Running the 50th Anniversary Shamrock Marathon Weekend - Three takeaways from returning to a big run
It overwhelmed me for a moment while standing in the middle of the Virginia Beach Convention Center. That subtle mix of anxiety and happiness when feeling something familiar that for so very long has been unfamiliar.
I was at an Expo. A running expo. A big race expo. The 50th Anniversary of the Shamrock Marathon weekend in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The goal being the next day’s half marathon. The expanse of the center felt welcome for there were thousands of runners within the space, picking up our race bibs, walking around with our packets, shopping through the vendors and keepsakes. I was standing with my wife, doing all the same things. It had been over two years since this experience, and a rush of goosebumps went across my neck.
We were both signed up for the event back in 2020, and like all others, had what was always taken for granted ripped away as the horror of COVID began. We would never take another event for granted again. During the days of seclusion and virtual racing, we agreed we would run something together when the time came for gathering for big races again. We both love the challenge of the half marathon, and often discussed the when and where, usually dreaming up notions of a runcation to exotic locales.
Without surprise, the race that marked the beginning of the dark times, will forever mark our personal return. The moment when racing was, again, given the light of crowd filled corrals and spectator lined avenues.
At the expo’s corner in the J & A Racing merchandise shop, one thing was quite clear: runners were buying stuff. And not just a little bit of stuff. Turning our heads in any direction brought scenes of participants hand grabbing, arm hanging, shoulder schlepping, almost everything the racks offered. We watched one younger couple who seemed to literally be buying two of everything. I don’t know if the cause was our lack of shopping these past years, or an unsated need to hoard anything that had the snazzy 50th Anniversary logo. Whatever the motivation, the long line of cashiers was not enough to keep the long line of buyers from getting longer and longer. Without doubt our $30 plus dollar purchase was well below the average sale. Mindy bought a nifty tank top, and those post run get out of your wet shoes flip flops.
I didn’t buy anything.
I already had a logo shirt that came with my race purchase, and I couldn’t find anything else that sparked my Kondo joy. We saw Jerry Frostick (the J of J&A Racing) in the hall while leaving the cashier area, and he looked like he was carrying every one of the thousands of racers on his own back. His color bright high blood pressure red, his fatigued eyes in thousand-yard stare as he held his phone to his ear, straining in serious focus on every word. I admire the Frosticks very much for what they have accomplished with this amazing event through the years and seeing him this night offered evidence the husband-and-wife team sweat every detail of this massive happening.
At the starting line the next morning, it all felt familiar. Well, except for one thing: the weather. Shamrock takes place in mid-March along this mid-East coastline, and the race is well known for taking place during some violent late winter storms. On this day, the storms were far in memory. The air was a perfect low 50s in the morning, predicted to crawl into the 60s in the sun. Even more welcome than the absence of cold was the absence of wind. It was a perfect day. Even a little warm for racing distance, and we were both thankful we hadn’t put the marathon challenge on our bibs.
The Shamrock theme offers a simplicity of costume celebrated by most participants. Although we do put great effort into the individual expressions of green and white and Irish icons, with every variation visible, put us all together on the course and we manage to all look the same.
I wore black. Well, black and blue. Mindy bought a cute tank top with a clover and what looks like a heart monitor line. It was also black, but with the important green highlights. Being the couple we are, we just couldn’t help but end up looking like a couple. We almost had matching outfits, considering wearing our race shirts on race day. We know you’re not supposed to wear the race shirt until the race is finished, but the feeling of going rogue began to overwhelm. It all fell apart as we realized the shirts didn’t feel all that comfortable, especially with the forecast looking so warm. Half marathons take us about two and half hours for us to finish, and this seemed too long in a sweat soaked discomfort.
We had forgotten how boring the Shamrock course really is. You run up Pacific Avenue, or I guess it’s called Atlantic Avenue at the top, and then you run back down, and then you run a few blocks on the boardwalk. We did enjoy two parts of the course very much: the park area and the lighthouses. It’s quite pleasant to make the turn above mile three and run under the canopy of trees that line the edges of the State Park. You must be wary of the big cambers in the road, but the route is genuinely beautiful.
The contrast is the very unbeautiful Fort Story Joint Expeditionary Base. With the world exploding into a bizarre World War II scenario in Europe, and armed guards at every intersection, the base’s grim feeling permeated. Thankfully, our amazing Lighthouse partners brought relief. One from the Eighteenth Century, one from the Nineteenth, the scene is as a rare a historic snapshot as anything in our very historic state.
Picking up our pace with the energy of the crowd on the boardwalk to run a hard dash to the finish line was our highlight. We crossed the line together as we had imagined so many times. We have always run different paces and have most often raced with our individual goals. This run, though, reminded us that what we love to do is run together. My pace on pavement is just a tiny bit faster than Mindy’s so she speeds up, I slow down, and we meet in the middle with a pleasurable pace that keeps our hearts pumping. Mindy had trained more seriously for the run, and I’m certain she would have left me behind on this day had she chosen.
I took three things away from returning to a big race:
The running industry isn’t changing with the times and it should.
I can’t speak for other big races, since I have only attended this one event, but the crowd is too white. We lined up on a beautiful morning with thousands of fellow runners, and regardless of whether we looked ahead of us, or behind us, most of the faces we saw were white. Running needs to change this, and if there is genuine effort being made to change this, I couldn’t see it on this day. And I have no idea why we do not pause for a moment of silence for the COVID dead before events. Our collective ignoring or pretending or denial or whatever the hell it is always leaves me infuriated.
Runners in our corral didn’t look fit.
Most of us that is, and I’m including myself in that majority, didn’t look like fitness was our priority. Both my wife and I were somewhat shocked at how overweight the bulk of the crowd looked. It was eye opening to realize I looked the same, carrying an extra ten pounds to the line that morning, most of it wrapped around my waist, or hanging over the elastic of my running shorts. Ten pounds is quite a lot for my small frame, and I had been wallowing in classic denial until stepping to the line that morning.
Recent statistics show about 42% of Americans are obese, that means 50 plus pounds over recommended weight, and another 35% of Americans are overweight, carrying something less than the 50 pounds. It's a genuine health crisis in this county, and we don't seem to be turning it around. I imagine my story is similar to most of the other runners in our corral. We work hard at our jobs, juggle what feels like impossible schedules, try to deal with all the stress these last years have triggered, and have put on extra pounds during the struggle. At least we're out here giving 13.1 miles a go, so good for us on that point, but our extra weight is no joke. I’ve got almost seven of it off since that race day and am still working on the rest.
I would rather run the race with my wife than go for a PR by myself.
The tragedies of these past years have driven me to celebrate and appreciate every moment I share with my loved ones. And my number one loved one is my wife. And running races side-by-side is, in a simple word, fun. We had so much fun running together on this day, and that is why we sign up for races. To enjoy ourselves. We share this amazing gift of health currently in our lives and offering this gift to each other becomes a simple expression of our love.
If you’ve made it this far through the blog, at least take this one point away with you today: go run a big event with someone you love without looking at your watch. You’re welcome.
All of us seemed grateful for the chance to race the Shamrock again. The giant post-race party had a feeling of happiness, of togetherness, of a genuine gratitude for the chance to run together on this magnificent morning. Yes, there were thousands inside the football field long tent getting a little drunk, but just as many of us were sitting outside on the beach getting a little sun. Mindy and I used our beer tickets, spread out our Shamrock fleece, and chilled on the sand with our fellow runners.
And chilled we were. The usual loud, post-race craziness replaced with a beach full of grateful participants quietly listening to the waves.
The big races are back. And we should never take them for granted again.