Sunday, February 17, 2013

Guest Review - Shamrock Marathon

The Shamrock Marathon takes place in Virgina Beach the weekend right around St Patrick's Day and was my first ever full marathon.  It was also on my 35th birthday last year (2012) so I celebrated by running 26.2 miles!  Overall it was a good one to pick for a first full marathon.  There were some negatives though, however they were outweighed by all the positives.

Here's the good part about the course...the course is flat.  Dead flat.  Except for twice having to cross a bridge about 40-50 feet high over the Inter coastal Waterway.  However, looking at the course map, one would think you have lots of water views.  In reality, the only water views were from mile 10-11.5 running along the boardwalk and the last quarter mile finishing at another location on the boardwalk.  Otherwise it was just a block inland with all the hotels blocking the views.  The crowd support was awesome through mile 16, then turning inland into a park through mile 22, there was hardly any crowds.  Those are some of the toughest miles in a race so perhaps it would have been better to "flip" the race so the park is in the first half.  Some really big thanks goes to the military members on the base around mile 8, they gave some loud cheers and high fives to everyone!  Also, the Livestrong crew at mile 26 right before the home stretch on the boardwalk was very supportive too, they shouted louder than any crowd I've ran past before!  Also neat was the bib numbers having your name printed large.  It was great hearing people shout "GO JIM!!!", and even the volunteers saying "Jim, here's the water!!!".

Even though the course didn't have many water views, you can't beat the finish area.   You do run the last quarter mile down the boardwalk to a huge party on the beach!  The have Irish bands playing, with Irish food (bangers and mash, etc), and every finisher gets 4 beers!  They had Yuengling on tap with was delicious.  Here I am running towards the finish on the boardwalk (both feet off the ground!  But I didn't feel like I was flying at this point).  The crowd was confined to the near-side of the photo, and they were very supportive at this point even though you can't see them in the picture.  It was nice hearing that at the finish.  Of course the best crowd support came from my wife and daughter, here they are wishing me off at the start and cheering me on during the race:

Avery pointing at the King Neptune statue waiting for daddy at the finish line
The weather in mid-March in Virginia Beach can be anything from hot to cold.  For 2012, it was a bit warm, nearing the mid to upper 70s by the end of the race.   The wind was also strong out of the north (and I've heard that's usually a factor at this race), but I looked at that as half the race was a tailwind and half was a headwind so it canceled itself out.  One of the downsides with the heat was that the full marathon starts at 8:30am.  The half marathon starts at 7:00am.  This seems a bit backwards, and it wouldn't have been a big deal except for the warm weather that day.  It would have been nice to have the full start earlier.  However that did mean you don't have to wake up really early, especially since we stayed in a hotel right near the start line. With 3,300 finishers for the full marathon, it was large enough to always have a crowd of runners around but not too large that you feel overwhelmed.  Also, since the half marathon doesn't start at the same time (as they do with lots of other half/full marathons), you didn't get that feeling of all alone when the majority of runners turn off for the half marathon finish.  Another neat part was the finishers get not only the usual medal, but also a nice runner's hat!
Avery wearing my finisher hat.  It is a nice running hat that I use a lot
The race overall was very well run, the expo check-in was quick with no line at all for the packet pick up.  The fuel stations were very well-stocked and staffed with plenty of water, Gatorade, gels, etc.  The course was marked with mile markers and easy to follow turn signs (we've been in races lately with no course markings so this is something we've been grateful for!).  The start line corrals were very organized.  If you are looking for course entertainment though, there were two bands, and two radio station DJs, so there was not much there.  But as mentioned, the areas away from the park had great crowd support, and the leprechaun and St Patty's Day costumes worn by some of the runners were great!

Some other things to note, the day before there is an 8k race and a kids marathon.  The kids marathon is 26.2 yards, and all the kids get bib numbers and shirts!  They break it into groups by age, and the kids get to run across the actual finish line and get a medal!

Cool bib numbers, every kid is number 1!

Nice shirts too!

Avery 'warming up' with a binky!

Finding her start corral
Lining up!

Celebrating with her finisher's medal
And of course, if you are making a trip out of, it is a great place to go.  There are hotels all up and down the boardwalk close to the start/finish line, which means the family gets a beach vacation out of it!  Here we are enjoying the nice sunny weather that weekend.
Trying to get my cool shades on!

Look what I made mommy and daddy!

It did rain the day after the race and was much cooler out.
Colleen wearing my Brooks Shamrock Marathon jacket that I bought at the expo.
The view from out hotel room was great, we had a sliding door right out to the beach, and I think we only paid about $100/night for it, not bad for the location and crowds that weekend
View from room
Overall, I'd give it an A minus.  A really good first-time marathon for someone to run.  It was very well organized, a flat course, a great vacation spot, good finisher's party, nice crowd support, and a nice medium-sized race field.  The biggest negatives were the lack of water views (it is Virginia Beach after all), and the potential for the finish to be during warm weather due to the later start time.  If any of you have run it before or plan to in the future be sure to comment below and add your thoughts!

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