At long last: the marathon report. Because the first marathon is such a landmark event in a runner’s life, I feel a hint of trepidation at the thought of trying to write about it. But in the end, I can’t NOT write about it, so here we go.
3:30 AM: I nearly have a heart attack when my alarm goes off in the middle of the night. I manage not to turn it off but instead hit the snooze button and end up waking up my brother too. Oops. (But he’s nice about it.) I wash my face and dress, unsure how exactly to layer warmer clothes over my racing clothes. In the end, I wear pink pajama pants over my running skirt and get nicknamed “Pajamas” at our after-party celebration. I also wear a favorite tattered sweatshirt—my Red Wings sweatshirt. Perfect for the Detroit Marathon!
I eat a cold breakfast and drink cold coffee, grateful to have done most of my breakfast prep the night before. It turns out that I have more than enough time and can spend a few minutes on Facebook, posting some race-day thoughts and letting my family know that they can track my progress during the race. Once the race starts, my sister decides to post updates on my status for everyone to see (so sweet of her!).
James (JD) and his friend John pick me up a bit after 5 AM, and we head into the city for the race. We arrive and park easily in the pre-dawn darkness and head to Cobo Joe’s, a bar that several running groups have rented out for the day. JD secured John and me spots in Cobo Joe’s, and I am touched by his care. It’s a chilly morning, and having a warm, safe spot to leave our things is wonderful. We finish hydrating and pre-race-fueling and head out to the start.
We line up toward the back of the pack. JD is hoping to run a sub-5:30; I’m just hoping to finish. We marvel at the sea of runners around us; the energy is electric. We are all here to run, ready to run, can’t WAIT to run! It’s an exciting place to be. Despite the chilly morning, I barely feel the cold. I just feel happy and ready for what the day will bring.
Miles 0-8: “I think this is going to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life.” We start the course about 20 minutes after the fastest marathoners cross the starting line, and it’s slow going at first. The crowd is packed. JD jogs slowly; I alternate walking and jogging. We see piles of clothes as people start stripping off their warm layers in anticipation of warmed-up bodies. JD tells me that any clothes dropped in the first few miles of the race are collected and donated to homeless shelters.
The start of the marathon is full of incredible sights, my favorite of which is the run up and over the Ambassador Bridge into Canada. As we approach the bridge, we can see the runners moving like ants along the bridge. Running up to the bridge, I turn to JD and his friend Renee and say, “I may be exaggerating, but I think this is going to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life.” I am bubbling with joy. By the time we’re on the bridge, we can look out onto the water and the sunlit city. The marathon has begun.
We pass over the bridge and enter Windsor, Canada to begin the international portion of our race. (Did you know the Detroit Marathon is an international event? We run over a bridge and through a tunnel—to Canada and back!) Windsor is fun and festive, and we feel good. JD is keeping a very solid, steady pace; I’m keeping up with him just fine. We run along the riverfront and enter the underwater tunnel to come back into the United States. The tunnel is…interesting. I have to duck beneath and between people who have stopped to take photos at the flags that mark the border between the US and Canada. There are a lot of people taking pictures during the race; I’m not one of them, hence no real race photos in this post.
JD had warned me that the tunnel feels stuffy and hot compared to the cool October air outside, and he’s right. The tunnel is fun to enter, but I’m glad to get out when it ends. On top of the refreshing air, when we come out of the tunnel, we’re greeted by cheering crowds and signs that say, “Welcome home!” We’re back in Detroit, and we keep running.
Miles 8-17: Slow and steady keeps the miles flying by. To be honest, I don’t remember much of this part of the race. We still feel pretty good, though my knees are starting to feel tight. This is a neighborhood part of the course; we ran through Corktown, Mexicantown, and Indian Village, I believe.
Mile 17-18: How long is one mile? After Mile 17, JD and I lose each other, and I lose track of where I am in the race. I stop paying attention to the mile markers then become convinced that I have definitely passed the Mile 18 marker. Nope! So Mile 17 feels really long. I start pacing my walk breaks so that I can alternate bites of a Clif bar with water or Gatorade. JD and I have been taking a really conservative approach to fuel and hydration—neither of us wants to have that sloshy, full feeling in the stomach while we’re running.
Miles 18-20: Preparing for the hardest run of my life. Miles 18-20 take us out toward Belle Isle, a small island in the Detroit River. Belle Isle is rumored to be the hardest part of the marathon. Crowd support is sparse, the Isle is windy, and you’re about to pass the 20-mile mark, which is the start of new miles for a lot of first-time marathoners. By Mile 18, I’m already into new miles, but knowing that we are now in single-digit numbers for the remaining miles is exciting and terrifying. I don’t feel tired or low on energy, but my knees and hips are starting to feel painfully sore. Not injured sore, work-out sore. Which is, I think, about as good as I could hope to feel by Mile 20 of my first marathon.
Despite the pain, running over the bridge to Belle Isle is fun. I look out and see the Ambassador Bridge that we ran over hours ago. It feels like a lifetime ago. It’s hard to believe that by Mile 20, I’ve been running for almost four hours. I’m at 3:46:15, and I start to realize and believe that a sub-5:00 marathon is within my reach. I keep trucking!
Miles 20-22: Onto Belle Isle and beginning our descent into pain. Contrary to what I’ve been told, I actually love running on Belle Isle. It’s beautiful and peaceful. My legs hurt pretty bad, but the wind is calm and the Isle is green and sparkling. I’m in love.
Miles 22-24: Holding on for dear life. Mile 22 is just before we cross the bridge to leave Belle Isle and run along the Detroit riverfront. The riverfront is gorgeous, but I can’t really appreciate it because I’m in too much pain by now. I set tiny goals: run to the next mile marker, run for two more minutes, walk for just two minutes and then start running again. I am doing everything I can to keep up the pace because 5:00! It could be mine! And how can I not go for it while I’m here and injury-free?
But oh, the pain. At this point, the effort to run is purely mental. My legs have long since given up getting any relief from the searing tightness. They feel a bit numb from the effort. But not numb enough: pain is taking over all my faculties.
Miles 24-26: Please don’t cry. I crawl through the last whole miles, which take us back onto city streets. They are literally the hardest miles I’ve ever run. I struggle to not start crying. We’re so close to the end, and I know if I start crying, I will lose it completely. The pain, oh, it needs to end…
Mile 26 to the finish: It’s almost over. It’s a strange feeling when you cross Mile 26 of a marathon. You’re basically done, but wait, no, that damn fifth of a mile sits between you and the sweet finish line. I feel like I run to the finish line in slow motion; I am “running” so slowly that it’s not purely an illusion. But the watch doesn’t lie: if I can just claw my way to the finish, I’ll finish in under five hours. I want this so bad that it’s all I can think about. Finish, finish, finish…
FINISH: Wow, that was amazing. And at last, it’s over. 26.2 miles covered in one morning. I’m stunned and elated to have finished in an official time of 4:56:50, more than five hours after the official start of the marathon.
Surprisingly, I don’t start crying at the finish. I wanted to cry earlier, but now I’m just done. I move through the finish chute, collecting my medal and enough food to feed me for the next month. I’m quickly chilled after I stop running and end up tying my space blanket around my waist to keep my bare legs warm. I sit to rest a bit, eat, and drink some water and chocolate milk. I have a hard time getting up again, but I stagger down to the end to wait for JD. I see him and feel relief—he looks so happy with a marathon medal dangling around his neck. We compare loot (SO MUCH FOOD!) and wait for his friend Renee, who is not far behind.
After congratulations and time-checking, we head back to Cobo Joe’s for drinks and pizzas. It is truly a party, with cheers and smiles and lots of congratulations. I am so happy to be with these people today and so lucky to have been able to run this race. I eat until I am pleasantly full, making sure to drink water too. I chat with JD’s running coaches, one of whom saw me on the course and cheered for me. They are an absolute delight, and I wish I lived close enough to join the running group for their twice-weekly runs.
Finally, after basking in the afterglow in the city, we pack up and head out. JD and I are both…beyond words. Happy, relieved, full of pizza. It’s been a good day. I take a few photos on our way out of the city and feel that all those long, sweaty, lonely hours in Texas this summer were worth it for this one day of running.
Joy. That’s how running your first marathon feels.
A few more photos from marathon day.