Up to a certain moment, I was frighteningly relaxed for this race. My BQ was in my back pocket from my fall marathon, so this would be gravy. However, as I lined up at the start, it hit me:

“Damn, this is a marathon. This will be hard. I must respect the distance.”

So, as the National Anthem was playing, I coudn’t swallow. I guess my nerves finally arrived to the party.

I didn’t have a specific goal for this race but my typical goal is to go Sub 3 hours. My backup goal is to finish safely and alive. I knew I was in 2:55 to 3:00 shape, but the weather was a bit warm for me (61 degrees, 89% humidity at the start).

With that in the back of my mind, I figured I’d go out conservatively, hopefully latch on to someone at a similar pace, and take it from there. Well, I didn’t go out conservatively: Mile 1 was 6:29 (oops).

Fortunately, after I slowed a bit, another runner pulled up next to me, and asked me what my goal was (his was similar). So, we decided to stay with each other for as long as possible. His name was James, and this guy saved my race (more on that later).

As we were running, I noticed that James had a lot of fans on the course. It turns out that he used to live in Wilmington, and had people throughout the course cheering for him. However, he also seemed to know many of the race volunteers and police officers directing traffic. I jokingly asked him if he was the Mayor, and he laughed, and said no but he was a previous winner of this race.

My first reaction was: “Crap, I have no business running with this guy,” but the pace felt good, and since it was a small race (600 marathoners), I didn’t want to run alone.

James gave me great tips regarding course strategy, which brings me to the course itself:

The course: Two laps though the riverfront, parks, and neighborhoods of Wilmington. So, when you’re at Mile 7, you get a preview of what Mile 20 will look like. This is a blessing and a curse. The blessing: You know what’s coming during the 2nd half. The curse: You know what’s coming during the 2nd half.

Something that James said to me as we climbed a mile-long hill from Mile 6ish to 7ish that proved to help me later: “Once you’re finished with this hill the 2nd time —also Miles 19 to 20 — the remainder of the race is generally flat to downhill.”

So, with that in mind, we ran together and came through the 13.1 split in 1:28. So far so good. However, from Mile 15-16, I started cramping (bad stitch, perhaps from the sun exposure along the riverfront). James and another runner pulled slightly ahead of me.

This is about the time I saw my wife: “I’m feeling it” I told her. She, with her cowbell in hand, said something inspirational, and I moved along. Not sure if it was seeing her or the fact that I was entering the shaded portion of the race that helped, but I temporarily felt better (cramps subsided), and pulled even with James again.

But this was short-lived. At Mile 19, we were heading into the hilly portion for the 2nd time. James pulled away. I slowed (not awful – Mile 20 was 7:13). At this point, though, James pulled too far ahead for me to feel connected to his pace. I was now on my own at Mile 20. If you’ve ever been alone at Mile 20, you know how lonely it is.

This is the point when I almost threw in the towel (the point where I would go from goal pace to survival pace). However, something stopped me from giving up (not sure what). It might have been the earlier words of my temporary running partner that helped me hold on:

“Once you’re finished with this hill the 2nd time, the remainder of the race is generally flat to downhill.”

So, even though my pace fell off (6:55-7:10 the rest of the way), it wasn’t a bonk. I was holding on. In the shaded, residential portion of the race, the crowd support was so helpful. At Mile 23, my cumulative time was 2:37:13…there was still hope for a Sub3.

Also, another surprising thing happened: I found myself running with and passing some of the Half Marathon participants. I encouraged them as I passed, and they encouraged me. It was a win-win for all of us! We survived the portion of the race in the Little Italy section of town (where there is additional sun exposure).

Most of the last three miles was flat to downhill with the exception of a pretty lengthy bonus hill that James had initially underestimated (during the home stretch). I gutted it out with the hope that I could still do a Sub3. Once the last hill crests, you can let gravity do the rest and make your way to the riverfront for the finish.

I ended up crossing the finish line at 2:58:53 (with my hand on my heart in honor of Boston). My 2nd Half was just under 1:31…I slowed but not too badly. The heat affected me, but the shaded course saved me. James saved me too. I was fortunate enough to see him in the finish area, which is where we fist bumped and congratulated each other.

Even though this wasn’t a PR race, I feel satisfied with the results: 1) It’s a tough course, and 2) I finally didn’t bonk in a race with the temperatures above 60 degrees.

NOTES: There are also 4-person and 8-person relays and Half mixed in with the Marathon which can make the first half of the race a bit confusing and crowded; however, seeing these runners during the 2nd lap actually helped me psychologically.

This race is great for spectating. You can see the runners at least four times without having to move. You can also move throughout the course and see runners multiple times. I must have seen my wife four times during the race (and this was a HUGE help).

Some pics…

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Perk: Custom Bib to avoid being called Gerald, Jared, George, or Greg!

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Not feeling good here, but I have my red socks!!

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My favorite race hardware ever! Chase Utley agrees!

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James got me by 59 seconds.

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