Race Recap: Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank International Half Marathon 2019

It has been a week since I ran the Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank International Half Marathon, and it’s about dang time that I write up my race recap. TL;DR – It was a whole lot of fun, with some crazy ups and downs thrown in, and I’m not just talking about the bridge and the tunnel.

Leading up to race day, I felt kind of strange. I wasn’t as nervous or as excited as I have been for the race in the past. Don’t get me wrong – I was really looking forward to the race, especially getting to run with my friends and to cheer on others to personal bests. But I knew I wasn’t going out there to PR, and it was weird not doing the full marathon since that is all I have ever done there. I was going to run some miles before and after the race to make this a training run, my 20 mile run, in preparation for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon (which is now less than 2 weeks away).

The day before the race was a little bit messy. We got down to Detroit later than we had anticipated, so we checked into the hotel first (and I am glad we did because later I found out that the rooms had been oversold and had we checked in later we may not have had a room!) and then hopped on the People Mover to head over to the expo. At the expo we saw our friends who were volunteering, lucky me got my bib pulled and had to go see Customs, and we picked up a few last minute essentials and non-essentials, including three pair of Goodr sunglasses for myself.

We had discussed dinner plans the days leading up to the expo, but because we weren’t able to get a good time for reservations we had decided to try our luck with putting our names in and waiting. The restaurants at our hotel all had 2 hour waits, and since it was already 7pm there was no way we were going to wait that long. I wanted to be asleep by the time we would’ve gotten a table, let alone how long it might take to get food. So we finally settled on Panera Bread, which still had a wait but not too bad, and it hit the spot. We took it to our room, relaxed, laughed, watched my favorite movie 50 First Dates, and discussed our plans for the morning. By the time we fell asleep we were still all uncertain about what exactly to wear, but we were excited for the race.

I tossed and turned all night, which is not unusual for me the night before a big race, even if I am in my own bed. My alarm went off at 4:21am the next day – ugh! Katelyn and I got up, I got some breakfast and got ready to run. She had to be to the race at 5:30am to volunteer, and I wanted to get as many miles in before the race as I could, because I knew I wouldn’t really want to keep running after finishing the race. Not long into walking over to the race start, I took my quarter zip off and gave it to Katelyn. It was a warm day in the city – not as warm as in years past, but definitely warm enough that I could rock my tank top and capris.

I really enjoyed those early morning miles before the race more than I expected. I was able to see the final race preparations – arches being set up, barricades put in their places, volunteers and law enforcement closing down roads and keeping us safe. I talked to quite a few runners as they made their way to the race, especially the ones I saw with green bibs that indicated today they would be running their first full marathons. I made my way back to our hotel to meet up with Paula and Christine, and the three of us walked to the start together. We ran into some of our local running friends on the way there and got a quick picture. Since Christine was in a different corral than we were, we separated after a quick selfie and wished each other luck.

Paula and I planned to run the whole race together. Neither of us planned to PR. It was Paula’s first running race since her marathon at Glass City in April. She had been dealing with injury and was finally doing much better. She had no problem with taking it easy with me, since my big goal is the marathon that is now less than two weeks away. We planned to have fun, stopping at all of the photo ops, taking selfies, rocking out to music, etc. Waiting in the corral we weren’t nervous or anxious – we were just excited!

The race started, and we took off faster than planned, no surprise there. It felt good and even though we know better – it’s a 13.1 mile race, not a 3.1 mile race – we just kept going. We took a selfie at the one mile mark, and from there didn’t get another selfie at the mile markers, even though that was our plan, haha! It was around that time that I got a few texts from people telling me that the app wasn’t tracking me, so I told them to just track Paula. I didn’t really think anything of it.

The sunrise was absolutely incredible. We stopped for a picture of it before the bridge. Then we headed up on the ramp to the bridge and then the bridge, the forever long ascent, the hill that you feel like will never end. Paula did a live video and we talked to our friend Jeff while we were on the bridge. At some point while we were climbing the forever hill, I randomly said to Paula, “We should go to Niagara Falls!” She said, “Okay!” More to that story later.

We arrived in Canada, where the fun was just beginning. We were both dying for an aid station – we had bypassed the first one because we weren’t thirsty, which was probably a mistake. (At the end of this race recap I will summarize all of the lessons I learned at this race, hydration being one of them!) We finally got to the water station after the bridge, and we hit every water station from that point forward. In Canada we saw some pretty awesome signs, which of course I can’t remember any other than the one that said “Run Like Phoebe!” and the only reason I remember that one is because Paula took a picture of me with it.

The day was just gorgeous. The weather was ideal – not too hot, not too cold. It was great for spectators and they were abundant throughout the entire course. We heard encouragement from other runners and gave encouragement ourselves. Many people commented on my hair – I was wearing a hot pink wig for breast cancer awareness. I also wore my tank top that says “At the end of the day the relentless always win” with the pink breast cancer ribbon on the front, and “This 26.2 is for you mom” on the back. Several people commented, “Your mom would be proud!” To which I responded – “She sure is, and I’m thankful because she is a survivor! One year cancer free! Also I’m only doing the half today.” with a laugh and a smile.

The tunnel was not as awful as it has been in previous years, although once we hit the halfway point it got pretty swampy feeling. People were cheering, singing, laughing and having a great time. We stopped for a picture by the border with the two flags. We ended up walking up the incline out of the tunnel because we were getting so overheated and tired. Paula was having some pain – her pirformis was bothering her again, and her shoes were giving her a blister. My hip flexor was tight, which has been an ongoing issue for a while now, and sometimes it just felt like my leg was done running, but walking sometimes made it feel worse. We were turning into kind of a hot mess, and it was reminiscent of my first time in Detroit in 2016…

The cool air was a huge relief as we came out of the tunnel, and I recorded us approaching the “Welcome Back to the U.S.A.” sign on my phone. It was hard not to stop there because our hotel was right next to it, but we kept going, and headed to the Lodge. Our music started playing again, and as we made our way down the Lodge I shouted the words to Taylor Swift’s You Need to Calm Down – “Shade never made anybody less gay!” I got a few strange looks. ;)

We ran past Joe Louis Arena, which was strange. It’s different seeing it the way it is now – with remnants of the building, almost like a skeleton – rather than if it was completely gone. Over time once it is completely gone, people will forget it, or won’t notice it, or think, “Huh, this looks different.” But how it looks now is rather sad.

It wasn’t long after that point that we headed into Mexicantown and the struggle began. I commented on how when I ran my first Detroit Marathon in 2016 that my friend Staci and I were really hurting going up a hill in this area… and realize we were going up that very hill. Around this point we found an aid station and I had taken a drink of water when Paula said, “I really feel like I’m dying. Buy my coffin. Make sure I’m buried in a Jewish cemetary.” I was laughing so hard and trying not to spit out my water, and a woman actually asked Paula if I was okay. She said, “Oh yeah, I just made her laugh and she’s trying not to spit out her water.” When I finally gained composure, I said to Paula, “All I could picture was that you were some kind of vampire and I was picking out a really creepy coffin for you.” She said, “Well bury me with a stake then for good measure.” We laughed way too much at this, and it was probably a little bit of delirium from being dehydrated.

We both commented for the rest of the race how we just could not get enough water or fluids. We were ready to chug something. We commented on how we wished we had our own water (we decided not to risk bringing our own because technically you are not supposed to take fluids across the international borders) and also on how we were really taking a ride on the struggle truck. We posed and smiled when we saw cameras, then complained about our slow death when they weren’t around. We both acknowledged that it was really nice not to be struggling alone, and that if we did in fact die, at least we’d be together. Around mile 12 we were dying for the last water station. I made the comment, “Hey, weren’t we supposed to take fuel again?” and Paula said, “Yeah, like around mile 11, but we’re almost done now.” We really forgot how to run.

After the last water station, we decided to run all the way to the finish. We were both so ready to be done. We had a great time together, but we were both hurting, tired, and freakin’ thirsty. We made that final turn to the finish and I commented, “God that’s still really fat.” As we got closer, the cheers of the crowd and the familiar faces pumped us up. I reached my hand out to Paula, she grabbed it, and we held hands the last stretch, raising them in the air for the finish. When we got on the other side of the finish line I gave her a big hug. I was happy crying. There really is not much more emotional than struggling through a tough race with a friend and finishing strong, hand in hand.

We met up with our friends and family – we were super happy to hear that my brother-in-law and our friend Christine had gotten amazing personal bests that day. We hobbled our way back to our hotel to get showers in, pack up and leave. And here’s where the day started going downhill for me.

When we got back to the hotel, I offered to let everyone else shower first since I am very guilty of taking forever an running out of hot water. As I waited, I tried to check for my official finish time. When I scanned my QR code on my bib, nothing came up. Even though I wasn’t really surprised since everyone was telling me that they couldn’t track me, I was still frustrated and annoyed. Then, I went to show my family the Goodr sunglasses I had bought, and realized that I was missing a pair! At first I panicked thinking someone had stolen them, but then logic told me that what had probably happened is they had given me the box for the display glasses. I was really upset about it because they were the pair I really wanted the most, and I had no idea what vendor I had bought them from. Everyone reassured me that I should be able to find out where I got them from my credit card statement, and they told me to talk to my friends at the marathon (I know some of the race team from being an ambassador in 2018) to find out about my time. I told myself, and everyone else, “I’m not going to let these couple of things ruin what has been an awesome day, and I want to go see my friend Carlos finish his first marathon.”

We headed back to the finish line to wait for Carlos. We decided to wait to eat until afterwards so that way we wouldn’t chance missing him. We had gotten snacks after the race, but of course I didn’t think to bring them with me. And didn’t think to bring anything to drink with me, either. We survived though, sitting and tracking Carlos, waiting for him and our friend Katelyn to come down the street to the finish. As we waited, we saw others finishing their races. It was a challenge not to start bawling as we saw people crying, smiling, laughing, giving hugs and kisses to their love ones, etc. crossing that finish line. The quote, “If you’re ever losing faith in humanity, go out and watch a marathon.” is so. freaking. true.

The moment we had been waiting for came as we got the alert that Carlos and Katelyn had hit mile 25. We stood up, scanning the road for them. Christine spotted them first – thankfully Katelyn wore her bright yellow Trix shirt from Ragnar so we could pick them out quite a ways down the road. They were walking when we saw them, and as they got closer we saw them say to each other to run it in. We were screaming and cheering, I was recording it on my phone, and I was trying to see through tears as they made their way to the final finishing chute. When the announcer said Carlos’s name, the crowd erupted into cheers, with Katelyn throwing her fists in the air and pointing at Carlos, as if to say – “Look at this guy! This amazing guy just finished his first marathon!” It was a very emotional finish that I am so glad to have witnessed.

Christine, Paula and I headed to lunch from there, and then headed home. It had been a long, emotional, fun, exciting, difficult weekend and I was ready for a nap! In the days after the race, I figured a lot of things out… so here are my “Lessons Learned” from this year’s Detroit race.

  1. Lesson One: Double check your bib. I found out a few days after the race that the reason why I wasn’t tracked and why I didn’t have an official time is because my bib had the wrong chip on it. At first I thought maybe it was a malfunction of the chip, so I was looking at it to see if it looked funny. That’s when I noticed that my chip number was one number off from my actual bib number. I looked up the results for my chip number, and wouldn’t you know… exactly the same as Paula’s. From now on, I will always check over my bib!
  2. Lesson Two: Don’t forget to hydrate the day before the race. Paula and I realized that neither of us had anything to drink from the moment we left our houses (which was longer for me than her) until we had dinner the night before the race. That’s way too long to go without something to drink and it is probably why we struggled so much and felt so dehydrated at the race.
  3. Lesson Three: If you buy something from the expo, get a receipt or at least make sure that you use your credit card. This actually wasn’t really a bad experience. Because I used my credit card, I was able to see who the vendor was that I got my Goodrs from. I emailed them and they were so helpful. They noticed that they had an extra pair and were happy to ship them to me – to my surprised, they shipped them OVERNIGHT and even included a couple of free Honey Stinger Gels, the only ones they had left in the store. Their customer service was incredible and I will absolutely shop at their store if I am ever in the area!
  4. Lesson Four: If you buy something that comes in a box, always double check to make sure that said item is actually in the box. Even though the whole thing turned out just fine, I could have avoided it by just checking the Goodr box when I bought them.

I hope that you enjoyed reading my long recap of this crazy race. It is officially taper time as I prepare for the next big one: Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. I have no idea what to expect for this one, either, and I am kinda feeling the same way. A little neutral. Not super anxious or nervous, but not crazy excited either. It isn’t in a bad way – it is just a weird feeling. I hope that in the next couple of weeks my feelings will change and I will be just as pumped for this marathon as I have been for others in the past. I will tell you one thing – I really can’t wait to see what I am capable of!

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