I was lucky enough to be able to take Friday off from work, which meant that I could spend my (long) travel time relaxing instead of working. I flew from Dallas to Atlanta, Atlanta to Philadelphia, and then drove 2.5 hours to Rehoboth Beach. Unfortunately, in all of that travel, I neglected to eat lunch…
However, I had also made another critical error. Since I had to pack last Sunday, I relied on an old forecast. That forecast predicted the weather as a low of 38 and high of 49, so I packed long tights, an Athleta long sleeved twist top (my favorite!), and a fleece jacket. Unfortunately, I discovered while catching up on fellow runners’ pre-race blogs on Friday that the updated forecast showed temps in the 60s. Uh oh! And so it was that I ended up at a mall in Dover, hitting up Old Navy for something cheap and more weather-appropriate. The 19″ compression capris fit the bill, and I decided to pair that with my fleece-lined Athleta First Tracks tank. Before I left the mall, I also grabbed an Auntie Anne pretzel – carb-loading at its finest!
I arrived in Rehoboth about 20 mins before my hotel buddies, Theodora, Steph, and Shaya – perfect timing. We headed to the low key packet pickup at what would tomorrow become the marathon finish line (the women’s shirts were hot pink! SCORE), and then to dinner with Ericka and her sister Lindsey. Pizza and pasta for the win! I devoured a bowl of linguini with white clam sauce and chased it down with two Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPAs. What, you thought I was going to wait till post-race for Dogfish Head deliciousness? No way; beer = carbs, and I also knew it would help me get to bed super early.
Despite waking myself up once by accidentally cuddling with Theodora in the night (sorry, friend!), the rest of the night was uneventful and I woke up surprisingly well-rested. After taking a bit longer than expected to get ready, we dashed to the start and arrived 15 minutes beforehand… but I had still not eaten anything. I had originally planned to stop at Panera for a bagel on the way (my favorite pre-race breakfast), but when we were short on time, I thought I’d just go to the Dunkin Donuts near the start instead. However, I ran into some trouble when I found out that while the race organizers had said Dunkin Donuts would open at 6am, it was, in fact, closed. Yikes! With eight minutes to go until start time, I found a small local bakery that was open, and grabbed a cinnamon raisin bagel, cream cheese, and a small coffee. At two minutes till start time, I looked quite attractive as I power walked to the start and wolfed down my bagel with one hand and chugged coffee with the other. Let’s just say that my hand-to-mouth coordination was impaired by the speed of my eating, and I may have smeared cream cheese all over my face. Thank goodness for napkins!
While normally I hate when races start late, today I was grateful for a five minute reprieve – it gave me a chance to finish my coffee and find my friends. Good thing I sorted that out, too, because without any pre-race fanfare or singing of the national anthem, we were off!
Shaya immediately went on ahead, but Steph, Theodora, and I stuck together with a plan of sticking with a 9:30 pace for as long as it remained comfortable to do so. The first mile was a bit more crowded than I was expecting given the small size of the race, but we actually didn’t have to do too much weaving, so it really wasn’t a problem. Mile 1 went by in nothing flat, and we clocked in at 9:23. Perfect! From here, it was a few quick turns out to the oceanfront – fairly gray thanks to the yucky day, but hey, at least it was there. I am always happy when I run along a body of water!
Steph, Theodora, and I joked like crazy as we ran – poking fun at our pace (“let’s do 9:30/mile till the halfway point, so other people have a chance to be in the lead, and then pick it up to 3:00/mile for the rest of the way”), potential bathroom breaks (“If a runner pees in the woods but no one sees, did it really happen?”), and how much beer we planned to drink at the finish line. Basically, straight up delirious chatter that probably drove everyone around us nuts. Oh well!
The highlight of this delirium came at mile 6, as we turned a corner to find a cadre of spectators cheering us on. One spectator, however, was unfortunate enough to be wearing a bright yellow sweatshirt that just happened to be the same color as the peel of a perfectly ripe banana. The sweatshirt looked perfectly nice on him; I say “unfortunately” only because Theodora apparently has a strange obsession with bananas and decided to yell out “You look like a banana!” The poor guy looked utterly confused, though his fellow spectators thought it was hilarious. Ignore us, we’re just run-dumb!
(Theodora would like me to add that his sweatshirt hood was up and came to a peak, therefore making him look like a real banana. If you say so, Theodora!)
(Side note two: please see Theodora’s race recap for pre-race banana photos, including a helpful guide on how to tell whether or not they are ripe. I told you she was obsessed!)
The next session of the race brought us out to a pretty rail trail section. I love running on rail trails – the soft dirt is always so comfortable, and as an added bonus, they are usually pretty darn flat too. Hooray! However, it was in this section that Theodora started contemplating her options for the rest of the race. Should she stay or should she go? Theodora ran Marine Corps Marathon at the end of October, but her longest run since then was 8 miles, and she was going to be making a gametime decision. And now… that decision time was here.
On the one hand, I really really really wanted to run with Theodora. She is a blast to run with, and I knew that she could finish the race in a very respectable time. On the other hand, she probably wasn’t going to PR, and I didn’t want to push her too far when she wasn’t that into it. Steph and I felt the same way about wanting to encourage her but not be total race pushers, and so when Theodora decided she wanted to call it, we gave her the key and let her go. However, I did give her a new goal for the next few hours in the beer tent:
In the meantime, Steph and I forged on. I’m not used to the half marathoners turning off so early, and it was a little demoralizing to think that we were not even quite halfway through. Fortunately, after a quick bridge (that served as pretty much the biggest hill in the race – not bad at all!), we were then on an out-and-back that I recognized. Sure enough, mile 18 was on the other side of the road – and since we were at mile 12.5, that meant we only had about 2.7 miles to the turnaround before we’d be heading back the way we came. Somehow, that was oddly comforting!
In this section, Steph and I would get briefly separated at water stops, when I would take a walk break and she’d bravely keep going. I’d eventually catch up, but since I didn’t feel like sprinting, it would take me a few minutes before I’d be back next to her. During those in-between periods, I chatted with the runners around me. There were a lot of fifty staters in this race (not surprising since Delaware doesn’t have that many marathons), and it was fun to compare notes on favorite marathons in each state. I was especially excited to meet not just one but several people who were still working toward the ten-state minimum to join the club. Yay for newbies!
Next, we headed into the sand dunes of Cape Henlopen State Park – pretty, but a bit challenging due to the up-and-down nature. Fortunately, while we got to run through the sand dunes, the trail itself was paved, so we weren’t dealing with the extra challenge of running on sand! But then a new issue popped up that challenged me further – bathroom issues. Darn it! I hadn’t eaten Indian last night, so what was the problem??
Regardless of the cause, I needed to stop, and a helpful volunteer told me that there was a portapotty further up the road “just at the bottom of the hill.” Good news = porta potty. Bad news = hill. As it turned out, taking a minute in the bathroom gave me the rest I needed to power up that hill and then come flying back down it. The break had not cost me that much at all, except that I couldn’t see Steph anywhere ahead of me. Grr!
I spent the next two miles running a sub-9 minute pace, but still could not manage to catch Steph. Where was she? In the meantime, I glowered at a woman who decided that the cones outlining the edge of a massive parking lot were optional, and who cut diagonally across instead. I briefly considered pointing out to her that it really wasn’t cool to cut the course (especially since it seemed to be measured pretty darn accurately – my watch was very close to spot on at each mile marker), but decided it wasn’t worth making a fuss. Still, annoying!
Eventually, an out-and-back helped me to narrow down the field and start to figure out where Steph was. I waved to Ericka as she flew by all smiles – she was doing great! I then assumed that Steph had to be somewhere between me and Ericka, and a little 0.15 mile loop at the end of the out-and-back led me to deduce that she was no more than 90 seconds ahead. Aha! I picked up the pace and finally caught her as we approached mile 17. Single digits left!
However, this is where it got a little tough. Steph warned me not to let her slow down, so I started doing calculations and figuring out what pace we’d need to sustain to finish sub-4:15 (her goal). Luckily, we were fine – if we could do 10:00/mile the rest of the way, we’d do it. That was much better news than races where I’ve known that we had to speed up in order to meet our goal!
As we headed back on the long stretch of highway, I tried to cheer for some of the back-of-the-packers going the other way. A lot were Marathon Maniacs or 50 State Club members, and I gave them an extra cheer. Meanwhile, Steph and I were keeping a steady pace and passing a lot of people who were starting to slow down, including another 50 State Club member. As I passed, I said “nice work,” and then asked the common 50 state question: “What state is this for you?” The typical response to that is the number of states the runner has completed (“#11, I have a ways to go!” or “#45… so close!”). This guy, however, completely misunderstood. “Uh, it’s Delaware,” he replied. Gee, thanks! At least Steph and I had a good laugh over that one when we were further down the road 🙂
The course turned past a beach restroom and aid station (convenient), and then brought us back to a corner we had seen earlier in the race, where a Dairy Queen beckoned. Mmmm, ice cream! (Later, Laura.) But after turning the corner, we saw something else looming: a big hill. Where did that come from? It was the bridge that we ran over at mile 11, but it looked much bigger and steeper on the return!
Fortunately, when we got close, we discovered it wasn’t nearly as bad as we first thought – in fact, it was a pretty quick 10 seconds to the top and then a nice downhill on the otherside. Unfortunately, I learned that what I thought had been a flat road on the outbound was actually a long slight descent… which now turned into a long slight ascent on the return. Your muscles definitely notice subtleties a lot more after you’ve been running for 19 miles!
The uphill was very gradual but very steady, and now that it was coming up on 11am, there was a lot more traffic than before. There was one guy running in the middle of the road who was listening to music and was completely oblivious to the truck and line of cars behind him. Finally, I yelled up, “Runners, stay right!” He turned around and looked pretty pissed off, but at least he finally moved over to the running lane (where he was supposed to be!) so the cars could pass. Meanwhile, I was thrilled to no longer have to choke on gasoline fumes from the idling cars! I love listening to music while I run, but I find it so dangerous and obnoxious when runners wear in-ear headphones with the volume turned up. Repeat PSA: wear headphones that sit outside your ear canal (a la AirDrives, or don’t wear headphones at all.
But at the pace that Steph and I were running, we soon passed Mr. Dumb Musicman, and I was able to stop stewing. Less than an hour to go in the race! At this point, we were well on target to finish under 4:15, even if we slowed down to a 10:00 pace (we did 9:40 on the uphill). From here, I tried to break the race into chunks, and I shared that philosophy with Steph: in two miles, we’d have just 5K to go. And in four miles, we’d have just a “one mile victory lap to the finish.” Steph told me that her philosophy was just to focus on the current mile and forget about the ones that came after. It all sounds so easy when you put it that way!
We turned onto the wooded trail, happy to get some cushioning beneath our feet. And then something happened that made us even more happy: we ran into Ericka! She had made a bathroom stop that slowed her down to our area, so we decided to run together for a while. Since we were just coming up on mile 23 (little over 5K to go!), I added some festive flair by putting on one of my favorite songs, “Some Nights,” and blasting it out my phone speaker. As I told the girls, I wouldn’t do that for a whole race because it can be kind of disrespectful to those around you (if they want quiet/whatever), but for one song, I think it’s okay.
It was especially okay when we all picked up our pace as a result of the awesome drumming and great beat – to 8:20 per mile! Now I really didn’t have to feel bad about playing music, since we were passing everyone around us so fast that they barely had time to hear our tunes 🙂 I was thrilled at what a pick-me-up the music had provided, and I couldn’t believe how fast we had gone so late in the race. Best part: we hadn’t even worn ourselves out with the effort! We dropped the pace back down after the song ended, but didn’t need to take a walk break or anything.
And now we had only 2.5 miles left in the race – or “1.5 miles and a victory lap.” Soon we’d be out of the woods (literally), and I reminded Ericka and Steph that there would be a lot of people out cheering once we were back on the main street of Rehoboth. At least, there were a few years ago – I hoped there’d be fans out this year!
But when we turned the corner, there were definitely a lot of supporters encouraging us, and I was pretty psyched. At the final water station (really? Who needs water/Gatorade at mile 25.5?), the volunteers were especially enthusiastic in pointing out how little we had left in the race. But I didn’t need them to tell me that – I was counting down the miles, and so far, my Garmin had been pretty much spot on.
I planned to pick up the pace at mile 26 or whenever I saw the finish line in front of me, but Steph had other ideas – and pretty much started sprinting right after the water station. I had come this far with Steph and now I wanted to finish right next to her, but this was going to be a challenge! To my surprise, though, I was actually able to keep pace… and I was kind of psyched that Steph had taught me a lesson about perhaps trying to push myself sooner than I normally would.
And we did it! 4:13 finish, actually – two minutes faster than the original goal Steph had set, and a PR for her by more than 10 minutes. I was so excited we had done so well… and even more excited about what awaited us in the food tent. Pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, burgers/veggie burgers, pancakes, and craft beer? Now I remember why I wanted to do this race again!
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 459/829
Gender place: 133/321
Age group place: 27/50