After the back to back races earlier in the year, Kaela convinced me that it would be an easier way to knock out neighboring states especially when having to drive. Since the first attempt was successful (even including a PR) I planned another for the fall on the east coast. I would start with the Monster Mash Marathon in Dover, Delaware. This trip, however, had my emotions on both ends of the spectrum—from super aggravated to filled with joy and everything in between.
Race: Monster Mash Marathon
Location: Dover, Delaware
Finishing Time: 4:20:30
We headed out on a Thursday as usual and since we would be making our way through southern Pennsylvania, we were going to split up the trip by staying at my in-laws’ farm. The drive was going great until just outside Morgantown, West Virginia. There was construction on I-79 that forced us into a single lane and as we crossed an overpass, we hit a pothole and immediately heard the consequences of it. We have run-flats on our car which would normally allow us to drive a little bit on a flat tire safely, however the tire did not just go flat: it completely blew out on the side.
At that point we were just under an hour from my in-laws and some sleep. Instead, it turned into a 3 hour wait for a tow truck to take us back 90 minutes in the direction we had just come from. Roadside assistance took down my address wrong and was trying to find tow truck drivers in California to pick me up instead of WV since that’s where I was. Luckily Kaela was able to get a Lyft from our roadside assistance to take her back to a hotel while I waited for our driver to eventually come. Cue a tow to the dealer, my own Lyft ride to the hotel, and picking up a key from the front desk. Now at 2am I am finally in a room to clean up for bed and try to get any bit of sleep.
I woke up around 7am to try and get a run in before dealing with the car. The weather was much colder than I had packed for since I wasn’t planning on running near Pittsburgh that evening but a few hours south. The run was just overall not what a shakeout run was supposed to be the day before a race. Back at the hotel I got on the phone back and forth with the dealer to find out what the car situation was. They told me that they wouldn’t be able to get me on the road until about 5pm, and I calmly let them know that I needed to be in Delaware by 5pm. After a few calls and me about to call a rental company to get a car, they were able to find a tire on another vehicle on the lot and got me squared away.
We got on the road at about 11:30am and needed to head back the same way that caused us to have the delay in the first place. I vetoed that idea and instead we ended up taking some back roads with beautiful views in southeastern PA before making our way to I-68. The drive was smooth until we hit some traffic around Baltimore. After we got off the highway we hit some crazy traffic on a small road heading towards Annapolis, before making our way over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
Finally we seemed to have beat the traffic and had a clear shot to Dover.
I had never been to Delaware before but it had a Midwest vibe of flat fields of produce as far as you could see while on the country roads. As we headed into Dover it also had a small town feel. Being the state capital, I was surprised with how it felt like a classic small town. I was happy to finally be settled in when we arrived at our hotel. Well, that was until the next problem.
There was an issue with our reservation with Hotels.com where the card they used to book the room didn’t clear. So between having to call Hotels.com and then the guy at the front desk trying to call and get authorization for the charge, then cancelling the room to get a cheaper rate and all the follow up between the three of us, let’s just say we wasted another 90 minutes standing in the lobby of the hotel trying to get it sorted out. Standing that long the night before a race is a great idea, right?
We had brought pasta and sauce for me to make my pre-race meal thinking our suite would have a full kitchen but we were mistaken. There was only a stove top with no cookware. So while we waited the final few minutes for the room to get situated, Kaela called in a dinner order at Roma Italian which had been recommended to us a few times. Once we got into the room I turned back around to head to Dick’s Sporting Goods to pick up some gels, head to the starting line for packet pickup, then to pick up the to-go order. On the way back to the hotel I stopped to try and get a lottery ticket for the $1.2 billion jackpot but with the line out the door at every store I decided I would be fine letting someone else win the money.
Back at the hotel I started to eat my pre-race meal at around 8:30pm, just a handful of hours later than planned. The food was on point with crazy large portions and delicious garlic bread. I ate all that I could and Kaela recommended to save some for the next night and not stuff my face (she always knows best). I laid out my clothes and packed my gear bag that Kaela would carry before trying to just relax. Kaela has become a pro at reading course maps and figuring out the best locations to see me, so I just sat with her and let her do her thing.
The trip getting out here had been a nightmare but that was all behind me at this point. Why dwell on the past when there was nothing I could do about it? I needed to try and get a decent night sleep before tackling the road in the morning.
Waking up I actually felt quite rested.
I’m sure I had worn myself out the day before and once I hit the bed I was knocked out. Whatever it was, I was in a much better mood in the morning. One our favorite things about Home2 suites is the separation in the room so I can sit and go through my morning routine without completely disturbing Kaela. Bagels with jelly and a Honey Stinger waffle fueled my morning as I listened to my pre-race mix. The music helped soothed my frantic mind and gave me some peace.
I noticed in the weather that we were going to have a few showers early in the race but should have great weather the rest of the day. We made our way back to the start area, which I didn’t mention before was in front of the Dover International Speedway. We followed the line of cars heading into the parking lot before Kaela found a spot that she would be able to easily exit after the start. We were running a few minutes behind and they had already started the announcements before I had finished getting my shoes on and hopping out of the car. We stood for the national anthem, which always gets the eyes watered, before making my way to the start. The race actually started with one lap on the track and we were told that spectators would not be allowed on the track, so Kaela took my start photo, I tied my shoes and gave her and Bella a kiss before making the short walk to the track as the rain started to drizzle in.
As we approached the track I noticed the amount of families that were joining along and heading out on the track, but at that point Kaela had already made her way back to the car to get out of the rain and set up at her first stop. Through the gates we crossed the track and headed into pit row for the start. I set up about mid-way in the pack and did some dynamic stretches trying to shake out any stiffness I still had in my legs. As much as I tried to ignore it, the day prior was stuck in my head and had doubt creeping in before the starting gun went off. With an announcement of just one minute until the start, I said a quick prayer, took my start gel and told myself this is happening now so I might as well snap out of any funk and get after it.
The goal for the day was sub 4:30. Well, the goal for the weekend was back to back sub 4:30 but I knew it wasn’t going to be easy so I decided to take it one race at a time. Starting in pit row we had some flat ground but once we made it on the track, it quickly turned into a steep incline heading into the turn. You don’t realize how steep and wide a Nascar track is until you are actually running on it. I tried to stay at the bottom as much as I could but every once in a while I had to pop out to pass someone quickly. Shortly after the start I saw the 4:25 pacer and decided to sit with her knowing that would put me in under my goal and since it was on my arm it made it easy to follow the splits (less math = better race).
Her name was Oribel and she lives in Dover, so she knew the course and the town pretty well. We went through the typical “tell me about yourself” stories while we went around the track and before I knew it we had finished the first mile and were heading out towards the road. At about mile 2, I noticed Kaela and Bella on the side cheering us on and taking pictures. It was pretty quiet on the course due to the time in the morning, the weather not being the best, and also just being a relatively small town. Oribel had laid out each section of the course nicely for me to keep me prepared for what was going to be coming up. Our conversation helped me not think about the drama from the trip in or even the stiffness in my legs.
I was just enjoying my run.
I was the only person right with her chatting it up but I could see a few people that were keeping her in eyesight to make sure they were running their pace. Kaela was on the ball moving around the course and was set up again just before mile 4, not too far from our hotel. Around this time I needed to use the restroom and asked Oribel where the next porta-potty would be. She said should be at the next aid but wasn’t sure as they changed some of the locations this year. The aid stations were small but the volunteers were on point in keeping us hydrated throughout the race. I had my handheld on me partially to make sure I was staying hydrated on my schedule but mostly to carry my salt tabs in case of cramps later in the race. We wrapped around some neighborhood roads before crossing the main street through town. People driving must not have been expecting a marathon because they were not happy that traffic was at a standstill.
By mile 6 we had a good crew of 4 or 5 in the pace group as the crowd started to thin out with the 1/2 marathon folks splitting off from our course. At this point I still had not had the opportunity to use the restroom as the few porta-potties I did see had a line and I wasn’t about to lose this great group of runners to wait in a line. Just before mile 7 Kaela was set up at a turn just before an aid station. My body and mind were feeling great other than the fact that I felt like I was going to pee down my leg. I had enough of the waiting and just past the aid station was a light pole that had some high bushes around it that would provide all the cover I would need to relieve myself on the side of the road. I took off ahead of the group to get a little separation to allow time for my relief and not have to sprint to catch back up to them. Kaela drove by as I was getting back on the road. She noticed the separation and asked me why I had fallen behind, so I had to let her know what happened. She laughed then headed down the road telling me to speed up. I caught back up with the group and got back into my stride, feeling great at the 4:25 pace. I took a glance at my watch and realized we were just a little bit ahead of pace but I didn’t mind as it felt good.
We were finally out of the “city” and were going to spend the rest of the race out in the country suburbs of Dover and I was perfectly fine with the scenery. Just after mile 9 we turned on Main Street in the small town of Little Creek (population 220). Cars were parked on the side of the road and it was still open to traffic so we had to be careful from all directions not to get hit by a car or run into one. Kaela was set up at the end of the two mile out and back that started just before mile 10. Just before that I had realized I still had my wedding band on (a mistake that I paid for late in the race in Alabama) and I wanted to hand it to her and forgot on my way out. It was nice to see people coming back at us helping put in perspective where my group was at in the race. The smiles on the faces of runners let me know that I wasn’t waiting for some crazy hill at the end of this turn around like in Alaska.
Shortly after the turn around I felt like my shoe was just a little bit too tight for comfort and tried to ignore it, but it eventually got the best of me. After crossing the halfway timing mat, I stopped to tie my shoe as quickly as possible in order to prevent losing my group. In my rush, I could not get it together and had to tie them again because I didn’t take care of it the first time. At this point there was a decent separation but I knew how much the group had helped me keep the pace and I wasn’t wanting to do the second half on my own accord. I put my head down and tried to knock off the gap as smoothly as I could. Just before the turn at the end of the out and back, I caught back up to them and fell back into stride. I remembered to hand Kaela my ring at this point and was able to get that off my mind as well worrying about it cutting off circulation to my finger.
With just over half of the race behind us I was still feeling great, surprisingly running a 2:11:01 first half, well ahead of the goal.
We had picked up a few additional people to the group and lost a few as well. At this part of the course the wind started to pick up so we tried to stay in as much of a line as possible to block it out. I was in the front of the pack most of the time or side by side with Oribel. Since she was shorter than me, being behind her meant more wind in my face. I was pushing the pace and Oribel kept me in check holding to her pace. It was so peaceful surrounded by clear skies and fields on both sides of the road. Other than the strong wind gusts and the occasional car zooming by it was just a beautiful, relaxing run. Approaching mile 16 Kaela had parked on the side of the road and Oribel had given me the pace sign for some photo opportunities as we approached. We turned on to Long Point Road and this seemed to be a defining point for me in the race.
After passing the mile 16 marker, Oribel started to back off a little bit to get more in line with the pacing for a 4:25 finish to make sure she didn’t set those who had that as their goal up for failure. I noticed that my legs didn’t want to slow down and every so often I would pull away a little bit before having to pull myself back to the group. With the mile 17 marker in sight I decided not to look back this time and just kept with what felt right. Coming into the aid station I grabbed some Gatorade and as I turned the corner noticed that I had put a good amount of space between myself and the group. I made a decision then that I was going to make this my new pace and was going to need to gear down as I would be running the rest of this race by myself. And if that wasn’t enough I told myself that I would not let anyone pass me for the rest of the race as a motivation for me to hold this new pace no matter the discomfort or doubt.
Making my way around another bend we were surrounded by trees on both sides of the road and I saw Kaela again around 17.5. She gave me some words of encouragement as she saw I had broken from the group and was on my own. This was the last time that I would see her before the finish so I held on dearly to that encouragement. I popped a salt tab on schedule and made my way down the road. I started to do some quick math in my head (when will I learn my lesson?) and realized that if I could hold this pace I could end up with a negative split (where you run the second half of a race faster than the first). There was a lot of the race left but I felt confident that I could get it done.
I remembered from reviewing the course map that there were only a few turns left. I kept my eyes on every new person I could see in front of me and planned on how to pick them off one by one as the miles clicked off. We had joined back up with 1/2 marathon course for a little bit and I was able to get a little more encouragement picking off more people, even if they were walkers. My splits for mile 18 and 19 was in the 9:30s! The wind was gusting strong but I didn’t let it faze me and I ran with consistent effort for the next few miles.
Once I made my turn on Dyke Branch Road around mile 22, I started to feel it. I had too many people close by that I had recently passed and since I wasn’t going to let anyone pass me I kept at the pace. I was craving some Gatorade but when approached the aid station at mile 23, I came to the disappointment of red Gatorade. Not sure if I have brought this up before but me and red dyes don’t get along quite well so I just swished it around in my mouth to trick the body into thinking it was taking in carbs (thanks to my buddy Mike for that tip) and pushed on down the road. My pace was slowing down but I still was in the window for a negative split.
I could see the speedway in the distance but knew that it was going to take everything I had to get there in time. Around mile 25, I started to feel a slight cramp set in as I was pushing and decided that even though I was so close I was going to take another salt tab and that even if it was placebo it would help get me to the finish. I opened up my contact case where I carry any pills/tablets, and as I was putting it away I dropped the cap. I stopped for just a second and thought about leaving it on the ground but that would be littering so I did my best to bend down without completely locking up. I succeeded and just as I hoped it made me “feel better.”
Now the race director must be mean like I am with Hangry because the ending of the race was just rough. On what is a fairly flat course, you make a turn with about 1/4 mile left in the race that climbs a steep overpass. With each step my quads just wanted to lock up. They had no more energy to move me forward, much less up and forward. I welcomed the coasting downhill as I made my way down the road and into the finishers chute. As I approached the finish I looked at my watch and was pretty sure I still made the negative split but I wasn’t 100% sure (you know, because doing math while running is dumb). Tears filled my eyes as Kaela cheered me in because she knew I had hit my goal.
I was greeted with a big hug and a congrats. I was completely spent, but I got my negative split. Just as Kaela did in Kansas she reminded me that I had another race the next day and probably shouldn’t have gone out so hard but just like in Kansas I was feeling good and wasn’t going to waste that feeling. I waited for Oribel to finish and thanked her for getting me started on a great pace that was the main reason for my strong finish. I picked up some free pizza and beer before making my way to the car to get back to hotel to clean up and head out to the next race.
I had been looking at other races in Delaware and I am so glad that I found this one on a whim while searching. It was a well put on race with a beautiful course that made it everything that I hoped it would be. It turned my piss-poor attitude from the trip out there into a very positive experience. And I mean, my first ever negative split wasn’t a bad way to finish it either! If you want a great race with a small town feel and some relaxing scenery, I can not recommend this race enough.
Once I was all cleaned up and packed, we made our way north to leave Delaware and head over to the casino filled strip of Atlantic City, New Jersey!