I get a lot of positive feedback on Operation Jack, but I try to deflect compliments, because I have a tough time really believing that I’m worthy of them. All I’m really doing is taking advantage of a gift I’ve been given — big deal! But when I receive cards like the one I received from a runner named Ryan Conrad on Saturday night, I know I’ve made the right decision to attempt this. And I know I made the right decision to run Sunday’s Shamrock Marathon in his city, Virginia Beach.
I won’t get into too many details of his card, but he so totally believes in what I’m doing that he dedicated his race Sunday, only his second marathon, to Jack. That’s the kind of stuff that can almost make a grown man cry. I said almost, because I didn’t. And I said almost because it was almost. Nevertheless, I was pretty excited to run Virginia Beach on Sunday. I liked the course profile and I was expecting a big day.
I arrived at the start in plenty of time and was interviewed by a reporter from the daily paper in Virginia Beach for a story that’s running Monday (yeah!). After that, I headed over to the start to find Ryan. We caught up about 10 minutes before the gun and I wished him well. I went up near the 3:10 pacers, because I thought I could go somewhere around 3:07 or so.
I want to give a quick rundown on the course, because I really, really liked it. I’m seeing a lot of them, so it’s getting easier to make comparisons. This one had a little bit of everything. We ran in the city, along the boardwalk by the beach, through wooded areas, into neighborhoods, onto military bases, past lighthouses and through what I believe was some kind of nature preserve. There was a little bit of everything, the volunteers and organization seemed great and I’m really glad I ran this race. It’s one that’s going to be tough for me to get to again, just because it’s so far away, but it’s a race I’d definitely recommend.
Anyways, the race … I decided about two minutes before the race to go with a similar strategy that I had at Napa a couple of weeks ago. I was going to try for a sub-3 again (6:52 pace), but instead of waiting six miles to back off if it wasn’t there, I was only giving myself two miles this time and then I’d immediately drop into running between a 7:05 and 7:10 pace. The first two miles were pretty good and I was holding up, but I wasn’t feeling it and I backed off a bit. I just had a feeling I was better off easing up a bit.
Unlike Napa, where I waited until mile six before falling apart and struggling to find any kind of rhythm, I got into a pretty good groove and started ticking off miles the way I wanted to. I don’t specifically remember my times, but I was watching and I really thought I was in line for somewhere in between a 3:05 and 3:10. Probably in that 3:08 range, depending on how well I kicked.
I felt fairly strong, although not too fast, but I was comfortable with my strength and consistency. I had no cause for alarm. I got a nice little boost at about mile 12. I was just moving along, running my race, when a runner named Shawn came up next to me out of nowhere. Apparently, he had sprinted up from the 3:10 group just to chat with me for a minute. He told me he followed my blog online and was really excited about what I’m doing. I don’t think words can really explain how cool it is to hear something like that! It didn’t almost make me cry, but it was pretty cool! I’m not the greatest talker during a race, but I basically told him thanks and told him to drop me a line.
That gave me a huge boost. Somebody I didn’t even know and wasn’t expecting to see sought me out and had nice things to say! I was on cloud nine! And then about four miles later, I crashed down to earth.
On Saturday, I caught a red-eye out to Virginia and didn’t make time for breakfast or lunch. Mile 16 is where I ran out of gas on Sunday. I had been running consistently in the 7:10 range, and I dropped off instantly to slower than an 8:00/mile pace. I was actually pretty close to 8:30 or so. My 3:08 disappeared in a hurry. So did 3:10. I was hoping I could pull it together for a 3:15 and still get another Boston qualifier, but I had nothing. It started getting warm (it had to have been in the 70s when I finished) and I actually started feeling faint. I knew this was an epic bonk, and I wasn’t liking it. Lesson learned — my body needs food!
I started slipping towards a 3:18 or 3:19, and tried as hard as I could to stay under 3:20. I knew I was going to be tight and it all depended on how well I had run the tangents. The mile markers seemed a tiny bit inconsistent to me, so I wasn’t sure how far I really had to go. We made the final turn onto the boardwalk and I could see the finish line up ahead. I didn’t know how far it was, but it was roughly half a mile and I was at 3:17.
I powered with everything I had, but I was cramping in both of my calves. I NEVER cramp during races, so this was a first. I altered my stride a little bit to be careful, and I did all I could, but it wasn’t enough. I went 3:20:23. Definitely a disappointing day. I gave it all I had, but I didn’t have enough and I can blame myself for that.
Ryan finished two minutes behind me, an 18-minute PR! It was good to see him at the finish and we hung out for a bit. I struggled to get on track physically. I was thisclose to going to the med tent because I felt pretty faint. I tried and failed to eat a banana, but a bag of pretzels did the trick and I got my bearings back after about 20 minutes.
Me and Ryan after the race. He had an 18-minute PR in a race he dedicated to Jack! YEAH!
All-in-all, it was a beautiful course and a nice race. I just blew it with my nutrition on Saturday. I wasn’t particularly well-rested, but I’m getting used to that and I don’t think that was a factor. The Los Angeles Marathon was also on Sunday, and I committed to Virginia Beach before LA locked in its date, but I’m definitely glad it worked out this way. I met some good people and I think Operation Jack and Train 4 Autism are better off with me hitting this one.
14 down, 46 to go!