Friday, October 21, 2011

Motown Madness

Date: 10/15/2011
Route:  Detroit Half Marathon
Distance: 13.1 Miles
Goal Pace: 12:30/mile
Pace: 11:29/mile (yes that is an accurate chip verified time!)
Total Time: 2:30:32

There is nothing quite like running with 20,000 of your closest friends.

So my Detroit half began at the bright and early time of 4:45 a.m. After a somewhat fitful 6 hours of sleep, I prepared at home in the usual way for a race, totally freaking out. After mowing though my breakfast of oatmeal and a banana, I had to verify everything I packed about 15 times and use the bathroom about the same number of times. Finally I was in the car and driving downtown.

After a little bit of a parking the race being same day as a Lions game, and my normal spot being $40!!!, I was on the People Mover (Motto: "We'll Take You There!") from Greektown over to the starting area. Me and about 200 other people disgorge from the station onto what appears to be complete chaos. It is dark, there is that funky steam coming from the sewer grates and there are people EVERYWHERE. Luckily the race organizers have anticipated this, and handily put someone right near the station helping direct people to where they wanted to go.

Heading over to the gear check I decided I did not need my throwaway gloves. This was a big decision, but it was definitely warmer at the start then past years. I was actually quite comfy in shorts and the race tech shirt. I found my wave, and hooked up with the group that was doing the full at 12:36 per mile. These were the people I figured I would be running with most of the way, so it pays to be friendly. Immediately I struck up a conversation with a woman who was running the full. Turns out she was a triathlete running in her first full marathon. She had run one half, but it was a really small one, with about 500 people. Definitely a different experience for her. She also made me think that I might want to try the Motor City Triathlon, well the sprint version of it anyway.

Before I knew it we were all singing the national anthem, and then the fast runners were off. With the wave starting system, which I personally think is great for a race this size, I get to sit a while while everyone before me takes off. Clearly at a 12:36 pace, I am not anywhere near the front of the pack. So we cross the start line and are off. I decide to stay just in front of my pace group for the first few miles.

I cross the 1 mile mark at 12:30, and I am right ahead of the pace group. Everything is going according to plan. I decide to start to put a tad bit of space between myself and the group. I have had trouble in the past on the incline going up the bridge, so I wanted to make sure if I slowed down I would still be with my pace group. This is where the story diverges so much from the past two years. Instead of having difficulty making it up the bridge, I felt great. I started passing people, and actually felt like doing the Rocky thing at the crest of the bridge. Even with the wind and the rain, I was starting to feel this could be whole different experiance then the last few years. The downhill mile went quickly, and when I turned around at the end of the bridge, my pace group was nowhere in sight.

As a side note, the past few years there has been terrible congestion on the bridge as the race only had one lane. Not this year. We had two full glorious lanes of space and I never experienced any slow downs because of congestion.

I love the Canadian portion of the race. First when you come into Canada there is a guy greeting you. I think they must interview hundreds of people and select the person with the most Canadian accent. They have Barenaked Ladies, who are Canadian, blasting over the speakers and the guy telling jokes in a Canadian accent. It is a great way to meet mile 4.

The run along the riverfront in Canada is nice, there is a good crowd of supporters and some great views of Detroit while you run. I had the fortune of bumping into (literally) a guy while dodging a pothole (see they are not ONLY in Michigan), and it led to one of those great random running friendships that last a couple of miles. He was very kind and we chatted for a bit. We talked running shop, and I learned that he was running between 11:30 and 12 minute miles, so I was cruising along at a very good pace compared to what I had planned. He said he was going to throttle it back going into the tunnel, and I was back on my own again.

The Tunnel.....the famous underwater mile. What a cool experience, and what a crazy thing to throw into the middle of a half marathon. The thing about the tunnel which is great is that it breaks up the monotony, it is definitely something different. However, it is very warm in the tunnel, probably about 65 degrees. When you have been cruising along in 50 degrees that 15 degree bump can be deadly. There is also a pretty steep incline at the end. I can imagine many dreams of PR's have been dashed in the tunnel.

Last year the tunnel was the first place I walked.So my main goal his year was to get out of the tunnel without walking, speed was not a concern. I knew I was in a good place time wise, so I just slowed it down and made it through. When you come out of the tunnel you run between a huge gauntlet of people, which is really a boost to your spirits. I hope one day The Wife and CE can be among them. Also the band playing on top of the Detroit Princess when we entered the Riverwalk was very cool.

The other hard part of the half is right after this section. Between miles 9 and 11 you are running kind of isolated, amongst warehouses and big road ramps. This is the place I lost it last year. This year I just focused on the scenery. I had brought along my Ipod, but so far had not had any desire to break it out. My initial plan was to bust it out here because I knew there would not be a ton of crowd support and I had had trouble in this area of the course before. Not this year. I just kept powering through the miles. The legs still felt great. I had eaten my first GU at mile 7 and my second at 9, and I could definitely feel the energy boost from them. There are also these amazing people handing out M&M's somewhere in this stretch. M&M's are VERY tasty in the middle of the race. so thanks whoever you are.

Then we were into Mexicantown and Corktown. Two really fun areas to run though. You have to love the Mariachi band that is always playing in Mexicantown. We also run right by the Honey Bee Market, who makes and sells the best chorizo on the planet. Corktown is great because you know you are getting kind of close to the finish and there is great crowd support. Basically it is an excuse for a block party, and the residents come out in full force.

You leave Corktown at mile 12, and at this point the anticipation of a truly great time was running through my head. My legs were starting to get that blocky feeling, where they move in big lumps of mass instead of a nice fluid motion, but I was so close to the finish I pushed through it. I look downa t my watch and see I am at 2:28 minutes and I start to think I could do this under 2 and half hours. I started ot pick up the pace considerably.

At mile 13 the poor full marathoners separate off. I want to run one sometime in my life, but it still pains me to think that they are just at the half way point. Those people are, I am just a runner. So there was the final kick down the stretch, the triumphant fist pump as I glided across the finish line. 2:30:32, an absolutely stunning time for me. This was over 18 minutes faster then last year, a crazy improvement.

Then there was the realization that what I had just done was actually not that hard. I did not feel bad, I was not stumbling, I was thirsty and hungry, but not in any way in bad shape. My body had gone 13.1 miles and was asking.....really, that is all you got? So I feel great about this race, I exceeded all my expectations, but at the same time this has made me hungry for more. My body seems to be telling me that it is willing to go faster, farther or some combination of both. I know personally I could still stand to lose another 25 or 30 pounds, even over the 25 I have lost this year so far. So maybe it is not ALL crazy people in those full marathons.

I am already exited about next year, and I am going to talk about goal setting in my next post (inspired by Rosiecat), because I think it is good to lay out goals way in advance so you can get context and perspective. Also, I already registered for my first half of next year, it is the Rock CF Half Marathon. This will be my first year doing more then one half. Bring it.

Thanks Detroit, it was grand.


  1. Congratulations not only on beating your goal pace and feeling good while doing it but also on improving your time so significantly from last year! I had read another race report for this half that had mentioned how hot and stifling the air was in the tunnel, so good job for getting through it strategically.

    Btw, I have run a couple of full marathons where the half marathon has split off at some point between mile 11 and 13. The thing that really kind of sucks about that is the momentum killer because over half the participants are suddenly gone.

  2. Thanks Raquelita, one day you will have to get up to our fair city and give this thing a go. It is definitely unique in the world of running. I can imagine how demoralizing that separation can be. I guess you just have to try and be running with a group or at least someone to help you keep the focus.

  3. Huge, happy congratulations to you, JD! You crushed your half-marathon goals! I'm so happy for you. And your race report was wonderful too--I wish I had been able to run this one with you. It sounds like a terrific course and a unique way to see Detroit. Maybe when I'm home in December we can take a field trip into the city for an adventure :-)

    I'm looking forward to your goals post. Ha, that sounds like "goal post." Insert bad joke here!