I knew the Delaware Marathon was going to be a BIG race, but I had no idea just how epic things were going to get. If you follow me on Instagram, you probably have an idea what I’m talking about. 😉
My mom and I trained our butts off for this for 16 weeks and for the first time, we were both shooting for aggressive time goals. Maybe a little too aggressive on my part, but I’ll get to that.
Friday morning, my mom and I road tripped down to Wilmington, Delaware.
The trip was pretty easy and took just about 6 hours because of some traffic we hit on the George Washington Bridge in New York. We made our way to the official host hotel, the Westin and were able to check in that afternoon. The location of the hotel was absolutely perfect – it was located right across from the Wilmington River Walk, which had tons of different restaurants, and it was an easy 1 mile walk to the Tubman Garrett Park which was where packet pick-up and the start/finish were. We also had a great view of Wilmington’s minor league baseball stadium right from our hotel room!
Saturday morning, we slept in and relaxed a bit before getting ready to head out on a little shakeout run. It also marked Day 6 of the clouds and rain the Northeast was stuck under all of last week, but we tried to not let it dampen our spirits. We ran down to the park and picked up our race packets and checked out the expo.
We checked out the expo after we picked up our swag (short-sleeve shirt, pint glass, and a hat), but there was not a lot to see. I knew it was going to be small, but I was still a little bummed that they weren’t selling any Delaware Marathon-specific merchandise – it was just the basic running headbands and apparel. After that, we headed back to the hotel room to take it easy since they say you shouldn’t be on your feet too much the day before a marathon. We ended up going to see The Jungle Book at a theater right down the road, which was the perfect low-key activity.
That night, we went to a restaurant right by the hotel for our pre-race dinner. I opted for margherita pizza while my mom got a salad with salmon and sweet potato fries. Yum! We then headed back to our hotel room where we watched a silly movie for a bit before crashing.
The Race Day:
Sunday dawned cloudy, but with zero rain in the forecast – praise the gods! We were up at 5 am, having our pre-race coffee and bagels. Once we were good to go, we headed over to the park, with a few other runners from the hotel who were doing the same thing. We made our way straight to the porta-potties once we were there, and it was a good thing we did! There were some lines when we first got there, but they were OUT OF CONTROL 10 minutes later. We checked our bags and made our way to the corral.
The space for the corral was TIGHT. It didn’t help that they had all the half marathoners (nearly 900 participants) and the marathoners (450 participants) start together. They also had an ambulance staged basically in the corral. My mom and I managed to squeeze our way in, we waited for a few minutes, and then promptly at 7 am, we were OFF!
The course began by winding our way along the road back towards the hotel we were staying at and the shopping plaza across from it. Once we got to the plaza, the course made a hard left turn so that everyone was running through the plaza, out onto the riverwalk and then back in the direction we had just come from. It was kind of odd and while I enjoyed running on the riverwalk, it was a little too tight for that many runners, that early in the course. My plan was to keep these early miles slow and I did just that – Mile 1: 9:04, Mile 2: 9:09.
After those two miles, I decided to start picking up the pace a bit. I was nervous that it was going to get too hard for me to make up the time to my goal pace if I waited till later in the race when I was tired. I fully admit I don’t have a lot of experience pacing myself in marathons though, so maybe I should have waited longer (maybe it would have prevented me from dying at the end?)? We were heading into downtown Wilmington and it was still mostly flat. I knew I still had a LONG way to go, but I was definitely feeling the excitement. Mile 3: 8:49, Mile 4: 8:53, Mile 5: 8:44
Around this time, we passed the Wilmington Zoo, which was kind of cool – you could see and hear some of the animals! We continued on, entering Brandywine Park. This was probably my favorite part of the course – it was shady, flat, and ran along the Brandywine Creek. There was a narrow, wooden bridge that did not feel super structurally sound when we all ran over it – the boards were actually bouncing from all the runners! Mile 6: 8:51 , Mile 7: 9:00, Mile 8: 8:33. Mile 6-7 was the first of the hills and it slowed me down a bit. All I could think about was how much it was going to hurt on the second loop.
The next few miles were through a shaded neighborhood. The houses were beautiful and it was really scenic. One thing I didn’t like, was that there were a bunch of turns through the neighborhood and then we were running back the way we had come, on the opposite side of the street. It just felt like the race organizers were desperately trying to cram as much mileage as possible into the smallest amount of space. If I had only been running the half, I wouldn’t have minded as much, but by the later miles, I found it confusing and kind of annoying. Mile 9: 8:36 Mile 10: 8:34 Mile 11: 8:44 Mile 12: 8:21, Mile 13: 8:44.
In this stretch, I was still running with tons of half marathoners who were going into the final few miles of their race. I’d like to say I just got caught up in their excitement, but I know it wasn’t that. I wanted to run 8:35 splits, even though there was a part of me that guessed I wouldn’t be able to maintain that pace. I didn’t want to look back on this race and have regrets about not trying though.
The half marathoners split from the pack and the rest of the full marathoners began our second loop, running out along the riverwalk again, all the way to the end of it before making a hairpin turn and going all the way back again. Along the way, I passed my mom heading in the opposite direction and we gave each other a big high-five. We then turned into the park and got to run past all the spectators who had gathered there. This was an exciting part with all the cheering, but it was short-lived. Once we left the park, I felt an overwhelming feeling that I was pretty much on my own and that the second loop was going to be a whole lot less fun. Without the half marathoners, the field had shrunk to the 450 marathoners and the relay runners who’d breeze by you like you were standing still. Mile 14: 8:41 Mile 15: 8:41 Mile 16: 8:43 Mile 17: 8:55.
I tried to break the run into chunks at this point to wrap my mind around the miles I still had left to cover. From mile 15, I told myself all I had to focus on was the 5 miles I had to cover before mile 20. At mile 20, I would focus on the last 6.2. It was also around this time that I stopped trying to run 8:35 miles and instead began aiming for 8:45/mile. I was able to hold onto that pretty well until mile 17.
Mile 18: 8:57 Mile 19: 8:53 Mile 20: 9:39.
And this was where things began to fall apart. At first, I had firmly told myself no walking. I hadn’t trained 16 weeks to walk in my marathon. But by this point, I started walking at the aid stations, drinking my water and splashing the remainder down my back. It had gotten hot. The temps were probably in the low 70s and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Great Mother’s Day weather for sure, but not ideal conditions for running a marathon. And then, I was taking walk breaks on the hills, mentally beating myself up each time I slowed down, picturing my sub-4 hour finish fading away.
I also thought about something I had heard on the Runners’ Connect podcast. I forget which guest it was, but someone (a sports psychologist or doctor possibly) had said “When it feels like you are absolutely drained and have nothing left, you’ve really only tapped into about 30% of your energy reserves”. It sounds simple enough, but what this leaves out is the importance of listening to your body – which I began to ignore as I pushed on into the file 10k of the race.
Mile 21: 9:32 Mile 22: 9:09 Mile 23: 9:32. As you can see, my pace continued to slip. I felt so hot. I distinctly remember having the thought, “my feet feel red”. That doesn’t even really make sense, but it shows the kind of mental shape I was in. I just wanted to be done and I was having fantasies about laying down in the grass and never moving again. I was also wondering why the hell runners put themselves through this. The half marathon distance is so civilized in comparison! Even a 20 mile race I would enjoy. Why aren’t there more 20 mile races?!
Mile 24: 9:58 Mile 25: 9:33 Mile 26: 10:16.
The last mile sucked. so. much. I was on my own, with only a few runners up in the distance ahead of me, and I was running through downtown Wilmington. I knew it was going to be a turn to the left to the finish chute and every single side street, I would peer down, thinking I had made it and getting more and more depressed every time I realized I had further to go. I was also feeling pretty dizzy by this point. Again, I ignored the signals from my body, thinking about the advice from the podcast. Not smart.
FINALLY, I was making the left turn and entering the finish chute, pushing hard and mentally cheering as I realized I had done it and squeaked in under 4 hours, with a 3:57. I received my medal and then began to wobble, almost toppling over. I think some EMTs saw me and they immediately grabbed me, helping me over to the med tent. They helped me lay down and took my temperature – 102 degrees. Oh… So that’s why I felt so incredibly awful the last few miles.
It was all really overwhelming as the EMTs covered me with ice packs and helped me sip Gatorade while we waited for my body temperature to come down. I felt kind of stupid and guilty for not paying better attention to my body and for being so focused on my time goal. Once my body temp had dropped a bit more, they put me in a kiddie pool filled with ice and water – which you would think would feel good after running a marathon, but it felt awful. Finally, one of the EMTs was able to find my mom who had just finished (in 4:15 – a new PR, but not the time she had hoped for either) and brought her over. That was when they told us I was going to have to be transported to the ER. No champagne toast, no chocolate milk, no post-race food for either of us.
The rest of the afternoon was a blur of the ambulance ride, the ER, and then just waiting – for my IV of fluids to finish, for the blood work to come back, for the word that my mom and I could leave.
In all the downtime, my mom checked the results online and saw that we had both placed in our age groups! She got second in hers and I was third in mine. Luckily, she was able to contact one of the race organizers who brought over the trophies along with our bags that had been left at the bag check table.
I feel like I am still trying to process this race. On the one hand, I’m happy that I broke 4 hours, even though I had even more ambitious goals that I really thought I could hit. On the other hand, it’s pretty scary how it ended. While I’m totally fine now, I have to admit there is no time goal worth sending yourself to the ER over. No matter how many years I run and races I complete, I think there is always something new I’m learning. The lesson from this race was pretty simple – Respect the distance and listen to your body. I didn’t do that this race. I put my competitiveness and ego ahead of my common sense and I tuned out the messages from my body and it landed me in the hospital. I don’t know when I will run another marathon (it won’t be for a very long time), but I do know that I won’t make the same mistake again.