Monday, October 17, 2011

The Detroit Free Press Marathon

I guess my first post to the new blog will be a big one and therefore anti-climatic. A few other blogging runner's begin to write at the start of their training. Not me. Nope. About 4 months ago, I started training for my biggest running achievement to date - my first half marathon. It was a slow-and-steady kind of training that started to lose momentum towards the end, but I stuck with it. Now I can say I earned the right to put one of those cheesey "13.1" oval stickers on my car. I haven't, but I earned the right to. Moving on...
The day started at 4:30 AM. I got up, came downstairs, woke up Emily, my running partner/sister-in-law, and got a move on. I wasn't sure if I was going to go with pants or shorts as I train with both and it was about 45 out that morning, but I went with the shorts; pants are for sub 40. A banana and a Mojo Cliff Bar later, we arrived downtown. I knew it was a huge event, but when you're joining up with your fellow 20,000 colleagues and their cheer support, its really put into perspective.

We met up with the third of our "team", Anthony, near our corrals. Warmed up, shook loose the nerves and dropped off any "extra luggage". At about 6:30 AM we headed off to our respective corrals. I bumped into a old coworker, who happened to be in my corral and we kept company until our start. Being in one of the last corrals, our wave started around 7:20. The airhorn sounded and I was off - alone amongst thousands of others.
The first 2 miles are kind of tough, but not because of terrain or anything like that. You're trying to adjust your pace, meanwhile you have to weave in and out of everyone else as they do the same - people that started behind you are trying to pass you, while you, yourself are trying to pass the slower-paced people who started in front of you. Meanwhile, everyone is shedding their throw-away warm-ups. Its a chaotic 2 miles, despite being straight and flat.

Mile 2 is where I saw my first cheer support, Anthony's wife and her parents were there to cheer me on as I entered the toll gate for the Ambassador Bridge. By mile 2, I'm usually warmed up and set in my ways, which is good, because its also where the course's terrain becomes its worse. We get bottle-necked into a 20 ft wide, pothole, ankle-killing, rock and dirt path as we cirlce our way to the bridge. I'm relieved to see pavement again, but now I'm looking up at the climb to the bridge's halfway point. Ah crap, thats right. While Detroit is fairly flat, no bridge is; Especially a mile long one crossing the windy Detroit river. To add to matters, there was construction and it smelled like raw sewage. I popped in my earbuds and turned my iPod on for some motivating Daft Punk. At the peak of the bridge, I noticed I passed the 10:30 pacer. My goal was an 11:00 pace, so after I took advantage of the 1/2 mile decline, I slowed up a bit; besides my bladder was full from the pre-race water.
I took a pee-break at the 4.5 mark (er 7.24 km, I'm in the Great White North now, eh). Because this was the only Porta-John in the middle of a 5 mile stretch, it was busy enough that I had to wait in line. 5 minutes later and a few ounces lighter I was back on course, running down Riverside Drive.
Riverside Drive is the most picturesque stretch of the course. There are parks with sculptures and the Detroit skyline in the background all the while, the most friendly Canadiens are roadside, cheering you on. It goes by pretty fast and before I knew it, I was descending under the river in the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. I took off my top layer while on the river to reveal my neon yellow tanktop. Soon after it sprinlked, making me regret doing so, that is until I entered the hot and humid tunnel. I was glad I shed the layer because I could tell others were not handling the heat well. I managed to pass quite a few people in there. As I surfaced, there were speakers's blaring "Born in the USA" and a banner welcoming everyone back. Just about everyone jumped up to smack the banner, me included.
Over 8 miles behind me and back stateside, I begin to look for my family. Its really great to take in the crowds, total strangers cheering on total strangers. Signs of support and motivation. One read "I know it hurts, but if you quit now, the pain will last much longer." Meanwhile an older man putting on his best Rob Scnieder voice and reading the names off our bibs was yelling "You can do it!" The course turns down behind Cobo, where the Turkey Trot would end, but if this were a 10k, Id be back in Canada drinking a Blue, eating Timbits. Not many people around to cheer in this stretch, but as I passed the mile 9 marker and turned the corner, I spotted my wife, mother-in-law and Jack (who was sleeping). It gave me a boost as I headed towards Mexicantown.
Entering Mexicantown, I knew three things. First, I passed 10 miles - the longest I've ever ran. Second, after Mexicantown, its just a short jog through Corktown before the final stretch. Third, despite being the longest distance I ever ran, I felt good and decided to pick up the pace a little. High points of the two residential areas were Chrissy's poster for Anthony "Anth, if Oprah can do it, so can you!", the Mariachi band and all the people on their porches having parties and cheering everyone on.

Turning onto Michigan Ave with a mile to go I again picked up the pace, but this time I put all the energy I had left into it. Surprisingly, there was a lot more left in the tank than I thought and my chip split time proves it. I ran a sub 7:00 final mile. Turning back onto Fort with the finish line in sight, I gave it my all to the end. Finished! The clock read 2:41, so I knew I came in within my goal of 2:30. The volunteers wrapped me in foil and placed my medal around my neck and I felt like a million bucks. I also felt like I could eat an entire chinese buffet, so I headed to the food table. Amongst all other things that I ate, I must say that was the greatest muffin and chocolate milk I had ever tasted.
I turned back to the finish line to spot Emily, but I missed her. She made it under 3:00, though, which was the goal I gave her. We met up with Chrissy and her mom and cheered on Anthony, who finished his first full marathon. First thing he said, "F#&%. I am never doing that again." But he admitted by the time he got to his car, he was already planning how to improve for next time. For me, it may be the runner's high, but I'm convinced I'll be entering for the full 26.2 next year.

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