Detroit Marathon recap

We’re on a roll…2 marathons down and 2 runners willing to write a guest blog.  I don’t know about you but I love reading race recaps.  I feel as if I’m right there in the moment.

Detroit 2013 by Amanda Vogel

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On a cold New Year’s Day run with my friends Jen and Becca, the subject of fall races came up.  Jen mentioned that registration for her home town race, the Detroit marathon opens today and is half price for the first two weeks of the year.  I had it in my head that I wanted to do a fall marathon this year and with the low price and the option to transfer my registration should I not be able to do it I said “why not?”  I also knew I wanted to do a race up north in the fall to avoid the warm temperatures that still linger at that time in the south.  My ideal racing weather is upper 40s and sunny.

Detroit as a city gets a bad rap.   Some of it deserved some of it not.  The marathon is well run, but the expo has outgrown its current conference area and needs to be expanded and reorganized.  You are required to wind your way through all the vendors in order to get to packet pick up.  This would not have been a problem except that all the people who had already picked up their packets were going back through the same area making it very crowded.  I got my green bib that signified that this was my first marathon and then made my way to do some necessary shopping.  The Detroit marathon is international, meaning you start in Detroit and run across the Ambassador Bridge into Windsor Ontario and then back through the tunnel to Detroit; you are required to give your passport information when you register so that you can be pre-cleared by immigration.  They say that it’s not policy to stop runners during the race, but to have your passport on you in case something happens.  In this era of running post the Boston bombings I decided that I would rather be safe than sorry so I purchased a Roo Sport magnetic case that was big enough for my passport to fit in since the pouch on my Nathan belt wasn’t large enough.  I also picked up some Brooks pink arm warmers and a finisher shirt.  I figured if the worst happened and somehow I didn’t finish I could cross it out ‘finisher” and write “carried away in an ambulance” at the Detroit Marathon.

The Westin book Cadillac is a nice hotel that is only two blocks away from the start line.  They had special keys and door hangers made for the marathon guests.  The lobby Sunday morning was filled with runners all hyped up on Gatorade, bananas and adrenaline.   I was with Jen, her sister Jessica, brother in law Mike, and their high school friends, Shauna, Melissa, and Brad who were all running the half.  We went out into the cold and the two blocks to the start corals.  This was the first race ever that I didn’t drive so I have to say that staying near the start is an excellent idea.

I was one of four from our group assigned to Corral M.  M for is the last runner corral with the final two being reserved for the power walkers.   We weren’t paying much attention to the countdown to the actual start of the race since we knew our coral wouldn’t start for almost 30 minutes, but couldn’t help but notice when the race DJ played “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. This is analogous to starting the New York Marathon with “New York, New, York.”  It fits.

As we moved up the corrals we had to be careful where we stepped because it was clear that some horses had done their business in the street, at least we were pretty sure it came from a horse.  If not eww.. We also had to be careful not to trip on the piles of shirts that had accumulated in the center of the road.  The buildings and crowds of people had shielded everyone from the wind making it not too cold and runners wanted to get rid of their throw away shirts before they crossed the start line to comply with the announcers request that they be able to see our numbers.

When it was finally time for our corral to start, we all started to get a little emotional.  Jen provided hugs to each of us and I tried not to cry.  Before I knew it corral M was off and running.  I watched as the others speed up to stick to the 5:30/2:45 pacer and I hung back and settled into my 13 min/mile run walk pace.  I would have liked to have been with them longer, but this was my plan and my race. For better or worse it was mine to run alone.   I did my best to do the walk portion as fast as I could.  I am not a naturally fast walker, but I was trying to make up for the weakness of my hips with strong arm movements to propel me along.  I did speed up a little in those first couple of miles to get away from a runner who fastened a cow bell to his running belt.  I checked by heart rate and it was around 160 so I felt good and relaxed.   That was my whole mantra in the beginning, to run relaxed.  I told myself that these first miles should feel easy.

I made my way to the border crossing a little before sunrise.  It was actually my first time going into Canada.  I had been near the border several times but had never had any real reason to go across.  The border patrol was mostly friendly and a few of them have high fives.   The largest hill of the day is was the winding highway on ramp to get on the Ambassador Bridge and then I had to tackle the long slope of the first half of the bridge.   Lots of people were stopping to take selfies on the bridge.  I did take a picture during a walk break though.

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At the end of the bridge there was a DJ welcoming us to Canada, “home of hockey, curling, and free health care”  I’m not sure where in Canada he was originally from, but it was amazing how Canadian his accent was for being right on the border.

I made my way off the bridge and skipped a walk break because I thought I might go ahead and take a porta potty break.  I didn’t need to go too bad, but I could tell that I would have to make a stop eventually because I had a large Gatorade in the start coral.   There were a ton of pota johns after the bridge, but there were also a ton of people waiting.   I told myself that would be fine to wait and moved along.  I also started to feel some discomfort in my right foot, but it subsided after a walk break.

The road on that side of the border is right along the river next to the Veteran’s park.   It was nice and scenic, but it got a tad chilly because of the wind.  The crowds were still very thick as we passed the 1st relay hand off.  After a couple of miles in Canada it was time to wind our way up to the entrance to the tunnel.  It was loud throughout this art with various DJs and the crowd.  Two of my walk breaks were about 2:30 min instead of 1:30 min because I couldn’t hear the beep!

The tunnel was my least favorite stretch of running.  It was muggy, crowded, and dark.  The satellite reception goes out in the tunnel; I bought a Garmin foot pod so that my distance would be recorded during this section of the race.  I’m not as much as a slave to my Garmin as I used to be, but having the foot pod alleviated a little mental pain, and the last thing I wanted to do was to have something small like a missing Garmin mile get in my head.   Lots of runners were stopping to take pictures of themselves at the border.  I was not going to spend any more time in the tunnel and even subconsciously picked up the pace for the whole mile through there.

After leaving the tunnel I was greeted by the best spectator crowd of the day.  There were lots of signs and well wishes.  I actually got one “Go Star” through there.   The next several miles passed quickly as we ran towards the iconic GM tower.   As we neared the marathon/half marathon turn off  there were several tailgate parties going on for the Lion’s game that started at 1.

Detroit is a little like St. Jude is that the half has about twice the participants as the full, so it did feel a little lonely as all but a handful when straight as the halfers headed for the end.   Things felt a little fuller as we started to pick up the slower runners who were only running the second half.   Detroit has a US inly half marathon that starts 3 hours later on the second half of the course to accommodate those who can’t get clearance to pass into Canada.

On my forth fueling I grabbed a honey stinger gel.  I had used them plenty in training, but primarily I use hammer gel that I put in a flask.  It just only holds 6 servings so I knew I would need at least one other one for the race.  For whatever reason it didn’t agree with me, it burned and it also made me slightly queasy.   Around the next turn was the first group of porta potties without a line so I decided to go ahead and make my one and only stop.

The next several miles were slightly lonely, but it was broken up by a high school marching band and a white guy with a ginormous ‘fro paying the saxophone.  Both feet were starting to really feel the pounding they had been taking.

At mile 16 we entered the Indian Village neighborhood, which was my favorite party of the race.  It’s a bit like Central Gardens as it has stately older homes one gorgeous tree lined streets with really fun residents playing music, cheering us on and handing out beer and candy.   The only downside to Indian Village was that I was starting to get slightly behind pace.

After exiting Indian Village we made our way to Belle Island.   This was one of my least favorite parts of the race.   Belle Isle is pretty, but there was virtually no crowd support and the volunteers were starting to look a little tired.  My feet were killing me and I was trying very hard not to fall behind pace.

Once I left Belle Island there were just over 4 miles to go, aka 2 miles till Jen was meeting me and running with me towards the finish.   The police made us get on the side walk for a bit which I thought was kinda of bogus since I was 45 minutes ahead of the course closing for that area.  I even had to dodge a woman with a shopping cart.  With three miles to go one of the guys around me said the dreaded words, only a 5K left.  If I got a dollar for every time I heard “almost there” in those last 3 miles I could have paid my entry fee with it.

With two miles to go I was at the end of the Riverwalk section and saw Jen waiting for me.   She gave me a little extra oomph to finish strong.  As bad as my feet were hurting the mental fatigue was what was really slowing me up.  One last water stop, and then something annoying happened.  A cop made us stop at a light, ugh!  You had to me kidding me!  It wasn’t all that long, but since I was so close to finishing below my stated 5:45 goal time.   I only took about 30 seconds of the last walk break one with about .4 miles to go.    I don’t remember what I was feeling at the final yards and crossing the finish.  I just remember finally feeling that it was really done when a volunteer handing me by tub of hummus told me that it was over and I had finished.  I clung to my Mylar blanket and walked to the finish area.

I ended up finishing within a minute of my goal.  It really is a great feeling to me a marathoner.  In the airport on the way home Jen and I saw a group of women wearing there Nike Women’s Marathon finisher shirts.  Those will hopefully be me next year.  In the meantime on to the St. Jude HALF.

Way to go, Amanda!!  We loved tracking you and what a great race! Your pace was perfect and you got that goal 🙂  I loved reading this post….really makes me want to run this race!

Guest Blog: Chicago Marathon recap

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I asked one of my runners if she might want to write a guest blog about her Chicago Marathon experience and she graciously said “yes” so here goes!

Chicago 2013 by Emily Wyonzek

When I signed up for this race in February, I was ready to start training immediately.  I bugged Star for months about the best maintenance plan and when I could really start training.  I wanted to run this race in 4 hours and 30 minutes, 15 minutes faster than I ran St. Jude in 2012.  

When we did our time trial, I wasn’t really sure that I had earned the 4:30 goal that Star gave me, or if she gave it to me because it was what I wanted.  I did the trial quite a bit slower than the only other person in our group that had the 4:30 goal.  I knew I had to work really hard, cross train, and follow Star’s plan to hit that time.  

Chicago was buzzing with race activity when we arrived!  Tons of runners were out doing their pre-race run on Saturday.  The Expo was out of this world!  The line of runners waiting for someone to tape them up with KT tape snaked in and out of the displays.  People were trying on new shoes, new insoles, new fuel, new watches, even new wine!  It was so fun!  

I decided to take it easy the night before the race, so my husband, Geoff and I ordered takeout and watched some football in the hotel.  I was asleep by 9:00!

Our hotel could not have been any more convenient!  I walked across the street, made it through security and was at the front of my corral in less than 5 minutes.  I took Star’s advice and signed up for the corral behind the one I should have been in. I stood right on the rope for the start. 

 I nearly froze to death waiting. For some reason I didn’t think about bringing a throw away shirt, so it was 48 degrees and there I was in a tank top and shorts.  I remembered to bring a roll of scotch tape to tape my pace band on, but didn’t think about the throw away shirt.  Brrrr…

When I finally started running, my legs felt like ice blocks, they were so heavy and stiff!  The race begins on Lakeshore Dr. and we almost immediately ran through a really long tunnel, which was disconcerting.  It was dark and PACKED with people and everyone was yelling.  When I came out of the tunnel, I looked down and realized I had somehow managed to NOT start my Garmin…..WHAT?!   

I immediately started the watch and a tiny panic attack.  How in the world did I do that?!  So now,  my pace band was next to useless (later this proved to be false, I’d have REALLY been lost without it).  I told myself to calm down, nothing could be done at this point.  I had NO idea how far I’d run or how long I’d been running.  The best I could guess, I was 4 to 5 minutes off.  

I do run/walk intervals, but there were  so many runners that I had to skip the first walk interval all together.  There wasn’t a safe way to slow down enough in such a big crowd.  I had to cut the second and third walk interval short for the same reason.  I slowed down a little, hoping not to wear myself out.  My Garmin kept losing the satellite signal in all the tall buildings so I really didn’t know my pace.  I tried to judge it by how I was feeling.  

At mile three, in the crowd of spectators, I saw a hand raised high above everyone’s head.  Immediately, I knew it was my tall husband!  I started yelling and waving and he saw me too!  There were so many people that it was a miracle to spot each other!  The news reported that there were 40,000 runners and 1.7 million spectators along the way!  Incredible!  

About this time, I realized I had possibly over hydrated the night before as I had to go to the bathroom.  I thought it could be nerves, so I made a deal with myself that if I still had to go at mile 10, I would stop.  

This race was SO well run and the route was incredible!  I kept asking people cheering us on what neighborhood we were in because there were so many great buildings, cool looking restaurants, and supportive people.  I would love to go back someday and just tour each area.  

I decided at about mile 5 that I would just add 5 minutes to whatever time my watch said and try to determine how I was doing.  I looked at my pace band and realized I was almost 12 minutes behind schedule!  I ate a honey stinger gel and sped up.  I worried with every run interval that I was going too fast and would crash at the end, but I was feeling really good, so I pushed on.  

During the 9th mile, I really really had to go to the bathroom.  I saw a sign that the toilets were 500 meters ahead and, wouldn’t you know it, I hit a walk interval just as I saw them!  There was a line for the first three, so I ran down the row of port-a-potties and there were plenty available.  I never missed a second of my run interval and felt SO much better.  

I saw Geoff again at mile 12 and I knew he had made friends with a group of people around him because they were all cheering LOUDLY for me!  So fun!  

At the half marathon mark, I decided to put my headphones in to try to get a rhythm and speed up.  Most of the time, I could hardly hear my music because the crowd was so loud and there were so many watch parties with music playing.  

At mile 15, my watch said almost exactly what my pace band said it should have, so I knew I had made up quite a bit of time, but I was still 4 or 5 minutes behind.  I was still feeling really good so I kept pushing.  The weather was amazing, sunny with a calm breeze.  I couldn’t have asked for a better day.  

I saw Geoff again at mile 16 and was close enough to him that I could stop and grab a quick kiss for good luck.  I was so impressed with how he got around the town!  He learned the train system and just hopped around the whole city.  Best cheerleader ever!  I should have asked him how my time was, but there just wasn’t time.  

This race had a really wonderful runner tracking system.  At each 5K point, there was a timing strip and when I crossed, it updated an app Geoff had on his phone.  Pretty cool!  

I was running along with several people from Team Mexico and was happy to be near them when we ran through a Hispanic neighborhood- they sure know how to cheer!  I just pretended I had on a Tabasco shirt also and that they were cheering for me!  They were passing out orange slices and cups of ice to any runner that needed them.  It was incredible!   

At mile 19, according to my pace band, I had made up two more minutes.  My brain was exhausted from trying to calculate my time, but the best I could tell, I was two or three minutes off to reach my goal. 

We made our way through China town and that was incredible!  The support was overwhelming.  I did see a man try to cross from one side of the street to the other and just get plowed down. I don’t know why anyone would try to cross the race course!  

By mile 21, I had a really bad side stitch and I couldn’t shake it for some reason.  I was working on my breathing, but couldn’t get it to go away.  

At mile 23, the side stitch was really bugging me.  I saw Geoff and yelled to get his attention.  When he spotted me he started screaming, “You’ve got to finish strong!  STRONG!!!”  I immediately knew he knew something I didn’t about my time.  I really needed to fuel, but I was feeling sick and my side was killing me.  I came up to a water stop and got a cup of Gatorade.  I took two drinks and remembered why I can’t drink that stuff!  Gross!  I washed it down it some water and walked for ten more seconds trying to get the side stitch to go away.  

I started running and told myself that this was it, I had less than a 5K to go and I knew I could do it.  I decided not to take anymore walk breaks and to ignore all the girls puking all around me.  I’m sure it was really only 2 or 3, but it seemed like everyone was throwing up.  At mile 25, I felt like I was flying and dying at the same time.  I made a new rule that no one could pass me before the end.  

By this point, the crowd was incredible!  I’ve never seen so many people cheering on a race- and I knew most of them had probably been there for 6 hours!  It was amazing!  

From mile 25 on, they did an amazing job with the signs, telling you when you had one mile, 800 meters, 400 meters, 100 meters left.  That made it so much easier to think, “ok, two more laps around the track, less than two laps around the track, one more lap, HALF A LAP!”  No one passed me.  =)  

I crossed the finish line and entered an assembly line.  There was a crowd handing out aluminum blankets.  All I wanted was to sit down.  The next group was handing out medals.  I was dying to sit down.  The next group had water.  PLEASE just let me sit down! Then people were shoving food at me.  I took it all, even though I didn’t feel like eating anything.  I learned my lesson at St. Jude and sipped my water instead of chugging it.  Everyone was yelling, “Keep walking, runners. Keep moving!”  

Geoff and I had planned to meet in front of the hotel.  I had to walk about three blocks to get there and when I did, there was a fence between me and the hotel!  I asked a police officer if I could sneak out of the fence because my husband was right on the other side.  He nicely told me, “no.”  I started crying then, my legs hurt so bad I thought I would die.  I finally sat down on the sidewalk (along with a lot of other runners) and sipped a protein drink they had given me.  

At this point, I still didn’t know if I’d made my goal or not.  

I finally got the energy to get up and keep walking.  I had to walk two more blocks to get out of the park, then walk back two blocks to where Geoff was waiting.  He handed me a beautiful flower and didn’t complain that he had waited for an hour for me to get there!  Poor guy.  

The first thing I said was, “What was my time?!”  He told me it was 4:29:35, I’d beat my goal by 25 seconds!  

We got back to the room and my phone was blowing up.  Being able to run that race was amazing, but the support that I got from my husband, my coach, my team and my family and friends was beyond compare.  To realize that so many people were cheering me on, tracking me, and rooting for me leaves me speechless and so grateful.  What an amazing training season, awesome team, and fun race.  

On to St. Jude! 

For anyone interested in my 2 cents, Emily ran a very strategic race, whether she realized it at the time or not 😉  At the half marathon marker, she was at 2:18:18 and her pace band called for a 2:14:14.  So, with 4 minutes to make up over 13.1 miles, I wasn’t too nervous because I knew she started smart and even if she didn’t realize she was behind, she was going to be able to make it up.  The key was going to be for her to realize that she had 13.1 miles to do this…and not try to do it in 3 or 4 miles.

The kiss of death in a race is to start out too fast so the fact that she had gotten a little behind worked in her favor rather than had she gotten ahead.  My rule in the marathon is to reassess any time after mile 18 and to make strategic changes after this point if necessary..whether it is to slow down or speed up.  This is exactly what she did at mile 24 when she decided to abandon her last few walk breaks.  Because she started conservatively, followed her pace band (as well as she could with her watch mix-up), and ran with heart at the end, she mastered this race.  

It was so exciting to keep up with and watch the projected finish time get closer and closer to our goal and then to see Emily run her fastest mile from 25 to 26…that was just awesome!  We’re super proud!

Oh, and just to clarify, Emily actually goal-tested for a 4:31:30 but I rounded down 😉  Although I think it’s sweet that Emily thought I had given her a goal based on “want” rather than “ability”, that will never happen!