Crossing the Delaware… (#9)

Well, not really.

George Washington crossed from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. The Delaware Half Marathon (May 10, 2015) only crossed the Brandywine River which is really a creek and a tributary of the somewhat larger Christiana River. While clearly not as dangerous as Washington’s crossing, the race did present it’s own challenges particularly in the area of humidity and elevation. But, we get ahead of ourselves.

Delaware (to be precise, The Discover Bank Delaware Marathon Festival) would be number 8 on the path to completing my 50 state marathon/half marathon. I ran the DC Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in March 2013, so the District of Columbia will make it 51 when ever the end comes! Delaware was the perfect location for a weekend race given the short drive (~90 minutes) from Chevy Chase. Despite the perception of Wilmington as a corporate tax haven and home of high interest credit card companies, it turns out to be quite an attractive, interesting place. First of all you have Longwood Gardens nearby (technically in Pennsylvania, but about only 12 miles from Wilmington). Former home of such slackers as William Penn and Peter du Pont, it’s really an incredible place.

Bonsai Trees. Really.

Also, downtown Wilmington (we stayed at the Hilton Doubletree, but more on that later) seems to be on the rise with a hip neighborhood which they are marketing as LOMA — aka Lower Market Avenue (urban marketers are nothing without inventing SOHO-like names). Saturday night we had a pre-race dinner at a great Chilean restaurant, Pochi’s, in the Loma area. Why eat heavy pasta when you get have a great protein rich pre-race fish meal? The only down side of the neighborhood is that on weekends (even on marathon weekend) it’s pretty empty of actual people walking around. We noticed there are lots of new condos and apartments being built, so perhaps more neighbors on the way.

We got back to the hotel early and after setting out my running gear and pinning my bib (there has to be a better of affixing these things, right?) to my shirt (went with the sleeveless given the high temp and humidity), I watched one of the NBA playoff games while Marsi worked out before going to sleep around 11. I was awoken around 1:00 AM when the phone rang and Marsi picking it up. I was still in a bit of a sleep fog, but it became quickly obvious for the reason for the call — the room next door was a having a post-wedding party (as I found out later). They were really loud and the best deal that Marsi could secure was for us to move rooms. I initially rejected the idea hoping that the next door revelers would quiet down. After about 15 minutes, we called the front desk and we went up (sans luggage) to the fifth floor to sleep. The hotel representative apologized on the way up saying “runners should not have been placed on this floor.” Thanks. I think I finally dozed off around 3:30 am and heard my phone alarm go off at 5:30 am. I went down to the other room and changed. Marsi showed up their around 6:30 am just as I was about to walk down the quarter or mile or so to the starting line at Tubman-Garrett Park (Tubman as in Harriet, Garrett as in Thomas — also abolitionist) on the river.

The park was a hubbub of activity with music blaring and runners chatting and warming-up. Since Delaware is actually a race festival, in addition to the full and half, there were also relay races (on a different course). The park was full of small tents where the race teams were congregating.

I made my way to the starting line. There were only about 1,500 (apparently another 1,500 ran relays and other races) total runners so the corral didn’t feel too crowed. I was towards the back and noticed flags with mile pace targets (e.g, 10 mins, 9 mins, 8 mins, etc.). They seemed really small areas, so I didn’t bother to walk up to the 8 minute (I ran 7:45 the last time out) thinking that this would be a slower race for me. The first few miles of the race were very crowded as the runners peloton almost had to wedge itself though some tight spaces to push out of the park area and along the river. I laughed to myself at a couple of points because of the narrow, practically single runner lanes, turns we had to take. Running the tangents isn’t really an option when traversing a series of right angles with hundreds of other people. I noticed a young couple ahead of me wearing marathon maniac (there are different levels, but the lowest is running two marathons within 16 days, the highest is running 52 marathons in one year. See a Mr. Steven Yee who ran 57 marathons in one year). They were running effortlessly and the young woman had the energy to say “thank you” to seemingly every volunteer and policeman on the course.

Heading into the park, I did catch a glimpse of Titus Rotich, the Kenyan who was the sponsored marathoner in the race, coming back from the park (and already a 3–4 miles ahead of us), He was running just over 5 minute miles and was a site to behold.

Titus finishing the marathon. No one else in site.

The route took us through Brandywine Park which looked very similar to Rock Creek Park back home in DC. I connected up with a couple of runners from Queens, NY who were running the marathon. The park was beautiful and it was nice to run with some pacers. I mentioned they were on sub-four hour pace. They acknowledged, but didn’t seem very confident of that goal. We crossed over the swinging bridge which swayed more than swung, but it was pretty nonetheless.

One of the lessons from Delaware was to spend a bit more time studying the elevation map the organizers provide. See below the difference between Delaware and Richmond. Delaware had about a 175 foot climb between miles four and seven (Richmond the biggest jump was 75 feet and you did it within a quarter of a mile). After getting past mile seven, a runner next to me said “good job, now you are ready for mile 12. That’s the tough one.” Something to look forward to.

Delaware Half Marathon Elevation
Richmond Marathon Elevation

We headed out of the park and began to wind through some beautiful residential neighborhoods. One of the neighborhoods is called Wawaset Park which is on the Nationals Registry of Historic Places. It was a cool neighborhood and provided a temporary distraction as I plodded through the mid part of the race. I yelled out to one of the on lookers “what’s the name of this neighborhood?” She looked confused and said “I have no idea.” Marsi and I actually toured the neighborhood after the race to look at houses. We seriously wondered why we are paying so much in DC when we could live in a neighborhood like this at a fraction of the price.

I struggled through mile nine and was able to run the last 4 miles around 8:30/min. I really picked it up the last mile and a quarter and passed some folks in the finish chute. A woman in front of me saw me coming and took off as I was about to pass her in the last 25 feet. It was probably against protocol racing at that point, but 162nd place was right there for me.

Racing to the end.

Marsi and I connected shortly after the finish line. They had great post-race snacks. I skipped the pulled pork, but was happy with the pizza and really enjoyed the chocolate milk (it’s a push by the dairy industry, but it is really good after a race).

(10/22/15 — For some reason I didn’t finish this post. I ended up completing the race at 1:51:32. Really enjoyed this race and would highly recommend it to other runners).

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