Caesar Rodney Half Marathon

It’s the day before the race. I’m in the car, sitting at a light getting ready to enter 95 North to Wilmington when it hits me. Dammit! I forgot my Garmin! I contemplated turning around and driving the half hour back to my house to get it when it came to me, like the voice of Obi Wan to Luke. “Run your race Carson. Listen to your body. Don’t over analyze.” came the voice of Coach Roach into my consciousness. I accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to have my GPS data at my wrist for the race, and that was okay.

After checking in to the hotel room, my wife and I headed out to find an Italian restaurant so I could get a plate of pasta, something that I know wouldn’t cause any problems with the stomach the next day. We headed out to Trolley Square, not remembering that it’s St. Patrick’s Day weekend. It was a nut-house with drunks staggering in the streets. There were tents and beer trucks everywhere. We managed to navigate the narrow passages without running over anyone and found our way to Gallucio’s where we had a unremarkable meal, but good enough to get me through the night.

After a restless nights sleep on a way too soft mattress in a way to cool hotel room, I awoke to a dreary, overcast, cool and misty morning. Perfect race day weather! I get a cup of coffee and walk the 3 blocks to Rodney Square to pick up my race packet. It’s still two hours to race time, but the square is already bustling with activity. I head back to the room, gather my wife and go to the restaurant for breakfast. Another cup of coffee, a bowl of oatmeal, some raspberry yogurt and a banana and I’m good to go. Back to the room, dress for the race and it’s back to Rodney Square. There are thousands of people milling about by now. It’s 30 minutes before the gun, so I do some gentle running and stretching to get ready. 5 minutes before the start, I kiss my wife and move into the mob gathering at the start line. There are some kind of announcements, but it sounds like the teacher from a Charlie Brown cartoon. Then I hear a loud “BOOM!” WTF! I nearly soil my shorts. Car alarms go off up and down the street, then it dawns on me that maybe they start the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon with a canon! Sure enough, I gather myself and start the shuffle to the timing mat. It seems like it takes forever to get there, but once across the mat I’m off and running.

I settle in at a nice causal pace because I can’t really do much else in this mob. They didn’t clear the street of cars, so there are only three travel lanes for all the people. Once we pass my hotel, about 3 or 4 blocks from the start, the road opens up a bit and I’m able to find my own pace. My goal was to take it out nice and easy to start, somewhere around 8:00 minutes per mile, and see how I feel after a mile or so. The run here is very easy, gentle downhill run. I reach the 1 mile marker and it reads 9:20 as I pace. 9:20! Then I remember the shuffle to the mat and calculate that I’m somewhere around 8:30. I overhear a guy talking to his friend about pace and his comments confirm this for me. They decide to speed up a little, so I decide to trail them. The running is going very easy at this point. It’s about 40 degrees with a light mist in the air. I pass the two mile marker, still trailing the other two gentlemen. I can’t hear their conversation about the pace at this marker, so I just follow along. It’s nice and flat through here as we wind around towards the riverfront. We pass mile three and I feel like I’m well below pace. I ask the guy with the watch what kind of pace we are on. He confirms my suspicions when he says “We are at about an 8:00 pace”, so I pick up the pace and settle in at what I feel is somewhere around a 7:40 pace.

I start picking off runners. We run along the waterfront, through the shops, in front of the hotels. I’m passing other runners, a few every minute or so. I have settled in at a pace that feels both comfortable and fast. I don’t see a mile marker for quite some time. I’m focused on how I feel. We come out of the waterfront and back into the city streets. We make a turn to the left and I see the river again. It’s breathtakingly beautiful as the water cascades down over the rocks. I know from looking at the race map that this marks the part of the course where we start to climb. I cross the mat at the 6 mile marker knowing, that for the next four miles, it’s mostly going to be uphill. Again, I hear a voice in my head, “You’ve done the work. You trained for this. Attack the hills.” It’s not Coach Roach this time though, it’s me. I start the ascent with no variation in my pace. Now I’m passing runners even more frequently. I see them slowing as they start the climb. I hear their labored breathing as I pass them by. I’m feeling strong and continue to crank it up the hills. They are not nearly as long, nor as steep as the ones I’ve run at home, so I’m not intimidated. I get to the turn-around and grab a cup of Gatorade, gulp it down and start the ascent to the finish. I’m still picking off runners as I go at an alarming rate. I think to myself, this can’t last forever. We make the turn off the main road and start back down the road along the river. There is a clock up ahead at the 10 mile marker. It reads 1:17:something as I run past. I quickly do some math in my head and determine that I can finish somewhere around 1:40:00, my “I’ll be happy as a pig in shit goal”, if I can run the last 3.1 somewhere in the 7:30 range.

I’m feeling good at my current pace, especially with the prospect of the next 3 downhill miles. I’m still running past people. There’s the guy with the obnoxious heavy breathing. It takes a couple minutes to get out of earshot of him. Then there there was the puker. Doesn’t take long to get away from him. I come up on a short black man, probably 50 years old. As I start to pass him, he picks it up a step and runs on my shoulder. “Nice change of pace, these downhill stretches” he says through even breaths. I agree and make small talk for maybe a minute before he drops off and I continue on my way. I’m starting to feel it now. My legs are getting a little tired. I wonder if my pace is falling off. How much further do we have to go, it can’t be much more. Then I see the 12 mile marker up ahead. Almost there. It’s still a gentle rolling downhill run, but I know what’s ahead for the last 1/10 of a mile. I’ve heard the stories. I looked at the elevation diagram. I come out of the wooded area into the more urban streets. I know it can’t be long now. There are more people milling about along the road. The cheering is getting louder. There is a little zig-zag ahead. A jog to the right, then a turn back to the left and I see it. There is The Hill. I start the hump up the finishing hill. My lungs are burning. I contemplate walking, but only for a second before I purge that thought from my mind. My heart is beating through my chest. I try to increase my pace. I strain to see the finish line through mist covered glasses. Still nothing, but I know it’s up there. The hill start to become a little less steep, I see the banner over the finish line. I strain to find the clock and there it is. It reads 1:39: and change. I muster every bit of energy I have left to kick to the end. I see a real possibility of finishing in under 1:40:00 gun time. I crank it to the end. I finish with a gun time of 1:40:02.

A welcome surprise at the end was that they had pizza!! Overall, this was a wonderful experience for me. I exceeded my goal by finishing with a chip time of 1:38:51, which was a PR by over 18 minutes. I’ll not have another one of that magnitude, I’m sure. Now I set my sights on the Maryland Half Marathon on May 31st.