Marathon magic: I set a huge PR at the Coastal Delaware Running Festival

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.   

Picking up my bib

Race Day!

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

Mile 6-8:13

Mile 7-8:06

Mile 8-8:03

Mile 9-8:03

Mile 10-8:04

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. 

Mile 11-7:48

Mile 12-8:09

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! 

Micah got this action shot of me

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!”)

Mile 14-7:52

Mile 15-7:55

Mile 16-7:42

Mile 17-7:37

Mile 18-7:34

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. 

Mile 21-7:27

Mile 22-7:23

Mile 23-7:22

Mile 24-7:16

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. 😉  

Mile 25-7:13

Mile 26-7:05

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!

I finished my 6th full marathon! Recapping the 2018 Baltimore Marathon

3:53.

I had a weird premonition last week that my time in the Baltimore Marathon would be 3:53.

And — it came true! I finished my 6th marathon in 3:53:21. It may have been the toughest course I’ve run.

It’s way off last December’s PR and BQ, but that’s fine. I didn’t train anywhere near as hard for this race as I did for that one, and PRing in Baltimore wasn’t my goal. My goals were to have fun, and more importantly, run with my friend Tammi as she conquered her first marathon — and hopefully help her accomplish her goal of a sub-4 marathon!

And she did it! We crossed the finish line at the same time (actually, she was a few seconds ahead of me!) Honestly, knowing what a great runner she is, I had no doubt she could and would run a sub-4 marathon. I am so proud of her!

The morning of the race was a bit of a cluster, but that was entirely my fault. Micah and I got up to Baltimore around 6:45 am, plenty of time to park and use the bathroom before the 8 am race start. I merely skimmed the runner’s handbook and all of the other bazillion emails that the Baltimore Running Festival organizers sent out, so I dragged us several blocks away from the marathon start line and toward the start line of the half marathon and 5K. When we realized my mistake, Micah, who was not running and was there to cheer me on and support me, was understandably annoyed.

“Why can’t you read directions?” he asked.

“I don’t know! Why did you bring that huge camping chair here?” I snapped.

(True story. He said standing for several hours to watch me run a marathon would be too hard — um, harder than RUNNING IT?! — so he brought a camping chair to sit in. I was nervous for the race and it pissed me off more than it should have, especially when I realized my mistake. My husband is really kind of a saint for putting up with me. But I digress.)

Anyway, after a bathroom stop at Starbucks, I finally got my shit together and we headed back to Camden Yards, where the marathon began. I got in line around 7:45 am and Tammi found me a couple minutes later. I told her we should start out with the 4-hour pace group and then see how we felt later on in the race. I thought we could stay with them for maybe the first half or so and then surge ahead in the second half to go sub-4.

Uh, yeah, best laid plans and all that. I think we moved ahead of the pace group by mile 4.

The thing about the Baltimore Marathon course is, the first half is kind of a breeze. It’s mostly flat with some big downhills, and that makes it tough to hold back. My favorite part of the race was running through the Maryland Zoo, where zoo workers stand along the course with animals, including a penguin and a rabbit. So fun. We ran miles 6 and 7 in the low 8s, but we also knew that the back half of the course was really hilly, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to bank some time where we could. (Yes, I know the strategy of “banking time in the marathon” isn’t usually the best, but I don’t regret it with this course.)

We hit the Inner Harbor at mile 9 and saw Tammi’s family, including her sister, her husband and little boy (who was holding a sign that said “My mommy is faster than your mommy!”) and her parents. Her sister was running her first half marathon, and she and their mom and dad flew in from Texas to watch. (I did not see Micah and his camping chair then, but I’ll let that one slide ;)) Mile 9 was actually our fastest of the day– we ran that one in just under eight minutes.

At that point, the course cruises down Key Highway and through Locust Point with a turnaround at the Under Armour headquarters, and then back through the Inner Harbor, so Tammi got to see her family twice! We also ran past the start line of the half marathon just as we were hitting the halfway point in the full marathon.

We also started to notice that our Garmin watches were not matching up with the mile markers, and we were hitting our mile splits about a third of a mile before we actually saw a mile marker sign. I realized that we probably added extra distance onto our race by weaving in and around other runners earlier. Whoops.

I was still feeling really good, though I was not thrilled to hit the Harbor East neighborhood and step onto those big cobblestones. Oof. Tammi and I jumped up on the sidewalk to run on a more forgiving surface, and fortunately, the road evened out soon after.

Around mile 15, Tammi told me she was starting to feel negative. “We’re more than halfway there,” I told her. “You can do this.”

Mile 16 is where the infamous merge of the half marathon and full marathon takes place at Patterson Park. I’ve heard a lot of runners complain about it, and for good reason. If you’re running the full, you’re cruising along at your pace and all of a sudden hundreds of half marathoners pour into the street and it really clogs things up. I ran the half in 2016 and 2017, so I remembered the merging of the races, but I definitely noticed it a lot more running the full. I definitely almost crashed into another runner and we added another tenth of a mile onto our race by trying to maneuver around slower runners.

Because I had run the half before, I knew we were in for some hills. (I’ve heard people compare this course to the Boston Marathon and its hills through miles 16-20, so I hope the Baltimore Marathon was good practice!) The course was hilly from about mile 16.5 until we hit Lake Montebello at mile 20 — then we had more hills from miles 21-22. By now, my feet were really starting to wear out, but we hit mile 22 at around the three hour, 14 minute mark — so I knew sub-4 was happening unless one of us got sick or injured. And we were tired, but determined.

This is where the Baltimore Marathon really reminded me a lot of the Pittsburgh Marathon, which was my first full marathon back in 2015. In that race, I remember hitting a steep decline at mile 24 and my quads just screamed at me. The Baltimore Marathon had a similar downhill at a similar time in the race. Downhills feel great in the first few miles of the marathon — they feel terrible in the last few miles, at least to me! (And again, I hear Boston is the same way, so now I know what to expect!)

Tammi told me she was starting to cramp up, and I encouraged her to keep pushing. We hit one last steep (but short) hill at mile 25 and my stomach started to churn. I drank Gatorade at just about every aid station and I may have overdone it — usually I alternate water with Gatorade.

“Let’s finish strong and sprint when we see the finish line,” Tammi said.

“I don’t know if I can,” I said (more like whined).

At mile 26 (our watches already showed 26.2x by then!), we turned onto Pratt Street and saw Kree and Matt yelling and cheering for us. Then I saw Micah smiling and waving. Tammi and I sprinted as fast as we could — my watch shows we did the last few tenths of a mile at a 7:05 pace! — and crossed the finish line.

She cried, I cried, we hugged, and then I promptly vomited into a grate in the road. My first finish line puke! I’m so proud! A medic came over and asked if I needed to go to the medical tent, but I was really OK. I just OD’d on Gatorade.

My final stats (Tammi was 13th in our age group, so she beat me by at least a second!)

baltimoremarathon

Finishing a marathon in ANY time is quite an accomplishment, but going sub-4 for your first marathon is really something to be proud of, so HUGE congrats to Tammi! And by the way, she had some annoying stomach troubles early in the race and wasn’t feeling great, but she still pushed through and finished well under her goal!

TammiandAllison

If you’re looking for a fun fall race to do, I highly recommend the Baltimore Running Festival. In addition to the full and half marathons, there is a 5K as well as a relay option. You can also do the Baltimoron-a-thon, and run both the 5K and the half. I did that last year and it was a blast! The crowd support is great, and you’ve gotta love the crab-shaped medals (which open up to reveal a picture of the city!)

Just know that your quads are likely to hurt the next day. 🙂