Detroit Free Press/Chemical Bank Marathon, Goals for 2021, Race Recaps, Running

Race Recap: 2021 Detroit Free Press Marathon

Katelyn and I arrived in downtown Detroit around 5pm on Saturday and headed straight to the expo. We walked right up to the booth selling old marathon gear and I was pleased to get a 2017 marathon shirt that will actually fit me for only $5! We strolled past other vendors on our way back to packet pickup. Katelyn pointed me towards the marathon line and I felt that same feeling of “Oh my gosh, I almost forgot that I’m running a FULL MARATHON tomorrow” that I have gotten at pretty much every packet pickup for a marathon. We grabbed some free cowbells for Katelyn and Ken to use when they saw me the next day.

After the expo we ordered pizza and headed to our hotel. The check in process and getting into our room was so much less stressful than the last time I had stayed downtown for the marathon. Our room ended up being handicap accessible so it was huge! We enjoyed our pizza dinner together, complete with my standby Vernors to drink. I went to the bathroom after dinner and when I emerged, I saw that there was something sitting in front of where my dinner was. Katelyn had put together a marathon treat basket for me! There were lots of different candies, some fun Halloween toys (including a blow-up dinosaur mallet that provided some great pre-race anxiety reducing entertainment) and race essentials like body glide and Honey Stinger gels.

Ken arrived at the hotel sometime after 10pm. He was full of excitement about the electricity he felt from the City of Detroit at night time. Our room had a really great view of the city lights and landscape. The best part, though, was that it was less than a half mile from the start line. It wasn’t the closest hotel to the corrals, but that nice walk in the morning would be a good warm up before the marathon.

One of Kenny’s cool night time pictures near our hotel.

I was already falling asleep before Ken got to the room, and it didn’t take long after he arrived for me to settle back into bed and go to sleep. I woke up before my alarm on marathon morning. I remarked to myself how well rested I felt and how it was probably the best sleep I’ve gotten before a marathon. I made myself a plain bagel with peanut butter that I ate along with a hard-boiled egg and drank some Gatorade. We were all able to wake up calmly, get ready without being hurried with plenty of time for bathroom breaks, and head out the door around 6:15am.

The walk to the race reminded me of the walk to my first marathon. Staci and her family had stayed at the Ren Cen, which was across the street from the hotel that we stayed in this year. My mom and I met Staci there – I had a hard boiled egg and Frosted Flakes in Staci’s hotel room before we walked to the corrals. We took the same route that morning as we did this year, which took us past the Spirit of Detroit. In 2016, Staci and I posed in front of the monument with her son. This year I posed in front of it with Katelyn and Ken took our picture.

When we got to the corrals around 6:30am, there was hardly anyone there. I said, “Well, I guess there’s time to find a porta-potty!” Something much different from past race years was that I could not find a dang porta-potty down any of the streets near the corrals! We ended up walking all the way to Cobo (Sorry – I just can’t get myself to call it “TCF Center” yet) and I was able to get in one last potty break with the comfort of indoor plumbing.

It was 6:50-something-am when we headed back to the corrals, and Fort street was packed with people. I ran into one of the race ambassadors from when I was an ambassador in 2018 and got a hug from her. The corral I was in was so crowded when I got there. I was in the second to last corral, corral “I”, which is fairly typical based on my projected finish times. Normally, though, the corrals go all the way through letter “N”. The race was definitely smaller than in the other years I had run it, an unfortunate side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and that the race would not be international this year.

I entered corral “I” alone. The only other time I have been in the race corral for a marathon alone was in 2018 at the Detroit Marathon. Of course you’re never really alone in a marathon, you’re surrounded by hundreds of people about to embark on the same crazy thing you’re about to do. And of course I had my awesome supporters who were physically there with me and all of the supporters sending me virtual messages of encouragement.

In true Detroit tradition, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” started playing as the announcer called off the first corral. The corrals were sent every 5 minutes to help with spacing on the course. When it was finally time for my corral to start, I was pumped! I didn’t start my playlist until my first walk break so I could absorb all of the excitement from other participants, spectators, race staff and volunteers.

The first song that played on my marathon playlist was “Shut Up and Dance”, the song that my friend Staci had picked for me. I teared up a little and told myself to save that for the finish – I couldn’t get too emotional this early on or I’d be a mess the whole time! The course started the way that it always does, but it was very noticeable when we made the first turn north away and it wasn’t towards the on-ramp of the Ambassador Bridge.

I took in all of the sights of the city that this new course had to offer. We passed so many Detroit landmarks that jogged my memory. Normally I would see the beautiful sunrise over the Detroit River as I crossed the Ambassador Bride, running from Detroit to Windsor. This time I got to see the sunrise over Henry Ford Hospital, a place close to my heart – it is where I completed my dietetic internship 10 years ago! The route took us by the Motown Museum, incredible street art, inspiring signs, gorgeous old neighborhoods, the Masonic Temple (where my high school graduation was held), and other spots I remembered from my internship days (like the parking garage I would always park in and the building where I did my orientation for the hospital). The route went behind Little Caesars Arena where my husband works now and took us past lots of parking lots full of tailgaters for the Lions game. It was tough to be about 10 miles into the race smelling delicious barbecue and chili in those lots!

A message came across my phone letting me know that Ken and Katelyn were waiting for me at the 13 mile marker. I told them I would toss them my long-sleeve shirt. It had been cloudy for most of the race – I kept thanking my mom for the perfect race weather. Even with the clouds, the temperature was rising and I knew I would be getting too warm soon if I didn’t ditch the long sleeve. I turned the corner headed towards the next mile marker and saw Ken and Katelyn standing on a corner. They were ringing their cowbells and cheering for me, both of them with their phones out capturing the moment. I ran up to them and gave Katelyn a high five, handed Ken my long sleeve shirt and gave him a kiss. They ran with me until I hit the 13.1 mile marker and I sang, “Whoooaaa I’m halfway there!” I had taken out my earbuds knowing I would be seeing them. I put them back in and the song that was playing was “Down” by 311. Definitely a great song to pump me up for the second half of the race!

In the previous years that I have run the Detroit Marathon, this is the point where things get a little disorienting. First, you’ve already run 13.1 miles. Even though you still have 13.1 more miles to complete, you’ve been working hard and are probably already feeling depleted. Since the race has the same start and finish line, half marathoners turn towards the finish and full marathoners go the other way. Around the halfway point there are usually a lot of spectators but it thins out really quickly. If you are in the back of the pack like I am, the pack of runners you’re with also thins out. In most years this is remedied in a few miles when the U.S. Only Half Marathon begins. Since the race did not have an international course this year, there was no need for two different half marathons. So that desolate feeling would remain for the rest of the race.

As I entered into Indian Village, I thought I felt a drop of rain. It was probably just some leftover on the trees from the day before, but it was another reminder of my first marathon. When Staci and I reached the halfway point in 2016, one of the volunteers told us it would probably start raining around mile 15, and she was absolutely right. This time it did not start raining; instead, the sun was coming out. Indian Village was a lot quieter than it has been in years gone by but the support of the neighbors was still as wonderful as it always is. Before leaving the neighborhood I was sure to run through “The Wall” and received a lot of positive encouragement related to the message on my tank top: “One Mile At a Time…”

I chose that message on my tank top to honor my mom’s memory. My mom had 23 years in recovery from addiction. The phrase “One day at a time” is common in recovery programs. My tank also had a pink ribbon on it to represent my mom’s battle with breast cancer. On the back there were angel wings and it read “This 26.2 is for you mom” with my mom’s name and her birth and death dates. Many people told me that this race would be special because my mom would be with me the whole time. There were plenty of moments where I did feel like she was there, and plenty of signs that made me think of her. I thanked her so many times during that race.

After Indian Village you run along Jefferson before turning onto Belle Isle. I caught up with a woman who was walking the marathon. She and I exchanged a few laughs. For the most part, though, I was feeling pretty alone on Belle Isle. I passed people here and there, saw a huge river freighter and remarked at how beautiful the view of the city was from there. Belle Isle felt longer than usual because of the lack of other people on course. I could not wait to get to the Riverwalk where I would have less than a 5k left to run.

A river freighter going by Belle Isle!

On my way back to the city on the bridge that connects Detroit to Belle Isle, I snapped a gorgeous picture of the Ambassador Bridge and the skyline. Not long after that, I saw some familiar faces going the other way on the bridge – my friends KT and Angela! It was Angela’s first marathon and KT had just run Chicago the week before. KT ran across the road to give me a huge hug. As I reached the end of the bridge I heard someone yelling, “Go Megan!” and recognized another couple of friends of mine – Angie and Jason. I gave Jason a high five and hugged Angie. I felt like I had gotten a power up in a video game! My energy was feeling restored and I was ready to finish this race strong.

The riverwalk was beautiful, as usual. I was definitely feeling the 23 miles I had already run. My legs were sore, it felt like my toenails might want to fall off, and I knew I’d be crying in the shower over the chafing that was going on. Although I saw other people, I was in my own little zone. I pushed each run and each walk a little bit more. I was passing more people than were passing me. I hit mile 25 and faced what always looks like the BIGGEST HILL EVER. Honestly it was probably the toughest hill of the whole marathon course since it wasn’t international this year. That hill was a challenge, but I pushed through and ran my run intervals strong, and I walked the walk intervals with a purpose. I was back downtown and knew that soon I would turn that last corner for the finish.

As I made that turn, I heard my name again. I looked to my left and saw my friend Kendra and her boyfriend Aaron cheering for me. They were telling me how strong I looked and encouraging me to push through to the end. I was smiling – honestly I think I smiled through most of the marathon. Kendra told me later that she was expecting to see my “dying grandma face” but instead saw my proud smile and remarked again about how strong I looked at the finish. I took one last walk break when it came around right at the 26 mile marker and then I pushed to the finish.

I saw Ken and Katelyn cheering for me, their hands in the air. I looked at them and a huge grin spread across my face. I had taken my earbuds out so I could hear all of the cheering around me. I could feel tears brimming in my eyes, so many emotions rushing through my body. From out of nowhere, a man was suddenly running next to me. He had his phone out and was saying to me, “Yeah you got this! Come on, let’s finish strong!” I don’t remember what I said, but I remember yelling something and then I blew a kiss to my mom, threw both hands up into the air and crossed the finish line. I turned to the runner that had finished with me. We congratulated each other. He gave me an encouraging pat on the shoulder, I playfully punched his arm and realized he had a green bib on symbolizing that he had just finished his first marathon. I told him, “Great job, you’re a marathoner!” as I walked to grab my medal.

I made the long walk from the finish arch to the exit at the church and found myself alone. I called Katelyn and she said she was at the church and I was like… “Where?!” And immediately starting having a coughing fit. Katelyn, Ken, Kendra and Aaron finally came into my view. I messaged the friends who had been in contact with me during the race to let them know I was finished and was still alive. We called my dad and told him, too. I was sore, I was tired, but I was finished and I was proud!

We hung out for a while longer to watch our friends KT and Angela finish. It was so awesome to see another friend complete the amazing feat of their first marathon! After that, Katelyn, Ken and I went to Paula’s so I could get a nice hot shower. The four of us had “linner” together at my favorite post Detroit Marathon place: Clubhouse BFD. Paula wore her shirt from the Detroit 5k the day before and I rocked my 26.2 shirt and medal. We all enjoyed the heck out of some good conversations and delicious burgers.

My official finish time was 5:48:14. It was my third best marathon time, and the second best I felt during a marathon. I met my C & D goals (finish under 6 hours and feel great doing it!) and came close to my B goal (13 min/mile pace). You never know when you’re training what you’re going to get on race day – I couldn’t have asked for better weather conditions yesterday. Combine that with mostly injury free training, good nutrition and hydration and an almost injury free training cycle and it made for an almost perfect race experience. Detroit – once again, you do not disappoint!

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