Detroit Marathon

Google map of Detroit marathon course

Like I've read so many times, a marathon doesn't start until mile 20. For me, it started at mile 16, when everything changed from a nice run to a challenge to overcome.

The first half-marathon was easy enough, which was surprising after how it had all started. I'm always short on time when I do anything in a city. I didn't expect to spend most of my prep time waiting in line in a muddy, vacant lot to use a port-o-potty and then pushing my way through the crowds to get to the starting gate. Once I was in position, I had only a few inches of personal space to do my stretches, which was little help without having had time or room to do a warmup run. And on top of it all, I was standing around in windy 30 degree weather. But despite the poor conditions at the start I settled into a nice, comfortable sub 8:00 minute mile pace.

My first challenge on the course, though it doesn't seem like much now, was running up the Ambassador Bridge. The entire course is fairly flat, with the exception of the bridge to Canada and coming back through the tunnel. The incline isn't brutal, but it's consistent for at least a half mile. Running down the bridge was relaxing and once I arrived at customs we were greated by a radio personality. He kept everyones' spirits up with some light humor like "if you need to toss your hat or gloves, pass them over here. I've got a lot of christmas presents to give out this year." and "does anyone have anything to declare?" It was a sharp contrast to the row of security guards that were checking every runner on the way back to the states, making sure everyone was a legitamate participant.

Once I was stateside again I had my first super fan sighting at Cobo Hall. Amy and I had prepared a map the day before with my expected times so she could follow me around the course. Because the race came through downtown for the half marathon finish we were able to coordinate 3 places for her to see me along the route. Each time I saw her I got a rush. We'd both wave frantically with a big smile and then I was on my way again.

Once I was heading away from the skyscrapers and out toward Belle Isle is where mile 16 hit and I started slowing down. It started out with some pain in my left knee. It felt like my IT band was tight so I stopped for the first time to stretch it out. It seemed to help, but I still felt joint pain and when I got to the next aid station I realized that I was loosing my desire to take in gels and liquid. I knew that if I was going to finish with a reasonable time that I would need to keep my stomach under control and not throw up. I made sure to walk through every aid station and slowly sip down gatorade. After a few miles this seemed to help and my stomach settled enough that it didn't bother me, but not enough to actually eat anything the rest of the race.

Belle Isle, mile 17 to 20, had to be one of the most difficult sections of the race. The course was completely exposed to the wind coming off the river and as the day passing the wind was picking up. With my clothes getting damp from sweat and my pace slowing my body temp started to dive. Luckily, I was never so cold that I was shivering and I didn't have any signs of hypothermia.

After making it off Belle Isle I knew I only had a 10K to go. I've been eating 10Ks for breakfast for months now and had a very solid idea of what was ahead. Of course, a 10K when you're tired is entirely different than a 10K when you are fresh or even in a triathlon. I knew that I needed to run faster than 12 minute miles to finish in under 4 hours, so I made that my new goal (my original goal was to finish in 3:30, which I was on pace to do until mile 16).

I concentrated on finishing each mile and walking through each aid station was my reward for continuing. All of my joints starting cursing at me when I would start running again, but the fans along the side of the road were incredibly supportive. And at this point, when my body was crumbling, I felt what it's like to do a marathon. My emotions became extremely powerful. Some of the cheesiest things, like signs reading "you're my hero", would get me completely choked up. Seeing so many people out there on a cold morning to cheer thousands of strangers on was inspiring. For a brief moment, I was even able to find the strength to pick up my pace when I came across an inner city marching band that was kicking out the jams. The fans and the volunteers were just amazing.

Once I saw Ford Field coming over the freeway with less than a mile to go I knew I would be able to finish in under 4 hours. I saw the 3:55 pace runner pass me by as I fueled up at the last aid station. The street coming into the stadium was packed and everything felt a little easier as I came closer to the finish. The ramp down into the field was a bit disorienting because of the steep decline and the sudden rise in temperature. Then there it was, the finish line on the 50 yard line. As I approached I heard my name announced on the load speaker and I saw myself cross the line on the giant monitor down the field. 3:56:42

I was having a hard time believing that what I had just finished was only a part of the Ironman I will be doing next year, but after this what's another 114.4 miles, right?

Here are a few things that put a smile on my face after the race:

  • Sophia: "ucky pottie. port-o-potty ucky."
  • Sophia: "daddy run 2 miles!"
  • Bum looking to bum a cigerette: "with all these runners around, nobody smokes!"


Now I'm all choked up too! Congrats Steven!

That's awesome Steven! Congratulations on finishing. I'm very impressed. (I've been on the lookout for your write-up of your run.)

Well, you couldn't have put it any better. Mile 16-20 are killers. I remember having to run up wind along Lake erie in 40 degree wether after having been rained on for half the race and feeling the wind sap precious body heat... It must have been around mile 18... shortly followed by the knee and ankle pain... yeah, you know that this is why 90% of the population isn't crazy enough run in marathons. ;P Still, I've commited to attempt two next year (the cleveland and the Akron Marathons) and I'm hoping to take at least an hour off my 4:27 time. If you can fit it into your schedule the Akron marathon is supposed to be a nice run and it'd be great to see you, Amy, and Sophia. Anyway, congratulations on your achievement!Excellent time too, you've bested my time by 30 min! ;P


John K.

ps You're soo right about emotions twards the end... and mile marker 17 is magic!!! (only single digits after that)

You are my hero! I know what you mean about how raw your emotions get out there, even on just a 10K. It's true are setting a great example for all of us.

Love you!

Great job, Steven. That's a great time! Your triathalon training is paying off. At some point I'd like to beat my time of 4:23 from this past May (Bayshore in Traverse City). I had a similar experience to you... was doing great halfway, started to feel a little tired around mile 16, hit The Wall at mile 19.5, then for the rest of the way I would walk a minute or two, run to the next mile marker and repeat. I don't envy the strong winds you had to face on Sunday. I ran the relay with a few friends whom I met while training for the marathon and they said the winds on Bel Isle and the whole way back were brutal. Good luck in training for the Ironman!

wow, congratulations stephen! what an accomplishment...and like you said it's just the beginning. keep up the good work!



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