Last month, I ran the perfect marathon.
I finished the Coastal Delaware Running Festival marathon in 3:26:00. That broke a four-year-old PR by exactly nine minutes, and is a qualifier for the 2023 Boston Marathon with a cushion of 14 minutes. But that wasn’t what made it so awesome.
I have NEVER run a marathon where I felt so strong and so GOOD the entire time. Remember that I finished the Tidewater Striders BQ Invitational Marathon in March swearing and dry-heaving and insisting there was no way in hell I was running a fall 2021 marathon.
But I was already signed up for Coastal Delaware, a deferral after the original April 2020 race got canceled. The race management team refused to let me downgrade to the half, so I decided to suck it up and train for the marathon. And not just train – train my ass off. I followed a 12-week plan out of the book Advanced Marathoning and was running more than ever from August-October. Along the way, I set new PRs in the 5-miler, the 10K, and the 10-miler. Could I PR my marathon, too?
I could and I did!
Here is how it happened.
Before the Race
So I always hear other marathon runners talk about the taper crazies, but I had run nine marathons before Coastal Delaware and never felt like I had taper madness until this particular training cycle. Good Lord, I was a hot mess during the two-week taper. Anything I could worry about, I did. Catching COVID? Never mind that I’m vaccinated and boosted– I was super stressed about getting a breakthrough case. Breaking a leg or getting injured otherwise? Check. Getting into a car accident? Yup. The race getting canceled at the last minute? Oh yes. Obviously, none of those things happened, so I probably gave myself some needless stress-induced wrinkles. Oy vey.
My sister Catherine drove down from Pittsburgh to travel with Micah and me to Rehoboth for the weekend, and we arrived Friday night for the Sunday race. Most of my marathons are on Saturdays, and I have to admit it was kind of nice to feel like I had a day to relax before the big race. We went to our favorite Nicola Pizza on Friday night and then Catherine and I went out to our very favorite bar, the Purple Parrot, afterwards. I was the most sober I’ve ever been in there– two-day hangovers are real when you’re in your 40s, yo, and I wasn’t trying to ruin my race before it happened. Some people kept trying to get us to take shots and I kept saying, “No, no, I’m trying to run a 3:28 marathon on Sunday!”
Yes, my goal had always been 3:30. But then after I started having all of these great races in October, I thought maybe I was selling myself short. I told myself sub-3:30 was totally in the cards if I had a good day and paced myself appropriately. (Always a difficult thing to do!)
On Saturday, I did a little 3-mile shakeout run on the boardwalk, and then carb-loaded at some favorites – Sammy’s Kitchen for breakfast, Nalu for lunch (awesome poke bowl), and Dogfish Head Pub for dinner (my usual– veggie burger, fries and beer).And of course, we did some shopping, too. Rehoboth is one of my favorite places in the world, and I hadn’t been there since summer of 2019, thanks to COVID canceling our annual family vacation in 2020 and then concerns over the health of my parents’ elderly cat in 2021. I know Catherine was really excited to be back, too.
I slept pretty well the night before the race (unlike before Tidewater Striders, where I tossed and turned for most of the night) and woke up just before 5. Ate a bagel with almond butter and had a small cup of coffee and a small glass of water. I had focused on drinking lots of water in the days leading up to the marathon, but I didn’t want to take in too much liquid that morning because I’d had problems on long runs with having to stop to pee a few times (probably TMI, but I definitely peed behind a few trees along the B&A Trail during this training block.) I knew there would be Gatorade on the course and like I said, I had hydrated well in the preceding days.
The weather was pretty damn near perfect, in my opinion – high 30s to start with temperatures in the 40s during the race. I wore shorts, a singlet, arm warmers, compression socks and gloves and that was great. Obviously, I wore my “magic shoes,” the Nike Alpha Flys. Damn, I love those shoes. Best money I ever spent.
Right before we started the race on the Rehoboth Boardwalk, a local pastor gave a beautiful non-denominational blessing. “May you find the strength to run even faster than the goals you set for yourself,” she said. I smiled to myself and thought, “This is going to be my day.”
We began right at 7 and I made a point to start off very conservatively. As I mentioned, it was pretty cold at the start and at first I worried that I was a little underdressed, especially with the wind coming off of the ocean. But as always, I warmed up fairly quickly, within the first two miles.The first couple miles followed a very similar path to the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon (my first BQ and previous PR!) My first few miles were pretty much right on target – 8:15, 7:56 (a little faster than I thought I should be going that early, so oops), 8:09, 8:01.
Around that point is when I realized I needed to pee. Damn it. I thought I had gotten it all out before the race. Again, I’m not above doing my business behind a tree (see my Balboa Park 8 Miler recap), but the pre-race guide specifically told runners that there would be porta-potties on the course and we were not to defile the beautiful beach areas by going elsewhere. Fair enough. I didn’t want to risk getting caught and kicked out of the race, so I kept my eyes peeled for a porta-potty. Unfortunately, every time I passed one, someone was in it and there was no way I was wasting precious minutes waiting for one to become available!
My mile splits through Cape Henlopen State Park were:
Mile 5- 8:08
So I was running a really consistent pace. I knew Micah and Catherine would be waiting for me at the halfway point, right by the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal, and I just kept hoping I’d find a porta-potty.
FINALLY, just before I hit the half marathon point, as we were running through Lewes, I found a porta-potty! It wasn’t one put there by the race – rather, it was on the construction site of someone’s new home. Look, when you gotta go, you gotta go. I peed in record time and felt SO MUCH BETTER. Mile 13 was my slowest of the race at 8:25, but that stop needed to happen.
My cheering squad was right where they said they would be, and I was so happy to see them. Except I got a little *too* excited and distracted and rather than continuing to run straight ahead like I was supposed to, I made a sharp turn left and almost collided with another runner. “WRONG WAY!” Catherine and Micah yelled, through hysterical laughter. Thank goodness they corrected me. And so sorry to the runner I almost knocked out on the course!
This is when I started to kick it into high gear and run consistent sub-8s. I still worried that I might be going too fast, but I was feeling so good, especially after that bathroom stop, that I just went for it. I also saw Micah and Catherine again at miles 16, 17 AND 18 (at which point Catherine yelled out, “You’re almost there!” and I called back “You’re a liar!”)
At mile 19, we started to head out of Lewes and toward the Junction and Breakwater Trail, which is also part of the Rehoboth Marathon (though you enter it from the opposite end in that race.) I ran for about a mile with some women who said they were shooting for a 3:30. I clocked a 7:34 for mile 19 and an 8:01 for mile 20.
Every marathoner knows that mile 20 is when you are likely to hit “the wall.” Sometimes it happens earlier – I think I hit it around mile 17 at Tidewater Striders! Sometimes it happens later – when I ran Rehoboth in 2017, I didn’t really feel it until mile 23 or 24. And sometimes, on really magical days, it never happens. Well, it never happened that day.
I think it’s worth noting that I fueled differently in this marathon. I’ve always taken sweet Gus during marathons, but I found that they really upset my stomach during Tidewater Striders. It was so warm that day and I couldn’t even get my last Gu down. I see so many runners on Instagram and Facebook talking about Maurten gels, so I decided to give those a try. I liked the Jello-like consistency and the fact that they aren’t flavored– I guess they kind of taste like sugar water. Either way, my stomach likes them a lot. I took a Maurten gel at miles 4, 8, 13, 17 and 21 and that worked out really well.
Once I got on the trail, I just started flying and passing other runners. In fact, I don’t actually think anyone passed me in those last miles. Not only were my last six miles my fastest of the race, each mile got progressively faster and I was feeling so energized.
Looking back at my splits, I almost wonder if I short-changed myself by going out at too conservative of a pace, since I clearly had so much left in the tank in the last few miles. But overall, I don’t regret my pacing – I’ve blown up enough times in marathons by starting out too fast, and I’m just glad that didn’t happen here.
The last two miles of the race took us back into Rehoboth, as the race finished where we started on the boardwalk. I knew I was running a huge negative split and had a PR in the bag, and I was so happy. I felt like I had redeemed myself after that shit show of a marathon in March. Finally, everything was coming together! That final turn back onto the boardwalk was epic. It wasn’t the right turn onto Hereford and the left onto Boylston, but it was still pretty special to me. 😉
Last little bit (My watch got 0.37, so I guess I didn’t do a great job of running the tangents– 2:27)
Just before I crossed the finish line, I heard Micah and Catherine calling for me, and I later found out my friend Nikki was there too and was cheering for me. I wish I’d seen her! My watch read 3:26:00 when I hit stop, and I wondered what my official time was (3:25:58? 3:26:02?) Turns out it actually was 3:26 on the nose. Ninth overall female, third place Master, a BQ with a huge cushion for 2023, and apparently also a qualifier for the New York City Marathon. Not actually planning to run NYC in 2022, since I’m already running Boston AND Chicago next year and I’m not made of money – but it’s cool to know that I qualified.
More than anything, I was thrilled with my PR and the fact that all that hard training paid off. I really loved ringing that PR bell!
Now I’m going to chill out a bit and run lower mileage through December before it’s time to start training for Boston 2022! A few days after Coastal Delaware, I found out that my BQ from Chasing the Unicorn on Halloween 2020 got me into this spring’s Boston, so there’s lots more to come on that!