Brandywine, XTERRA Atlantic, Race 1

April 3, 2013

The race started with over 80 participants gliding along a nice downhill stretch. Grassy fields quickly relinquished territory as runners disappeared into the forest. Incredibly, the rest of the 12k course was all uphill… or so it felt.

Brandywine Creek State Park in Wilmington, Delaware, played host to the first of four events in the XTERRA Atlantic Trail Race series. Having never been there, I welcomed an opportunity to run trails in a state I knew only for its sales tax exemption and weird way of pronouncing Newark. The northeast coastline had experienced some rain and snow throughout the week, but when day broke on Saturday morning there was sunshine with only a slight wind.

Beautiful Brandywine - Wilmington, Delware

Beautiful Brandywine – Wilmington, Delaware

Despite a chill at the start, I felt warm and ready to go. Not having done serious trail racing since my scholastic cross country days (a long time ago), I was apprehensive about some of the finer logistical points. My two biggest worries were trail etiquette and getting lost. What if I wanted to pass someone, but we were on a long stretch of single (one “lane”) track? Worse yet, what if I made a wrong turn and ended up in Pennsylvania? The uneasiness quickly disappeared over the course’s first mile, which allowed ample elbow room as everyone settled into a pace.

It was a fast first mile at 6:01. Then I hit the first of the climbs, just under 170 feet in less than a quarter-mile. It can be very tough to run a quick mile and then try to power up a steep incline against the grain of rocks and dirt. That was followed up by another similar hill less than a mile later. To have extreme muscle fatigue and thoughts of doubt so early in a race threatened to derail my morning. Shuffling up to the top, I felt good about keeping my mind positive.

The benefit of having two tough hills early on is that nothing felt quite as bad afterwards. I had run a 7:59 and 9:18 for the second and third miles respectively, but was having a great time. By about the 3.5 mile point in the race, I found myself alone with the trail. There were no runners visible in front or behind me. It would stay that way until I crossed the finish line.

Finally, the woods opened up and I was in a parking lot headed towards the bridge to cross back over Brandywine Creek and into the last major section of the race. There was a water stop and I moved close to grab some fluids and a gel packet. Sweating and aching I yelled to the three young gentlemen manning the station, “Thanks, guys! This tells me two things- I’m not lost and I’m not dead.” I heard their laughter as I raced off proudly into the distance.

A friendly race volunteer had warned me beforehand that the back half of this route was considered one of the area’s most challenging cross country courses. So it was fortunate that I harbored no false expectations that the last three miles–which doubled as the separate 5k race course– would be easy. The scenery though was quite appealing. The trail wound around alongside the creek for about a mile before the woods spit us back out into the park’s rolling green fields. After managing the fifth mile in 6:49, the final 2.5 miles exceeded a seven minute pace. For much of that last half mile I peered around hilly turns looking for the finish line, while simultaneously thinking of a few choice words, none appropriate to share with my (ex-)buddy, the race director, for his course layout.

In 11th place overall out of 88 finishers for the 12k, I crossed the line at 55:45. For such a challenging 12k course and my first race since New Year’s Day, I was extremely pleased with how it all turned out. The race was very engaging, with a route perfectly marked throughout. Aid stations were well placed and amply supplied. The finish line area was complete with runners sharing battle stories, re-hydrating, sampling PowerBar energy blasts gel filled chews (delicious), and cheering on other competitors. Overall, the day was a great success.

Now I am ready to lace up again for race number two. The XTERRA Atlantic series moves to Seneca Creek Park on April 6, in Gaithersburg, Maryland for 10k and 5k courses that are sure to maintain the momentum from Brandywine. Hope to see you out there!

Finish Line Fun, Adventure Geek XTERRA Style

Finish Line Fun, Adventure Geek XTERRA Style

XTERRA Brandywine finisher medal

Bringing home the hardwood, literally – XTERRA Brandywine finisher medal



  1. Haha in Pennsylvania. Always a joker!

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