I’m gonna be up front with you guys: the Wilmington Marathon went poorly. But it went, so I’m gonna tell you about it. I’m consistent like that.
It all started out okay: I woke up on time, fueled up, taped up, dressed, and made it to downtown Wilmington without incident. Weather ranged from 55 in the morning to the low 70s later in the day, which is a little chilly for me but most would call it perfect running weather.
There was both a Wilmington Marathon and Half Marathon going off that morning, and due to COVID restrictions runners were divided into waves going off every ten minutes over the course of two hours. I was in the second wave, so I didn’t have to wait too long.
Waves were called about fifteen minutes before their actual start times, and just before six I was funneled with others of my predicted finishing time (future me says: ha!) around the court house and onto the steps, where we watched the first corral start before moving into their space. We were initially told to space ourselves out according to traffic cones that had been place into the corrals, but no one paid much attention. Everyone had had their temperature taken before entering, of course, but I was still glad to be 80% vaccinated.
WILMINGTON MARATHON LAP ONE
And then, without much further ado, we were off! We headed down Front Street and almost directly into a short but steep hill – but that’s okay; they’d warned us about it in advance. From there we headed out of the downtown area and into quieter residential areas for several miles, much of which ran along a lake. This was all very pleasant and picturesque, but it did get monotonous after awhile. I guess they can’t all be Walt Disney World.
I was pleased with my energy at the start – I actually felt fresh and ready to roll for once! But I kept my pace free and easy in an effort to keep myself from burning out later in the race. I tried to think of my legs as a perpetual motion machine rather than one of those toy cars that you wind up with friction.
After a brief port-a-potty pit stop around mile 5, I rolled up to the oak tree turn around point and began the long slog back the exact way I had just come. Yes, it was an out-and-back course, and yes, because I was running the marathon I was going to have to do that out-and-back twice. Out-and-back inception! But that’s the price of running in the age of COVID – sometimes you have to compress the course so it can function with less support.
I traversed the lake and neighborhood portion of the route again before splitting off an heading back into downtown Wilmington, going past the finish line on my left and deeper into the city. We ran past the community college and the convention center where packet pickup had been before taking another U turn and running down onto the Riverwalk boardwalk area. (If you ran last year’s Battleship Half, you may recall this as the beginning of that course.)
From there you either finished – lucky you! – or bypassed the finish and took a left to start the whole thing over again. Which meant the first thing I faced on round two was that big ol’ hill again. Glorious. But I had signed up for the marathon, so up the hill I went.
…AND LAP TWO
I’m not 100% sure where it all started to go wrong. As I said earlier, I started the race out feeling pretty good. My training had been solid. My nutrition felt good. I had taped up my problem areas. Maybe as early as mile 8 I might have started to get a bad feeling, although that could be hindsight. And anyway, as I’ve discussed before, the darkest psychological part of a marathon tends to hit me pretty early, simply because I have soooo much fartherrrr to goooooo.
All I know is that somewhere in the mile 14 to 15 area things started to go sideways. My right hand swelled up, which is a new one – I think because I have some eczema on those fingers, and the combination of hand sanitizer and the morning breeze was irritating.
More salient to the moment was that my right calf started to seize up, which is something that has occasionally niggled me A BIT but never to the point of being a legit problem. This time, however, when my calf started throwing out protest signals, my hamstring was ALSO like, oh, word? Are we shutting down? And THEN my stupid IT band, which longtime readers may remember as a problem from FOUR YEARS AGO, thought it might be fun to join the pity party, which caused my LEFT IT BAND TO START HURTING TOO, and THEN MY LEFT HEEL FROM THE UA SHOES, and basically what I’m trying to say here is that both of my legs mutinied.
They mutinied for the remainder of the race.
I swear to God, guys, it was the 2017 Baltimore Marathon all over again. Except with that race I at least saw it coming. This muscular disaster was out of left field. I had to do the whole poor man’s run-walk intervals and everything. I was literally running to the next orange course marker cone, walking to the next one after that, running to the next, walking to the next, for like ten miles. It suuuuuucked. Like, discomfort in a marathon I’m used to, but this was more akin to pain. And somehow downhill made it worse?
So there I was, hobbling my way down the edge of the lake, around the tree, back into downtown Wilmington. Needless to say, I walk all the water stops. Everything is terrible and I hate it. My time has gone from pretty good to one of my worst.
I knew I was going to finish. I was confident in that much. I was going to drag myself to the end one was or another. But I’m still thankful for the small miracle that was the final half mile.
I was back on the Riverwalk boardwalk and forced myself back into a run just as I was passing another lady. “Well, if you’re running, I’m running,” she said, thus forging one of those instantaneous friendships that come of races, fleeting but forever meaningful. “All right!” I returned, and somehow from there on I was able to run the remainder of the race, pain be damned.
Just like that, the famed runner’s high kicked in. “You’re almost there!” shouted a random passerby. “Hey, I didn’t quit!” I shouted back, and he laughed and said “I love it!”
“You catch anything?” said a runner behind me as we swung past a guy hanging out with a fishing pole. “No,” he said, which for some reason struck as all as hilarious.
“You’re very handsome!” I told a German shepherd as I passed him, briefly startling and confusing the middle aged man walking him.
“There’s the finish line! Charge up the hill!” said a volunteer. “Are you coming with me?” I asked, but he sadly wasn’t allowed to leave his post.
But I did charge up the hill, somehow, and the spectators lined up all clapped and cheered for me because I was running, and then finally the finish line was in site. “Number 11 is finishing the FULL marathon!” said the announcer as I passed beneath the arch, and I got bonus cheers from the crowd. I WAS DONE!
It was awful.
BUT I finished and that’s what counts. I can be sulky about a less than ideal race, but as long as you finish how bad can it really be?
There was a finisher’s only area where we picked up bags that contained our medals, fresh masks, and an assortment of snacks. I was thrilled beyond measure to find a can of seltzer energy water in the bag; I’d been craving something with bubbles for miles. Races should offer Coke at later water stops if you ask me.
All right, so, that wasn’t exactly the performance I’d been hoping for. All the same, I finally have my fifteenth marathon under my belt. Today I get my second COVID vaccine shot, and I hope you’re somewhere on your vaccine journey too. Because the sooner we’re all vaccinated, the sooner race schedules can get back to normal. runDisney can (knocking on all the wood) return, and we can stop with all these limited expos, cancelled after parties, and stupid out-and-backs.
Here’s to a future full of races! Hopefully I will do a better job. 🤣
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