Shamrock Half Marathon Recap: Part Two

We last left off with bedtime the night before the Shamrock Half Marathon. (If you missed it part one of my recap, you can find it here) My alarm was set for 4:15 a.m., and I actually got a decent amount of sleep, which almost never happens the night before a race.

My flat Amanda photo shoot the night before Shamrock

Flat Amanda the night before Shamrock

That morning, I got up, walked the dog, ate a banana and some peanut butter toast, got dressed, and my mom and I were out the door by 5:20 a.m. My parents don’t live too far from the oceanfront, but I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to get parked and head for the start line. The start and finish lines are about 11 blocks apart, so we opted to park near the finish. Parking was super easy, so I had no trouble stopping to go to the bathroom, get water, and pay a visit to King Neptune, who appears just before the finish line.

King Neptune looking over the final steps of the race

King Neptune looking over the final steps of the race course

My mom and I chatted just outside of my corral for a while before I finally gave her a hug and wandered in. The temperatures were great – mid 40s. I ended up talking to a group from Maryland as we waited for the start. They were fun and talked about everything from who had run Shamrock before to whether or not they were currently wearing underwear. It was around this time that I realized I was extremely relaxed. I reminded myself that I had already reached one of my race day goals (to show up healthy coming off of my stress fracture). Now I needed to complete the other – just have fun.

We were off shortly after 7 a.m. I quickly found my mom in the crowd shortly after the start line and waved to her as I started. I had decided that I was not going to listen to music for the majority of this race and I was almost immediately rewarded with the sounds of a few bagpipe players who were playing in the median. While I have run shorter races with no music, this would be my first half that I did not wear earbuds the entire time.

More than anything, I wanted to be present for each and every moment of this race. The 2011 Shamrock was my first half marathon, and I was so excited to be back on a course that I am so fond of. I wanted to enjoy my return to racing after missing my first marathon because of my injury. So I gladly took in each cheer and cowbell strike. I laughed at funny spectator signs and smiled at the (many) beer stops along the course. No seriously, I don’t think we even made it to mile one before we found a group who had set up some small cups of beer – there was even a mimosa stop! However, I did not have any samples… I saved that for the finish line. I was quickly reminded that Shamrock is one big party!

I made a point of talking to each Team Hoyt group I passed. These people always amaze me, and I think it’s important to acknowledge them whenever possible. I also chatted with a blind athlete and his guide. I enjoyed looking at the beachy neighborhoods we were running through and giggled at the goofy St. Patrick’s themed riddles that line miles 3-4 along Shore Drive. I even got a little over excited when I saw someone wearing an Atlanta Half Marathon shirt and tried to talk to him about how great Atlanta is. The guy was downright apologetic about the fact that he isn’t from here, he just ran the race.

While I was looking at my mile splits as they came in, I wasn’t really paying attention to my times. I felt good – no pain in my troubled leg, my effort was easy, I was having a blast! We hit the 10K mat shortly after entering Fort Story, and around 6.5 miles in I decided to listen to music for a bit. I remembered that the portion of the race that is on the base is beautiful, but lacks a lot of crowd support since it is indeed a military base. However, there were some service members lining the street, including the guys at the fire house. As we got close to the lighthouses, I happened to look up at the sun rising over the ocean and for some reason thought, “hi Grammee and Grampee”. My grandparents lived in Virginia Beach before they passed away, and my grandfather served in the Navy (as did my father), so I think this is why they popped into my head right then. Since we only lost my grandfather last year, this moment was very special to me.

After exiting the base halfway through mile 9, we were in the home stretch. It wasn’t until my mile 10 split came in that I did some math and had a revelation: I was on track to PR! I was by no means trying, but I was elated to think that this was possible. Especially since I hadn’t done any speedwork since November (before my injury)! I knew if I could just maintain my pace, I could finally break the time I last set on this course – something I hadn’t been able to do at any other half since then!

Somewhere during mile 11, I ditched the headphones for good. I wanted to hear the crowd noise. It was a perfect moment as we turned onto the boardwalk with about a half a mile left. Seeing the ocean and the sand and the sun just reminded me that I was home. As King Neptune greeted me, my Garmin confirmed that I would indeed be setting a new PR! I crossed the finish line smiling ear to ear, hardly able to believe that this race went so well with limited preparation and such a laid-back attitude going into it.

All the swag!

All the swag!

I collected the remainder of my race swag (medal, hat, beach towel) and was greeted on the beach by my mom and sister, who showed up to surprise me despite the fact that she wasn’t feeling well. I bolted over to the PR bell – you can ring it if you earned it. I was truly proud that I was able to ring that bell!!

Proud to PR!

Proud to PR!

Shamrock boasts a great post-race party. We went inside where I ate a banana and helped myself to a beer. We enjoyed the band on stage and the overall vibe, but couldn’t stay too long since my sister was sick and her dog was not into the party scene.

Each year, an awesome sandcastle awaits near the finish line

Each year, an awesome sandcastle awaits near the finish line

My splits ended up like this:

  • Mile 1: 9:19
  • Mile 2: 9:14
  • Mile 3: 9:07
  • Mile 4: 9:16
  • Mile 5: 9:17
  • Mile 6: 9:18
  • Mile 7: 9:14
  • Mile 8: 9:03
  • Mile 9: 9:10
  • Mile 10: 9:38 (a lengthy Gatorade sipping)
  • Mile 11: 9:07
  • Mile 12: 9:17
  • Mile 13: 9:18

Official finish time: 2:01:34 – avg. 9:17/mile

A nice looking medal in front of my hometown

A nice looking medal in front of my hometown

I beat my PR by more than 2 minutes! This race was a perfect reminder of what can happen when you free yourself from pressure and just go out there to have a good time. That’s why we run, isn’t it? To feel free and happy and alive. Well done, J&A Racing. You pulled off another 13.1 mile party. And I’ll be back again.

Do you have a race that you just love for the vibe? Have you ever done better than expected when you go into race day loose?

Interested in more Shamrock Weekend fun? Check out the 2015 Shamrock Race Recap linkup, hosted by J&A Ambassadors Nan, Sarah, Lindsey, and Jennifer.

You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Shamrock Half Marathon Recap: Part One

I am back from a weekend trip to Virginia Beach, where I ran the Shamrock Half Marathon on Sunday. I had been looking forward to this weekend for a long time, and I won’t wait to tell you that it didn’t disappoint!

I was happy to be heading home to see my family and run a race that I love. This weekend came at an especially good time since the boyfriend works in sports and is in the middle of  round-the-clock March Madness coverage. So the dog and I set off for my hometown.

Sigmund dressed in his St. Patrick's Day finest

Sigmund dressed in his St. Patrick’s Day finest

I went into this race with a different mentality from my other half marathons. While I wanted to do well, I knew that I was dealing with an abbreviated training period since I was coming off of a stress fracture. I had two goals: get to Shamrock healthy and have fun on race day.

When I got to my parents’ house on Friday, we had a couple of mimosas that morning (which I normally wouldn’t do so close to a half marathon). I also had a vodka soda at lunch – which was at Rudee’s, just like I foreshadowed in my last post 🙂 I was treating this as a vacation that happened to have a race on the schedule, which made me feel a little more at ease.

Before lunch, my mom and I hit the expo. The Shamrock expo is one of the best I have ever been to. The volunteers are always smiling and helpful, there is a great selection of merchandise, and the festive vibe just puts everyone in a good mood. My mom and I took some silly pictures and shopped. I bought a fun new pair of running tights and drooled over a sweatshirt that I eventually ended up buying at the finish line party (more on that later). My mom even got into the spirit and picked up a headband that says Sham Rock On! That night my mom, sister, and I had an avocado pesto pasta for dinner and chilled out at the house. (My dad hadn’t returned from a business trip at that point)

Mom and me with a leprechaun at the expo

Mom and me with a leprechaun at the expo

Hoping for some Irish luck for the Shamrock Half Marathon

Hoping for some Irish luck for the Shamrock Half Marathon

I did a 2.2 mile shakeout run on Saturday morning, which felt great. The temperatures were in the mid-30s and I ran an 8:40/mile average, which was surprising since it was an easy effort. We’ll thank the flatness of Virginia Beach for that! I followed tradition and took my mom and sister to my favorite pre-race meal: sushi. I swear by this – I get a seaweed salad and a couple of rolls. Afterwards, my mom and I picked up my dad from the airport and then headed home. We chatted for a while, and I finally put myself to bed around 10 p.m. since my alarm was set for 4:15 a.m. the next day!

I don't normally buy a lot of stuff at expos, but these tights were too cute!

I don’t normally buy a lot of stuff at expos, but these tights were too cute!

I felt very at ease going into the next day. I was truly looking forward to just having fun on the course and seeing how it all turned out. I think this mentality helped me on Sunday… which you’ll hear more about later this week… 🙂

You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

2014 Surf-n-Santa 5 Miler Race Recap

Just because you’re injured doesn’t mean you can’t have fun at a race! The boyfriend and I are in Virginia Beach for Christmas, so we had planned to run the Surf-n-Santa 5 Miler together. Obviously I was knocked out, but at least I could work packet pickup as a J&A Racing Ambassador and cheer on Alex and the other 4,999 participants!

Because this was an evening race run under the holiday lights on the Virginia Beach boardwalk, packet pickup was from 12-4 p.m. at the convention center. Although I couldn’t run, I was able to quickly pick up my packet before heading over to the J&A booth to hold down the fort with fellow ambassadors Krista and Nan. It was great to meet them as well as other ambassadors throughout the day – because of social media I felt like I already knew them! We were very popular since our role was to hand out free koozies, cups, and flyers for upcoming races and help people register onsite. J&A always gives out tons of swag, and it seems people are always surprised that the items are free. I had a great time talking with all of the runners as they stopped by!

Krista, me, and Nan at the booth - photo courtesy: J&A Racing

Krista, me, and Nan at the booth – photo courtesy: J&A Racing

Though there was a long line to get in to packet pickup when it opened, Alex quickly made his way through to get his race number, tech shirt, reusable bag, and santa hat. J&A did a great job of promoting their offer of a free Surf-n-Santa cup to the first 2,000 people in hopes of not having a rush during the last hour before the race – and it worked! There was a steady crowd throughout the day but the volunteers did a great job of getting people in and out.

We headed outside just before the start of the race for a picture of the ambassador and Shamrock training team. My parents and I then hung out next to Alex’s corral until it was time for everyone to take off. There is a costume contest for this race, so we enjoyed seeing all of the holiday outfits, though I’m not sure how some people were able to run in their crazy clothes!

Ambassadors and Shamrock training team at the start line - photo courtesy: J&A Racing

Ambassadors and Shamrock training team at the start line – photo courtesy: J&A Racing

My original plan was to try to drive over to the boardwalk to enjoy the lights and try to see Alex there and then head back to the convention center to watch the runners finish. However, we weren’t sure we would make it back before Alex was done, so we grabbed a spot on the bleachers next to the finish line.

Alex getting into the zone

Alex getting into the zone

 

A sea of festive runners

A sea of festive runners

IMG_0388This races finishes inside the convention center and then spills into one of J&A’s well-known after parties. Once we saw Alex cross, we waited for him to get his post-race snacks, water, finisher’s item (cute gloves), and medal. The medals also have a smaller string attached so you can hang the medal on your Christmas tree – a great idea! The party offered soup and beer to participants, and  spectators could pay for food. We quickly got a couple of beers (Sam Adams sponsored this race) and settled in to listen to the live band and people watch. As always, it was quite a party and I even ran into a friend of mine from high school!

The post-race party in full swing!

The post-race party in full swing!

I later grilled Alex about his race experience, and he immediately said it was one of the best races he’s ever run. He said it was extraordinarily fun and he really enjoyed both the course and the costumes – he could definitely feel the Christmas spirit. My parents and I also had a great time as spectators.

Getting fancy with the boot

Getting fancy with the boot

As always, J&A pulled off a well-organized, fun event. I only hope I am healthy enough for Shamrock weekend in March to run the half!

How are you staying active during the holidays? What are your favorite holiday traditions?

*I am a J&A Racing Ambassador and did receive free entry into the Surf-n-Santa. Views are my own.

Ladies’ Night: Esprit de She Recap

A good run, wine, snacks, and some fun girl-time. That’s the short version of a race I did last week!

The Esprit de She is a 5K/10K event that is basically run in my front yard – Piedmont Park. Last Thursday night, three of my co-workers and I met up to run – two did the 5K, I had one other lady join me on the 10K.

I couldn't pass up a race at my favorite park!

I couldn’t pass up a race at my favorite park!

After a quick walk over to the park, we said goodbye to our 5Kers and then hung out for 30 minutes until the 10K start time. (The 5K started at 6:30 p.m., the 10K at 7 p.m. – I wish it would have been the other way around…) The start/finish area was right next to a restaurant that was hosting our post-party, which included music, cocktails, and tapas. The time passed pretty quickly and then it was time to line up for our start.

Me and Holly getting ready to run!

Me and Holly getting ready to run!

My colleague Holly and I got into place. We struggled to get out of the crowd right after the race started, but the congestion cleared up pretty quickly. The 10K course was a loop, which I usually don’t enjoy but it wasn’t bad in this race. Since it was dark and went through the park, it was kind of nice to know what was coming next the second time around. I will say that race organizers did a good job of lighting parts of the course and having volunteers with lit wands guiding you at other points. I could have done without the few hairpin turns they threw in there though – no one likes trying to navigate tight turns through cones. But the weather was great!

I was wondering how I would feel during and evening race, but luckily I was running really well! My splits were:

  • Mile 1: 8:28
  • Mile 2: 8:14
  • Mile 3: 8:10
  • Mile 4: 8:21
  • Mile 5: 8:36
  • Mile 6: 8:16
  • Finish time: 50:45 for a pace of 8:21/mile

My one complaint is that this course was not a true 10K – my watch brought us in at 6.08 miles, not 6.2 (and others verified this as well). This would have been a PR for me, but I will settle for coming in 13th overall.

Afterwards, I met up with my colleagues and the second part of this party began! Your bib got you two complimentary drinks (my choice for the evening: prosecco) and tapas. We had a great time talking, laughing, and dancing as we enjoyed all of the yummy things that were offered to us.

Jaime, Holly, me, and Anna enjoying ourselves post-race

Jaime, Holly, me, and Anna enjoying ourselves post-race

I think my favorite part of this race was the fact that the post-race party combined with an Athleta participant tank drew a lot of newer runners. We had a couple of ladies in our group who had never run a race before, and they did great! Hopefully this won’t be their last… This one was the last race for me until my first full marathon on December 13th – and it was a fun one!

How do you feel about evening races? Or women’s only races?

From Stress to Bliss: Atlanta 10 Miler Race Recap

My experience with the Atlanta 10 Miler on Sunday is a perfect example of the difference a few minutes and a purposeful shift in attitude can make.

This was the second year (and my second time) for the Atlanta 10 Miler, but this year featured a brand new course – so it was kind of like running this event for the first time.

Last year, I was able to walk a couple of blocks to the start line. This year I had to drive – and unfortunately traffic was hideous (which is typical in Atlanta). By the time I parked, I had less than 20 minutes to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, and find my start wave before the race began. If you’ve ever done a race with me, you know that situations like this can turn me into a monster since I’m a little particular about pre-race rituals. However, I really tried to take it in stride as best as I could.

Thankfully, I was able to get everything done pretty quickly and still meet up with some friends before gun time. This lovely group of ladies made me forget about my hectic trek to the start line. I was able to shake off my anxiety and reset my mind to think about the great things the day was going to offer me – perfect racing weather, positive people around me, and a challenging new course.

I turned around an anxiety-ridden morning with a little help from my friends

I turned around an anxiety-ridden morning with a little help from my friends

As I took off, I was happy to see the skyline of my lovely city set against a perfectly blue sky. No clouds at all! Temperatures were in the mid-50s at start time, so it was very comfortable. I was feeling happy and very hopeful that more good things were ahead.

This course was very hilly, but I knew that going in so I just embraced them. I had a lot of help to get me through. One of the best parts of the Atlanta 10 Miler is the cheer zones that are part of the Adopt a Mile program. Atlanta Track Club selects other nonprofits to set up cheer zones and water stations, and those organizations receive a donation for their support. The groups never disappoint, and this year every single one was awesome! From giant puppets from the Center for Puppetry Arts, to the Rockdale Special Olympics crowd dressed up like pirates, to the very raucous Decatur Bulldogs, to the group at mile 5 who created the high-five zone (to name a few)… THANK YOU!

While all of those sights were fun distractions, there was one moment that made me literally laugh out loud. Somewhere around mile six, I discovered a tiny little boy who was maybe 5 or 6 years old grinning and dancing. He also happened to be holding a sign that said “Turn Down for What”. His moves and his mischievous little smile were so funny to me!

Another great addition to this year’s race was the Conquer Cardiac Hill challenge – which gave participants their timed splits of the hill made infamous because of the Peachtree Road Race. It climbs 12 stories in less than a mile, and showed up around mile 7 of this course. After all of the other hills I had already climbed that morning, I wasn’t able to speed up Cardiac Hill as quickly as I would have liked. But it was certainly a great motivator!

Happy at the finish line - a new PR!

Happy at the finish line – a new PR!

I ended up finishing in 1:32:32 officially or a 9:16 per mile pace overall. This earned me a new PR in the 10 miler distance (by a good 3 minutes!), and I was proud of that since this course is no cakewalk!

If you’re thinking this blog post doesn’t really focus much on the actual running of the race, you’re probably right. But this entire event felt like more of a party than anything else! I really had a great time – and all of the spectators and friendly volunteers were a major part of it. So if you were along the course and smiled, clapped, high-fived, cheered, or even happened to glance in the direction of the thousands of runners out there on Sunday morning, thank you!

Do you feed off of course support, or do you not really pay attention to it at all? Leave me a comment or send me a tweet!

Rise Up & Run 5K Recap

This Saturday I participated in the best example of athleticism the Georgia Dome has seen in a while, the Rise Up & Run 5K (sorry, Falcons fans). For the second time this year, this New York sports fan finished a race on the field of an Atlanta team. (See my recap of the Braves Country 5K here)

IMG_0157

The Rise Up & Run 5K is a collaboration between Atlanta Track Club and the Atlanta Falcons that finishes on the 50 yard line of the Georgia Dome. Saturday morning’s weather was perfect for runners – temperatures in the 50s and clear skies. The boyfriend and I were able to park easily and for free, thanks to event parking vouchers. Then we headed up to Falcons Landing to grab our race numbers, which were shaped like footballs. The beauty of races in this area is that you can use the bathrooms inside the Georgia World Congress Center – it’s always preferable to avoid porta potties!

After all of the pre-race necessities were taken care of, we wandered outside to the start line. We were greeted with the voice of Samuel L. Jackson asking what Falcons do, just like the commercials for the team – the answer, of course, is rise up. We were off as the sun was starting to come up over downtown Atlanta.

Miles one and two went pretty easy for me. It’s amazing what fall weather will do for you! Shortly after the first mile marker, I saw a loose chicken running around on the side of the course. Someone isn’t getting free eggs anymore…

The Falcons cheerleaders were waiting for us just outside the tunnel

The Falcons cheerleaders were waiting for us just outside the tunnel

Mile three brought some pretty big hills. I powered through them, but was delighted that the finish was all downhill heading into the Georgia Dome. Once inside, I was funneled onto the field where cheerleaders were there with their pom poms and the jumbotron showed runners crossing the finish line. The turf was lovely to run on compared to all the miles I do on pavement!

The vibe inside the Dome was awesome! Since there were also kids races associated with this event, there were families all over the place. There was plenty to do, between pictures with Freddie Falcon, a bounce thing, and a football toss. We saw a lot of kids dancing around to the music as well.

The boyfriend trying out his arm

Overall, I was pleased with my time, which was 25:47 for an average pace of 8:18 per mile.  This may have been my favorite 5K I have ever done. It just felt full of energy from start to finish!

Have you ever finished a race inside a sports stadium? Tell me about it – leave a comment or tweet me!

On the field inside the Dome

On the field inside the Dome

Cowbells, Camp, and Camaraderie

The Run Around the Park Relay is one of my favorite races in Atlanta. Teams of five people take turns running 3.4 miles each, and are encouraged to set up a fun and festive camp to cheer on their friends and just hang out. Our team likes to bring food and some adult beverages to celebrate the completion of those laps. It’s a great way to spend a Sunday morning.

Our team name for this year was 50 Shades of Gu, giving nods to both a pop culture phenomenon of which I have next to no knowledge about as well as an energy gel brand. We set up shop just before the transition area. We had quite a crew this year since two boyfriends, two husbands, a child, and a dog came along to serve as cheerleaders.

50 Shade of Gu's camp

50 Shade of Gu’s camp

Since I captain the team, I abuse my position and insist upon running the first leg. This is simply because it is still hot and humid this time of year and I want to avoid running in the worst of it. It also ensures I can get back to camp to eat, drink, and be merry.

I arrived later than I would have liked simply because we went to a wedding the night before and I was dragging. I quickly picked up our team bib numbers, goodie bags, and t-shirts. Then we quickly met up with the rest of the group and set everything up. We had quite a spread between the bananas and bagels in the goodie bag and the snacks we brought ourselves: pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies, and pumpkin and other assorted beers (apparently we were all feeling fallish).

My other returning teammate and me, post-run

My other returning teammate and me, post-run

My teammates gathered at the start line to see me off. The course was hilly and since I ran 13 miles the day before, my legs were a little tired on those uphills! We got lucky this year – it was overcast and misting a bit at times, so at least it felt cooler. Last year was full-on sunshine and heat. I finished my 3.4 miles with an average pace of 9:07 per mile and then handed off our baton (which was actually a slap bracelet).

Cowbells - a genius idea for our goodie bags! And the sunglasses were cute too.

Cowbells – a genius idea for our goodie bags! And the sunglasses were cute too.

I returned to camp to cheer on the other runners as they split off for their respective legs. In our goodie bags, we had cowbells and sunglasses for each participant. (Last year’s team gift was a cooler with koozies). We made good use of the cowbells and one teammate’s daughter insisted upon giving every single runner a friendly yell and some cowbell. It was really cute that she took this so seriously, and much appreciated by the runners!

A great bonus this year – my favorite local pizza chain gave each team a cheese pizza. Yes it was early on a Sunday morning, but we really enjoyed having a slice and breaking out the beer. Our team of ladies did a great job and it was time to celebrate! Next year we’re thinking of having our all-girls team face off against a team of our guys – camp life might not be so friendly for that one!

What are some of your favorite fall races? Leave a comment or send me a tweet!