Delaware: Triple Crown Marathon

The Triple Crown Marathon takes place in White Clay Creek State Park near Newark, DE. The marathon course is two loops of the half marathon, which means four crossings of White Clay Creek. The year I ran, it was knee deep and very cold.

Total elevation gain for the marathon is 2,290′ but that includes two wrong turns. The start area at Carpenter Recreation Area is just over 2 miles from the University of Delaware campus and closest hotel. Newark, DE was about a 45 minute drive from PHL.

elevation
A few hills.

After pacing a friend to her first 50 mile finish, my goal for 2016 was to attempt the same distance. I planned to run several trail marathons and maybe a 50k as training runs to build up for the Brazos Bend 50 and to visit a few states. I searched marathonguide.com to find races. The TCM fit with my schedule and looked not too scary in terms of elevation or terrain. The most appealing aspect was the lack of any time limit. My biggest concerns were how well the trail would be marked and how deep the “creek” would be.  Since finishing the race, I’ve found a better map from the RD:

TCM map
Schematic map from RD’s website (https://www1.udel.edu/johnmack/frec682/triple_crown/half_bare_map.png)

The actual map for the year I ran it is slightly different, but thinking of the course as running out along one side of a string of 4 beads and back along the other side was a good tip from the race website.

tcm garmin
And the actual (ignore the short out & back to the left of the back dot because I ignored the paper plate markings and took a detour).

I flew into PHL the day before the race and stayed at the hotel on campus closest to the start line. I drove over to the park to see where the start would be and what parking looked like. I knew the marathon would be a small race (typically 25 – 40 finishers) but that there would be many more for the half-marathon, 10k, 5k, and the triple crown challenge. I found the start without a problem and there was absolutely no sign that a race would take place the next day. That was unnerving for someone used to bigger events. The trails looked nice and the dogwoods were beautiful. I went back to the hotel to try and sleep. I slept well until around 2am when I felt a small bug or something on my face. I flipped out and turned on all of the lights in a panic to find the bug and his friends but never saw anything. I guess I was a little nervous about my first solo trip for a trail race.

Race report: I got to the start about half an hour early and there was plenty of parking. The line for bib pickup was short and volunteers had already set up coffee and some pastries. The bathrooms were warm and there wasn’t a line until about 10 minutes before the half marathon start. The marathon started 10 minutes after the half. There was a brief pre-race talk, a countdown from 10, and we were off. We started across a field and took a turn into a more wooded area. We were to follow red (or blue?) paper plates stapled to trees for the outbound trip and blue (or red?) paper plates for the return. I had studied the state park maps enough to recognize most of the trail names but didn’t need to with the markings. The first aid station came up quickly and had plenty of cheering volunteers. The next point of interest was the creek crossing – this year it was not quite knee deep and wonderfully cold. Volunteers were on either side to help us in and out of the creek. It was a wide crossing. Shortly after that was a hill on narrow dirt and rooty singletrack with tall foliage on either side. This was the image I’d always had in mind for trail running and it was amazing! The terrain varied from that narrow, green singletrack to wider sections of rock, gravel, or broken asphalt.

We had been warned in advance that the aid station volunteers would leave their stations by noon but would leave any leftover food and supplies out for us. Anticipating a slow race, I went to my car after the first loop and grabbed my own food for the second loop. It turned out that I shouldn’t have bothered. Although the volunteers for the last two stations had left, there was plenty of food (jelly beans, chips, salted potatoes, coke!) left for the back of the pack. The second loop was a little slower than the first but not by much. Part of the slowdown was due to me being distracted talking to others who were running in all 50 states, but these guys were on their 2nd and 5th rounds of the states. I somehow missed a paper plate marker after going ahead without them and realized it about half a mile later. I caught up to them and and a few others on the second loop and ended up finishing not quite DFL. Another runner and I finished the last 3 miles together and handed the strips torn from the bottom of our bibs over to the RD who noted the stopwatch time as we crossed the approximate finish line and then posted our strips on the board with all of the other finishers. We were given a coffee mug with a little medal and a potluck buffet.

There were plenty of other finishers who welcomed us to the post-race party but I had to fit in some sightseeing before leaving town the next day.

Off trail: You may feel like a dork when you realize how silly it is to be freaked out by a bug the night before going to play in a forest for hours.

Other runners may not be as excited that you repeatedly RUN ACROSS A STATE LINE in a race unless they are also from Texas.

Two scoops from that ice cream place in Reading Terminal is warranted after a good trail run. If you feel bad about it, you can always spend some time in the nearby penitentiary.

Eastern State
Eastern State Penitentiary – one of the oldest prisons in the US.

This was my first trip after saying goodbye to the Athletic Supporter. I had become convinced that the AS was necessary and supportive in my life despite over a decade of chafing and poor fit. This trip was several months after life without the AS had started and it was wonderful to finally run free. I strongly recommend re-evaluation of an AS – just because it claims it is supportive does not mean it is.

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