I truly enjoy the travel that accompanies many races. I’ve had the opportunity to visit parts of the country that I would have never sought out without a race, and I am certain that these experiences bolster my quality of life. However, there’s something to be said for a race in your backyard that requires minimal planning, very little travel, and being able to sleep in your own bed the night before. I’ve had that scenario play out for shorter races in the past, but this was the first time I’ve ever lived this close to a full marathon, and it ended up being a great opportunity to cross Delaware off my list and spend more time on trails I am quite comfortable running.
The April 30th Delaware Trail Marathon is put on by the Trail Dawgs, a local trail running group that hosts events throughout the year, and doesn’t take itself too seriously in the process. The laid back approach works well, and represents everything I love about the trail and ultra community. This particular race is held in conjunction with the Triple Crown, which challenges runners to tackle a half marathon, 10K, and 5K back-to-back-to-back. It also happens to be the only trail marathon in this tiny little state, and is held at White Clay State Park, which is a mere 15 minutes down the road from me. For all of these reasons, I was eager to race and hang out with some great folks along the way!
As I indicated, I was able to wake up around 6AM, throw on my clothes, have a light breakfast, and be at the park in plenty of time to pick up my packet and be ready for the 7:40 start. The course itself is two loops of the half marathon course, which meanders through White Clay Creek State Park. Although there are no significant climbs, the rolling hills still mean a decent amount of elevation gain, which I would be reminded of after the first loop. The half marathoners were sent on their way at 7:30, and the small group of marathoners (36 in total) lined up quickly and we were unceremoniously sent on our way.
I’ve run these trails several times in the past, but didn’t necessarily grasp the overall layout of the terrain. So, when I looked at last year’s results and saw the 4 hour winning time, it briefly crossed my mind that I could podium this year. Needless to say, this is not a possibility I’ve ever considered when lining up for a marathon. Thus, I went out with the lead pack and actually led the race for a good half mile before reality set in, and I slowed to a more comfortable pace on the rolling hills. The trails were in great shape, and the cool weather made for a perfect morning of running. I knew I shouldn’t be pushing it all that much, but I still managed to go out too fast, and the pace definitely caught up to me by the end of the first loop.
My favorite element of the winding course was the opportunity to cross White Clay Creek itself on 4 separate occasions. As you know, we’ve been getting plenty of rain lately, so the water levels were relatively high. This meant knee-deep water as we waded across the creek. My Lone Peaks drained really well so my feet dried out pretty quickly, and the cold water was a nice shot of adrenaline each time I jumped in!
I completed the first half in around 2 hours, and knew I had to pull up significantly, as my legs were feeling the burn. This had as much to do with a lack of recovery and sleep as anything else, and I had to remind myself that I was using the race as a long training run. I matched paces with another runner for the second loop, and we spent the next 13 miles running and chatting about all sorts of topics, which made the miles fly by that much quicker. More than that, it was a perfect reminder of why I love trail running so much. Smaller fields, and more shared experiences means you are always much more likely to end up meeting new people and having great conversations!
My running was itself pretty uneventful, and I was able to maintain a pretty even pace. The trails aren’t terribly technical so footing was rarely an issue, and it was simply a matter of relentless forward progress. The two of us came into the final stretch and ended up crossing the finish line at the same time for 10th and 11th place finishes. We received a coffee mug and a small medal, and made our way to the park pavilion for some food and drink. I hung out for a few minutes, and then hopped in my car, which was parked right at the start, and drove home to tackle the rest of the days chores.
It was beautiful in its simplicity, and I certainly won’t argue with an 11th place marathon finish, even if there were only 36 runners. There are many ways to keep #chasing42!