I honestly had no idea that Delaware was so beautiful.
I’m probably biased since I grew up in Chicago, but whenever I think about Delaware, colonial towns and historic buildings and monuments are pretty much the only things that come to mind. Delaware was the first state, after all, so what else would be there?
Now, don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a bad thing at all. I’m a history geek, so when I signed up for the Coastal Delaware Running Festival last fall, the thought of running through a colonial town was pretty cool. I was just a bit shocked when I got there because I wasn’t expecting to find miles of beautiful beaches, national parks, and wildlife refuges. And yes, I’m fully aware that the name of the race has the word “Coastal” right in it. I just couldn’t get the images of the original 13 colonies from my high school history books out of my head. I was pleasantly surprised though.
Coastal Delaware Running Festival
Named after Admiral George Dewey who fought in the Spanish-American War, Dewey Beach has appeared on various maps of Delaware for over 150 years. It wasn’t officially incorporated until 1981 though. The town sits on a small strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Rehoboth Bay. And when I say small, I really mean it. The entire town is about one mile long and two blocks wide and has a population of 341. Part time residents and tourists make up the majority of the economy though and it’s not uncommon for crowds of up to 30,000 people to visit the city during summer weekends.
The Coastal Delaware Running Festival was recently named Delaware’s number 1 marathon by TripAdvisor due to its scenic location and flat, fast course. I can definitely see why – I really enjoyed this race. Besides the half marathon course, there are also marathon and 9K courses, all of which start and end in Dewey Beach. The marathon and half marathon courses also go through parts of the towns of Rehoboth Beach and Lewes.
Race Expo / Organization
The Coastal Delaware Running Festival is not a very big race. The entire event attracts about 1400 Runners total (just over 300 for the marathon and 9K and just under 800 for the half). So the expo is fairly small but it’s a comparable size to the number of runners: there are maybe four or five vendors, along with packet pickup and an information booth where you show your ID and get a wristband for beer at the finish line festival the next day.
There’s actually a benefit to the race and the expo being as small as they are. After spending a little bit of time in Dewey Beach, I got the feeling that the race was sized perfectly. Not only is the town itself small, but it’s next to impossible to find parking in Dewey Beach when the crowds get really large. You might be able to find a decent open spot alongside the road here or there but most of the best parking spots are privately owned and the town is pretty strict about towing cars who don’t have the proper parking permits. So when it comes to the expo, making sure that runners are able to get in and out quickly to make sure that there’s a steady stream of open parking spots was probably pretty high on the priority list for the race organizers.
On race morning, there are a few options for parking. The first is to park at the finish line and take a shuttle to the start. This option is a lot more convenient after the race, but since the finish line is in town, unless you get there early (at least an hour and a half before the race), you might have trouble finding a spot. The other option is to park at the start line and take a shuttle bus to the finish line after the race. There’s plenty of parking available at the start line but of course the downside to this is that when you finish the race, you’ll have to take a bus to get back to your car. So your best bet is not to drive on race day at all. Stay at one of the hotels in Dewey Beach and take your time walking over to the shuttle stop in front of the Hyatt on race morning.
The parking situation is the only challenging part of the weekend, and I would say that this isn’t the race organizers’ fault. Parking is always going to be challenging when that many people converge on a town that small. Other than that, the race organizers did a great job with the resources they had available. The course is laid out nicely, mile markers are clearly visible there are plenty of water tables, port-a-potties, and the start and finish lines are easy find and navigate around.
The marathon, half marathon and 9K courses all start in the same place. The start line is in a state park on Tower Road off of coastal drive. It’s a scenic area with a nice view of the ocean.
The races start a half hour apart and the half marathon was divided into two corrals. Essentially anyone who could finish the race in 2 hours or less was in corral 1 and anyone that would take longer was in corral 2. The courses all head north on Route 1 through the town of Dewey Beach, past Silver Lake. Around Mile 2 1/2, the 9K course splits off and does a smaller loop back towards the finish line, while the marathon and half marathon courses head East towards the Rehoboth Boardwalk.
Mile 3-4 are on the boardwalk and this was one of my favorite parts of the course. The boardwalk is similar to other coastal city boardwalks: a long stretch of wooden planks with shops and restaurants on one side and the ocean on the other. Running on it felt great though. With the race being so early in the morning and also so early in the season, none of the shops were open yet. So there were some people gathered alongside the boardwalk to watch the runners, but mostly we ran alongside the ocean and listened to the waves crashing against the shore the entire time. It was really peaceful. I could run all day in an area like that.
After the boardwalk, both courses continue north towards Gordons Pond, which is where the turnaround point is for the half marathon. The marathon course continues North through Cape Henlopen State Park and down the Junction and Breakwater Trail before meeting back up with the half marathon course around mile 21 (which is mile 8 for the half). This part of the course goes through some quiet residential areas before heading south down the boardwalk again. It then heads back around the North side of Silver Lake, and towards the finish line in Rehoboth Bay. At around mile 23 / 10, the marathon and half marathon courses meet back up with the 9K course and all three courses finish in the same place.
This is one of the flattest courses I’ve done in a long time. It’s easily just as flat as Chicago or Philadelphia, with the added benefit of part of the course going alongside the ocean. The small crowd and beach environment also help to keep the atmosphere laid back so if you’re a beginning runner and you’re looking for a good place to do your first marathon or half marathon, you should take a close look at this one. The marathon course is also a Boston Qualifier, and with it being so flat, if you’re looking for a BQ or a PR, there’s a good chance you’ll get one here.
There’s also good crowd support at the Coastal Delaware Running Fest. Crowds line the streets to cheer runners on during for the first mile, last mile, and also along the boardwalk. There are also some pretty good sized crowds alongside the parts of the courses that go through residential areas.
Post Race / Bling
After the race, there’s a big beach party with lots of beer (each runner gets three beer tickets on their race bib). There’s also a buffet at the Lighthouse Cove, live music, and an award ceremony.
The medals have the race name and date along with some coastal scenes (lighthouses, boats, waves, etc…). Besides the medals, runners also get a Beach Towel and a Blue Short Sleeve Technical Shirt. Also the first 1000 runners to sign up got a cotton training shirt in the mail a few months before the race.
Getting To Dewey Beach
If you don’t live in the area and you’re planning on flying in, here are a couple things to make sure of:
- You know in advance that you’re going to need to rent a car.
- You give yourself time to get to the expo. The expo is open until 9pm, so the chances of missing it are pretty slim, but it takes a couple hours to get to Dewey Beach from the closest airport so a later flight would be ill-advised.
In order to get to Dewey Beach, you have to fly into Philadelphia, take I-95 South to Route 1 and then spend a little over an hour and a half driving across Delaware. Now, if you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know that one of my travel tips is that sometimes you can find a nearby city with cheaper flights and then just suck it up and drive for an hour instead of flying directly in to the city where the race is. That’s not an option in this case. There simply is no other major airport closer to Dewey Beach. There are a couple small general aviation airports in Delaware but they’re for propeller planes. Your only other option is to fly into Baltimore but the drive from Baltimore is even longer than the drive from Philadelphia. So regardless of whether or not you’re flying, plan on at least a partial road trip to get to this race.
As far as where to stay, it’s definitely cheaper to stay in Bethany Beach or one of the other neighboring towns, but if you do that, you’ll have plan on getting up early on race day because of the parking situation. The hotels in Dewey Beach are more expensive, but you’ll also be able to leave your car in the parking lot on race day and just walk everywhere you need to go. The host hotel is the Hyatt Place. It’s right next to the finish line and the race expo and it’s also where the shuttle stop to get to the start line is, so it’s definitely the most convenient option (although it’s also the most expensive).
If you do want to look for a less expensive option though, check out the Holiday Inn Express in Bethany Beach. I stayed there and I was pretty happy with the hotel. Getting up early to make sure I could find a parking spot on race morning wasn’t bad either.
Things to Do
If you’re looking for something to do on race weekend, the most obvious choice is to hang out at the beach. The water is still a little cold in early May so you probably won’t be able to swim, but you can definitely relax with a drink and enjoy the atmosphere. You can also go fishing or visit any of the number of state parks and wildlife refuges in the area.
The towns of Lewes and Rehoboth Beach also have some natural history museums that you can check out. If you want to head out a little early, you can take a tour of the Dover Air Force Base or see the first State Capitol building and a few other historical sights on your way back to Philadelphia.
For places to eat, I have two suggestions:
- Stop by Mickey’s in Bethany Beach and have a crab quesadilla or some lobster (you’ll always find the best seafood in towns like this).
- If you want a burger and a beer after the race, Scully’s Oceanside Cafe in Dewey Beach has excellent Bison or Angus Burgers.
The Coastal Delaware Running Festival is a great race that’s held during a great time of year. I’ve heard that the beaches in Delaware get extremely crowded from June through August but in May, the crowds aren’t as big yet. This gives runners more opportunities to explore Dewey Beach. The weather was perfect too. The sun came out towards the end of the race and the temperatures started t warm up a bit but it never got hotter than the mid 60’s on race day. The course is also flat and fast and the entire event has a laid back “beach party” atmosphere. Not only was this a great running experience, but it allowed me to see another side of Delaware that I never even knew existed.