This year is the second time I have done the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon in Wilmington, DE. The last time was in 2009 when I left the house without my Garmin (oh no, the horror!) and I ran a respectable 1:38:51. This is a storied race with great history, this being the 49th running of the event. Delaware State Senator Tom Carper was the guest of honor prior to the race. He was competing in his 30th consecutive Caesar Rodney Half Marathon. The weather this day was cool and windy with temperatures at race time hovering around 53°F with the threat of rain in the air. The course is a challenging circuit, winding through the downtown streets of Wilmington before meandering along the waterfront for several miles before returning to the city streets on the approach to the long climb along the river. The punishment of the climb is rewarded by the return voyage as the last several miles are downhill, save the last tenth. More on that later.
As per my modus operandi, I arrived very early. I found a parking spot on the street about a block from the starting line. It was still too early for packet pickup, so I waited. Fast forward nearly two hours. I’ve done my 1 mile warm up with some strides, so I head back to the truck to get into my race gear. I never put on my race shirt and shoes until right before the start. As I am changing, it starts to rain. Being the good Boy Scout that I am, I already have a trash bag handy, head hole cut and ready to go. I slip on my Hefty and head for the start line as the rain starts to fall more steadily. At this point, I’m worried about my shirt selection. The last time I wore this shirt to race in the rain, I nearly needed a skin graft to repair the damage to my nipples. I was praying there was no repeat of that.
After the obligatory words of encouragement from a couple dignitaries and the playing of the National Anthem, I un-cinch my Hefty Cinch Sack and get ready for the start. This race is unique in that the starting “gun” is actually a cannon. I was totally unprepared for this for my first running and nearly had to change my shorts before the race began. They weren’t going to get me this time though, no sirree. I was ready. The cannon fires with a BOOM and we are off. I’m about 200 or so people back from the start line, so it takes about 20 seconds to shuffle across the timing mats before I can really get running. Once past the mats, it’s pretty smooth sailing. There really isn’t a lot of jostling for room as the street is 4 lanes wide through this section.
The first couple miles go about the same as they seem to for every longish race I have done. I get passed by a bunch of people in the first mile and then I pass them all back in the second mile as they either come to the realization that their pace is too ambitious or their body decides it for them. Somewhere in the first two miles, the rain subsides and my nipples are given at least a temporary reprieve from the 80 grit technical shirt I’m wearing. I settle in nicely at my goal pace for the first two miles as they click by in 7:01, 7:02, before dropping to closer to race pace goal pace for mile three in 6:52.
At this point, we make a turn back into the wind and the going gets a little tougher. The course weaves though the riverfront area, a nice walking path of bricks that has little jogs and doglegs both left and right. Between these jags, the narrower path making it harder to pass and the headwind, the next three miles creep up from goal pace just a touch; 6:58, 6:56, and 6:59. This section is also where I first encounter Orange Shoe Guy. He passes me for the first time through here and then settles in 10 meters ahead or so. He slows and I pass him. He goes by again. I pass him at a water stop. He comes back by again. There is just something about those orange shoes that I just don’t like and I vow to not let them, nor the runner in them, beat me.
Starting mile 7 has the field back into the city streets for about a short while before the climb starts after about half a mile. I have actually looked forward to this section of the course. I remember from my previous running of this race that I didn’t think it was all that bad. I do a pretty good amount of my training on hilly terrain, so I wasn’t intimidated at all. I see Orange Shoe Guy about 20 meters ahead as we head into the first part of the climb. This uphill is about 250 feet of elevation change over a little more than two miles. There are a couple of flatter uphill sections in the climb, so there is some time for a little recovery as you go up. I work to maintain my pace and Orange Shoe Guy is steadily coming back to me. I pass by him at the top of the first ridge and as the climb mellows out, I make a decision to make sure I don’t see him again. I push through the intermediate section at a nice tempo and drop him out of sight. The rest of the climb is just steady, metronomic like cadence. I pass more people than I can even estimate. The hilly miles are clocked at 7:00, 7:04 and 7:05 and Orange Shoe Guy is nowhere to be found.
Now, it’s time to reap the rewards of those hard uphill miles. I am still feeling really strong so I start to let the legs get loose. I’m able to open up quite a bit as we start the descent into center city. I’m starting to really drop other runners at this point. I’m not even looking at my Garmin; I’m running totally by feel (What a concept!). I’m bombing down the hill, making up all of the time gained on the way up. Mile splits for 10-12 are 6:47, 6:52 and 6:31.
With only 1.1 miles to go, I start to think about the finish. The finish line is in Rodney Square, right across from the statue of Caesar Rodney, next to The Hotel DuPont. The last mile continues downhill and back into the city. As the rains have held off, there are a fairly good number of fans gathering now to cheer on the runners. I’m lifted by their roar as I come down the hill, nearing the turn around that will take me to the finishing tenth of the race. There is a 90 degree turn to the right, then another 90 degree turn to the right and there it is, Market Street. The last tenth of a mile is a nearly 100 foot climb. It sucks. It hurts. It’s cruel. It’s the only way to the finish line. I try to start my kick and it feels like it only allows me to maintain my pace, not increase it. I can feel my heart beating through my chest. I expect it to come bursting forth at any moment. The first part is the steepest and it gradually eases as you near the top. I can see the top of the finish line girders now, then the clock. I can only see the hours and minutes, which read 1:30. I have no idea how close I am to finishing under 1:31 so I give it every ounce of energy I have left and cross the finish line as the announcer calls out my name. I have nothing left to give. I grab my medal and a bottle of water and head for the food. I check my watch, 1:30:40. My goal was to go under 1:31, so mission accomplished. The last mile and tenth were 6:45 and :53. A little later, in the pizza line, I see Orange Shoe Guy again. “Nice job in the hills”, he says. 😀