I Am The Luckiest: Shamrock Half Marathon 2016 Recap


Shamrock weekend, the highlight of my running year, has come and gone for the 5th year in a row. I've been looking forward to this for months, and like any good runner, I stalked Weather.com for the two weeks leading up to Shamrock. Over those two weeks varying degrees of rain intensity were predicted, but up until Saturday night I held out hope that the predictions were wrong (you know, because historically that has worked out so well for me). I had made peace with the fact that the 20-30mph winds weren't going anywhere, but I was still hopeful we might get lucky and the rain might hold off. In reality, the forecast just got worse and worse and by the time I checked the hourly forecast on the way to the race, it was calling for 100% chance of rain during the exact 2 hours we'd be running the half. Weather.com: 4, Tracy: 0.

When I ran the Shamrock half marathon for the first time in 2012, my dad told me to think of it as 4 checkpoints. I did the same thing when I ran it in 2013 and again this year. Shamrock will forever be broken into these 4 sections:

Miles 1-3: Atlantic Avenue (northbound)
(8:58, 8:34, 8:22)
This year, these were the rainy and windy miles. My dad and I started in Corral 3 - since I knew it wasn't likely to be a PR day, I was considering just running with him the whole time. In hindsight maybe I should have, but alas, I did not. I was with him for the first couple of minutes but we kept getting separated by all the people. When we got back together again he told me not to wait on him, so I told him that I was going to go ahead then.

I immediately felt like I hit my stride and was in my groove, and the tears - of joy, of relief, of pride - started flowing. Running in harsh conditions, especially rain, has a way of making me feel so raw and exposed, and so connected to why I run in the first place. I was already emotional reflecting on everything Shamrock means to me and thinking back to my first half marathon, and I was overwhelmed realized that the way I was feeling was my reward for the hard work I've put in over the last 4 years since my first Shamrock. The one thing I've never been able to accomplish on this course was a strong, solid race from start to finish. Those first few miles gave me hope that this could be the one. This was my race.

Miles 4-6: Shore Drive
(8:16, 8:39, 8:36)
I couldn't believe how fast the blocks on Atlantic Avenue passed by, and before I knew it we were making the turn into Shore Drive. I thought back to being there at mile 16 of the marathon last year and was so thankful to only be running the half this year! I couldn't imagine having run so far with so much still left to go.

The thing about the Shamrock course is that even though it has these 4 sections, none of them are particularly visually stimulating. The Shore Drive section is on a straight, tree-lined road for 3 miles. I actually find it quite peaceful, but it's not exciting. The good news was that we had changed direction and were protected by the trees so we were no longer combating the wind, and the rain had mostly to completely died down.

I had had some foot pop up out of nowhere the Thursday and Friday before the race, but it held up for the first few miles with no pain whatsoever. Then, all of a sudden, sometime during mile 4 it started to hurt, badly. I tried running on the outside of my foot, I tried running on the inside of my foot, I tried flexing my toes, I tried scrunching my toes. Each one worked for a few steps but then the pain would return and I'd have to try another approach. For a mile or so I cycled through them, sometimes actually wincing in pain and contemplated what to do. Maybe I should have stopped, gotten picked up by the medics, and taken my first DNF, but I didn’t. Mentally I was so in the zone that the only thing that felt right to do was to keep running. I accepted that there was a very real possibility that I might not be able to run for a while after I crossed the finish line, that Big Sur might be out of the picture, but I at least had to get that far. This was my race.

Miles 7-9: Fort Story
(8:25, 8:31, 8:30)
We followed a couple of bends in Shore Drive, where Ben and Bane and the rest of my family and friends had been waiting for hugs and high fives last year, but this year crowd support was understandably light (or, in my case, nonexistent). The turn into Fort Story came and I braced myself - for the wind, the boredom, and whatever invisible force exists there that has knocked me out in the past.

We made the turn into Fort Story, and as I passed the mile 6 marker shortly after, told myself to go somewhere happy for 4 miles - because Fort Story has never been and will never be that place. I can never remember the exact mileage of the Fort Story exit, but more than once I’ve made the mistake of estimating on the short side, so I made sure to overestimate and tell myself it wasn’t until mile 10. 

So I hunkered down in the deep recesses of my mind. I tried to at least keep it off the pain in my foot. Although the pain wasn’t going away, I was able to manage it, and with every step I took I had one step fewer to get to the finish line. More and more steps went by and as we approached the Mile 7 marker it was nearly parallel to the ground from the wind actively blowing it over so hard. The mile that followed was straight into the wind, but every step got me closer to the exit and a change in direction, where the wind would finally work for me and not against me. Between the dunes to my left, I got a glimpse of the ocean. The sea was angry that day, my friends.

Up ahead was the Cape Henry Lighthouse and the Mile 8 marker just beyond that - the spot where my asthma forced me to start taking walk breaks during my first Shamrock, a spot that made me so disappointed in myself that first year.

Over those few miles in Fort Story we rounded the point, and as we did so, headwind became a crosswind until it was nearly a tailwind. I don't even remember seeing the mile 9 marker, I just remember being focused on getting to the gate, to finally leaving Fort Story. I knew that just outside of that gate the wind the wind would finally be at my back for the first time all day. I'd be almost to Atlantic Avenue, almost home free, just a few more miles to the finish. This was my race.

Miles 10-12.6: Atlantic Avenue (southbound)
(8:28, 8:24, 8:22, 7:53)
We transitioned out of Fort Story and back onto Atlantic Avenue just before mile 10. There's a huge water stop/spectator spot at that point and it was so amazing to hear all the cheers! I was so relieved to feel like I was home free. I no longer had to fight the wind; I just had to keep moving forward. I had less than 30 minutes until the end and, unlike in previous years, I had a hunch that those minutes were going to go by too fast rather than too slow. My body felt like it was on cruise control and just like during the first few miles, I was surprised at how quickly the blocks were counting down. From 88th where we had reentered the North End, to 70th to 56th to 49th...somehow every time I looked up 10 blocks had somehow passed by without me realizing. 

Mile 12 came too quickly and then a few minutes after that we were back where we had started and making the turn back toward the resort area. A few more minutes and it was the last turn onto the boardwalk. That same turn that last year became one of my favorite race moments ever, with its full sun, blue skies, and gently rolling waves...this year it was cloudy, gray, and crashing waves. I was so grateful to have that memory from last year, and equally as grateful to have not needed perfect conditions this year in order to run a strong, confident race. Despite the weather, despite the pain in my foot, this was my race.

Last 0.5: the boardwalk 
When I made it to the boardwalk, the wind behind me was blowing so hard I could feel it pushing me. My legs fully extended. I felt weightless. I truly felt like I was flying. I could see King Neptune waiting for me, the green and white flags lining the last 100 yards, and then the finish banner just beyond that. I've never soared so freely and so effortlessly toward a finish line. This was my race.
Official time: 1:50:57

The weather was crappy, my foot is not okay, but I'd still go back and do it all over again. I didn't run my fastest half marathon ever, but I came damn close (2.5 minutes slower than my PR). I took 20 minutes off my course PR, and over 51 minutes off my very first Shamrock half marathon time - nearly a minute per mile for each of the 4 years that have passed since then. I showed up ready to run brave no matter what the day or my body brought me, and I did exactly that. I met my goal of honoring the runner and athlete I've become in the 4 years since I first toed a Shamrock start line. I've had prettier Shamrocks, and happier Shamrocks, but I've never had a stronger Shamrock.  For the first time ever, I didn't walk one single step out on this course. For the first time ever, I never felt mentally or physically exhausted. I was never defeated.

This was my race. It will always be my race.


Five years of Shamrock down. Yuengling cheers to the next five.

Past Shamrock Recaps:
2014 - 8k, full marathon

14 comments :

  1. Wow! Way to go! I'm impressed with your running despite the terrible running conditions and the pain in your foot. It sounds like you had a great race and being able to knock 20 min off of your course PR? That's AWESOME!

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  2. Congrats! Hope that doc gives you an idea about your foot! Such a running accomplishment to be where you are now!

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  3. Those conditions sound awful. I am miserable just thinking about running in them. Congrats on a great race!

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  4. Impressive to read about your Shamrock progression. I'm thinking of returning next year. Hope your foot is okay.

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  5. How crazy that the conditions were so bad-- and your foot was in so much pain, but this was the race where you truly felt the strongest and didn't walk for even a second. SO proud of you-- love that picture of you and your dad, I love all of the memories you have with this race.

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  6. High fives all around!!! I hope that your foot feels better, but you should be darn proud of what you accomplished this race give your foot and conditions!!! Go you!!!!

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  7. Congrats on that finish!!! I hope you're foot is ok!

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  8. You give me more hope, inspiration, and just awe than anyone. I already gushed over this with you, but I'm so proud! Sad that the foot is the price you had to pay for this, but you're right—this day, this race, this Shamrock outing—was right there waiting for you, just to say "this is still who you are."
    On a selfish note, reading this made me think of next year. How decided am I on running the full next year?! Your part about entering Fort Story made me gulp a little bit haha. And then all of a sudden I'm wondering if I'm running this thing alone—I'd never ask you to run 26.2 miles beside me—and maybe I won't find it boring because it'll all be new territory to me and where will you post up to see me during the race and would you even be able to? I guess only if you're running the half or I have a really slow/you have a really fast marathon and oh my god I should start training shouldn't I? ;)

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  9. As I was reading this I kept waiting to see your mile times shoot up due to your foot pain but I should have known better, you are a rockstar and pain can't slow you down! I'm happy that even though this wasn't a pr or your happiest shamrock you were able to recognize that it was your strongest. Congrats on another great race!

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  10. i'm seriously teary right now! i'm sorry about your foot. that sucks so bad. but all the feelings you had during the race and at the end, gah. i just love it. i'm glad this was your race, and i just love that you have this race. i wish i had a race that i did every year!

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  11. Wow! Amazing job powering through especially considering the foot! I do hope it's okay, though. What an awesome time AND you mentally toughed it out. Way to go! So happy for you!

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  12. Wow what an amazing time!!!! You did such a great job. Hope your foot is okay!!!

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  13. Before I even knew you existed, I heard good things about Shamrock, and you just make me want to run it even more! Even with everything working against you, I'm glad you had a great race!

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  14. Loved this - great job on a tough day. That was your race. :)

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