Cramming a last-minute half marathon into Boston Marathon training

On Friday night, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to run the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon in Wilmington, Delaware. This morning, I ran the race in 1:42, and had an absolute blast doing it! I love it when last minute decisions work out!

Let’s back up. This weekend, I was scheduled to run for two hours one day and race a half marathon the next, per my Hal Higdon Boston Bound plan. I figured that actually finding a local half marathon to do was going to be a long shot, so initially I planned just to run 13.1 miles all by myself. Then I saw that the Caesar Rodney Half was happening in Wilmington, less than two hours away from where I live, and it was being held at the very civilized time of 9:30 am (meaning I could drive in that morning without leaving in the middle of the night.) At first, I bulked at paying money for yet another race, but saw that the proceeds went to a good cause (the American Lung Association.) And running with a big group of people sounded way more fun than running a solitary half marathon. So I signed up.

This is a really cool race. The half marathon, now in its 56th year, is actually the oldest one in the country! It’s named for Caesar Rodney, who rode his horse from Delaware to Philadelphia to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the Declaration of Independence. There is a big statue of him in Wilmington’s Rodney Square, which is where the race started and ended. In addition to the half marathon, there is also a 5K and a relay option.

I wanted to get to Wilmington on the early side so I could find parking, get my bib, use the restroom, etc., before the race started, so I left my house at 6 am. There was zero traffic on 95 at that hour on a Sunday, plus I drive fast (which has gotten me into way more trouble than running fast has, hahahaha) so I arrived in Wilmington by 7:30. Packet pickup didn’t begin until 8. Whoops. Could have slept in more.

Once I got my bib, I hung out by the Rodney statue and chatted with another runner who is working toward running a half marathon in every state. He asked me my time goal, and I told him sub-1:45. He said his was 1:16. OK then! I caught up with him after the race, and he ended up placing eighth overall — so it was a very fast field today.

I was really excited to see there was a 1:45 pacer. After running for two hours yesterday, I really didn’t know if sub-1:45 was in the cards for me, but I figured I would just stick with the 1:45 guy and then move ahead in the end if I was feeling good. The back end of the race is hilly, and he said he was going to try to bank some time early on to make up for those hills.

We did the first three miles in the high 7s, which felt really comfortable. The temperature was absolutely perfect — high 50s to start — and the beginning of the course was pretty flat. The only annoying thing was how crowded it was during the part of the course that wove along the riverfront. We were running on a boardwalk and it was elbow-to-elbow at times. For all the other runners I bumped, I am sorry!

About those hills — the course was advertised as hilly, and it was, but none of them were all that steep. Just long. I felt like we were really cruising along until about the halfway point, when the hills started. Miles 6-9 were pretty much a continuous steady climb followed by a leveling out followed by another steady climb.

But after that, the inclines were pretty much done. In fact, there was some significant downhills from mile 9-12  …. meaning my quads will be feeling the burn tomorrow! But I was able to go pretty fast, even running mile 9 in a speedy 7:22, and passed the pace group for good. I was secretly hoping I could catch up to the 1:40 group, and finally beat my half marathon PR from 2016 (1:41:01, set at the Annapolis Running Classic half marathon.) But that never happened. One day! I still think I have a sub-1:40 half in me somewhere….

There was one last hill that kicked my butt pretty hard, and it was at the worst possible time in the race! The last quarter-mile of the race goes uphill, and it was actually probably the steepest hill of the whole entire race. What the hell? I did get some nice encouragement, though, from a spectator who noticed my Boston Marathon Qualifier shirt. “Just picture the crowds at Boston!” she yelled to me. “They’re all cheering for you!” That put a big smile on my face, and I made it up the hill and crossed the finish line in 1:42:35– 20 seconds faster than my last half, the Rehoboth Seashore Half Marathon.

Could I have gotten a PR if I hadn’t run a long run yesterday (and hill repeats Friday night?) Or if the course had been flatter? Maybe. Who knows. Races can be so unpredictable! All I know is I felt great the whole time and that I had a lot of fun, and what more can you ask for as a runner?

And while I know I just said races and race times can be unpredictable, I was curious to see what the McMillan Running Calculator predicts for my upcoming marathon — and it says 3:25:10. That seems like just a bit of a stretch, but I do think I could go sub-3:40 again! (Would need 3:35 or better to re-qualify.)

We’ll just have to see what happens on race day!

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