State 39: Delaware (2014 Delaware Running Festival Marathon)

I was happy to be shivering.

Three years since her PR at Flying Pig -- CAN SHE DO IT?

Three years since her PR at Flying Pig — CAN SHE DO IT?

Laura and I walked from the Wilmington Westin to the starting line of the 2014 Delaware Running Festival Marathon, a short trip around the Christina River and toward Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park. The day before, I was flicking away sweat in the first mile of the Maryland Half Marathon and promptly spent the rest of the day assiduously drinking water. Had my legs not carted me across 13.1 relatively fast miles the day before, the cool breeze sliding through the thin fabric of my running outfit would have imbued me with tremendous confidence.

An hour later, I was on the road, chugging along at a relaxed pace. The opening miles weren’t terribly scenic and included a few long sections through the parking lot of the Westin, far from any shade or greens. But my biggest enemy in this race wouldn’t be the scenery as my mind had already begun to defy me.  At some point in tough races, a tiny voice starts to rise above the breathing and plodding of feet.  It usually surfaces around mile 22, but today its dastardly voice broke through the noise at the first mile marker.  It said:

This is going to suck at mile 14.

2014 Delaware Marathon Google Earth Rendering

2014 Delaware Marathon Google Earth Rendering

You see, the Delaware Marathon is a two-looped course. Laura was running only one loop, where every single turn would reveal new territory to conquer, with the very last revelation being the finish line. I would have to repeat all of it, which meant that I couldn’t help but constantly wonder how I would feel the next time I saw this mile marker. While stronger minds might be able to shield themselves from thinking of the second round, I wasn’t faring too well in ignoring the mile markers 14-25 peppered across the course.

Just before 5k, on the Riverfront

Just before 5k and 25k, on the Riverfront

To palliate my fears, the course quickly became very beautiful.  By the second mile we were running on the wet, wooden planks of the riverfront. They felt like rubber, springing softly below my feet, absorbing the impact. We followed the river to the starting line and then cut through the city of Wilmington, where we would abandon flat terrain for the rest of the loop. Despite being in the city proper, there weren’t many spectators.  We soon entered Brandywine Park, where under the peaceful canopy of trees, the temperature felt like it dropped ten degrees.

That tranquil pause in the chugging of legs and arms was interrupted when we crossed a cobblestone bridge and turned onto South Park Drive, where a mile-long hill made heart rates soar. Relay runners were happily flowing downhill and just up ahead was a friendly spectator with a Captain America shield that said “Press For Power.” Somewhere in the middle of the hill, I heard it again.

This is going to suck at mile 20.

Miles 3 and 16, by the Riverfront

Miles 3 and 16, by the Riverfront

At the top, I saw Laura’s parents. Over the last two days, they had hosted me at their home in Silver Spring and drove up to Wilmington to watch us run. From the moment you meet them you know they’re going to be a hoot. Not only is her mom a fun, charming woman, but you can almost hear the synapses in her mind firing a million times a second. In the scant 36 hours I had known her, I had answered a thousand earnest questions. Her dad, a person of much fewer words, is just as affable and welcoming (and surprised me by knowing more about Costa Rica’s economy and trade relations than I was ready to discuss). I smiled as I passed them.  Her mom was cheering so emphatically, she was practically squawking.

The next five miles were run through the neighborhoods of Highlands, Bancroft Parkway, Wawaset Park and Hilltop, with almost every single step having a tiny slope. I was by this point completely drenched in sweat and making sure to stop at every aid station. I kept looking for a mantra despite the mounting doubt in my head, like searching for a gummy bear in an anthill. And despite plentiful shade, it had become a warm day.

Miles 6 and 19, South Park Drive

Miles 6 and 19, South Park Drive, “the hill” everyone talks about

“Looking good, Larry,” I said as I passed an older runner. He was wearing a yellow shirt with a blue singlet on top that said “1,300 Marathons Larry,” power walking, slightly hunched under an orange cap and pumping his arms. It was Larry Macon, one of the most prolific marathoners in the world, who currently owns an un-ratified world record for most marathons run in a year (255), and continues to put all of our running accomplishments to shame.

Two downhill miles later, I was back in the city, with one hill left until the “finish” line. As I ran toward the crowds, I couldn’t help but think that I’d be happy to call it a day. I was already tired, had left a trail of sweat beads on the pavement since the start and would not have bet on a strong finish. I thought, if today were supposed to be just a half marathon, I would be proud of this time.  But instead, I reached the split and turned away from the roar at Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park and back onto the familiar road from earlier that morning.

Those first hundred steps were the worst.

Miles 9 and 22, through Wilmington neighborhoods

Miles 8 and 21, through Wilmington neighborhoods

I tried not to, but the inevitable rapid-fire slide show of the next 13.1 miles flashed in my head. Every turn and landmark, but most menacingly, every hill burst in a matter of seconds alongside shrill, staccato horns, like a flashback to a war. That might be inappropriately hyperbolic, but it really was demoralizing. The first half wasn’t the sweet and easy jog that I was expecting, to the point that my mind was ready to check out.

I know myself and how I function. With this sweat rate at this point in the race, I can all but guarantee a disastrous second half. Why did I think I could comfortably keep this pace for this long? Why can’t I ever just run the race I’m supposed to run and not push it? And think of the sunburn I’m going to get …

There is much to be said about the power of the mind over the body. There is certainly no shortage of inspirational running bumper stickers that tout how a variable percentage – but usually more than half – of the effort is mental. I’ve never really known whether this is just a fun platitude to believe in or if it holds its weight in a lab. But let this post serve as anecdotal evidence of the exact opposite situation. The mind certainly can affect the body in numerous, wondrous ways. But on May 11, 2014 in Wilmington, Delaware, I ran my twenty-third marathon and watched in disbelief as my body overcame my weak, jellied mind.

Miles 9 and 22 in Hilltop, far from the cover of trees

Miles 9 and 22 in Hilltop, far from the cover of trees

My legs, heart and lungs were not paying attention to the quailing voice in my head. They continued onward, ticking off the miles. Though I wasn’t running that much faster, the distance between mile markers seemed shorter. It was as if my body had effectively shut off my brain and its powers of perception, allowing me to simply execute forward locomotion. I had become a machine, steaming past runners and spectators with a steely gaze. There were no more distractions, no more moments of quiet introspection or sightseeing. I had taken pictures in the first half of the race, but for that second loop, my camera was firmly clutched in my left hand, not to see any more daylight until I was done. The part of me that would have enjoyed that had been silenced.

South Park Drive would have one more go at shattering my momentum. During this climb I ran the slowest 5k of the race and it was looking likely that my body was going to join my quivering mind. But every moment of despair was followed by a surge of easy speed. I cruised through the dew-drenched neighborhoods and over the sun-burnt roads of Hilltop, passing everyone I saw ahead of me. Under normal circumstances, I would have covered those miles fraught with concern over the inevitable bonk, but today I had stuffed that poltroon perspective in a paper cup and tossed it at an aid station many miles ago.

Miles 12 and 25, through the city, and the final climb of the race

Miles 12 and 25, through the city, and the final climb of the race

Instead, I ran from 35k to 40k in my fastest split of the race, aided by a long downhill and the pull of the finish line. Once back in the city there was just one hill left to scale before the irresistible finish line. Still on auto-pilot, I was powerless to object.  It was only until I crossed the finish line in just under 3:38 and heard the announcer say my name that I felt normal, human again. It’s a good thing this metamorphosis happened when it did because right as I got my finisher’s medal, I felt someone jab me.

“Hey, you might not remember me,” he said to the back of my head. I turned around and instantly recognized him. “Andy the Pacer!” I yelled before he could get another word out. We had met over two years ago in Little Rock, where he paced (and entertained with frequent trivia) the 3:45 group, with whom I ran for twelve miles in completely new clothes and shoes before taking off to earn an unexpected PR. For that reason, I will always hold a special place in my running books for him.

0511_1_delawaremarathon 230511_1_delawaremarathon 27

Laura continued her PR streak with a 1:52 finish, going 4 for 4 and confirming that I am her lucky half marathon rabbit’s foot. After the race we made our way to a Mother’s Day barbecue hosted by her extended family in a nearby neighborhood, where I became happily acquainted with northeastern hospitality and half of the charming genes that led to her incredibly affable and lovable personality. A few hours later, I was back on the road towards Baltimore, ready to fly home smiling.


I have faced time and time again the difficult truth that strength and confidence in long distance running, much like the elevation chart above, exist in a wave form. There are months where nagging pains and tiny setbacks make intense training feel like a chore. But there are also spans of time when everything feels easy, effortless and that the body’s limits can easily bend to your will. At the end of the Delaware Marathon, I felt strong, powerful, and incredibly optimistic about the rest of the year’s challenges. The last few months have had their aches and pains, but as I finished my 39.3 mile weekend averaging an 8:07 pace with almost 3,000 feet of vertical change, I felt incredible.

Now I just have to make sure, as my mom advises, to not overdo it. Because running two and a half marathons in ten days is certainly not that.

Marathon_Map 049 (DE)


About Dan
Running a marathon in all 50 states because there's no better way to explore the world around you than on your own two feet, for as long as you can, until you hate yourself and everything around you. Then you stop, get a medal, and start over.

18 Responses to State 39: Delaware (2014 Delaware Running Festival Marathon)

  1. Pingback: Race Schedule & Results | Dan's Marathon

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  3. Patty says:

    Great race recap!

  4. Laszlo says:

    HI Dan, I cannot help, but reading your recap with a healthy jealousy: I would like to have a tough time in a Marathon and still finish in 3:38. 🙂 Hats off for discovering new ways to overcome the various challenges through the course of a Marathon. Great pace and great recap! This weekend is definitely a confirmation that you will have an awesome rest of the year: running. Congratulations! 🙂

    • Dan says:

      I do hope that this weekend was indicative of how the rest of the year will go: challenging, but fun and rewarding. Thanks for reading as always, Laszlo!

  5. This brought back some fond memories for me! I did this race in 2012. I had a rough day but I really enjoyed most of the course, especially the part through the park. I’m not sure if they still do this, but back then they made a sign for every member of the 50 States Marathon Club, so I took mine with me on the second loop. I quite like double loop courses because it’s easier for me to compartmentalize the race that way, but I understand why they’re more challenging for most people.

    • Dan says:

      Truth be told, I actually re-read your Delaware post going into this race. I was disappointed to learn that they changed the route so it didn’t go on that bridge that scared you half to death. Alas. I didn’t see any 50-States sign though, and I was definitely looking for them. I guess some things change over two years (which is insane, by the way, it doesn’t feel like that long). Glad to hear from you again!

  6. Nicely done on a tough marathon following a half the day before – nice negative split (I think). Happy that you were able to find your strength in the second half of the race ad finish strong.

    • Dan says:

      I also thought it was a negative split because it certainly FELT that way. But after crunching the numbers, it looks like it was a 19-second positive split. That hill the second time around took it out of me. Oh well. I won’t complain about such a consistent run! Thanks again for reading and the support.

  7. Mike says:

    It’s cool, well-told vignettes like this from places you might not expect that make the 50 States journey so worthwhile. Larry Macon, Andy the Pacer (apparently you made an impression in Little Rock!) and a Mother’s Day BBQ with friends, all wrapped around a strong back-to-back performance on an unexpectedly tough course. Congrats on a big day in one of our smallest states… 8:07 per for 39.3 miles is impressive stuff. And glad to hear Delaware stepped up where Maryland could not.

    As a runner, it’s such a rush to feel everything click and have your body enter that zone that tells you all the training and hard work is actually paying off… if only, as you mentioned, those bursts of strength and confidence weren’t so sinusoidal. Away, weak and jellied mind!

    Congrats to Laura also on setting another PR with a Solera-inspired tailwind at her back. Your interactions with her and her parents make me want to visit Delaware sooner rather than later… does her family accept third-party friends?

    But poor West Virginia – looking at your map, she now resembles the white crayon in the box. And that effect will only intensify once New Hampshire and Maine go green and blue later this year. Patience Mountain State, your turn will come soon enough…

    Onwards to Wyoming!

    • Dan says:

      All things in their own time, even (groan) West Virginia. But then again, I said the same thing about South Dakota and Delaware, and they proved to be incredibly fun in their own ways, so I can’t complain too much. Every race finds a way to leave its mark on the journey, even if it’s a step (or several tens of thousands) toward a bigger goal.

      The weird thing about this race was that I didn’t feel that rush of validation until mile 25. Up until then, I was still anticipating a hard bonk, worrying that it was all going to end horribly. Once done though, I realized that I’m in ultra shape, so I’m really looking forward to Bighorn now.

      And thanks for “sinusoidal” — not sure when I’ll ever be able to use it, but at least it’s back there now. Hope your foot is getting the five star R&R treatment in preparation for the summer “Kill it In Berlin” plan.

  8. Jen says:

    I abhor running multiple loops during a race, so kudos to you for breaking through mentally and and killing it!

    • Dan says:

      My first ever half marathon was a double-loop, so I think that might have lessened the blow a little. But yeah, I’m not the biggest fan of them, so all things considered, the race went pretty well 🙂

  9. Great race recap, and congrats on State #39! I haven’t done Delaware yet, so this is quite helpful.

  10. OH WOW!!! look how much you’ve filled in that map!!! Only a few states left to run in! I’m so jealous/proud/thrill for you! I still enjoy reading all of your posts! I still want to try and do a same-race as you, maybe checking of a new state for both of us…but it seems you’re running out of states! hahah

    • Dan says:

      Glad to see you’re still around! It was odd shading in Delaware, since I didn’t get that much surface area from it. As for running together, Wyoming is the only state near you that I have coming up, but all the distances for the Bighorn Trail Run are sold out 😦

      So, it looks like you’ll have to make it out to North Dakota or Nebraska next year, or haul yourself to the east coast if you want to share a race. Or wait until 2016 for Alaska or Hawaii!

  11. Pingback: Loops and Troops: 2015 Veteran’s Marathon | Dan's Marathon

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