Race Review: Shamrock Half Marathon, Virgnia Beach, VA

This blog post is a flashback to my prior years completing the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  I most recently completed the 2013 race. 

The Shamrock Half is my all-time favorite half marathon for many reasons-- you really get the bang for your buck if you register early (I'll explain later), the course is beautiful, the crowds and spectators are very supportive, the post-race party on the beach is a lot of fun, and it's a beautiful place to visit at a time of year when it's not over-packed with tourists.  This event has great race and post-race support, ample water stops, a 4 hour time limit, and a high number of walker participants. 

The half marathon start is located near a parking garage.  Many athletes wait in the garage until it's close to start time to stay out of any early-morning cold or winds.

Stretching and warming up while staying out of the wind

Corral #6, last but not least
Soon the corral waves made it through the start, and we were headed off on an enjoyable course that goes through wooded areas, a secure military fort, and then back to the boardwalk and the beach.

The locals do come out each year to cheer people on, and they often dress for the occasion.

This course advertises as flat and fast.  After talking with a lot of people, I observed that the interpretation of the course elevation really depends on where you're from.

Actual course elevation chart, with regional observations

This course does a lot to keep you entertained and pumped.  After the first mile we head to a road that you'd normally take to leave VB and head to the Chesapeake Bay bridge.  There's nothing on this road for miles but trees and nature.  The race organizers had three DJ's and a live band perform.  There is also some hilarious and contemplative signage along this part of the course.  I didn't take pictures... well, I've got to leave some surprises for future race participants, right?

Yes, spectators really do serve beer at mile 3.  Another group serves it at mile 10.  It's called "Irish Gatorade"

DJs are pumping up the crowd ahead

The scouts maintaining the water stop at mile 3 were dressed in a Dr. Seuss theme

Soon we were making the turn to Fort Story.  The military base is directly against the bay, and as you go through the fort, you can see the water and beautiful beaches on your left.  This part of the course is a slight incline up for several miles, pretty similar to walking on a treadmill on a 3-4 incline for an hour.  Last year we had some issues with drivers on the road weaving around races, but this year, there weren't any cars except for race vehicles.  

Soldiers were cheering everyone on as they passed

Around mile 10 a woman caught up with me and said she had been using me for a pacer for a couple of miles.  It was her first half marathon and I think she was a little nervous.  I put the camera away and we went the rest of the race either next to each other or separating to weave around foot traffic.  I stayed with her so she had someone to finish with. 

From mile 11 on you may see the lead marathoners passing you as they make the way on their course to go back and do the half course for the second part of their race.  The half marathoners turn on to the boardwalk and finish the last .2 miles of the race by the ocean, with lots of spectators cheering you on.

I didn't take finish line photos, but it's the same finish as the 8k from Saturday.  After the race, I grabbed water, a banana, the finisher's surprises (I spoil it for you at the end), and headed down to the party.

Post race party and food in a heated tent on the beach
Live band and TV monitors showing all participants as they come in

Half marathoners celebrating their finish
Once again, J&A Racing put on a tremendous event, covering every little detail, from pacers to great signage to detailed course maps and parking information.  The race weekend had over 25,000 participants. They have mastered the art of putting on a huge race and accommodating everyone from the first to the last finisher.  I'm also amazed at how fast they set up and clean up the event.

Annual sand art on the beach
They also have a huge two-day race expo and packet pickup, with a tremendous army of volunteers that gets you in and out quickly.  The race expo is comparable to Disney's-- lots of race merchandise, vendors, and exhibitors from other races.  I definitely stuffed my race bags with free goodies. 

One of the final things I appreciate about this race is that you can easily switch from the half to the full (and vice versa), and they're now allowing for race deferrals if you signed up and can't make it.

The race medals also serve as bottle openers
If you sign up early for this race, and use the discount codes that come out right after the event, you can get into this race for pretty cheap.  When I signed up for the half and the 8k in April 2010, I was in for under $90.00.  While that's steep for some people, compared to other races, I think you get a lot more.  This race has been around for many years and they have it organized solidly from start to finish.  Plus, you go home with a tremendous amount of swag.

For the two races, I came home with:
  • Two medals
  • Two bags
  • 8k long sleeve cotton shirt
  • Half Marathon Brooks technical shirt
  • Race plastic cups
  • Half Marathon finisher's hat
  • Half Marathon finisher's long sleeve cotton shirt

I know this race weekend is very popular, but if you haven't crossed Virginia off your 50 state list yet, I think you'll be very pleased with this one.  I highly recommend registering early, not only because it's cheaper, but because the race will sell out.  I also recommend staying on the boardwalk.  Not only are there many hotels with beautiful ocean views, but there are also many hotels just blocks from the starts and finishes, and it's worth the hassle of not having to find parking.  

Recommended places to eat:
On the way there: 
Lankford Highway, Onley, VA 23418
This was a great place for breakfast and lunch.  Their menu is several pages long, and they do breakfast all day.  Two eggs, ham, homefries and toast for $5.00.   We were stuffed. 

While in Virginia Beach:

Harpoon Larry's Oyster Bar
216 24th Street, Virginia Beach, VA 23451-3219
Best fried seafood I've had in the area.  Good selection of draft and bottle beers.  I would recommend going for an early dinner or going on weeknights when it's quieter there.  The food is better when they're slower.  Great post-race treat.  Check out the specials; they have a great deal each night.  The fried crabs, fried oysters and broiled shrimp were amazing. 

For carb loading:
Pulcinella Italian Restaurant
1255 Fordham Dr # 106, Virginia Beach, VA 23464-5347
Don't be surprised if you get your bill and it's in Italian. This is a litle hole in the wall place in a strip mall, and the food is excellent.  The seating is limited so get there early or make reservations or get it to go.   Their food is made fresh, and the sauces and breads are made in-house.  It's a family run business and the prices are great.  This is real Italian food, with recipes that are really from Europe, and not a corporate office.

We had five people, with five meals, two appetizers, two deserts and a bottle of wine, and the total was around $130.00.  Absolutely amazing with huge portions. 

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