On October 15, 2017 I ran the 40th Annual Detroit International Half Marathon, sponsored by the Detroit Free Press and Chemical Bank. The race is special in that it begins in downtown Detroit, MI, crosses the border to Windsor, Canada, then crosses the border again to finish back in Detroit. I’d heard great things about the race and finally was able to fit it in my schedule.
If you’re not familiar with the geography, crossing the border between Detroit and Windsor means crossing the Detroit River – which a vehicle can do either by going over the Ambassador Bridge, or going underneath the water through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. The race takes advantage of both these options by having the runners first cross the bridge then come back through the tunnel (more on that later). It’s a unique experience and definitely not something any other state can offer. This is one of the appeals of running this race.
As noted in my other blogs this year, I’d spent most of the summer injured, so when I finally got back to training in early August I took it easy. I ramped up my mileage slowly and didn’t do any speed work – I wanted to run this race for fun, not for time, so the mileage was all that mattered and I didn’t want to re-injure myself. So, leading up to race day I felt confident I would be fine and finish in a respectable time (not that I was racing for time, but I’m still competitive with myself!)
My husband Ari and I secured an Airbnb about 1.5 miles from the start line/expo. We headed down Friday night to get settled in and hit the Expo first thing Saturday morning. The swag bag was better than expected! In addition to our cool race shirt and some coupons we got a really nice buff and a race sticker, totally unexpected items.
Of course we spent way more time there than we planned, mostly because we chatted with a Garmin representative for 30+ minutes. I’ve never had a GPS watch and finally decided it’s time. I ended up with the Forerunner 35 – it’s on the lower end, but I wanted to start simple and see how I use it before getting all fancy (that and let’s face it, I’m poor and can’t afford the fancier ones!)
We had a late lunch/early dinner at a local dive called Honest John’s. Soooo Goood!
I wanted everything on the menu. They serve breakfast almost all day, and have something called Fruity Pebbles French Toast – you can guess what that was. Knowing I needed carbs and protein I went with their famous chicken and waffles – a solid and delicious choice (and huge portions! I took half of it home!). Highly recommend this place next time you’re in Midtown.
Spent the evening relaxing and watching tv, stretching and of course an early bedtime. It had rained all day and due to projected storms on Sunday, the race sent us an email late Saturday with instructions for what to do if the race were cancelled, specifically what to do if it was cancelled while we were running on the Canadian side – nothing like adding to the pre-race jitters!
Alarm went off at 5am – I needed to be at the start line about 6:15 for the usual pre-race rituals of porta-potty lines and the like. Luckily it was NOT raining and the race was on. My hubby was nice and drove me downtown as far as he could to drop me off – which turned out to be only a block from my corral! He drove home to finish getting ready then walked back downtown to see me later on the course.
The only major flaw I found in the race organization was the corrals – we had letters on our bib but, a) no one was checking as you entered and b) the letters on the big poles and the signs being held by volunteers didn’t match up so you couldn’t tell where each corral began and ended. I was in G but found myself surrounded by folks with letters everywhere from E to H (and a few end-of-the-alphabet folks who snuck in since they weren’t checking). I think we ended up being around the 5th wave to start, about 7:10, so that wasn’t bad.
The day of my race happened to be my brother’s birthday. He’s a member of the military so I dedicated my race to him by going with a patriotic theme (which also seemed appropriate for an International race). I wore my Team RWB shirt, blue Cascade skirt and visor from Skirt Sports, patriotic ProCompression leggings, and Kinvara Saucony shoes. I completed the outfit with a “Happy Birthday Jeff” sign on my back.
It was HUMID and 75 degrees at 7am. (Seriously, it was like Bayshore all over again). Not typical October weather in Michigan. It was really windy, but at least it wasn’t raining. The first 1 to 2 miles were rough – I was breathing hard due to the humidity and had weird ankle/shin pain I’ve never had before. That freaked me out, but after stopping to stretch it eventually went away by the time we got to the bridge.
Running over the Ambassador Bridge was neat! I will admit it was a tad underwhelming – I guess I got spoiled by running the Mackinac Bridge this year – but it was still really cool, had a neat view of the Detroit and Windsor skylines, and I got to see the beginning of the sunrise. I was feeling much better by this point, and my ITB only flared slightly on the downward slope portion of the bridge.
Due to it being an international border crossing you are required to run with your passport for security issues. They also had border agents stationed along the entire bridge checking bib numbers, inspecting water bottles and Camelbaks and just keeping a general eye out for any issues. I felt very secure.
I enjoyed running in Canada (Let’s face it, it’s basically like running in the US, but sometimes they cheer for you with a Canadian accent, and the street signs are in metric – but otherwise it’s the same, LOL). There were lots of spectators out and we ran right along the waterfront giving us a nice view of the Detroit skyline.
I was enjoying my run and felt great from miles 3 to 8, maybe because I kept stopping to take pictures. A LOT of pictures – including a giant handbell! At that point it was more a photography session with some sprinting in between takes! Small selection follows:
Then we hit the tunnel. I’d been told the tunnel was both really cool and really crappy – Yup. True. The first half was ok, you’re running downhill as it slopes under the river, but the further you get in, the less fresh air there is, and it’s super crowded (So.Many.Runners.In.A.Small.Space), stuffy, stifling and I just wanted out of there. I don’t get claustrophobic but I needed fresh air as it was impacting my running at that point, especially as we made the uphill climb to find land again. The only cool part was stopping at the halfway point between the two countries and taking photos with the flags. (Thanks to the random stranger who grabbed my phone, handed me his, then played Frogger with the runners as we traded pics across the tunnel!)
Luckily, Ari was waiting for me coming out of the tunnel with a sign saying “Run Like The Wind, Bullseye!” That made my race! A quick stop for a kiss, to shed my arm warmers and snag a picture was just what I needed at mile 9.5.
The rest of the race was mostly a blur. I wasn’t feeling great – I was dehydrated and drinking both gatorade and water at every water station – something I never do (I stick to a little water usually). My face was tingly and I found myself walking a couple times those last 4 miles. At this point in the race we were going through a neighborhood and there were hardly any spectators, so it was hard to keep up the momentum and motivation.
At mile 12 I tried picking up the pace a bit as we hit the downtown area and people had lined the streets again. I was expecting Ari near the finish, but due to barricades he was near mile 12.5 and on the wrong side of the street from the Half runners so he saw me, but I never saw him. He told me later I didn’t look good – gee thanks, lol
I finished strong, with a final time of 2:15:50. Not bad at all! I was actually expecting it to be much slower, especially considering how many gazillion times I stopped for photos. Though I do think those little breaks actually helped get me to the end in one piece. (My PR is 2:08 – I’ve actually gotten 2:08 twice – both high-humidity races and one badly injured – so 2:15 is totally respectable).
The finishing chute was very organized, if not a bit too organized! We were immediately handed our medals, a water bottle, chocolate milk and a snack bag, then wrapped in a space blanket. I was in a daze, guzzling water and trying to find my husband, only to realize they had huge fences along both sides, forcing us to walk another two blocks to the exit where we could meet our family.
I reunited with Ari, took some finisher pics and then we walked back to our Airbnb to grab some food, pack up and head home. I capped off the day with a nap and a giant burger from my favorite restaurant by our house.
All and all it was a good race. I’m not sure I’ll do it again, as there are only so many weekends for races and I like new experiences. But I’d recommend it. Sign up opens at Midnight on January 1 – so as soon as the ball drops, be ready to sign up!
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