the cost of joining the training team. Each month, I got an a schedule for that month of my runs and workouts as well as access to a closed Facebook group for the team and I could reach out to the coaches to ask questions or get advise whenever I needed.
Going into Shamrock weekend I was so excited to meet more people from the team, although I already knew a handful of teammates from other races and being a J&A ambassador. There are a few team perks, including getting to hang out inside Murphy's Irish Pub before the marathon start. We had a private gear check, real bathrooms, and a good place to stay warm and dry.
Warm and dry...oh yeah, the weather. As we closed in on Sunday morning, it became clear we were in for rain. Not ideal, but it rained during the marathon last year and I still made it happen and finished well. I had trained so hard and I expected a PR, not because I'm cocky but because I trained for my best race yet. I put the work in and I believed and expected to achieve my goal. I showed up at Murphy's (in the rain) and quickly started to fold in the with the few people I already knew and had met during Friday and Saturday's Shamrock festivities. After a team photo and a final bathroom break, we all headed to the start line, just a block or two from Murphy's. The training team allows you to decide which distance you are training for. The half marathoners were already out there running, since the half marathon started at 7am and the marathon started at 8:30am. I was assigned to corral 4 and I found Don, one of the team pace leaders. He told me his basic race plan and I wasn't sure I could hang on for all 26.2 miles, but I wanted to give it a try for as long as possible. Don and I discussed the weather while we waited for our corral to start. Wind is pretty much always a problem on the boardwalk as well as a few other areas of the course and we expected the rain the end after the first hour or so. I was wearing long running pants, a long sleeved shirt, and a rain jacket along with a hat, gloves, and a neck warmer. Having run in what I thought were poor conditions many times before, I didn't expect to need a wardrobe change but still, I packed up an extra shirt, hat, neck warmer, pair of gloves, and a much heavier running jacket and had my mom keep the bag with her.
It seemed like our corral started in no time. It was raining but a fairly light rain. I kept pace with Don and my family was standing in front of our hotel about a mile and a half into the course. They held out my spare clothes but I called over to them that I was wet but feeling good. The next six miles or so were really comfortable and I paced nicely with Don and Leslie, another training team member. I stopped to use the restroom just after 10k. I assumed I would loose both of my running partners but lucky for me, Leslie needed to use the restroom as well and even better, she waited for me. We also picked up Amy at the on course port-a-potties. Rain was still coming down and the temperature was somewhere in the 30s with the wind-chill in the 20s. The wind was downright unbearable at times with gusts over 40 miles an hour. The three of us decided we would run when we could and walk when we were fighting the gale force headwinds. We chit chatted about what we do with ourselves when we aren't running and last years Shamrock Marathon. A few miles later, the wind had become unbearable and the rain turned to sleet. For the first time, I saw the runner pickup van, collecting runners who wanted to leave the course and withdrawal from the race. I looked a my two new friends and said 'If it were not for you ladies, I would have jumped in that van' We all agreed that if we were running alone, we weren't sure we could convince ourselves to go on. By mile 8 or 9 I was completely soaked, I had not a dry stitch of clothing on me. I was cold and couldn't feel my hands or arms. I was not longer able to separate the rain from the sweat from the tears. As we approached the boardwalk. I said out loud, I don't know if I can do this. Again, my new friends to the rescue, they said I absolutely could. I could not think of anything but getting dry clothes from my mom, who I knew would be waiting around mile 10 on the boardwalk.
Thanks to my mom, grandmother, and sister, they unzipped my soaked rain jacket to reveal a completely soaked shirt. They pealed my shirt off too and slipped a warm dry shirt on me along with dry gloves, hat, neck warmer, and my heavy winter running jacket. For a quick moment, they begged for me to stop. It was clear that I was getting far too cold. I wasn't sure if I could catch back up to my friends but I wanted to try. I didn't want to abandon the impromptu wolfpack we'd just formed. Running north on the boardwalk was nothing but wind driving toward me. I knew it would be tough but Leslie and Amy were in my sight and several blocks later, I could see that another 15 miles on my own was going to be difficult, if not impossible. I mentally played out every option. Well really just two...I could keep going or I could stop at the next water stop and ask to be removed from the course. I considered the potential outcome of each option and I could see the only thing I could do was keep going. I might not finish, but it sure wasn't going to be because I decided to stop. I sped up to a faster run to catch them. While I had gotten a small reprieve from the numb misery with my dry gear, I could see Amy and Leslie were struggling with the elements. We kept making small goals, we can run to the green sign, we can run to the yellow sign, we can run to the traffic light. We knew once we made it to Shore Drive, mile17 or 18, we would get a little break from the elements as it is a long stretch sheltered by trees on both sides.
I spotted my mom's car on the other side of the road which was open to traffic. Once we got to the next block, my mom, sister, and grandmother jumped out and ran over with my first set of clothes, they had gotten the hotel to put my wet clothes in the dryer, which allowed me to have another wardrobe change. I didn't think I needed a change but they made me take dry gloves and a dry hat. I am so glad I did. My fingers were too cold to actually put them into the fingers of my gloves so I kept my hands in fists with my gloves over them. It was the trick I needed. My fingers warmed each other up much better than having gloves actually on my hands. I was able to feel my fingers again and I was really starting to warm up. Again, I sped up to a sprint to catch up with Amy and Leslie. At this point, I had become convinced we needed each other to survive this day. Just before we entered Shore Drive, the water stop also had Oreos. I ate the most glorious cookie I've ever experienced and my second wind was raging. We got to the sheltered Shore Drive and I was sure I was unstoppable. The three of us ran from sign to sign and landmark to landmark. Lets walk to the fire hydrant, okay now lets run to the yellow sign. Small achievable goals. The last runner vehicle was in sight and the runner pickup van passed us several times. My PR hopes had slipped past me. I will admit I was sad. At that point, the day became about finishing. At one point, a runner called out to one of the official race vehicles for a time check. We had about 10 minutes to make it inside of Fort Story and the gate was just around the corner. Amy was struggling with some pain and the elements were no help. Another runner was keeping short steady intervals so Amy fell in with her. Leslie and I kept going with our small achievable goals. It was valuable that we had both run the Shamrock Marathon before. We both knew the trouble spots. After the small break we got on Shore Drive, we knew Fort Story was going to be tough. We were back in the elements and we were no longer sheltered from the gale force winds. A few times on the base sand was blowing in our faces. We knew there was a water stop ahead that had bananas, jelly beans, and pretzels. The food put a little extra pep in my step.
As we came to the exit of Fort Story, we stopped to take a 'dolphin selfie'. It's a training team tradition and it was the first time I got to participate. As we were taking the photo, we heard someone yell "Only the wolfpack takes Dolphin Selfies". (The Wolfpack is the unofficially official name for the training team) We were so excited, it was Kristy and Steve, two pacers from the team who were stationed at mile 23 to run up and down a short stretch all day, looking for training team members and give them encouragement, a high five, or whatever they needed to finish the last 5k. I was so excited to see Kristy and Steve. They confirmed that we were the last two team members to finish but they were happy to see we were in good spirits. They stayed with us for a bit before they broke off to drive back to the finish line while we finished strong.
With just 2 and a half miles or so, I saw my family again. At that point, I felt awesome. I wasn't cold, in fact the weather had shaped up to be quite nice, in comparison to what we endured earlier in the day. One foot in front of the other, we made it back to the boardwalk. We had a decent sprint left in us to cross the finish line and were able to hear the announcer call both of our names.
The best day for a 'both feet off the ground' finish line photo:
I can't wrap my head around what Sunday would have been like without the training team. I've only ever run by myself and I see how important a team is now. Having a partner out there experiencing everything with you is huge. We encouraged each other through the moments we didn't think we could push past.
Medals Hard Earned:
After we finished, Leslie met up with her daughter and my family was waiting as well. We made our way to the team tent, where we had dry clothes waiting. That team tent was a special place. People I had never met in person hugged me. I don't mean a quick half side hug, I mean they hugged me. All of my sweatiness and post marathon grossness, they embraced me, as if to say we get it. It was a war out there, we all fought it and we get what you just went through.
I'm not sure there's any way to truly convey the conditions we battled for 26.2 miles. Finishers of Sunday's marathon experienced a day unlike anything any of us could have imagined. A teammate told me at the end of the race on Sunday that after 32 marathons, she's never experienced conditions anything like Sunday's. 4500 runners were registered and 1368 participants finished. Finishers were fairly sparse but the human spirit was raging.