Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del), ready for his 28th attempt, had made his traditional tongue-in-cheek pre-race speech. He declared that Rodney, the decisive Colonial signer of the Declaration of Independence, had made his ride from Dover to Philadelphia "so that we could run this race today as free men and free women, and hopefully fast men and fast women and fast kids."
And then, more than 1,600 were off, liberated -- on this 47th edition of Delaware's longest-running footrace -- from the wind and chill that usually greets mid-March Caesar Rodney competitors.
Only legs, not noses, were running.
"Warmest ever," said Wilmington's Bill Rhodunda as he was about to embark on his 25th such tour. Not one to tempt fate, he still was wearing gloves -- which looked odd on a man wearing a tank top -- for the 9:30 a.m. start in mid-50s temperatures.
A gray T-shirt came flying out of the gathering and landed on the sidewalk as the race commenced and pack moved forward. The peeling of layers could not wait.
Few seemed to mind the sudden onset of mild weather, which was a week in the making. That included the race's eventual winners.
Joe Halin, 28, of Haddonfield, N.J., put some distance on the field soon after its early trip down through the Riverfront. He was already well ahead by the time runners charged back up toward downtown on Walnut Street.
He would eventually cross the finish line at Rodney Square on Market Street, adjacent to the doors into the DuPont Theatre, in 1 hour, 10 minutes, 25 seconds.
Runner-up Steven Gourley, 31, of Sellersville, Pa., was well behind in 1:11:40. He was followed by a pair of Delaware runners -- 2009 champion Kyle Carrick, 28, of Greenville in 1:11:46 and Mark Vilardo, 36, of Bear in 1:12:05. Steve Sinko, 33, of Hockessin, was sixth in 1:13:19.
Halin was running his first Caesar Rodney, and chose it as a means of forcing himself to train through the winter, which was difficult for every runner.
"This got me motivated to go out on those snowy days," he said. "It was so tough to get out there. I work at a running store, the Moorestown Running Company, and a lot of our customers, about 25 of them, ran today. They're all training for Boston [April 19 marathon]. When you're around those guys and girls on a weekly basis, and they're talking about Caesar Rodney, getting ready for Boston, it's nice to kind of go along with them. Those are the two main reasons I was out here.
"What a great day. I think this was close to perfect. Maybe a little bit cooler would have been better, but I'm not complaining."
Halin had run a 5K that covered a portion of the CR course late last year. But his running-store friends had adequately briefed him on the route's many ups and downs, including the hellacious final quarter-mile climb up Market Street to the finish.
"Working at the running store, I didn't even have to be here," he said. "I knew about every turn. I heard about this final hill, which, by the way, it's everything everyone said it was. I was prepared for it. But, after running 13 miles, it doesn't matter how mentally prepared for it you are. It's brutal."
His time was a personal record, nearly four minutes faster than what he turned in on the significantly flatter Philadelphia Distance Run route. He's lighter and more fit now.
"How I broke down the course was, the first five miles were going to be easy," added Halin, a South Jersey native who attended Appalachian State University. "You get to eight miles, it's all downhill [back through Rockford and Brandywine parks]. For me, it wasn't about this last hill. It was about those back hills [up through Brandywine and Rockford on the way out toward Greenville and the turnaround point]. That's where I had to be mentally tough, because after that, you can really fly."
Race director Wayne Kursh believed it was the warmest Caesar Rodney day since the race was held in the afternoon on April 1, 1979. He was thrilled with the turnout. The race is sponsored by Citizens Bank and benefits the American Lung Association's Delaware chapter.
There were 1,494 finishers, so the warmth might have cost a few the finish.
"People have more time on their hands with the economy the way it is," Kursh said, "and they're running more. It's an outlet for them. Even in these big races, you can network a little bit. That's my feeling. The economy is bad but our numbers are so way up in races. This is $50 [pre-registration], but people point to it. It's a goal. When I started seeing the numbers [after the snowy winter], I was in shock. Where the heck did these people train? You couldn't train outside because of the snow. A lot of people had obviously taken it indoors."
On Sunday, the outdoors provided a welcoming oasis, even if it demanded running across 13.1 miles.
Cherokee grad Halin wins Caesar Rodney Half Marathon
Cherokee High School graduate Joe Halin, shown here in the final mile (photo courtesy of Douglas Panzer), after he had dropped the field, beat more than 1,500 runners Sunday at the 47th annual Caesar Rodney Half-Marathon in Wilmington.
Halin covered the 13.1-mile course in 1:10:25 - that's 5:22 mile pace. He beat runner-up Steven Gourley of Sellersville by more than 300 meters. Gourley ran 1:11:40.
"I knew I was in good shape based on the workouts I've been doing," Halin said. "I started eating better, and I've lost about 10 pounds, too, and that definitely helped.
"The key workout for me is the Haddonfield Running Company Wednesday night group run. It's about 6.5 miles, and I use it as a time trial.The course is as hilly as South Jersey gets."
Halin broke away from a pack and took the lead about four miles in, so he had to run the last nine miles or so solo, which is never easy. But he did have a nice cheering section.
"The course loops back, so I had a lot of people cheering for me," he said. "Probably about 25 people that run and shop at Moorestown Running Company were running, and they were all going nuts for me. I train by myself, so it wasn't a big deal running alone."
Halin's previous half marathon PR was a 1:14 over the faster, flatter Philadelphia Half Marathon course. He said he'll probably run the Broad Street 10-Miler in Philadelphia in May with his eye on a fall marathon.
The 28-year-old Halin won the 1999 state Group 4 cross country championship at Holmdel County Park and placed 11th and 13th in the Meet of Champions XC race his last two years at Cherokee. He was also Burlington County Open champ in the 3,200-meter run.
Halin ran for Appalachian State after he graduated from Cherokee and now is a manager at the Moorestown Running Company.