This past Saturday, I ran the Delaware Trail Marathon, part of the Trail Dawgs' Triple Crown race series. It was one of the best races of my life, yet I finished over an hour slower than any of my 4 previous marathons.
The morning started off splendidly when my alarm went off at 5:30 AM instead of 4:30 AM. I had planned on leaving the house at 6 AM to get to the start around 7 AM, since the marathon started at 7:40.
Thankfully, I had laid out all my gear and supplies the night before. I hurriedly got dressed and scarfed down my traditional race day breakfast of a bagel with nut butter (almond this time) and honey. We departed Philly around 6:20, only 20 minutes behind schedule.
Whiskey loves being awake before dawn
We arrived at White Clay Creek State Park around 7:05, thanks to Josh's lead foot. I picked up my race bib and long sleeve t-shirt quickly and easily, thanks to the many volunteers staffed at the pavilion. After waiting for the restroom while the half marathon went off at 7:30, I made it to the "starting line" just in time for the 7:40 marathon start.
Ready to run
Whiskey gives good luck kisses before the start
The Race Director giving some pre-race advice to the marathoners at the "starting line"
And we're off! (I'm in the middle)
The weather conditions were perfect for a trail race. The temperature hovered around 50 at the start, and steadily rose into the 60's as the day went on. Luckily, the humidity dropped significantly during the day, and there was a nice breeze through the trees and meadows. Additionally, the trails were completely dry thanks to a week without rain prior to the race.
The marathon course was 2 loops of the half marathon course (above). I spent the first few miles running on gorgeous single track trails through the Carpenter Recreation Area. Within the first mile, I began chatting with fellow racers. I also met a fellow first-time trail marathoner and Team in Training alum named Josh, whom I would run the next 20 miles with.
I was shooting for an 11-12 minute average pace to hit around 5 hours for my finish time. My early pace was a little quick at about 10:20 per mile until the first of four creek crossings at mile 3. We all laughed as we slipped over rocks in the knee deep water, and after about 80 yards of that we hit the other side. Earlier, the race director informed us he was disappointed at the low level of water this year, because in previous years, the creek had been at least waist high.
White Clay Creek crossing (previous year photo)
After the creek, we hit some beautiful rolling hills on wider, shaded trails, that were net downhill. At this point, I joked to my running companion Josh that these hills were nothing and we would kill this course. Obviously, I had some trouble finding the elevation chart online (and of course I saw it the day AFTER the race). The bigger hills were yet to come.
Before the turnaround at mile 6.5, we wound our way through breathtaking, wide open meadows on single-track dirt trails. I commented to Josh that it felt like we were running through an oil painting.
After the turnaround, things got much hillier. I also remember half-jokingly saying, "can't wait to hit this hill at mile 22!" We laughed and continued on up the hills, keeping up around an 11-12 minute pace for the first loop. We walked a lot of the steeper uphills to conserve energy, which proved to help a lot during the second half. We bombed down the downhills quickly to save our quads some pain, which also helped gain back some time we lost on the uphills.
We hit about 7-8 aid stations along the 13.1 mile loop, all had water, a few had water and Gatorade, and 2 had a buffet of food and drink options. During the first loop, I drank water from my hydration vest, took some Gatorade from the aid stations, and sucked Hammer Gel from my flask. I also popped a couple of Succeed S-Caps in the first loop to keep my sodium and potassium up.
I came into the halfway mark at 2:28, perfectly on track to hit about 5 hours for the race. After inhaling a banana and using the restroom, I set off 5 minutes later with new-friend-Josh to conquer the second half. The creek crossings this time around were not dreaded, but actually welcomed as the temperature rose during the day.
During the second half, I decided to experiment with some aid station foods and drinks. I'd heard ultramarathoners rave about boiled potatoes dipped in salt, so I decided to give them a shot. I instantly realized that this snack was worth the hype. My stomach had been growling for real foods since the halfway mark, so around mile 18 the carbohydrates and salt were mindblowingly delicious. I also drank a small cup of coke to wash down the potato, and the caffeine and sugar was just what I needed for a strong finish.
Around mile 20, Josh started getting calf cramps and had to start walking. He insisted I run without him, and after protesting a few times, I gave in and went ahead. At this point, I felt very energetic and I did not want to waste my energy walking, so I wished him good luck, and said I would see him at the finish.
I pushed through the last 6 miles running on my own, enjoying the perfect weather and my gorgeous surroundings. I ate more potatoes and salt, drank plenty of water, and pushed forward relentlessly. I felt stronger and more confident at this point than I have at the same point in any other marathon. As I approached the final hill to the finish, I took my eyes off the ground, and all of a sudden I was facedown in the dirt. I cursed and then laughed as I got up, knowing full well that I was only about 200 yards from the finish line.
I crossed the finish line in 5 hours, 22 minutes, feeling simultaneously drained and exhilarated. I definitely didn't feel the same adrenaline surge that one experiences at a road marathon, but somehow, this quiet, personal finish line was almost sweeter. As I crossed, the volunteers collected my bib tag and handed me a finisher's mug with a medal inside. Afterwards, I grabbed a veggie burger and scarfed it down as I cheered runner-Josh across the finish line.
Overall, this was a fantastic race. The course was marked exceptionally well with color coded pie plates and arrows. Additionally, the volunteers were all cheerful and enthusiastic at every point on the course. The aid stations were abundant, and the 2 or 3 stations serving food had a nice variety of snacks. My only minor complaints are that there was no beer provided at the finish line, and that they ran out of regular burgers so I had to eat a veggie burger. However, I would definitely sign up to run this race in the future.The swag was also pretty awesome; in addition to a small medal, we received a fun coffee mug.
After the race, awesome-spectator-best-boyfriend-ever-Josh treated me to lunch at Rembrandt's, one of our favorite neighborhood bars. We had a couple of pale ales over wings and fries, and at that moment, life couldn't get any sweeter.
Can't wait to run the Dirty German 50k in a few weeks!