Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Detroit Free Press Marathon 2015 race report

This race.

After months of SI joint pain and then IT band pain, I almost didn’t start. My last 20-miler was 11 weeks beforehand. I had done a 16-miler 5 weeks beforehand. I quit my next two scheduled long runs early and then didn’t run for two whole weeks. My longest run the month beforehand had been a whopping 4 miles; that was one of only six runs that entire month.

But after two weeks completely off running I went for two test runs of 2 miles each, at an easy pace on the treadmill, and had no pain. So I was hopeful. I’m nothing if not practical, so I figured I’d give it a try to, if nothing else, not waste my hard-earned money. My goals were A. a PR, B. faster than last year, C. not set a personal worst, and D. finish upright.

I had a work event all day Saturday so I hit the expo about an hour before it closed on Friday. I picked up my packet, stocked up on Gu, and bought another t-shirt, commemorating the world’s only underwater mile. You hit mile 8 while running under the Detroit River, crossing from Canada back into the U.S., so I thought to myself, “I have to make it to at least mile 8 to be able to wear this shirt.”

By that time it was already getting late, so my husband and I decided to hit up one of the local casino’s buffets for dinner. I had a craving for sushi but also had the usual buffet fare of cheese, peel-and-eat shrimp, prime rib, mashed potatoes, and ice cream. Not the healthiest but it sure tasted yummy and there were plenty of carbs on my plate. =)

I was up early Saturday to hit the farmer’s market and make breakfast before my work event, which wrapped up late in the afternoon. I spent the next couple of hours updating my iPod, figuring out what I was going to wear, and gathering all my Gu, chapstick, earbuds, etc. I had a simple dinner of a hamburger and some fries ordered in from the local BBQ joint, and tried to go to bed early. I was tired enough from the day that I got a decent night’s sleep.

The race starts at 7 a.m. but I live about a mile and a half away, so I slept in until about 5:15 a.m., made coffee and microwaved a sweet potato, used the bathroom, etc. I ended up eating about half the potato and a banana with some sunflower seed butter, and started working on a bottle of watered-down Gatorade after I finished my coffee. I also took 600 milligrams of ibuprofen.

The weather was low 30s with decent wind gusts. Because I am a cold weather wuss, and because I knew I would be generating less body heat if I was forced to walk, I decided to err on the side of bundling up: I layered on running socks under wool socks; thin tights under thermal tights; a long short-sleeved tech tee, a long-sleeved tech tee, and a running jacket with a collar I could flip up; and thick gloves and hat. I figured if I really got too hot, I could just unzip my jacket and take off the hat. I had my bib attached to a race belt and a Running Buddy magnetic pocket to carry my passport (just in case), phone (again, just in case) and extra Gu and Sport Beans.

Side note: I deliberately picked the long-sleeved tech tee from the 2013 Freep marathon, when I set my PR. I figured I could use some of the luck that shirt brought me. =)

My husband dropped me off at about 6:40 a.m. and that turned out to be a bit too late. I had trouble finding a break in the gate to sneak into the corral, and people behind me were trying to cut in line. I was borderline rude in telling a lady behind me, “I’m actually trying to get through as well” when she tried to push through, but once the first waves went off the crowd thinned a bit and we all found our appropriate place eventually. I had registered to be in the four-hour corral, but jumped in around where the 4:25 pacer had lined up, and it was fine.

I still had about half the bottle of watered-down Gatorade and another banana, which I ate while waiting for my wave to kick off. Hilariously, I tried to throw the banana peel into a trash can outside the corral, totally missed, and almost hit a lady walking by. I apologized and luckily she thought it was funny. I’m sure she didn’t expect to almost be hit by a flying banana peel while waiting to cheer on her runner. Also, I lost a glove while waiting to start. I was ticked off because it was one of my favorite REI gloves; plus, what was I going to do if my hands get cold? Switch the one glove from hand to hand? Very luckily for me, I found it on the ground shortly afterward, only a few people over. Also, it randomly SNOWED on us for about two minutes as we were waiting to go. I was very happy for my extra layers.

Two countries, one race.
Banana eaten, gloves secured, iPod ready to go, I crossed the start line about 16 minutes after the first gun. Right from the start, I tried to hug the right side, just in case I needed to start walking. I clicked off the first two miles at about a 10:30 pace and slowed down a bit more with the congestion on the ramp for the Ambassador Bridge to Canada. But I was OK with that, because I knew I would need all the available gas in the tank, and to aggravate my IT band as little as possible. After that I shot for 10:00-ish.

I still had about a quarter of my Gatorade bottle so I skipped the first couple of aid stations. We ran over the bridge but unfortunately the cloud cover prevented us from watching the sunrise. We ran the few miles through downtown Windsor, and it was here I saw my favorite sign of the race: “Only one more country to go!” The crowd support is always great in Windsor – one lady was giving out “international high fives” after we got off the bridge. I took my first Gu at about mile 4 and washed it down with the last of my Gatorade, and pitched the bottle at the next aid station. So far, so good, and my knee was feeling fine.

We ran about a mile and a half along the waterfront and made the turn to head toward the tunnel. It’s always hot and stuffy in there, so I took off my hat and unzipped my jacket to prepare. It’s weird to realize you are running UNDER a river. I drifted toward the middle as I got closer to the actual border, since people always step off to the side to get pics of the Canadian and American flags on the wall. That first whiff of fresh air is always nice and the crowd support when you exit the tunnel is also great. I thought, “OK, now I can wear my underwater mile shirt!” We headed into the neighborhoods just west of downtown and I started feeling a twinge in my knee at about mile 10. “Well, this is it,” I thought. I took another 600 milligrams of ibuprofen I had brought just in case when I hit the next water station. I slowed down a bit and concentrated on good form and landing softly. Eventually the twinge went away. “Maybe I can make it to the halfway point without having to walk,” I thought.

A group was passing out shots of bourbon at about mile 12 – no thank you! The crowd is thick from miles 12-13 as people cheer for the half-marathoners. The turn to do another 13.1 was on the opposite side from what I remembered and I bumped into a guy doing the half crossing in front of me – he obviously remembered the same thing! Luckily no harm was done and we ran our separate ways. After the half runners peeled off I knew that even if I had to walk the rest I could still finish. “That wasn’t so bad,” I thought. “Time to do it again.”

Splits for miles 1-13. Mile 8 is messed up because of the tunnel; 10 because I hit a hard lap at the next mile marker.
The next few miles are a boring straightaway taking us east of downtown. I just tried to zone out and concentrate on good form. I was taking a Gu every 4-ish miles and walking through most of the aid stations for Gatorade. I knew my husband would be hanging out at a friend’s house near the 18-mile point, and I was looking forward to giving him my Running Buddy, which was now pressing painfully into the small of my back, and trading my real glasses for sunglasses. Finally I spotted him cheering for me and taking pics. In fact, I was yelling at him, “Take this! Take this!” handing him my Running Buddy, but he was cheering and not paying attention. Ha! We did the handoff and I gave him a quick kiss and thank you, told him I loved him, and headed on.

This was the point of the race last year where I fell apart and had to walk for a few miles. I was determined to not start walking this year as long as my knee held up. Once you make it over the bridge to the city’s island park, the winds come off the river and cool you down significantly. I always see lots of people stretching out cramps here. I was prepared with my hat, gloves and collared jacket. The sun was out in full force by then and I was thrilled to have my sunglasses! We passed miles 20, 21 and 22 on the island and I realized I had now run more than I had in training. I was trying to keep a pace of 10:00-ish minute miles and feeling OK. My feet were starting to hurt and my legs were feeling heavy, but I knew as long as my knee held out, I could put my head down and do it.

The last few miles seemed like they took SOOOOOOO LOOOOOONG. I told myself that if I kept running 10:00-minute miles, I only had 40 minutes left! Then 30! Then 20! I tried counting backward from 600, then from 200 every three steps, then from 300 – anything to distract myself. We headed up a big hill heading away from the river at about mile 25.5. “Do not start walking now!” I told myself. “Power up the hill! It will be over sooner that way!” I knew it was mostly one straightaway and two quick turns to the finish. I dodged Lions fans. I turned off my music so I could soak in the cheering. Finally – the finish line was up ahead! I broke into a huge smile. I had done it! I almost didn’t start, and I had done it! I ran through the arch, got my medal and grabbed a water. I may have dry-cried a bit, I was so happy. As soon as I started walking, my knee locked up. At that point I didn’t care if my leg fell off – it had held up for 26.2 and that was all that mattered to me right then.

Miles 14-26.2. The slowdown at 18 was to give my husband a kiss. =)
I found my husband, who greeted me with a fierce hug and told me he was proud of me. We took a few obligatory pictures and headed home to a much-needed shower and brunch. He told me my finish time: 4:29:46. It wasn’t faster than last year, but it was within a minute and still sub-4:30 – good enough for me! After refilling my tummy, I derped around online for a bit and tried to take a nap, but someone had to watch V for Vendetta at top volume, so I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep. I finished the night with pizza and cookies and putting my feet up.

Two days later, I’m in pretty good shape. I have some mild chafing from my tights and bra, for the first time in my life have blisters between my toes – WTF??? – and the usual tight hips, hamstrings and quads. Yesterday, I was quite the amusement at the office as I hobbled around. I was so disappointed when I got up to talk to someone and they weren’t even at their desk. I got out of my chair for nothing! I didn’t feel any more hungry than usual but did try to drink a bit more water. (Unfortunately, most of that water was filtered through ground coffee beans.) I am probably going to lose my fourth toenail on my right foot, the same toenail I have lost twice before, once each running in a different brand of shoe. So I’m pretty sure it’s just that’s toe that’s deformed!

I am still riding high from my accomplishment. Mostly, I can’t believe I almost didn’t start. It wasn’t my best race, but it was the best race I had in me that day. I was thrilled to cross the finish line.


  1. Congratulations! I'm laughing at the "got out of a chair for nothing"—I know how that feels!

    1. It's funny now, but wasn't at the time! Hahaha