I want to start this post by giving mad props to J&A Racing Company. This was hands down the best organized race I’ve ever been a part of, and they handled a major curveball thrown by the Virginia Beach school system very smoothly. The Virginia is for Lovers 14K was originally scheduled for Saturday, February 15th (the date still shown on the medal and race premium), but the influx of snow days in the area led the school system to schedule a school makeup day – on that Saturday. A lot of kids were signed up for the 6K, not to mention, the course passes an elementary school or two. There was just no way they could hold the race on the original date.
With about a week’s heads up, J&A sent a notice of the date change, and actually, it worked out for us better than the original day.
By “us,” I mean myself and my friend Jescie, with whom I was running the race. A while ago I learned Jescie is a runner, and she told me about how much she likes the races J&A puts on – she’s run Crawlin’ Crab, Shamrock, and is a repeat Surf-n-Santa runner. But she’d never done this race. When she told me about all the swag you get for J&A races, I was ready to sign up. I’d heard good things about this particular race from other runners, too, so a couple months ago asked Jescie if she’d be up for a road trip to run the race. She was.
Because of the date change, Jescie and I actually had time to leave Saturday morning and hit up the expo, instead of leave Friday after work, sit in rush hour, and make it to Virginia Beach very likely after the expo had closed and have to do race day packet pickup. Instead, we had an easy drive down considering the disgusting, slushy weather and the time passed incredibly quickly as we had SO MUCH RUNNING TALK stored up for each other! This race, that race, this distance, that shoe, this course, treadmill, trail, it was runner nerd heaven in our car!
Getting into town we decided to go straight to the Expo before checking into the hotel.
The race is fun and spirited in its commitment to the love and Valentine’s Day theme. 14K is otherwise a totally random distance (about 8.7 miles), but it made for a decent taper length for my last “long” run before next weekend’s Glass Slipper Challenge. The bibs were adorable with the red and pink hearts theme, and they gave us the option to wear extra bibs declaring our relationship status. This was especially fun since Jescie is a newlywed! They had a “happily married” bib and a “just remarried” bib, so of course she had to combine them and scrawled “JUST” before her “happily married.” (On race day we saw another girl who chose the “just remarried” and simply crossed out the “re.”)
The race premium was a white windbreaker that is not the cutest thing ever, but I suppose a nice change from a plain short or long sleeve t-shirt. They also gave us a choice between a race beanie and a race wine glass. I’m not much of a wine drinker but I also had no use for a race beanie with no hole for a ponytail, so I chose the glass. I also bought a SUPER cute crewneck sweatshirt in the race merch shop. I’m wearing it as I write this.
After the Expo Jescie and I were so exhausted from the drive we checked into the hotel and I passed out for a nap. She woke me up for dinner just in time for me to be heartbroken by the end of the Maryland-Duke game on TV, and we slammed down some carb-loading at Olive Garden. (2 for 25 deal hollaaaa.) Back at the hotel I actually had to throw together some homework to turn in online but as soon as that was done we were asleep.
Race day morning we had to be at the Virginia Beach Field House by 7:30 to be ready for road closures, as the 6K started at 8. Our race didn’t start til 9, but the great thing about this race was that it was hosted at the Field House. Jescie and I had plenty of time to hit the bathrooms, gear check, water jugs, bathrooms again, and hang out adjusting and readjusting bibs on some comfy couches watching early morning Olympics coverage. It felt downright luxurious compared to some other races I’ve done.
It was cold out and I thought about wearing my warm hoodie for most of the race, as I had worn it for a 10K earlier in the week and it kept me at the perfect temperature. That, however, was a cold night and by 9AM the Virginia Beach sun was OUT. It was still chilly but I quickly felt too warm in my hoodie and tied it around my waist. We were divided into 4 corrals and Jescie and I lined up in Corral 2, waiting (im)patiently for the race to start.
I was feeling pretty sore from a) overtraining this past week with a 7.25 mile speed interval treadmill run just two days before and b) wiping the hell out getting out of my car on a patch of ice and slamming my knee into the ground 2 hours before running 8.7 miles. Jescie was worried about not having trained in too long. I really wasn’t sure how the race would go but I wasn’t stressed about it at all – I didn’t intend to “race” it. I had no previous 14K time to beat, and I knew I should take it easy the weekend before Glass Slipper anyway.
I hung with Jescie the first half mile or so, and on my first walk break she caught up to me again. My legs were feeling pretty dead, but they were also very used to going a certain speed no matter how much I tried to tell them to take it easy. I couldn’t find a good rhythm for the first 4 or 5 miles, but it was okay because I wasn’t trying to stress about my time. Instead of focusing on my growing blisters and threatening shin splints, I decided to enjoy the course.
Maybe it’s that this winter has made vast open spaces of blue skies look as beautiful as an exotic private island, but I loved the course. Aside from a few muddy spots thanks to melted snow, it was a lot of fun. For the emptier stretches the race had corny Valentine’s day jokes on little signs, or lyrics from love songs or quotes from romantic comedies, all posted along the side of the route. Since I was taking it slow, for once I went out of my way to high five any spectator offering a hand. It kept my spirits up over the complaints of my legs.
My favorite part of the course was through Farm Bureau Live amphitheatre, which seems to be Virginia Beach’s big outdoor concert venue. We ran through the entrance, around through the pavilion vendors that were closed for winter, and then up and through the back of the pavilion seating itself. It felt kind of sneaky and fun, like breaking into an amusement park in its off season and having the place to yourself.
By the 7th mile marker I was ready for the race to be over. I wanted my medal and my carnation and I REALLY wanted food. I was getting hot! It was in the 30’s but I had a black top on and the sun was out and I was warm, man!
Fortunately the last stretch of signs had a little something of a pick-me-up. All my favorite mantras (“run happy,” “run strong,” “run passionately”) were posted as little reminders to keep trucking. And since I still wasn’t sure exactly whether it was .6 or .7 or what after 8 miles exactly what 14K was, I just knew when I got the 8 mile marker I was pretty much homefree.
I kept up enough mojo to smile big for the cameras in the last stretch, high-five everyone I came across, and even raise my normally very tired arms to wave and fist pump as I came through the finisher’s chute. I had taken my headphones off in plenty of time to hear them call my name as I finished, but I was cheesing for the camera so hard I didn’t even get a look at the clock. I was also so busy taking in an assembly line of volunteers handing me things (another great thing about this race – instead of lining up for a grab bag of bananas, water, and more, a volunteer was handing them out one by one as finishers headed through single-file – very organized and efficient).
I originally hadn’t much been excited about the medal when they posted it online, but in person it was much sparklier and prettier.
I wasn’t sure where Jescie was in the scheme of finishing so I headed to our meetup spot before grabbing my gear from bag check for fear of missing her. When we finally found each other, neither of us were in the mood for a post-race beer (I don’t get it the immediate draw of beer after running, the idea makes me sick) nor tomato soup in a bread bowl (though considerably more appetizing than the normal store bought plain muffins). We more wanted time to clean ourselves up before checking out of our hotel.
After showers and check out, we headed to Macaroni Grill to chow down. Well, I chowed down. Jescie isn’t hungry for a while after running, but I only need maybe 30 minutes before I want all of the food. Bread, macaroni and cheese bites, zucchini fritti, garlic butter pasta and spinach, salad, I was RUNGRY.
And so concluded our girls’ weekend to race Virginia Beach. The day’s weather had been gorgeous, the date change therefore doubly fortuitous, the race was incredibly well organized, the course was fun, and the swag was ample. I definitely recommend this race to anyone looking for something not quite a half-marathon but with plenty of perks. Especially if your significant other is a runner too! Jescie and I had to make do with just being buddies 😉
Finishing chip time: 1:34:16 (insta-PR)
Average pace: 10:50/mile
Age group: 112/190
PS: Check out Jenny’s recap of the race, as she also rocked it!