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.

Semi-Marathon International de Nice

 

A beautiful day in Nice, France, 25 April 2014.

A beautiful day in Nice, France, 25 April 2014.

I got the idea to run this race about three years ago. I was looking for a way to have a travel adventure combined with a race. I thought it would be nicer to my wife to pick a half marathon so she would not bear the burden of my recovery from a marathon, which is not always pretty. After searching on-line, I found this race, which seemed ideal. It is run right around the time of my birthday, is in a beautiful location, and it bills itself as international. Perfect! So, what took me three years to do it, and how did it finally go?

The race is run late in April, and when I got the idea, I was also signed up for Boston. So that year was out. Then it took another year to really decide to do it. Finally, it took about six months of planning for the time off, to figure out what was needed to sign up, and make plans for the whole trip. The website for the race, http://www.nicesemimarathon.com/v14/ did not have an updated site until around October of 2013, and then it was still French only. About a month later, the English version was up, although the instructions for filling out the registration were only in French. Not too challenging, though, as they were quite clear. The race required a doctor’s certificate stating I was fit to run, but none was provided on the website. If you are a French runner and belong to a running club, apparently this is required for the club, and only your membership is needed. If you are a foreigner, you need the certificate. I was able to find one on the Paris Marathon website, had my friend, an internist, certify me, and sent it in by email. Voila, I got confirmation I was registered. The cost was 17€ plus 2€ service fee.

As it turned out, this year’s version fell one day after my birthday, my 60th, so it could not have come at a better moment. Yes, an age bracket change. We booked tickets to Nice planning to arrive on the 25th of April, to give a day for orientation before the race. Never having been to Nice, we did not know the city layout, or where would be best to stay. After a bit of a search on line, and finding out a couple of hotels we tried first were sold out, we reserved a room for three nights in the Best Western Hotel New York Nice, a long name I know, but centrally located and not far from the start of the race.

Today, finding out information about how to get from place to place is relatively easy. On-line sources are plentiful, and one can usually tell the reliable sources. Keys to look for are good grammar, a recent date, and a reliable blog or website devoted to travel. We were able to discover the bus from the airport at Nice into town cost 6€, and there are two buses depending on where you want to wind up, the 98 and the 99. More interesting is that with the help of Google maps, one can plot the walk to the hotel, know exactly how far it is, and even see street views so the landmarks are recognizable. This is all part of the fun of planning a trip to unknown places. We easily got through airport customs, made our way to the bus station at the airport, got tickets, and were delivered to Gare Central, the main train station in the center of Nice. From there we were able to walk to our hotel, which took about 20 minutes, along the Av. Jean Médecin. We were pleasantly greeted at the hotel by a desk clerk named Nella, who registered us and help us get further oriented. Our hotel room was very attractive, and had large glass doors leading out onto a small balcony. Across from us was a Monoprix supermarket, and caddy corner was a very large outdoor café and bar.

After getting situated in the room, we walked towards the old part of Nice where the expo was, in order to pick up my number. The expo was small, and outdoors under tents, in the oldest part of Nice. This is now a spot for shops and restaurants. A large flower mart took up the center of the main pedestrian street, and restaurants and bars with plenty of outdoor seating occupied either side. There were also many small shops selling local specialties. One was entirely devoted to sardines in cans, with many variations.

Picking up my number.  Dossard is French for bib.

Picking up my number. Dossard is French for bib.

The people manning the tents for the expo were extraordinarily pleasant and helpful, and it was no problem to find my number.  I then went to the next tent to pick up my goodie bag with my T-shirt and the usual things they add, like advertisements for other races, and samples of sports bars and drink.  One odd standout, though, was a large jar of Tikka Masala, which is an Indian sauce of tomatoes, lemon, coriander, and other spices used to make curry.  While this may not be typical pre-race food, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, it does point out that the sponsors do get to show their wares.  We planned to enjoy it after we returned home.

After picking up my bib and Tee, we wandered through the old part of Nice.  We were hungry, and while late in the day in Nice, we were still on eastern standard time.  So, we stopped at a fish restaurant called “La Grande Voile”.  Our dinner there was just satisfactory.  I cannot recommend this restaurant, based on the fact that the waitstaff made themselves very scarce even though we were one of only a few couples dining at the time, and also they brought the wrong fish.  But, my appetizer, a bowl of mussels, was quite good.

Mussels at La Grande Voile.

Mussels at La Grande Voile.

When we returned to our hotel that evening we were just amazed that our children had arranged for a bottle of Champagne to be brought to our room. Accompanying it was a card wishing me happy birthday and good luck.  It seems we have taught our children well!

A very nice bottle of Champagne delivered to our room.

A very nice bottle of Champagne delivered to our room.

We went across the street to the grocery store, bought some strawberries, and sat out on our little balcony, enjoying the view, and our bottle of Champagne.  I am aware that eating mussels and drinking Champagne before a race may seem foolhardy, but I thought I would at least have a day to recover before actually running.

The following day, Saturday, we awoke to warm sunshine streaking through our window.  Since this was the day before the race I wanted to get in an easy run to keep the muscles toned.  I put on my shorts, a shirt, and my running shoes and headed out to the large path along the ocean for a practice run.  It seems I was not the only one.  About a dozen or so other runners, some with Semi-marathon shirts on, were doing the same.  We ran along the Promenade des Anglais, the last half of the semi-marathon to be run the next day, where signs were being set up for the race, portable toilets were being set in place, and meanwhile the usual beach activity was still going on.  Artists were setting up their stands to display their scenes of Nice, beach denizens were hanging out chatting with each other, and, along the surf, many surf-casting fishermen and women had their lines in the water.

The day of the race came fairly quickly, although the race starts at a very reasonable 9:30 AM.  Our hotel had breakfast for twelve euro, not a small sum for cereal, pastries, ham and slices of cheese.  Normally, my wife and I would buy the same from the market, and have breakfast in our room, but for various reasons we didn’t get set, so I had the hotel breakfast.  Then, it was time to do the usual pre-race preparation.  I got on my shorts and singlet, pinned my number to the singlet, and got on my socks and running shoes.  In addition, I put on my rain jacket, since it had already started drizzling under heavy clouds.

In front of our hotel, ready to head down to the start.

In front of our hotel, ready to head down to the start.

Walking down to the start, we passed through the beautiful Place Massena, bordered on both sides with spouting fountains from large rectangular paved areas.  Seven tall poles holding up sitting figures represent seven continents which are lit from inside with colors that change, representing conversations.  The centerpiece, a very large (7 meter tall)  nude statue of Apollo surrounded by his planetary helpers, was a controversial piece when first displayed and spent some time on the outskirts of town until it was moved back in 2011.  Finally, the buildings behind the statue are elegant, stately and make a striking backdrop.

Place Masséna in Nice.

Place Masséna in Nice.

We got to the start area, and got oriented.  With some time left before the start, I went for a brief warmup run.  The crowd grew, as the runners and their families gathered.  It was a typical pre-race scene, with lines at the portable toilets, lots of milling around, and at one end of the area, a couple of trainer types were leading an exercise routine to music.

The parcours of the race.

The parcours of the race.

The total starting the race, including both the semi-marathon and the 10K, which started together, was about 5,300.  The 10K runners ran the first half of the semi-marathon course which circled through the streets of Nice.  Then the semi-marathon course continued out along the Promenade des Anglais to the Nice airport, turned and headed back along the same route to the finish line.

At the start, getting ready to join the throng.

At the start, getting ready to join the throng.

The race got underway in typical fashion, with the blast of a horn.  I made a small tactical error in not moving closer to the front for the start.  As with many popular races, the crowd toward the back is not really going for time.  With the narrow streets and large number of runners, that meant the pace when I crossed the start line was slow, and with a tightly packed group it was difficult to move ahead. Along with a number of other runners in the same predicament, I had to move to the sidewalks to get my pace up and move ahead of the crowd. This presented a problem with light poles, onlookers, and a few other obstructions. The runners were enjoying themselves, though, and as we went through the tunnel under the central train station, there were a lot of hoots and yells which echoed back. The first five kilometers passed back close to the start, then the second five were a loop through the eastern part of town, again heading back to the start. At this point, the 10 K runners peeled off to their finish, as the rest of us 21.1 K runners headed out the Promenade des Anglais for the second half of our race, a flat run out to the Nice airport and back. The finish was deceptive. As one got closer to the end, a large, inflated arch over the road looked like the end, but it was just an advertising banner. The real finish line was on a slight turn toward the ocean then along a carpeted finish over the line.

The stars of this race were the Kenyans.  A group of six Kenyan men finished in 1:01:31, 1:01:32, 1:01:33, 1:01:34, 1:01:36 and 1:01:38, the first of whom was Kennedy Kipyego.  The first woman to finish was also Kenyan, Janet Kisya, in 1:10:59.  Both of these runners ran personal bests in this race.

Of course, I didn’t see much of them, although the out-and-back nature of the second half of the race did give us commoners a glimpse of the front runners as they whizzed by heading toward the finish line.  All the other runners cheered these champions on as they sped by.

The last power surge, heading toward the finish line.

The last power surge, heading toward the finish line.

As races often go, the last few miles, or in this case, kilometers, seemed to never end.  Finally, I could see the 20 K marker and new the line was near.  Racing in kilometers is great; the last kilometer is shorter than a mile!  As I crossed the line, I heard the announcer call out “États-Unis”, and I knew it was for me, since there were no others of my countrymen around me.  I raised my arms as I crossed the line, pleased to have made my goal of running this race.  My finishing time was a bit slow, which I justified by the slow start and the long plane trip to get here.  Never mind, though, I was quite happy and satisfied.  My ever-supportive wife, Kathleen, caught me right at the finish.

Just after finishing, catching my breath.

Just after finishing, catching my breath, arms akimbo apparently in the style of the race.

I was a bit dehydrated, dripping with sweat, and a little shaky.  I drank down one bottle of water and most of a second as I passed through the finish area and collected my medal.  I think the medals mean a lot for a marathon, perhaps a little less for a half marathon, but I was quite pleased to have this memento.

Representing my home club at the Semi-marathon International de Nice 2014.

Representing my home club at the Semi-marathon International de Nice 2014.

As my wife and I walked together out of the race area and back to our hotel,  I told her all about the race course, the challenges and the beauty of the course.  We then started to plan our afternoon of sightseeing.  We headed back to the Place Masséna and on to our hotel, saying au revoir to monsieur Apollo as we left the area.

Apollo's back, passing on our way back to the hotel.

Apollo’s back, on our way back to the hotel.

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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