Why I Love the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon

Frank nears the halfway point

Frank nears the halfway point

 

I have written about this race before, The Caesar Rodney Half Marathon, in which I described the race, its history, and the particularly challenging profile of the course.  In brief, the first half of the race is relatively flat after an initial downhill first mile.  Then, there is a long and sometimes steep, 2.5 mile uphill climb, a number of turns through neighborhoods, then a downhill stint to the final steep uphill 1/3 mile to the finish.

This race is run the third Sunday in March, when chill winds still blow.  In fact, this year, we had a snowstorm all day Friday two days before the race.  Most of the snow on the streets melted the following day when it rose to 50˚F, but then the temperature dropped back to below freezing that night.  For race day, we had gusty winds and temperatures in the low 40’s.

Dan and Brian Ambrose pumping up for the hill.

Dan and Brian Ambrose pumping up for the hill.

What is good about this race?  It is one of the first races of the early spring, meaning to be in shape, one must train through the winter.  So, it encourages fortitude in training when the weather is frigid, daytime hours are few, and the conditions on the ground can be pretty miserable.

It is a race with a history.  It is one of the first half marathons in the country, first run in 1964 when Browning Ross, from Woodbury, NJ, won it in 1:07:24.  It has been run every year since then, making this year the 52nd running.

It is well organized.  Runners are given permission to use the Downtown Wilmington YMCA locker rooms, to store gear, use indoor restrooms, and provide showers after the race.  Few races I know of have that sort of facility available.  Picking up one’s number and race packet is simple and done on the day of the race.  There is a very friendly bag drop manned by volunteers.  In fact, there is a friendly atmosphere throughout, and senior Delaware Senator Tom Carper, former Delaware governor and congressman, former naval air commander during the Viet Nam war, runs the race with the rest of us.

It is for a good cause.  The money raised goes to support the American Lung Association, certainly an easy tie in with running.

From a personal view, this was my first half marathon, and the race I keep returning to year after year.  I first ran it in 2007, missed 2008, but have run it every year since.  Up to this year, I have been kind of stuck in a rut, time-wise.  My times these past years have been fairly consistent:

2007  1:51:59

Brandon at the finish line.

Brandon at the finish line.

2008  Didn’t run

2009 1:49:45

2010  1:49:48

2011  1:49:40

2012  1:53:35

2013  1:49:16

2014  1:49:34

This year I wanted to break out of my rut.  I ran fairly consistently through the darkest days of winter, through slush and cold rain, enjoyed the occasional cold but sunny morning run on the weekends, and was feeling pretty good going into the race.  Still, I had some trepidation.  I know the course, and how challenging it is.  After running it all these years I know every turn, and know when it seems like the race will never end.

So, I lined up with everyone else at the start, and took off feeling good.  One cannot help feeling good in a race which starts heading downhill for a mile.  Of course, the clever among us will recognize uphill is coming.  Instead of feeling washed up as the road headed up, though, I felt I still had some energy in me, and managed to gut out the 2.5 mile climb mid-race.  I cruised back down the hill towards the finish, and my good friend and running partner, Brandon, came back to encourage me on the last mile.  This all resulted in a very satisfying finish of 1:47:56, my best half marathon anywhere.  I finished fifth in my age group, averaging 8:15 per mile.

After the finish, a new half marathon PR for Frank.

After the finish, a new half marathon PR for Frank.

Now, I’ve set the bar higher for myself, and each year get older.  I’ll really have to turn up the training screws next winter.

Caesar Rodney Half Marathon

Official logo for the 50th anniversary of the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon

Official logo for the 50th anniversary of the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon

Last Sunday, March 17, 2013, was the fiftieth anniversary of the Caesar Rodney half marathon.  This race has an illustrious history, especially since the half marathon distance only became a recognized distance in the early 1960’s with the earliest being the Route du Vin, in Luxembourg in 1961.  The first Caesar Rodney was held April 5, 1964, making it among the first held in the United States.  It was won that year by Browning Ross, from Woodbury, New Jersey, in 1:07:24.  Browning Ross is known as the father of long distance running in America.  He founded the Philadelphia Road Runners Club which ultimately became the Road Runners Club of America.  He also started a newsletter, the Long Distance Log, in 1956, which provided running news to the relatively small and elite group of long distance runners at the time.

I have run Caesar Rodney six times now.  It was my first half marathon, in 2007, and aside from one Philadelphia Rock and Roll half marathon (formerly the Philadelphia Distance Run), my only half.  The course is a tough one.  It starts in downtown Wilmington, Delaware, at one corner of Caesar Rodney Square.  It then proceeds south, slightly down hill, then flat, through a variety of neighborhoods, industrial areas, under the I95 overpass, and along a small tributary of the Delaware River.  As the route passes back in to the downtown area of Wilmington, the course runs over a curb, along a small parking lot, and along a road where numerous church goers are trying to get to their church.  The celebrants seem to have little forgiveness for the runners sacrilegious activity on Sunday morning.  At this point, though, the runners are nearing the six mile mark and steeling their minds and bodies to the grueling 2.5 mile climb ahead.  The ascent up Park Drive runs along a very attractive public park and another small tributary of the Delaware. Here is where the middle of the pack runners can see the ultimate winner, racing back down the hill already.   At the apex, there is a turn through Rockford Park, and a gently hilly pass through a neighborhood.  After that, the route heads back down the same Park Drive, a relief but still hard on the quads.  The finish is particularly cruel, as the route turns steeply uphill to the top of Caesar Rodney Square.  The finish line remains out of view as one takes a right, then another right, then a left to finally crest the climb and get to the line.

Caesar Rodney Elevation Profile

Caesar Rodney Elevation Profile

My times over the last seven years have been remarkably consistent, with one outlier.

CR2013Frank

Crossing the Finish Line, 2013

2007  1:51:59

2008  Didn’t run

2009 1:49:45

2010  1:49:48

2011  1:49:40

2012  1:53:35

2013  1:49:16

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year was a bad year for me in this race.  I remember heading up that hill, head facing my feet, and thinking I was doomed.  A youngish woman came bouncing beside me, no heel strike for her, and suggested I lift my head.  I grumbled something about how my glasses were fogged and I needed to look down to see.  The truth was I was grinding away and in no mood to be pleasant.  This year, fortunately, the fog lifted.  I held my head up the entire race, paced it well, and wound up with a PR.

The honorable senator of Delaware, Tom Carper, age 66, ran the race, too, with bib #1, finishing in a very respectable 2:05:47.  I watched as he crossed the finish line.  I have great respect for someone as busy as he to take the time and make the major effort to run his hometown half marathon.  We have a number of very fast runners in our club, the South Jersey Athletic Club, and we were well represented in this race.  Dave Stewart ran 1:28:26.  Brandon Hamilton ran 1:29:50.  Joe Clark ran 1:30:49.  Sixty six year old Joy Hampton came in first in her age group with a 1:55:16.

Frank, back in warm, dry clothes again, at the finish line of Caesar Rodney

Frank, back in warm, dry clothes again, at the finish line of Caesar Rodney

After the race I was able to meet up with my son and his girlfriend who came out to watch.  After grabbing a few apples, a couple of Clif Bar samples, and some Starbucks instant iced coffee samples (not yet the weather for it, though), we walked down Market Street to the only place open for breakfast, The Chelsea Tavern.  It turned out we couldn’t have found a better spot.  They had a brunch menu which was very creative.  We managed to squeak in before several tables of fourteen runners got their orders in, which was probably very fortunate.  I had T. A. Farms Turkey Benedict, with avocado salsa, which was a very nice and spicy turn of a standard.  My son had some thick country fried scrapple, which turned out to be remarkably tasty, and his girlfriend had a delicious waffle.  While they went for standard fare, the brunch menu also includes such items as Crispy Chili Spiced Pork Belly Benedict, Green Eggs and Spam Hash, with tarragon providing the green, and a Veggie Fritatta.  The service was quick and friendly, and if you find yourself in downtown Wilmington in search of brunch, dinner, or a good beer, I highly recommend this place.

We then made our way back to the car, the crews disassembling the finish line structure, and the tents and tables being removed.  I believe next year I’ll be back.  This race, while tough, has a way of drawing you back again.

Frank K.

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