I opened the window to write this race recap and let out a big sigh. It’s been a whirlwind past few weeks. If you’re looking for the overall result of this race and don’t feel like reading the entire recap, I’ll share it right here — after struggling through the wind in the last few miles, I managed to still pull off a small PR with a finish time of 3:47:19.
The week leading up to the race was a little crazy. After taking the weekend prior to the race off from running to rest my leg, I ran on Monday and still had some discomfort in my right quad area. I decided to cut running for the rest of the week and just stick to the bike. I also had a visit to my chiropractor the Wednesday before race day, and he was able to tell me exactly what muscle was the culprit and did some serious work on it. By Friday my leg felt fine and I was feeling a lot better.
But another crazy thing happened race week. My husband was super sick! That may not seem crazy, but I can count on one hand how many times he’s been sick in the 12.5 years that I’ve known him. I think it’s been about three years since he’s been sick. He was actually home from work the entire week, and Friday morning he woke up with a fever. It turned out to be a sinus/upper respiratory infection and once he got on some antibiotics at the end of the week, he started to turn around. I spent the entire week sanitizing, hand-washing, taking Elderberry supplement, and trying desperately not to get sick. By the end of the week, my sinus’ were a mess! But I think that was allergy-related because I’ve continued to have sinus headaches and discomfort even now. Regardless, I was pretty freaked out all week that I would end up being sick on race day. I actually woke up Saturday morning feeling in a fog and pretty crappy. Turns out, I can’t take Claritin!
Crazy taper week behind me, I headed down to VA Beach Saturday morning and went straight to the expo to pick up my stuff. I didn’t stick around but instead drove the 20 minutes inland to my coworker’s house. She rents out her guest room on Air BNB which allowed me to save a ton on accommodations, stay somewhere comfortable, but not feel like I was putting someone I know out by crashing at their place for a race they weren’t running. I hung out for a bit and then met my teammate, Angie, and another running friend, Liz, for dinner. It was nice to return from dinner and be able to hang out with my coworker for a bit before heading up to bed.
Sunday morning I woke up bright and early. The forecast was perfect. The morning temps were in the 40s with the high only creeping into the low 50s. I got dressed, threw on some toss-aways, and headed to the shore to meet my teammate, Sean, at the parking garage. We agreed to get down there early and just hang out for a bit in our cars since we didn’t know how parking would be with the half and full starting at the same time this year. It wasn’t an issue at all! We had our breakfasts in my car and then dropped our bags at bag check where we ran into Angie and Liz. We ended up going to their hotel room with them to use the bathroom.
Then it was race time (you know, the part you actually want to read about). I actually started a corral back so I could start the race with Sean. Plus, I felt like I was placed in a corral that was probably a little too fast despite what I had put as my finish time. I have two complaints about the race this year — one being that corrals weren’t enforced pretty much at all. It didn’t end up being a huge deal, but it was really obvious in the first mile or two that there were many runners that just picked a random start spot and went. Sean and I just kind of laughed about it and tried not to weave too much. During the first two miles, I commented on how different the course looked when there wasn’t high winds and torrential rain!
Our plan was to run at least the first three miles together, then I planned to speed up a bit. But after mile three, I picked up the pace just a bit and Sean stuck with me. We turned onto Shore Drive (my favorite part of the entire race) and were chatting about his daughter’s soccer game the prior morning, and then I whispered to Sean, “We’re the only ones talking!” It was so quiet and so strange because it was early in the race. We passed a runner who looked to have rolled her ankle, ouch! I took my first gel a little bit before mile five.
We hit a water stop before heading into Fort Story. Last year, this part of the course was just kind of crazy because the wind was insane and there was sand everywhere. This year, the military was out, the sun was shining, and we were just ticking off the miles. Sean told me he and his wife had actually gotten married on the base and we talked about his wedding a bit.
We passed a photographer and started talking about when we would split up. I decided at mile 10 I was going to throw in my earbuds and listen to some music and Sean said he was going to back off the pace at that point. We sped up a little over mile nine and he started to pull back. We were approaching another water station and I asked if he was backing off. He told me yes, pointed out the 3:45 pace group in front of us and told me to catch them. So I did.
But then I remembered that I don’t really like running with a pace group. The group was really large and I felt a little trapped in. I got stuck behind them for a mile but was able to break free and pass them after mile 11. I was running a little faster than I had planned, but not anything crazy. Plus, the wind was at my back.
I reached the spot where the half marathoners turned off to get on the boardwalk to go to the finish and I was expecting it to get pretty empty, but the new relay helped keep the mile 13 area a little more lively. I was just clicking the miles off and feeling good. I turned onto the boardwalk and told myself to take in the scene of the ocean and try to enjoy the race a little bit because I only had a few more miles before I knew it would start to get hard. The wind was really at my back at this point and I was riding it. I hadn’t changed my effort level at all, but my pace had jumped to pretty fast numbers. I questioned if I should be going that fast, but I knew it was really the work of the tailwind and not of my legs. I told myself to relax and tried to enjoy the boardwalk. A thought did pass through my mind along the lines of, “This is going to suck on the way back.” At this point, one of the leaders came cruising down the boardwalk looking strong, but I could just tell that the wind was pounding in that direction.
I reached the end of the boardwalk and turned into the wind, but it felt okay because the sun had been warm on the boardwalk. I hit the water stop before heading into the only hill of the course — the Rudee bridge. I slowed a little on the bridge, but then rode the downward slope. On and on I went, clicking the miles off, listening to my music, cruising along. I had taken three gels at this point and was taking water at every stop and feeling good. The back half of the course was super boring. Zero crowd support, nothing to see, and my second complaint of the race — very few water stops. I thought this was in my head, but anyone I have talked to since then has said the same. More water stops are definitely needed in the second half of any marathon, and they were lacking here. Every two miles just doesn’t feel like enough in the back half of a marathon, but maybe I’m spoiled by Richmond’s set up of having a water stop every mile after mile 20.
There is a small out-and-back that turns around near the 18.5 point. Heading back, I saw all of my teammates running down to the turn around which was nice. I saw Sean and he gave me a thumbs up, but I gave him an up-and-down thumb because I was heading into the wind and already struggling. The wind was slowing me down, but not enough to concern me. I focused on running by effort and not pace because I knew the wind was wearing down my energy. The course then turns to head to Camp Pendelton and I just needed a break. I stopped to walk around mile 20 while I took my last gel. I also realized I was really thirsty. I had been taking water at every stop but decided to take some Gatorade at the next water stop. I also passed some orange slices and took one of those. I bit out the fruit, sucked on it a bit, and spit it out.
I turned into the base and back into the wind and felt really frustrated. Any time I turned into the wind I felt like I just couldn’t go anymore. This part of the course had a lot of turns and when I wasn’t running into the wind I felt just fine. As soon as I turned into the wind, my body just wasn’t having it. I kept plugging along the best I could, but my pace had slowed down to an “easy” pace. The base was like a ghost town. The buildings themselves resembled something one would see in a wild west type movie. After what felt like the longest mile ever, I finally turned back out onto the main road.
It was at this point that the pacers I had passed earlier caught up with me. One of the pacers said something encouraging and literally took my hand and started pulling me along. I started to run with them. At this point, their group had dwindled down to just one other runner. They told me to stick with them and they would get me to the finish. I started pushing and one of them started telling dad jokes. I told him I couldn’t really talk anymore, but if he stopped telling jokes, I would stick with them. They pulled me back over the bridge and to the final water stop before the finish. They apologized in advance for the wind, and told me and the other runner to draft behind them as best we could once we got back on the boardwalk.
The wind was brutal. I told them, “It’s impossible to draft, it feels like it’s coming from every direction!” They told me and the other runner we just had to get down the boardwalk and back onto the road where the buildings would block the wind. They told me to stick with them, but I just couldn’t. I thanked them for pulling me along and told them I couldn’t hang with them anymore. One of the pacers said, “Yes you can! Stick with us!” But I honestly couldn’t. I let them go and took a break to walk. There was another runner or two nearby so I wasn’t completely alone. I thought a little bit about the race at this point, knowing I would finish under four hours, but also knowing I wouldn’t PR. I thought about how I ran and how I felt. My legs still felt strong, but the wind was just taking me out of it. I decided I was proud of how I ran and really happy with the race. Now, I just wanted to finish. Mile 25 was my slowest mile of the entire race.
I struggled down the boardwalk into the wind and could not wait to turn off onto the road for the final mile. But when I got to the road, it was more like a wind tunnel. I caught up to one of the runners who had been nearby on the boardwalk and he had slowed to a walk. I patted him on the back and told him, “Come on, let’s finish this!” and he started to run again. Right before I made the turn to get back onto the boardwalk, a small child that was on the sidewalk yelled, “Good job, Ariana!” and it made me smile so big.
I turned onto the boardwalk, now with the wind at my back, and dug down and started to push. I was so happy for the tailwind for the extra help. I eyed the King Neptune statue and just pushed and pushed. On the side, Liz and another runner (who I didn’t recognize/know) were screaming for me. I crossed the finish and tried to do the math in my head from the clock, not thinking to look at my watch. I figured I’d come in at 3:48 and had missed a PR. A medic came up to me and asked me if I was okay. I told her, “I need some water right now.” Another medic came over and got me a bottle of water and I stood in front of them and chugged the entire bottle right there. I had a brief second of, “Oh crap, now I’m going to puke,” but I was fine. I got my medal and ended up bumping into the pacer as I collected my Gatorade and other odds and ends. I thanked him for pulling me through those last few miles. I didn’t know yet that I had gotten a PR, but I know for certain I would not have gotten it had he not grabbed my hand and given me the will to push a little bit longer. I waddled my way to the UPS truck for my bag.
A kind woman waiting for her husband got my bag open for me and I got some warm clothes on and checked my phone. My sister had texted me — “3:47:19!!!” WHAT? I had gotten a PR after all! I was happy but needed to sit down.
I sat down on the bench and shortly after Sean came along. He had gotten a 50 second PR. I know he would’ve achieved something bigger had he not sacrificed his race to keep me company for so many miles in the first half. I sat on the ground while he got his warm clothes on and drank my protein shake. Slowly, our friends crossed the finish. Then Angela, my dear friend Angela who was running her first marathon, came across. She started to cry and we all embraced in a group hug and it was a wonderful moment.
All of my teammates that had gone to race Shamrock as their goal race had finished with a PR. We all laughed and talked about the horrible wind and took some pictures together. We headed down to the beach to ring the PR bell and then my friends headed to the finisher’s party. I had a 20-minute drive back to where I was staying before making the two-hour drive home, so I opted to get going.
I am so proud of this race. I ran strong for the majority of the race and felt the strongest I have ever felt during a marathon. I’m sure I would have slowed down a bit in the last 10K even if there wasn’t any wind, but I really believe I would have knocked another one or two minutes off of my time had I not had to face that wind.
After a shower, I made the two-hour drive home. I got my favorite post-race meal (McDonalds chicken nuggets!) right before I got home and then sat myself on the chair in the living room for the rest of the night. It was a good day.