There aren’t many marathons in Delaware so this state was a hard one to capture, especially since May is a month full of intriguing races to do. In fact, this race was first created 8 years ago when Steve and Paula Boone, founders of the 50 States Running Club, called the Wilmington (DE) Vistors and Convention Bureau to ask about whether it was possible to develop a marathon in Delaware so club members could complete the circuit of the states. At the time, Delaware was the only state that did not have a USATF certified marathon event.
The rest is history. As race director Wayne Kursh explains in his message to runners in the race festival booklet, the Boone’s were the impetus behind this now extremely popular race, and they arrive almost every year to do the race and were present this year as well. It was great to see both of them again.
My story begins on Friday morning, two days before the race. It seemed to me that the easiest way to get to Wilmington (at least for someone who did not want to drive a rental car through unfamiliar big cities) was to fly from Jacksonville to Atlanta to Philadelphia and take a shuttle to Delaware. I built in an extra ‘just-in-case’ day to make sure I arrived in time for packet pick-up on Saturday (always forgetting that distances between cities in the northeast are not so great as in other geographic areas). My flights went off like clockwork and the shuttle arrived within 20 minutes. Travel time to Wilmington was about 30 minutes, mostly expressway, and my garrulous driver dropped me off at one of the host hotels, the Sheraton, with good wishes and a warning not to be on the streets of Wilmington after 6 pm. That was a bit unnerving, but after a few days in the city I could understand his concern.
My room was not yet ready when I arrived at noon, so I left my suitcase at the hotel and wandered around the city, heading towards the riverfront park where packet pickup would be the next day. Several large tents were already set up and it was easy to see that an event was in the making. The riverfront was about a 15 minute walk from my hotel, about a mile, and while the walk was uneventful, the city seemed rather depressed. I know that Delaware is a big banking state and there were indeed lots of banks around, but many of the stores were closed, dilapidated, or completely torn down, there were few brand-name businesses, and only a couple of local restaurants (and these were open only Monday through Friday to capture the working crowd). The public library was close by and I wandered in there to check it out (a busman’s holiday of sorts) and I also stopped at the Delaware History Museum to learn a bit more about the state. The museum was small, only two rooms, but there was quite a bit on display. Unfortunately, none of the audio buttons on the displays worked, so I relied on the text next to each exhibit.
Back to the hotel around 2 pm, I checked in and found that this was an all-suite hotel; my room consisted of a large bedroom plus a sitting area with couch and a second television and a table suitable for eating and working. There was a refrigerator, microwave, and sink as well as a regular size bathroom, large closet, and spacious dressing area. All in all, quite a lot of space for one person. Everything was clean and in working order and hotel personnel were extremely helpful. However, attention to security was evident here, too; it was necessary to use your hotel key to use the bathrooms in the lobby area and to gain access to all room floors via the elevator. Not a problem at all, but unusual compared to many of the other hotels I’ve stayed at. I was hungry by this time so I had a late lunch in the hotel restaurant – chicken Caesar salad and a crabcake (this was the Delmarva peninsula, after all). Hotel gave me coupons for 3 free buffet breakfasts so I was set for the weekend for that meal, at least.
The next day, after a leisurely breakfast, I walked to the riverfront and picked up my bib with chip attached, tee shirt (gray tech, gender specific), and goody bag. The goodies consisted of 3 gel packets, a drinking glass with the Delathon Running Festival and date stamped on it, a memo pad that said ‘Memo from a Delaware Marathoner,’ and some last minute race instructions along with blurbs about some local races. While I left the gels behind (don’t use them), the glass and memo pad are nice touches and very practical. I made sure to pack the glass carefully in my carry-on bag so it wouldn’t break and managed to get it home safely. Everything was packed in a canvas bag good for groceries; I now have quite a collection of these. There were a few tables with vendors, primarily New Balance, ING, and the Delaware lottery. I asked about how the course would be marked and was told there would be yellow/orange arrows on the ground and volunteers at every critical corner. Back at the hotel around 1:30, I formulated my plan for race day: rest, relax, and read. And of course, I had to get my clothes laid out and ready for the race. I set the alarm for 3:30 and followed my plan.
Sunday morning, I woke up just before the alarm went off, made my coffee, and ate my homemade bread. Dressed and was ready to leave about 5:45. This race has an early start at 6:15 for people who will take longer than 6 hours to finish. While I normally finish between 5:30 and 6 hours, I always try to take the early start because I would much rather be surrounded by other runners and walkers over the course of the race than to be at the very end all by my self. There were two 10 seat shuttle trolleys that stopped at my hotel and the Marriott Courtyard to take us to the park, a good idea since it was still pretty dark outside. In the hotel lobby and on the trolley, I met several other folks who were planning to take the early start. After hitting one of the portapotties, I hung around the start and met up with my friend Jerry from Illinois and Steve and Paula Boone (Paula was taking the early start as well). Weather report had called for rain but fortunately we just had a light drizzle for part of the day and cloudy weather after that. Left my sunglasses at the hotel, there would be no need for them on this race.
This course is a 2 loop course that begins and ends at the riverfront park. At the end of the first loop, there is a stretch that loops around the riverwalk and then returns to the course. The beginning is a bit confusing so I stayed around Paula (who was doing this race for the 7th time) and some other 50 state folks for the first few miles. After an hour or so, the people who had chosen the regular 7 am start began to catch up with us and I felt emboldened to move a bit faster. With just one pit stop on the second loop, I was able to finish in 5:42, right where I usually finish.
Highlights of the course included Brandywine Park and Zoo (I caught a glimpse of some of the animals), the riverwalk, several upscale neighborhoods, and the Little Italy section with red, green, and white pennants strung up across the street. Volunteers and police were extremely helpful; aid stations were setup about every 2 miles and offered both Gatorade and water. There were more spectators cheering for us than I had thought there would be, so that was a nice plus. Food after the race included pizza slices and an array of delicious sandwiches, chocolate milk, and bottles of water. The mile walk back to the hotel was a good cool-down and I was ready for a shower and nap. Delaware, state #49, check!