April 3, 2016 was the 53rd running of the oldest half marathon in the country – the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon in downtown Wilmington, Delaware. I was glad to finally get to participate in this renowned and historic race in some especially memorable conditions. Having lived in Delaware for some years, I had heard how challenging and hilly the race is, but also how well run it is as an event. After missing it a couple of years of scheduling conflicts, the stars had finally aligned. I was especially excited because I was coming back from a down year+ after recovering from ongoing ailments and injuries, and having a baby last year. I registered for this race 6 days in advance, having only run up to 5 miles a couple of times, but i had also just lost 45 pounds at the time, so I really had no idea what i was capable of. I felt a nervous excitement leading up to this event. Hal Higdon’s Novice program got me through my first marathon, and i have read several of his books. Coincidentally, he highlighted the CR1/2 as the oldest half marathon in the country in his most recent book, “Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Handbook” which dropped 2 days before the event!! I thought that was a very cool coincidence. Hashtag it was meant to be. So here is the top to bottom on the 2016 Caesar Rodney Half.
Even before the race, the packet pickup was smooth, although far from an expo, there was some information from some of the local vendors and sponsors present in the pickup area. The pickup location was a few blocks from the starting line the downtown YMCA. Some runners could care less and others are all about the swag. No matter which camp to which you belong, you are sure to appreciate the gorgeous tech shirt! This is definitely one of my top favorite racing shirts. I heard several people say it was their favorite shirt of all time. There was also a virtual race bag with tons of sponsored offers sent to our email account in advance.
The first thing I noticed and thought was great was the later than usual starting time of the race. The half start time was at 9:30 AM. This was great for me as I could take my time in getting to the event; i only live a short distance from the starting line and was able to walk there in less than 10 minutes. I also heard this was attractive to a lot of runners coming from New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The pre race area was festive, there was a complimentary bag check but I think the weather put a damper on things for a lot of people. It was extremely cold and windy this day, so it truly felt like a winter race. Having lived in Chicago, I was having flashbacks. The volunteers were amazing. They were present in numbers, upbeat and extremely diligent in attending to all the needs of the event. After the singing of the National Anthem, we were off!
The race starts with a nice downhill. If you’ve heard anything about this race, you know you will either be going up or down for most of the race, but it was a pleasant start nonetheless. The start wasn’t too crowded, and I heard the numbers were down a bit this year due to a date change and the proximity to Boston. Either way, I felt comfortable as the early passing ensued. A lot of people always reply “DelaWHERE?!?!” when I mention where I live, but much of our city is beautiful, and the course weaves through it. You can see the course map here: http://www.mapmywalk.com/routes/fullscreen/638738100/.
We made our way down to the Riverfront, ran along the river and back through downtown. It was extremely windy to the point when i thought, that i wished they had lifeguards because I was sure to end up in the water. Luckily, no one was blown away and it was a fun experience to say the least. Up to this point, the race was relatively benign hill-wise. As we made our way back toward downtown, we headed toward the Delaware Art Museum and Rockford Park. This is a long stretch of uphill mileage. I am not going to enter into the debate many runners make about what constitutes hilly, but in the world of road runners, Wilmington is HILLY! I happen to be an Obstacle Course Racer, so many of my events take place on mountains, so the hills are a welcome part of my training. One of my main training routes includes this very section of road as well, so i felt very comfortable knowing how long the hills are and how to pace myself. I am far from a fast runner, but when I pass people, it is usually going uphill. Between the wind and the hills, a lot of people looked worked over throughout the middle part of this race. One other thing i noticed was that the relay hand-off was out of the way, had water and seemed to be running very smoothly.
Some of the race was a blur as i was realizing that i was actually having a decent race after about 8 miles, i felt good and judging by my time, i was headed for an unexpected PR. The back end section of the race was windy and mostly tree-lined. Old bridges, the park and the double-back of the race leaders made for a good time. The water stops were ample and the volunteers were extremely spirited. Each stop was always loaded with water (courtesy of Service Mark) at the ready and friendly volunteers to encourage you and hand you a cup or two of either water or gatorade. The downhill section leading into the last miles was great, yet deceiving. The last 800m or so leading to the finish line was a stretch of uphill section. I had been eyeing my watch and new i was on track for a crazy PR, so i was really trying to run hard and smart the last miles of the race. This last hill though! (I know what i just said about hills, buuuutttt) This was the first time i slowed down and nearly walked until a mature fellow racer encouraged me to keep going and that we were almost there. I could see the finish line and pushed it to the end.
As you near the finish line, you hear your name being called and cheers of volunteers, which was a great touch. Once across the line, a voluneer adorns you with your medal. Now, again with the race swag, this may be one of the coolest medals you may receive. It was a spinner medal! Check this out!
The post race festival was one of the best I have ever seen. I mean, any race sponsored by PIZZA is a win in my book!! They had a LOT of food! The post race menu included: Herr’s chips, pretzels and popcorn etc., 120 Seasons Pizzas, tomato bisque soup (great for dipping your pizza into), an assortment of pies including pumpkin, berry, apple and pecan etc., bagels with cream cheese, bananas, apples and oranges, Cliff Bars, bottled water, cases of grapes, assorted fruit drinks, tea and lemonade and coffee and hot chocolate. The overall and age group winners received growlers as awards. Each participant also got a free 2-week membership to Core Ten Gym and CrossFit CR10. The volunteers even received crew t-shirts provided by the City of Wilmington Parks and Recreation, so they really stood out.
Altogether, this a great event and a fantastic race. Despite cold, wind and hills everyone seemed to really enjoy the event. I know I did. People who weren’t ready for the half were able to run the 5k or the relay, so there was something for everyone from the very fast front-of-the packers to the first-timers. I talked to a few friends who either ran or were with someone who ran their first race. This race also benefits a good cause by raising money to support the mission of the American Lung Association. And are you wondering about my PR? Thanks for asking! I got a Personal Record or Personal Best by FIFTEEN minutes!! As i said before, i am not the fastest runner. i am a mid-pack runner. But this was a very welcome and rewarding result of my weight loss and recovery journey. What better way to do it than in my hometown. This is definitely a race to attend whether you are nearby, are looking to get one of your 50 states or just need a different race with a historic feel in a perhaps overlooked area. You will not be disappointed!
Please enjoy these additional photos of the 2016 Caesar Rodney Half