Wilmington Half Marathon Race Recap
Races are back, baby! Maybe it’s just been too long since I’ve been able to enjoy a race with friends, but this past weekend was so much fun! Franklin finished his first race since 2017 (no joke!) and snagged a BQ with 17 minutes to spare. And I took on the half to test my fitness in the buildup to Grandma’s Marathon in June.
The marathoners kicked off at 6:00 am before the sun was officially up. Our condo was right on the course so I was able to step outside and see Franklin off before beginning my warmup. I jogged the last couple of miles of the race to become more familiar with the zig zags leading into the finish. I had run on the Riverwalk boardwalk many times when I was working and staying in Wilmington a few years back. I knew it would be difficult to run fast on this section so it was great to refresh my memory and make note of the other turns downtown and where I would need to jump on and off sidewalks.
After swinging by the condo one last time, I did a few quick drills followed by strides, then made my way to the temperature check-in. Spread out amongst the other wave one runners, I had a little over 10 minutes to wait for our start. About five minutes out, I took a caffeinated Maurten gel. (Earlier in the morning, I drank a little more than half a bottle of Maurten 160 and ate a Clif Bar with coffee for breakfast.)
As I stepped up to the starting line another woman joined me. She introduced herself as Victoria and asked me what I was looking to run. I told her 1:17 – 1:18 with a plan to start around 6:00 minutes per mile and then work it down. She said she was looking to do about the same, so it was decided that we’d start together.
Once the gun went off, I quickly discarded my mask in one of the trashcans they had set out for us for this purpose. Almost immediately, my pre-race nerves vanished. I was thankful to have Victoria beside me to share the miles. We passed safely across the cobblestone that made up the first stretch of the course and up a short, steep hill to hit Front Street. The first mile was perfectly paced with my watch coming in at 6:01 and Victoria’s in 5:59.
We then rolled slightly downhill on a straight section of the course as we worked our way towards Greenfield Lake. The effort was about the same with the pace perhaps quickening a little with the descent.
By the third mile, I was feeling warmed-up and began slightly working the pace down. I was finding a rhythm that felt like the right effort – a little quicker than marathon pace but not so fast that I’d get in over my head. I really wanted to have a good race that I could finish strong so I was careful to not try to bank time.
By this point, we had hit the loop around the lake and had begun passing the slower marathon runners. The original course would have taken runners from the coast to downtown Wilmington, but race directors made the smart decision to create a special loop course this year so that busing to the start (or from the finish) wasn’t required. From what I heard, City Officials rejected numerous course options before finally approving the one we ran on Saturday. The marathoners ran the course twice and the half marathoners just once. Since the marathoners had double the distance to cover and an April race has the potential to get very warm, it made sense that they would have to start first. I had been worried before the race about getting stuck behind slower runners, but for the most part, it wasn’t bad. I actually really enjoyed the loop course and passing people. If it had been another year, it would have been rather lonely running the original point-to-point course, but I had a great time seeing my husband, friends, and fellow runners out there. It brought so much more energy to my race.
A little before mile 6, we hit the turnaround. Fortunately, I had watched the pre-race video that described how we would jump up on a sidewalk, then run off onto the grass and around a large tree instead of running around an orange cone in the road. I think the intention was to make the turn more gradual, but I’m not sure if it made it any easier. Like a few other points in the course, it was tight so Victoria jumped behind me and we ran single file as we went off road. It’s easy for me to slow down when a course gets more technical so I was trying to keep moving, but then I ran up behind the lead female cyclist as he tried to make the turn around the tree. It was a bit of a flashback to the Marathon Project when we would have a bit of a traffic jam running around the cul-de-sacs. It was funny though hearing the race volunteers cheering at the cyclist to hurry up! We got back onto the roads and when Victoria pulled up beside me, I let out a “whew!” I am definitely not an off-road racer!
Shortly after our turnaround adventure, Victoria fell back slightly. I am not positive, but I think she was taking a gel. I first expected her to pop back up beside me but after a few moments, I realized that I was probably left to run the rest of the race by myself.
I pulled out a gel myself a little after mile 6 since I was thinking that the water station should be around 6.5. I ran with my caffeinated Maurten in my hand for a while. I almost thought I had somehow missed the station when I finally saw it around another bend in the road. Technically, you don’t need water for Maurten gels, but I still prefer to take mine with. I may not have really needed a gel in the half, but I always feel like taking at least one is smart practice for the marathon. It also feels nice to check it off as progress towards the finish line.
My legs and breathing were still feeling good. It was overcast, and I was thankful that the sun wasn’t shining down brightly. I was passing more runners and pretending to chase the lead cyclist up ahead.
It was great being done with the lake section and headed back towards the heart of downtown. When I hit mile 10, I knew I was closing in on it. I thought of all the 20-minute tempos that I had done so far in training this cycle, and it was comforting knowing that I had less than that left.
The course was flattish, but it had some gentle elevation changes. I actually enjoyed the variety even if it made it not quite as fast. Mile 11 had a slight climb to it, but there was a good amount of downhill once I made the final 180-degree turn at the north-end of the course. I remember letting it rip as I pounded down a short descent towards the Riverwalk. I never really trust my Garmin when I’m not on a straight course, but I know I picked it up and started pushing those last couple of miles despite the crooked course (which did provide beautiful waterfront pictures).
I finished as the first female in 1:17:13, officially a new half marathon PR. I was happy with the time given the course/training, but I was most excited about how strong I felt doing it. The race has definitely given me confidence that training should be on the right track for Grandma’s, which is now less than 9 weeks away!
Photo below is of my Charlotte friends that made the trip to race in the Port City! A fun time was had by all!