The Delaware Marathon took place on May 12 (Mother’s Day), 2013, in Wilmington, Delaware. The race is actually the Delaware Marathon Running Festival, which is made up of the marathon, a half marathon, and 8 person marathon relay and a 4 person marathon relay. Overall, just over 3,000 runners register for all of these events. The marathon itself has a small field, which just under 600 runners crossing the finish line this year.
This was my first marathon, so I didn’t have any expectations beyond my experiences with local half marathons. This also means that the Delaware Marathon had the opportunity to set the bar by which I will measure marathons in the future. So, let’s get to it!
I registered for the marathon in January (I’m one of those people who likes to plan ahead and commit so that I’m locked in). Once I was registered, I joined the Delaware Marathon Facebook group, which would become my main form of interaction with the race organizers, fellow marathoners and half-marathoners as well as those who had run this marathon in the past.
To my delight, the Facebook group was very active. The interactions were both informative and fun. The race organizers were very active in the group, and more importantly, they were very responsive. Many times there were responses to questions and concerns within minutes of a post. When there were concerns that may have been unique to an individual or to a small group of individuals, the race organizer offered to do whatever they could to accomodate these concerns.
The insights provided from Facebook made me realize that I made a good choice for my first marathon. I had originally been concerned about running such a small marathon since there would be less support, less cheering fans, and so on. However, the personal attention and care to details that was provided by everyone involved in this marathon clearly showed through. In addition, hearing from people who had previously run it about what a great experience it was was very encouraging.
In addition to the Facebook group, the race organizers mailed out a nice packet with an overview of the Wilmington area and things to do and see while in the area. Even though I only planned on driving down the day before, running on Sunday and driving back the same day, it was very nice to have this information.
The support continued with a few detailed emails days before the marathon to make sure that we had all the information that we needed.
The expo was held on Saturday, May 11, from 11:00 to 4:00 in Tubman Park. I woke up very early on Saturday morning and drove just over 6 hours, arriving just before the expo started. When I arrived, there already were people gathering (other than all the volunteers and race organizers who were working hard to put together all the final touches for the marathon on the following day).
The expo itself was very small (which is to be expected from an event this size) with packet and swag pick-up and a few vendors. One of the vendors to note, however, was New Balance. They were selling custom Delaware Marathon and Half Marathon shirts that had the names of all the runners for each event on the back. I did shell out the extra money to get this shirt in addition to my Delaware Marathon shirt that was part of the swag. I even ended up with the added benefit that my name is the first name on one of the columns, so it’s easy to find!
Even though the expo was small, the race organizers did a great job of getting the community involved by offering some kids’ activities. There was a fun run, Zumba and Simon Says, jump ropes, hula hoops and tug of war. All these activities brought a great sense of fun to the event, and it was great to see all the kids outside and being active. The events ended right around noon and most of the crowd dissipated. Just after this, I met my friend and training partner, who had driven down from NH the previous day. He picked up his packet and swag and then we headed back to our hotels to rest for the marathon. I stayed at one of the recommended hotels in Wilmington, and I was not disappointed.
After a night of tossing and turning, I got up around 3:30 AM to start to prepare myself for the 7:00 AM start. I had a Vegan sports protein bar as well as a Clif Mojo bar and started to hydrate. I took a quick shower and got ready. There were two shuttle buses scheduled to pick runners up and bring them to the start line. However, I decided to drive to the start line so that I could hit the road after the race.
Because I was ready and I didn’t want to sit around a hotel room, I drove to Tubman Park and arrived at the start line just after 5:00 AM. There already were some runners when I got there, and the numbers started to increase soon after. For a few minutes, there was a very light run shower, but the rain quickly went away and gave way to the sun. The weather forecast was for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 60′s. It was a great day to run. The marathon started at 7:00, the half marathon at 7:05 and the relays at 7:20.
I had not driven the course, so I did not know exactly what to expect other than what I read from the race’s website as well as from the comments about the course on Facebook. The course is a double loop, so halfway through you know what to expect for the rest of the race. This can be both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I prefer not to know what’s coming up so that my mind is not dwelling upon it. Other times, however, it’s helpful so that you can gauge your efforts accordingly.
The course is mostly through the streets of Wilmington, but there are parts of the course that go across a wooden and brick riverwalk, through the paved paths of Brandywine Park as well as a wooden foot bridge. There are also two significant hills of note. The one to be most aware of is strategically placed at mile 12 and 25. It is a mile incline and you feel every step of it.
Overall, it’s a great course. It’s not a flat, fast course, but at the same time, it is not an extremely hilly course that drains you of everything you have.
Having said that, how did I do? At a quick glance, I did not meet my expectations (I was hoping for a sub-4:00 time and maybe even sub-3:45). In the grand scheme of things, I exceeded what my expectations should have been with a 4:55 finish. Now let me explain.
Just about four weeks prior to the marathon, I was at the end of a 20-mile run when a pain in my ankle flared up and made me immediately stop running. I hobbled back to my car, rested for a day or two and then decided to go to the doctor to have my ankle examined. I was diagnosed with peroneal tendonitis. The doctor told me not to run for at least a week and even then not to run very much.
I tried running after a week, but I still couldn’t do so without significant pain (plus my ankle was still visibly swollen). For all intents and purposes, I did not run at all (a total of 6 miles) in the four weeks leading up to the marathon. I spent some time on the stationary bike and elliptical machine to try to stay in shape, but that really is not a substitute for running.
I went back in forth my head many times whether or not I should defer my entry until 2014. However, I just couldn’t let myself do that. On race day, my ankle was feeling good (although I wasn’t sure how it would feel once I actually started running, not to mention how it might feel well into a marathon). I made the fatal mistake of starting off at a pace as if I had continued to train for the previous four weeks.
About eight miles in, I realized that not running recently had taken it’s toll on me. I had the cardiovascular capacity, but my legs were not going to cooperate. At the half marathon mark, I was still on pace for a sub-4:00 marathon, but I also knew that this wouldn’t last either. I started to slow, and I eventually began to walk too. I spent the rest of the marathon alternating between running and walking. Thus, I ended up with 4:55 time.
The nice part is that my walking also gave me the opportunity to meet some great people along the way who were also fighting their own battles to get to the finish line. And, in the end, I still finished the marathon ahead of 163 other runners. Given the circumstances, I was still pleased with myself when I ran across the finish line and received my first marathon finisher’s medal. There will be many opportunities to learn my lessons from this race and to improve.
Overall, this was a great experience and a great race to run. I was hesitant about running a small marathon, but the support from before, during and after the marathon was incredible. I didn’t mention it above, but there were water stops close to every two miles so there wasn’t a need to carry your own water.
If you are a looking for a nice, low-key marathon to run (whether you’re an experienced marathoner or a first-timer), I definitely would recommend the Delaware Marathon.
So where should I even begin? I am still new to distance running after having started running again (and calling it again is a stretch if you define “running” as an occasional 5K or 10K without training for it). I ran my first marathon this year (the Delaware Marathon in May 2013) followed shortly thereafter by a 50K (Pineland Farms also in May 2013), so this was my second marathon and my third endurance event.
To complicate things even further, I ended up injured a few weeks before the Delaware Marathon. I still completed the marathon, but so many things went wrong. So I really couldn’t completely use that marathon as a template for what to do and what not to do going into the Clarence DeMar Marathon. The upside, however, is that my training for this marathon went much better and I didn’t end up with any significant injuries.
Why the Clarence DeMar Marathon?
When I started to look for a fall marathon, my parameters were that it had to take place somewhere where I could drive to and from in the same day. This gave me a radius from Boston to western New Hampshire to southern Maine. Thus I began my search.
There were actually quite a few choices: the Smuttynose Rockfest Marathon in Hampton (by far the closest, but it is also a double loop on a relatively flat course), the Maine Marathon in Portland, the New Hampshire Marathon in Bristol, Bay State Marathon in Lowell (a double loop through the streets of Lowell wasn’t high on my list), the Manchester City Marathon in Manchester and Clarence DeMar. The timing of Manchester City eliminated it, because I already had plans to run the Seacoast Half Marathon the week after Manchester.
After reviewing the courses and reviews, I chose Clarence DeMar for a couple reasons:
- Point-to-point course (Delaware was a double loop, and I was looking for something different)
- Small field (in 2012 there were 175 finishers, but the field grew to 410 finishers this year)
- Great reviews
- Beautiful course
- Downhill start and some rolling hills
Based on these criteria, I signed up and started training. Having kept a decent mileage base since Delaware, I was able to put many more miles under my belt during this training cycle, which definitely made me feel more confident going into the race.
Who was Clarence DeMar?
It’s worth taking a quick sidebar here. If you’re running a race that’s named after a person, you should at least know a little something about the person.
Clarence DeMar was a leading marathoner in the early 1900s. His accomplishments include winning the Boston Marathon seven times as well as a winning a bronze metal in the 1924 Summer Olympics. He settled in Keene, NH, where he taught at the Keene Normal School (now Keene State College).
Clarence DeMar died in 1958, and the Clarence DeMar Marathon was established in 1978 in his honor.
In the 2013 Clarence DeMar Marathon, Clarence DeMar’s granddaughter spoke and ran the race.
Logistics and the Course
As I mentioned previously, this marathon is a point-to-point marathon. If you’re not getting dropped off at the start line by a friend or family member, you park on the campus of Keene State College and take a shuttle bus to the waiting area in Gilsum. As we arrived in Gilsum, the race director personally boarded the shuttle each time, greeted the runners and gave some basic instructions of what was available and when we woudl proceed to the start line.
The waiting area was on the grounds of W.S. Badger Company (one of the race’s sponsors). Water and portapotties were available for the runners. If you hadn’t picked up your big or you still needed to register (yes, there was a day of race registration option), you could do so at W.S. Badger.
There was also a bag check area so that your bag would be waiting for you at the finish. The morning was a typical, cool New England morning so I waited until the last minute to shed my sweatshirt and check my bag. It was cool enough that I had wished that I had brought a pair of disposable gloves with me that I could drop once I had warmed up, but alas, I didn’t plan for that.
With just about 10 minutes to start time and after the final shuttle bus had arrived, the race organizers ushered us to the start line. The walk from the waiting area to the start was along a dirt path and then on the road, and it took about five minutes.
As the start time approached, the race director stood in the back of a pickup truck and yelled his announcements to the racers. It was difficult to hear him. A microphone or bullhorn so he could be heard would have been greatly appreciated (but that’s probably my biggest complaint). We waited for the last few stragglers to make it to the start line before the race officially started. So we ended up starting about five or ten minutes past 8:00.
The course is a fast course. The elevation profile shows a 4% decline in the first half and a 1%-2% incline for the second half. The question remaining in my head was how aggressive should I be on the downhill. I decided that I’d run by feel and not worry about my watch too much.
As the gun sounded, we quickly started downhill. There are no steep downhills, but the downhill was definitely steady. The first break in the downhill was around mile four. It was a quick hill, and at that point in the race, it didn’t feel very significant.
Quickly over the hill, we were back on the descent. The course from Gilsum until it reaches Keene is a very scenic course. Parts of the course run along gently flowing streams and rivers through wooded and mostly shaded roads.
I continued to run feeling strong. The first real challenges came about half way. The first was the out and back on Surry Dam. There was short bit of elevation to get onto the dam, but this gave way to a flat and scenic (yes, try to remember to look around and enjoy the scenery as you’re running) run across the dam and back. With the fall foliage, this was probably the most scenic view on the course and a place where you would normally want to stop and take a picture (but no time for that today).
The dam was followed by the biggest hill on the course around mile 14 and a series of rolling hills began. These hills rolled on long enough to be challenging and to make me miss the previous downhill.
After making it past the hills, the course flattened out again and remained relatively flat.The course faded from New England fall foliage to suburban streets as we entered into Keene.
Other than trying to get past the wall (which for me was around mile 18), there was only one remaining challenge: Greenlawn Cemetery. It is ironic that the race organizers added the cemetery to the course. The challenge here is that to get out of the cemetery, you had to run up a hill. The hill itself (on a normal day) is nothing that you would even think about. However, when it’s a mile 22, it was challenging to run through the cemetery reminding yourself that you’re not dead and that you’ve almost made it to the end.
After exiting the cemetery, there are some small rolling hills which lead you to back to Keene State College, where you hopped on the shuttle bus earlier in the day. The race ends running down the main street and takes a left onto the campus. As soon as you turn left, you can see the finish line as you start your kick to finish strong.
You’re greeted by cheering spectators, a finisher’s medal and a very welcome bottle of water.
After crossing the finish line, I had some water and checked out the food. There were bagels, fruit, pastries, yogurt and soup as well as juice, soda and water. I had a banana and some orange slices and continued to watch some runners finish the race.
If you checked a bag in Gilsum, bag pick up was just around the corner. I made my way to get my bag and then to find the car. Finding the car was a little disorienting, because I did not have a good sense of where I had parked based on where I was at the moment (this could have been marked better). After wondering around the wrong parking lot for a little while, I found the right one and found my car.
I grabbed my bag and went to the gym, where free showers were available. I washed up, got changed and headed home.
All in all this was a great day. I ended up with a 3:41 finish. My goal was a 3:45, but I was mentally prepared to be happy with anything under 4:00 (not sure if I would be able to run a 3:45). In retrospect, I could have pushed a little more and shaved a few more minutes off my time simply by pushing myself more mentally.
But as someone had told me before, you have to run three or four marathons before you really know what you’re doing. With number two under my belt, I’d have to agree. I’m already working on my strategy and my revised training plan for the next one.
If you have the chance, I highly recommend the Clarence DeMar Marathon. The race director and volunteers did a great a job with all the details. It’s a great small race that probably won’t stay small for too much longer. With 175 finishers in 2012 and 410 finishers in 2013, who knows what 2014 and beyond hold in terms of number of runners.
As a runner, the Boston Marathon leads the list of marathons that I want to run some day. As a New Englander, the Boston Marathon also has always been one of those events that I wanted to go to, but I had never managed to do so. Over the past year, however, I have been an active member of the local running community, and I knew about eight people who would be running the Boston Marathon this year. Therefore, I decided to join a group of friends from the Coastal Athletic Association to go down to Boston to cheer on our friends and all the other runners.
This was my first Boston Marathon, and in every way, it will be a day that I will never forget. We got up early and headed down to Boston from our meeting point in Portsmouth, NH. Once we got into the city, we had breakfast and headed over to the place where we planned to spend the day cheering on our friends and fellow runners. We were in a small park at about mile 25. On the walk from the parking garage under Boston Commons, we noticed the line of Homeland Security along the route in their dark uniforms and dark SUVs. There was a tent set up in case of a chemical or biological attack with hoses, showers, fans, etc. There were sensors set up in the trees. All of this was disconcerting; however, it is also something that we have come to accept as “normal” for a large-scale event like this in a major U.S. city since the events of 9/11.
Shortly after we settled into our spot on the course, the first wheelchair racers made their way by to the cheers of the crowds. We then were anticipating seeing the elite women wondering if Shalane Flanagan or Kara Goucher might be in the lead. Although neither of them were in first or second, it wasn’t long before we saw both of them pass by. This followed not much later by the elite men.
Then began our task of watching for all the runners that we knew and for whom we had come to cheer. We kept watching and speculating as we saw what might be the color of their race outfit coming down the course. As we confirmed that we saw our friends, the intensity of our cheering increased.
Many of our friends had passed by, and we were watching for the last few to come by. It was just about that time that we heard a loud boom followed quickly by a second one. We looked at each other wondering what it could be. At first, we thought that maybe it was cannon fire or something tied to the celebration of Patriots Day. These thoughts were quickly shattered as the sirens began to wail and police vehicles started to rush buy at full speed in the direction of the finish line.
Within minutes, the race course was closed and runners were coming to a stop in front of us. Phone service became spotty, so we began relying on texting and social media to try to figure out what was going on. We heard about explosions at the finish line. At this point, we began to tell the runners that were still running in front of us to stop running because the race was over. You could immediately see the looks of disbelief that the race was coming to end just over a mile from the finish line after many of these runners had been running already for four hours. This was followed by looks of shock as we told them that there were explosions at the finish line.
In addition to being concerned about what was going on at the finish line, there was an entirely secondary set of issues. Because no one planned for the marathon to end at mile 25, there were no support services: no medical stations, no food, no water, no warming blankets. Those of us who were there offered our phones so that racers could text their family members and let them know that they were OK or try to find out if their friends and families who were at the finish line were OK. Some of us, including runners who had already finished the race and made their way back, gave the jackets off our backs to try to keep runners warm. Residents along the course also came out with pitchers or water and food to share with the runners. It was truly inspiring to see good people responding in such a way to a horrible event.
After we accounted for all our friends and family, we headed back to the parking garage to try to get out of the city as quickly as we could. Along the way, blocks away from the course, people were opening their homes and offering rest for anyone who needed it.
We made it to the car and got out of the city getting back to Portsmouth around 6:00 PM. Although we were relieved to be home and that all our friends and family members were safe, we all are still trying to digest and figure out the events of the day. There will be many days of reliving the events in our heads and reflecting upon what happened.
We will never truly understand what happened, but we will continue to run both for ourselves and in honor of those people who were killed and injured at the finish line.