Ok, the long overdue recap of the Detroit Free Press Marathon, my first full marathon. Feel free to skim, it’s a long one.
I woke up at 3:45, made some coffee and ate a bagel with peanut butter. I lounged on the couch for quite a while, trying to wake up. Aside from my coffee, I was attempting to drink some Gatorade. I did most of my preparing the night before, so all I really had to do was gear up. I made sure to foam roll and tried at least once to empty out. I was given a free buff from one of the booths at the expo and decided to turn it into a skullcap. Before I knew it, it was 5 and Anthony was in my driveway to pick me up.
We arrived downtown fairly quick. Not much traffic to worry about at 5:30 on a Sunday. Also, that meant free parking at a meter. We were only a few block from the starting line. We walked over to Fort Street Presbyterian Church, which is on the course, a block from the start. They are kind enough to open their reception hall up for runners to stay warm and use their bathrooms. We sat around for a while as I ate some rice cakes and drank more water. Bathroom attempt #2 (hah!) took a while due to the long line, so I missed out on a group photo with the GP Runners. But I had my priorities and stomach issues was my #1 fear. I did manage to see a few GP Runners before heading to my corral.
T minus 6 min!
— Johnny B (@RunRunJohnny) October 21, 2012
I actually didn’t get to my corral until after the first few waves had already started. I wasn’t too worried as I knew my corral would start about 20 minutes after the gun. I made it with plenty of time. Sent a tweet and stashed the phone in my belt. I decided not to run any tracker app, because I didn’t want to drain my battery. I figured I would need it afterwards. I attempted a little stretching, but there’s no room in a corral to do so. I had made the plan to stretch at mile 4, when everything was loosened up.
I crossed the start line and took it as easy as I could. The first mile to the Ambassador Bridge is usually too crowded to waste energy on weaving through people. You already have to dodge all the articles of clothing being stripped off and tossed away. I decided to keep my long sleeve shirt until after the bridge, because I remembered how windy it was last year. It turned out to be much nicer than I expected. As the race director promised, there was more room this year. Looking over the Detroit River, it was too foggy to see a sunrise, but my eyes did catch something else – The MacArthur Bridge that leads to Belle Isle and the milestone for mile 20. It hit me at that moment that I had a very, very, very long way to go. That bridge claims to be less than a 5% grade for about .5 miles, but I don’t believe it. Everyone complains about the tunnel, but its the bridge that kills me. Once I reached the apex, I decided to gain some speed and fly down into Canada.
The 3 three or so miles in Canada were enjoyable last year and mostly enjoyable this year. The problem this year was that they happened so fast. That and I really needed to pee. I stopped to stretch, take a gel, and take off my long sleeve shirt, but every port-a-potty area had a line. I decided to bear it and wait until I was stateside. The Canadian streets aren’t as crowded, but they have plenty of fun radio DJs on PA systems pumping up the crowds and runners. Also, the view is amazing. Windsor has one of the most beautiful riverfront parks that spans the entire shoreline. That coupled with the view of the Detroit skyline is a great sight to take in. Before I knew it I was heading for the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.
The tunnel is one of the Detroit Marathon’s pride and joy. They love to boast that it is the only underwater mile in any race, and its across international borders too. I again tried to gain some speed as I descended beneath the Detroit River, but it’s too crowded to really open up. Lots of runners take the tunnel as a walk break, but I love to run it. Soon I was spiraling up into daylight with a “Welcome to the USA” banner overhead.
The Rest of the First Half
Once back on US soil, there’s only about 5 miles left for the first half. The course turns back towards the bridge making its way to Mexican Town. It was here when I saw my first spectators. First was Anthony, on his bike. I don’t know why, but I held on to my long sleeve to this point and thought why not throw my nasty, sweat-soaked shirt to him to hold. He won’t mind. I was gone before I could hear his response, but I got it on the way home.
A few footsteps further and I spotted my parents along with my sister, Julie. She told me she wouldn’t be able to make it, but plans had changed and she made the trip from Grand Rapids that morning. I heard my mom say she was calling Lauren to let her know I passed, so I assumed she wasn’t too far away. I finally found a potty with no line. Lauren wasn’t where she was the year before so It caught me off guard when I almost passed her and Jack. My mother-in-law was with them, too and they were all holding signs for me. I decided to take a gel break and give Jack a kiss, before I headed on to mile 10. Mexican Town and Corktown were pretty much a blur. I couldn’t believe it when I turned on to Michigan Ave.
The Lonely Miles
Once you pass mile 13, the 10,600 runners in the Half turn to finish and there you are with open roads and few spectators. I’ve heard many others complain about Lafayette. It’s the longest straight stretch of the course which really plays with your mind. I had two gels left in my belt and I knew that GU is passed out at mile 16. With nothing better to do on these lonesome miles, I decided to make a plan and do a systems check. I would take my next gel at mile 14, grab one or two GUs from the aid station, and use one at mile 17 and my last one at mile 20. I also took this time to refill my empty belt bottles. I chose only to carry Nuun and would get my water from the aid stations. I think a 4 bottle belt would have come in handy here, as there wasn’t always water when I wanted to take a gel.
I took a systems check. This was actually probably the third one. My heart rate felt good. My energy and spirits were high. I had some pains that were creeping up on me more and more: my left foot’s 1st metatarsal felt bruised. This started after my 20-mile training run, but was surfacing again. In that same area, I felt a blister. My right knee and hip (IT bands) were hurting. I tried to use my palm and rub the IT band, which turned into me tweaking a shoulder muscle. Gah. I gave up and pushed on. Finally the course turned and headed into Indian Village.
Indian Village is easily the funnest part of the second half. The houses are big and beautiful, the streets are full of trees turning color, and the residents love to give the runners a party. Plenty of houses blasting music and having spectator parties. One house proudly displaying the Polska flag was blasting polka music and had a table set up to offer PBR. A sign read “Stay here, have a beer” I was tempted, but I pushed on. The knee pain was really starting to take over my mind. Every walk break questioned if I would start running again.
I thought that as soon as I left Indian Village, that the bridge to Belle Isle would be right there. I was wrong. It was about a mile down Jefferson Ave, before I would reach MacArthur Bridge. Another systems check: same pains and now my right calf was starting to cramp. I took a stretch break to try and rid it, but no dice. I upped my consumption of Nuun, hoping the electrolytes would lessen it. Once over the bridge and onto Belle Isle I refilled my bottles with more Nuun tablets. Belle Isle was filled with a lot of walk breaks. It’s here that the feared mile 20 occurs. I had been studious with my gel intakes and took my 5th and final one at about mile 21. I circled around and was finally back at the bridge. the walk seemed to help loosen me up and I had my second wind. I left Belle Isle and headed for the Riverwalk.
I had never actually been on the Riverwalk before. I’m sure it was really nice, but I couldn’t tell you for certain. I was full of pain and telling myself that I wasn’t cramping. Anthony passed me on his bike and asked how I was doing. I stupidly said I was cramping up. And that was it. The body had won. I was cramping in my left calf and it had no intention of lessening. I had about a 5k to go, lets just finish this.
I knew it was coming. At the end of the Riverwalk, the course turns away from the water and towards Jefferson again. All that meant to me, was that an incline was to happen. I decided to walk it and did for about 10 seconds. That’s when a spectator donning a WWP hoodie came over to me and said “You’re not going to walk this. Come on, we’ll do it together.” He ran with me up the incline and as I turned towards Cobo, he told me “I better not see you walking again. You’re almost there.” I didn’t walk again.
Things are blurry now. Pain is searing my legs and I’m trucking it up the final climb. I sort of heard my mom screaming, but I didn’t see anything but pavement. I was only a few blocks from the finish line. First I heard a car honk and a wave. It was a car full of GP Runners. When I turned my head back forward I spotted one of my jackets. It was Lauren. I kind of freaked out. All I kept telling myself in this last half was to get to the finish and see Lauren and Jack. Now that Lauren was in sight I couldn’t look at her.
I was suffering from what I’ve termed “Emotionally Induced Asthma” It happened earlier on the course and it happened at my first Half, a year ago. My emotions get the best of me and my throat literally closes up and chokes me. It’s like that feeling when you see a child hurt themselves and they want to cry, but instead they silently hold their breath for an eternity. I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings, but I put my finger to my lips as she was cheering. I couldn’t handle it, now. I was about to turn the final corner with the finish line in sight.
Trying to ignore everyone’s cheers and push through, I did briefly see THE SIGN and from that point I could see the clock. 5:19. I was pretty sure I started 20 minutes after gun time so I put all I had left into beating 5:20 and hoped that was enough to go sub 5. It wasn’t, but I’m okay with it.
I crossed the finish line with no regard for posing for the camera. I did however pump my fist, which then turned to grab my head and stumble to the foil and medal. I reached the food table and chugged a chocolate milk like I just one a NASCAR race. I ran into some DailyMilers and gave my congrats. Then Lauren made her way over and I got to see her for a little before I headed to the massage tent. I saw Let’s Move Jon and chatted with him for a bit before I headed back to the finish line to meet with Anthony and watch Chrissy finish her first half marathon. Anthony pulled a can of beer out of his backpack for a celebratory drink and we headed home.
I want to thank so many people who helped me achieve this major accomplishment.
First and foremost goes to my wife. She helped me more than she likes to believe. She put up with me being tired all Sunday after my long runs. She cooked her delicious meals as always, but had my training in mind. And she was always there to support and encourage me.
Anthony signed up to run the full with me, but things turned sour after he injured himself only a few weeks into training. He went from being a training partner to being the #1 crewman. He carried my crap, he paced me on bike on long runs that I would have otherwise been alone. He spared a cup or two of HEED. And he was with me at the race from the very start when he didn’t have to be down there until hours later. I owe you, man.
Friends and family who all came down to support me. It means so much to see familiar faces on the side of the course. Thank you.
GP Runners. You guys helped me through plenty of long runs and made those miles fly by. Thank you.
And to my virtual friends, thank you for all of your support and encouragement. I received so many Tweets and comments on Daily Mile and Facebook in the past week with encouragement and congratulations. Thank you for all your support.
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