ANTHEM SHAMROCK HALF MARATHON
Virginia Beach, VA
March 17, 2023 became a memorable St. Patrick’s Day, because as luck would have it, I got stranded in Philadelphia on my way to Virginia Beach, where I planned to spend the weekend of the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon/Anthem Shamrock Half Marathon. The Anthem Shamrock Half Marathon marked State #9 for me on my 50 states journey. Luckily, I built the extra travel day in as a cushion for exactly what ended up happening – a travel delay so severe that it took me over 24 hours to make it to my final destination. Our tight-knit group of passengers, bonded over our shared misery, later learned the delay was due to our pilot simply not coming in to work that day. Not because of weather, not because of maintenance… our hangover layover was due to our pilot recovering from St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
Things ended up working out in the end, exactly as the Universe intended, even though I spent the night in a questionable motel in downtown Philadelphia and my luggage arrived in Norfolk a full day before I did. I called my hotel in Virginia Beach and tearfully pled with them to hold my room, because I was still in transit. Not only did they hold my room, but they didn't charge me for the first night that I missed. The airline awarded me an abundance of reward miles, which I then used to secure a free roundtrip ticket to Austin next year for the 3M Half Marathon. Each passenger also received a hotel voucher for the night and a meal voucher, which many of us used to purchase coffee and breakfast the next morning when we reunited to finally board our flight. My dad and his Magnificent Other, Robin, met me when I landed in Norfolk and we headed over to Murphy’s Irish Pub in Virginia Beach for lunch. Murphy’s claims to be “your home away from home for an authentic Irish good time,” and it definitely delivered on that front.
I ordered the Irish Stew, which also came with a side of soda bread, and it was the perfect way to kick off St. Patrick’s Day weekend. My dad, somehow reading my mind, and knowing my life-long love for bread, asked the waitress to bring me extra soda bread. It was definitely the most dad thing he could have done, and we laughed about it. The three of us were extremely intrigued by the Irish Egg Rolls, so we shared a plate and were pleasantly surprised by a burst of flavorful corned beef, potatoes, and seasoned cabbage wrapped in wontons. They were served with a side of mustard. It was an interesting take on egg rolls, and I’d make the trip again and fly thousands of miles just for that specific menu item.
The entire restaurant was adorable, completely decked out in Irish décor, to include the guests and staff all dressed in various shades of green. I was fully expecting the Dropkick Murphys to be playing on a loop when we walked in. This was not the case, and the music selection instead was a fun mix of mostly classic rock from the 80's, and hits from the 60's and 70's. We then swung by the Virginia Beach Convention Center for the Shamrock Sports & Fitness Expo so I could pick up my packet. More on that in the next sections below.
Later that evening, in keeping with my practice of gorging myself on pizza for my pre-race dinner, we headed over to La Vera Pizzeria for “New York style” pizza by the slice. Having grown up in the pizza capital of the United States – the New York metropolitan Tri-State Area – I am a pizza elitist, and my expectation is always high when anything is purported to be “New York style.” My experiences with pizza on the East Coast south of the New Jersey border have been hit or miss, and the Midwest's take on my favorite pre-race dish simply does not hold a candle to any pizza found in the Northeast. Having also lived in California while stationed there on active duty, I can attest to the fact that while the West Coast tries hard, it also does not come close to real New York style pizza.
La Vera did not disappoint, and we ordered a pie that was half Hawaiian, and half meat lovers’. No slice was left behind. This little welcoming restaurant on the Virginia coast did, after all, come close to "New York style." Afterwards, we walked a block down the street to Kilwin’s for ice cream, which I never believe to be a terrible idea after pizza. My cup consisted of their yellow cake ice cream. No regrets.
My hotel of choice for this trip was the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Virginia Beach Oceanfront, and I can’t say enough wonderful things about this hotel. First of all, the view from my room was absolutely the most beautiful view I’ve ever had while staying at a hotel, and it topped the view I’ve had everywhere else I’ve ever stayed (and I travel a lot), short of the view you get when you book a balcony cabin on a cruise. Another memorable view that comes fairly close would be when my husband and I stayed overnight at a Holiday Inn Express in Galveston before boarding the Norwegian Prima last year. I nicknamed my room my "land cabin" during my stay, and spent hours during any downtime I had hanging out on the balcony or staring at the ocean from inside my room.
The other great thing was my hotel was right at the finish line for the race, and that evening we wandered down to the oceanfront and Virginia Beach Boardwalk behind the hotel to check out the King Neptune statue, the landmark that would signify I was only within a hundred or so feet from crossing the finish line. The King Neptune statue stands 34 feet tall, looking over 31st Street at the oceanfront.
A few of the race volunteers were out setting up the finish line, and one of them cautioned me that the last mile of the race would be the longest, because runners can spot Neptune from about a mile away, and although he will appear to be really close, the distance between the runner and the finish line at that point is deceiving and it will feel like it will take forever to reach Neptune. I was already looking forward to seeing him at the end, and planned to kick out a sprint to the finish once he came into my view.
I went in with the goal that my finish time would be ten minutes faster than my finish time in Las Vegas the month prior. I thought it was a reasonable expectation, considering this race would begin in the morning, which was what I was accustomed to, and I wouldn't question my fueling and nutrition strategy the same way I did for the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas evening start. That night, I had another pre-race anxiety dream, and this time, my intrusive thoughts in my unconscious revolved around a hurricane canceling the race. I jumped out of bed 10 minutes before my alarm went off, and started getting dressed.
Anthem Shamrock Half Marathon Recap: Lucky & Charming
Adding to my list of reasons the Holiday Inn Express Virginia Beach Oceanfront was outstanding, breakfast was made available early the next morning specifically to accommodate us runners. I had my customary race morning bagel with cream cheese, and a single cup of black coffee. Looking around the dining area, I noticed other runners were wearing long pants and long sleeves. I was the only one thus far who was bravely sporting a pair of shorts, and a T-shirt. If living in the Midwest for 11 years has taught me anything, it’s that during our 5 minutes experiencing spring, we could have a day in which the low temperature is 32° F, with a high of 80° F later that afternoon, and you need to dress appropriately for anything from a tornado to a blizzard.
Instinctively, I took everyone else’s wardrobe as a sign that I needed to go investigate the weather. I finished my breakfast and hurried outside, where I was met with a sudden arctic gust of wind. The sun hadn’t quite risen yet, and seeing the dark clouds hanging low in the sky, I knew it was going to be cold, windy, and overcast for at least the early part of the race. I hurried back upstairs to my room to change into leggings and at least had the foresight to put on a long sleeved shirt underneath my Team RWB T-shirt. It was, after all, the season of switching back and forth from heat to air conditioning several times a day, and not knowing how to dress until confronted with Mother Nature. I threw on my pair of running gloves too for good measure, and headed out the door.
The Yuengling Shamrock Marathon/Anthem Shamrock Half Marathon was celebrating its 51st year on that morning of March 19, 2023. It was 44° F at the start of the race, and actually cooled down to about 40° F by the finish. The wind remained a consistent 15 – 17 mph throughout the duration of the event, and felt even chillier the closer we got to the water. The starting line was on 42nd & Atlantic Avenue, which was approximately a 1.3 mile walk from my hotel. All of the roads in the surrounding area that intersected with – or directly involved – the race course were shut down, so driving to the start was not an option.
Clusters of thousands of runners flooded out of the hotels lining the beach, and we descended upon the start line together in waves – a sea of different shades of green. The walk was actually a beneficial warm-up before we lined up into our designated start corrals to do a bunch of pointless, anxious stretches and movements before taking off. After the National Anthem was sung, the energetic starting line festival had music playing as the announcer called out which start corral was next up to cross the starting line. Spectators waved to us from their condo balconies and front porches as we passed their homes and colorful apartment buildings, which flanked both sides of the residential street.
There were aid stations approximately every 1.5 miles, with volunteers offering water and electrolyte mix. In addition to these sanctioned aid stations, there were also "dehydration stations," where Virginia Beach residents offered runners beer and other adult beverages on the go. Some runners enthusiastically took them up on the offer, sloshing beer along the course. I decided I could wait until I reached the finish. "Nothing new on race day" has been, and will forever be my philosophy.
The flat, scenic coastal course took us north up Atlantic Avenue for about two miles, and the course then shifted left onto Shore Drive, where we looped around the historic Fort Story for about 6 miles. We actually did have to enter the military installation's gates, and everyone who had a visible race bib was waved through. While on Fort Story, we passed by the site where John Smith, Christopher Newport, John Rolfe and the other Jamestown colonists first landed in America in 1607, and also passed by the Cape Henry Lighthouse – the oldest standing lighthouse in the United States. There was a photographer waiting for us at mile 10, and I held up ten fingers for the camera to mark the occasion when I passed the mile marker. Three-point-one left to go.
There were active duty service members who were doubling as race volunteers, and they made sure we felt welcome while we passed through Fort Story. I met some incredible people throughout the whole race, especially within the military and veteran community, and was reminded that one of the best parts of traveling for races is the people I've been meeting along the way, resulting in professional connections and lifelong friendships. Of course, representing Team RWB with my shirt was a great conversation starter, and when someone decides to wear The Eagle, we always have an instant connection and understanding that we are part of the same community of veterans.
Fort Story was significantly windier than the rest of the race course, and I felt the temperature drop slightly as we exited the base and headed back onto Atlantic Avenue, where we now faced a slightly offensive headwind. As I creeped up on mile 11, I realized I hadn't yet hit "the wall" of sudden glycogen depletion in the same way I have in the past, which generally happens between miles 9 and 11. Excited by this realization, I made the decision to pick it up in the last two miles and see how many runners I could pass before a final kick to the finish.
I passed groups of exhausted walkers, depressed-looking marathoners who still had 15 miles to go, joggers who were plodding along comfortably, and other runners who were going at a pace that would normally be my comfortable pace. I got pretty uncomfortable as I began closing the gaps between myself and them, pacing myself alongside them for a few yards before passing and closing the next gap. The lactic acid build-up was starting to become painfully noticeable in my calves, and I prayed my calves would hold out on cramping until after I finished. I could see King Neptune looming in the distance now, only a mile away. The absolute longest mile. I sprinted down the boardwalk to the tune of hundreds of spectators cheering on either side for the finishers, as the announcer called out our names.
Crossing the finish line nine minutes faster than my previous finish time in Las Vegas, this marked my fastest race in the past 4 years. It was not my PR, but it was a step closer, and it was good enough for me. After being handed our medals at the finish, we stepped off the boardwalk and joined in on the post-race celebration on the beach in the Finisher's Tent. The Finisher's Tent, which kept us warm and out of the wind, had live music playing, and friendly volunteers cheerfully serving cups of Murphy's Irish Stew and Yuengling Beer. The amount of noise in the tent was a deafening roar, between the live band playing, and throngs of runners and their families moving about the tent, taking photos and grabbing cups of stew and beer. Having had a bowl of the exact same stew the afternoon before, I knew it was going to be delicious, and exactly what my stomach needed in that moment.
The next morning before my flight, I limped next door from my hotel to VLOVE Coffeehouse for breakfast. This coffee shop was charming and adorable, with its modern coastal décor filling the bright, airy space. I was starving, and ordered zucchini bread, a lavender latte, two bananas, and bacon avocado toast. The two bananas would be my travel snacks. The lavender latte was the best I'd ever had from any coffee shop... ever. Everything was homemade, and the bacon avocado toast spoke my Millennial love language. I arrived at VLOVE right when their doors opened, so I had the privilege of being first in line, but as I sat down with my food, runners and their families began filing in, and next thing I knew, the place was packed with customers all wearing their Yuengling Shamrock Marathon/Anthem Shamrock Half Marathon long-sleeve race shirts – and I was no exception.
T-Shirts/Swag & Expo/Packet Pick Up
On a final note, packet pick-up was at the Shamrock Sports & Fitness Expo at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. The Expo had an abundance of vendors and some pretty fun photo opportunities, and the swag we received for registering for the race and finishing the race was exceptional. I really wanted the T-shirt I saw at the Expo that said "My race schedule is full of pour decisions," but at $54.00 a shirt, I decided to admire it from afar and search for it online at a more reasonable price.
Finishers received a unique, soft finisher's blanket, and a moisture-wicking Anthem Shamrock Half Marathon baseball cap, which were both handed to us after we collected our medals. Each participant got a technical long sleeved T-shirt, which I proudly wore on my trip home.
Holiday Inn Express Virginia Beach Oceanfront
2607 Atlantic Avenue
Virginia Beach, VA 23451
Happy running and safe travels,