MEDALS MEAN SOMETHING
My Journey to and at the 2023 Shamrock Half Marathon
As your average American runner (that is your hobby jogger of sorts…no professional contracts here), I love to collect the medals from the races I participate in. Each medal encapsulates a different story from a different race. If I am honest, some races are easier to remember than others, and some races hold a special place in my heart.
I have two medals that I consider of the deepest importance in my running journey. It is not the decoration of the medals, the prestige of the race, or anything other than the meaning of what I accomplished in those races.
The first race I will bring up is the only Marathon I have run in my life (Shamrock 2008). It was an awful race, to say the least. I blew up at mile 13 (that’s right the halfway point) and struggled to finish in just under 5 hours. Now the race may have been less than optimal and far from my hopes for it, but that did not diminish the feeling of accomplishment I had in running and finishing 26.2 miles (now don’t ever ask me to do it again).
However, it is the other medal (and race) that means so much to me, that relates to this race recap:
The 2006 Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon.
I was a senior in high school and it was the furthest I had ever run at that time. It was also the first medal I ever earned for running a race (as up to that point I had mostly competed within the high school running system). I had been dropped off at the oceanfront that morning and had to wait for my parents to get out of church to pick me up after the race. This wouldn’t have been a problem except I didn’t know how long 13.1 miles would take me. Well I ran it in 1:46, called my mom (who was a bit shocked I finished so quickly), and she said it might be a while before they could pick me up. This medal means so much because I surprised myself and those around me. I proved to myself what my body was capable of doing.
That 1:46 stood as my race PR for quite a while (technically almost 16 years). In fact I never got anywhere near it until during COVID I ran 2 half marathons (one @ 1:44 and the other @ 1:40). Neither of those half marathons were official races (though one was for a virtual race entry). I counted them as lifetime bests, but I told myself I wanted my lifetime best to be a race PR (just to make life easier…and official).
Moving to 2023
I connected with a coach through my run club (I mean do I need to brag anymore about him?), I got more consistency in running, and my fitness began to progress at an awesome rate.
Y’all will remember that last year I dealt with a myriad of injuries and my half marathon progress was halted (check out my Richmond recap), but the drive continued. As the calendar turned to 2023, my eyes were set on the Shamrock Half Marathon (the ups and downs of training you can read in previous blogs).
Race day arrived…
I wasn’t freaking out (seriously). I got my run club’s cheer zone area, laced up my training shoes and shot off on a warm up, got in my dynamics, and pre-hydrated for the race. I talked through strategy with one of my athletes who ran her first half marathon (Shoutout to Sara Norman for crushing a 2:30 in her first half marathon ever WITH A DOUBLE STROLLER!!!) while I laced up my racing shoes and stayed relaxed and loose.
I calmly walked toward the start line with the mentality of being ready to go.
After some pre-race pictures and conversations I got into my corral and positioned myself in a place I felt comfortable starting. My friend Kari found me (she was trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon…shooting to run sub 3:40…WHICH SHE DID!!!!) and we chatted as we awaited our official start. We calmed each other during that time, and then with the nerves settling in the horn sounded and we shot off.
There is an odd feeling when you start a race:
For so long my “race pace” had an air of difficulty around it. During my taper run earlier in the week, my race pace felt awkward, I could hardly hold it, and it felt tough. However, this is nothing new, and I wrote it off as a taper run (nothing feels right during a taper) and tried to keep my mind straight. When the race started though, that race pace (about 7:00/mile) felt comfortable, and not just comfortable but 13.1 miles comfortable. Between the runners around me and fans cheering, that race day energy was real and I was feeling it.
EVERYTHING FELT GREAT!
The first 3 miles were great, and I was rolling right along. In Shamrock you work your way up Atlantic Avenue in Virginia Beach towards Shore Dr. Once you get to Shore Dr. you veer left onto it and work your way away from the oceanfront. Shore Dr. is probably one of the most isolating portions of the race. It is about a 3 mile portion of the course surrounded by trees and very few fans. I had mentally prepared myself for this portion, but luckily found some fun folks to chat with as we ran down the road
Note: talking during a race is not the easiest and other runners probably got annoyed at me, but I hope they understand they helped me stay relaxed and I thank them so much for that feeling.
It was at about mile 5 that my stomach began to feel a bit weird. Now I had had my usual race day breakfast, some peanut butter toast and a cup of coffee. I had taken my usual morning poop (look if you can’t handle it now then skip ahead…also welcome to running), and followed the usual flow of events. I tried to put it out of my mind and kept running. My main thought became “okay we cross the finish line and go straight to the bathroom…cool.” I kept going and crossed through 10k at what is the fastest I have ever covered said distance (again we are talking about lifetime fastest vs race PR…don’t worry I’ll get that PR in April).
However, my stomach began to feel a little bit more questionable. I began to assess how long I thought I could hold it in, and my mind began to sound the “Code Brown” alarm (this is the point in a running journey where even a fart can be detrimental). We were in the Ft. Story section of the race, where you are running through an active US Military Base. There were some fans and Military Police (MPs) lining the roads and cheering, but aid was not very present in this area (I only recall one water stop). At this point I was praying for a porta-potty and they finally arrived. Sometimes in races runners have a split second to make a decision (even in a race that is an hour and a half). In my mind, I had to decide to keep running and probably poop myself or sacrifice 30 seconds and stop for the bathroom.
Well, I stopped…and I do not regret that decision.
Once I collected myself and got back on the course I immediately began to work myself back in the groove, but definitely got in the mindset of “making up for lost time.” I was pretty close to being back on pace for my “A” Goal of 1:32 when I started to feel that tightness in my glute (yeah that “one thing”). I had told one of my friends (in fact Courtney who helps to edit these articles) that I didn’t care if they had to cut my leg off at the finish line, I would run through the pain…and I did…though a bit off my race pace. I slowed about 10-15 secs/mi off pace for miles 11 and 12 and my glute — and by that time my hamstring— began to loosen up.
My coach always encourages me to go into a race with “A,” “B,” and “C” goals. That is (A) what you think you can do if everything goes the way you have trained for it, (B) the goal for if you aren’t quite feeling it and you need to make a couple of adjustments, and (C) the goal you have even when your race goes terribly. Here were my goals (well just the time usually I will write a narrative on how I will achieve each.
A Goal: 1:32
B Goal: 1:35
C Goal: 1:42
Once I loosened up the glute and got it feeling good again, my mind wasn’t thinking about any of these goals I had made. I knew I was well under my C goal, and even knew my B goal was well within reach. The A goal felt a bit off, but my mind went straight to thinking “I am proud no matter the time.” (I truly thought this and there was a sense of comfort and accomplishment around it).
Finishing the Race
As I closed in on 40th Street (the real beginning of the end for the Shamrock Half) I began to really feel the energy of the finish. I turned on 40th, then back onto Atlantic and ran through what was known as “run club alley.” The road was lined with area run clubs, including Run Some Mo (the run club I am a part of and help lead). Friends cheering hard for me gave me that spirit lift and my stride loosened and opened up. I turned on 37th Street, and then made the last right turn onto the Virginia Beach Boardwalk.
At this point in the race, the finish line is about a half mile away and completely in view. You can see King Neptune (the big statue on the oceanfront where the finish line is located), but for a bit it seems like it isn’t getting closer. I gritted my teeth and powered through these last 800 meters and held it together as long as I could. When the clock came into view I couldn’t believe it. I saw 1:33 (and some odd seconds). My mind had never considered what it would feel like to see a combination of numbers like that (1:3?:?? that is). I crossed the finish line and immediately was overwhelmed because I knew I had accomplished something huge. I stopped my watch and made my way through the finishers corral, and collected my medal, water, snacks, hat, blanket, and finally bag (why they didn’t give us the bag after the medals I have no clue?!?!?)
My official finish time: 1:33:29!!!!
That was the race, and so you want to know what medal makes me so proud now?
…Yep you guessed it!
Those other two I mentioned hold a special place in my heart and always will, but this medal represents the hard work and accomplishment of an adult whose relationship with running has been all over the place. An adult that has overcome physical injuries and mental disappointment and struggles. When I got back into running in 2019, I thought that I would never be fast enough to touch any of my younger days’ PR’s. I started calling things “Adult PRs” to help motivate me and focus my achievements so I didn’t feel inadequate against my younger self.
However, now I officially (that is officially timed on an officially measured course) had done what I thought was in my past. It immediately placed in my mind the hunger to keep it going.
What else am I capable of doing?
A 10k under 40 minutes? YES
A 5k under 19 minutes? YES
A Half Marathon under 90 minutes (1:30)? HECK YEA
A Marathon? Well hold on, let’s not get ahead of ourselves (but honestly I don’t know— I am having fun where I am and I have some more mental work to do before another marathon).
Not only did I have a great day on the roads, but it was also seeing my friends conquer awesome things. From crushing the 8k, half, and full PRs to showing up and crushing their first race of one of those distances. From gutsy performances that proved their mettle to a trip to medical to help the most BADASS MOTHER RUNNER after she left everything on the course (Jessica Plummer deserves all the kudos for a 2:01 Half Marathon with a triple stroller!)
Running proves to me over and over again that we are capable of doing hard things when we put our minds to it.
It is going to be hard to top this medal even if I accomplish those other goals I just laid out. This is the one that proved to me I am capable of all of it!