On Sunday, I ran the Detroit Free Press Marathon. It was my 7th marathon since starting in October 2013, and my 7th state. I chose it because it was close to the time of the Chicago Marathon so I could still train with my friends, I hadn’t done a Michigan race yet, and they had the added attractiveness of running through Canada for a bit.
I spent the summer training with Clocktower Runners. We met every Tuesday morning for speed workouts led by the FANTASTIC Bob Horowitz and then I led a pace group on Saturdays.
Tuesday morning speed work with Clocktower was my favorite part of this whole experience because A) they’re totally awesome and B) I really improved my training and was getting PRs in all the races/workouts I was doing over the summer. I actually looked forward to waking up at 4:45am every Tuesday morning to meet the group by 5:30, even as the weeks progressed and the sun didn’t rise until halfway through our workouts. This is seriously a great group of people.
Starting in the middle of July I began going to physical therapy 2x a week. Initially it started with really severe foot pain, and then the injury kind of traveled around for a while, sometimes in my knees, other times in my hips. I learned a lot of great core, hip, and glute strengthening exercises that I will definitely continue to follow when training for future events. In my last few sessions, I felt really strong and injury free and I stopped a week out from the marathon to make sure I didn’t feel fatigued.
I always have multiple goals for a race because you never know what you will encounter on race day. I usually have one “if the stars align” goal, one “reachable” goal, and one “no matter what I will have this goal.” For this race, my initial goals looked like this: Goal A: 3:12, Goal B: Anything under 3:18:08, Goal C: Don’t get stopped by Border Control. My training was going SO well and I was nailing each workout/race. Based on what others were saying I got it into my head that my A goal was actually more like a B goal, so I revised my strategy. Now my A Goal was to run 3:10, and that was the number I continued to focus on for the week leading up to the race. Boy did I get too cocky.
I convinced my mom to come with me so I would have a friendly face on the course. We had a lot of fun at the expo and exploring Canada…
UGH STUPID MOTHER NATURE. My ideal temperature is 70-80, and the weather at start time was 30 degrees, felt like it was in the 20s. My body is ALWAYS cold, and given that I hadn’t run in those temperatures in a while, I had NO idea what to wear. I brought at least 6 different potential running outfits when I left on Friday night to drive out there.
Saturday morning I woke up early to test out a few items on a shakeout run and settled on capris, a long sleeve and tank with arm warmers, gloves and a hat. For the warm-up and start corral, I bundled up in throw away clothes and had my foil wrap from the Flying Pig earlier in the year (PRO TIP: save those foil wraps at the end of your race to bring as a throw away for the next one!).
On the bright side, there was very little wind, about 5 mph for most of the course, except for Belle Island when it was about 10mph or so. The wind was coming from the southwest, which, story of my life, meant a slight headwind from mile ~19 onward.
Mile by Mile
Miles 1-4: Getting to Canada
I did a quick warmup and gave my mom a big hug before heading off to the start corrals. The wheelchairs started at 6:58am and we started at 7, but the sun didn’t rise until 7:48 so it was pretty dark for the first few miles. When we ran over the start line, we were blinded by the photographer’s floodlights, and then plunged into a dark, poorly unlit street for the first two miles. I kept my eyes on the ground to make sure I didn’t step on a crack, pothole, or knock into someone, all while trying to follow Pacer Mike and the 3:10 group. I heard plenty of scuffling, sorrys, and oooohs during this stretch- Hey Detroit, time to upgrade your streetlights! At mile 2 we turned the corner and begin a mile long incline up the highway ramp towards the Ambassador Bridge into Canada. I was feeling chilly and not very warmed up, and as I saw the looming hill I was wishing that I hadn’t tossed my last layer, but I was worried about being stopped by the police at the crossing.
Once we reached the middle of the bridge and began out descent into Canada, all the wheelchairs we passed on the way up ZOOMED past us- their biking race crew blaring a whistle shouting for the runners to get out of the way. They probably should have had them start sooner than 6:58 to give them more than a 2 minute head start…. (splits: 7:13, 7:09, 7:13, 7:10)
Miles 5-8: Canada
Um, are those flurries?!? In my head I punched the sky in the face. I still felt cold and not entirely loosened up. However, I must say, the crowds in Canada were great! They had my favorite signs of the race: An arrow pointing to the runners with the word “awesome” and an arrow pointing to the spectators reading “lazy ass mutha*******.” Her friend had a sign reading “The only marathons I do involve Netflix.” I gave each of them a huge thumbs up and smile.
In a short few minutes we said farewell to Canada (the police on their side of border control seemed so much friendlier) and entered into the Underground Tunnel. It was much warmer in there, albeit a little deceptive because there was a gradual decline/incline but you couldn’t really tell. I was pleasantly surprised to see that my Garmin still worked. Coming out of the Tunnel was another steep incline and a sharp turn back into the chilly weather. I made sure to wave at the Border Patrol cameras as I ran through the gate! (Hey, are those security pictures included on FinisherPix?) And with that I achieved my D goal. I saw my mom among the crowds ringing her cowbell and cheering and that gave me a big boost. (7:03, 7:06, 7:11, 7:15)
Miles 9-13: Neighborhoods
I quickly noticed that there were no clocks at the mile markers. At first, I thought that was just because we were running into Canada and there might be a security problem and/or coordinating problem with having clocks in Canada. I thought they’d be there when we got back to Detroit, but there weren’t. I was not a fan of that.
We split off from the Half-ers at 12.5. My body had warmed up but my hands felt cold, even through the gloves and the hand warmer I had shoved in there. Ate some Honeystingers when we exited the tunnel at mile 8.5, but because my hands were numb I fumbled the water cup and only got a tongue-wettings worth of water. I don’t like taking gels without water, but oh well. Made sure to grab more water at the next stop. Not much else to report on this stretch. (7:10, 7:12, 7:09, 7:10, high-five for consistency!).
Miles 14-18: More Neighborhoods
The run became much less congested. With the very light wind at our backs, we ran through some gorgeous neighborhoods who knew Detroit had such elegant houses? Fans were sparse, but I was busy looking at all the cute Halloween decorations to notice much. My legs just felt kind of funky- I thought I was still cold and didn’t pay much attention to it. Took another few Stingers and water at mile 15 and had to remove my glove from my hand in order have enough dexterity to grab the pack- warm up hands! After mile 18 we turned on to Jefferson the main drag to head over to Belle Island and that “funkiness” I had felt earlier really started to manifest in my right quad/IT band. I attempted to refocus my attention to my breathing and posture and just tick away the rest of the miles. The wind was now in our face. (7:03, 7:11, 7:13, 7:15, 7:06)
Miles 19-23: Belle Island
Well, my quad did not like being ignored. One minute I’m cruising with Pacer Mike feeling fine, next minute I’m on the struggle bus. A muscle spasm went off in my quad as we were crossing the bridge into Belle Island forcing me to pull back the pace, and then my foot started to cramp. My left foot’s toes wanted to curl up and I had to change my gait a bit until they relaxed. Once my brain recognized these pains I couldn’t force them out of my head and go to a zen place like I usually can. I watched Pacer Mike get further and further ahead and it was all I could do not to cry as I saw my A Goal go out the window. At mile 20 I went to take more Stingers but had to just shove the packet near my face and use my teeth to grab the blocks because my hands were too cold. The wind picked up on the island now that we were surrounded completely by water, and there are no houses to block it. Needless to say, Belle Island began my miserable decline. My mom was supposed to be at the entrance to Belle Island, so I was looking for her, but I’m glad she wasn’t there because I might have dropped out. (7:06, 7:24, 7:34, 7:45, 8:17).
Miles 24-end: The Riverwalk
I exited the island and headed along the Riverwalk back downtown. I went to grab a cup of water at the fluid station just past mile 23 but fumbled it causing my to stop for a second. It was a fast downward spiral from there. Walking mentally breaks me, if I do it once it’s that much more tempting to do it again. I started playing mental games and talking to myself, “Bec, just get to the tree… no not that tree the next one… if you make it to that group of spectators then you can walk… but now you can’t walk because you’re in front of people…” Those worked a bit, but I still found myself walking. My feet were cement, I could hear how heavily I was plodding along, and my quads were screaming at this point. I stopped to stretch them against a lamppost around mile 24.5 but it didn’t help much, and only made want to keep stopping to stretch. I saw the 3:15 pacer pass me and had the irrational idea to hop on his back for a piggyback ride to the end. He wouldn’t have minded right? Then like a gut punch, I realized that I was in danger of not getting a PR. My lofty expectations for this race were slipping through my fingers, and I was internally screaming at myself.
You’ve been there, right? In your head you are yelling “JUST MOVE FEET, COME ON YOU ARE FASTER THAN THIS!!” while you just feel yourself moving slowly along the street like the concrete suddenly turned into sand and you are a baby learning how to walk? That was my mental state at this point.
I turned the corner after mile 25, saw a hill, and moaned aloud. A spectator on the side was encouraging and yelled, “You may not think it but you are kicking ass, don’t let a hill break you.” I could hear my mom cheering from a block away and that helped me push through those last dreadful blocks.
Finally, after much mental and physical anguish, I crossed the finish line at 3:17:49, a PR but only by the skin of my toes. I have never bonked that bad before, and I felt totally crushed given my expectations. (8:23, 9:03, 9:22)
I gave myself a day to mope, and MAN did I mope! But then I woke up Monday morning and realized that this race was a big learning experience.
- The marathon is nothing to trifle with. Don’t get cocky about training because you never know what will happen on race day.
- Relax more the week before a race and don’t obsess over a time goal.
- After analyzing the race, I realized that I should have taken in more electrolytes at the aid stations. In the past, I’ve just stayed with water, but I should have paid more attention to that “funkiness” I felt early on in the race by drinking Gatorade.
Of course, come next race I’ll have to re-read this post over and over and over to get these lessons stuck in my head, but that’s a different story.