Thursday, October 23, 2008

Race Report: Detroit Free Press/Flagstar Marathon

Where the journey begins.
My first marathon.

I haven't had a "first" quite like this for a long time. I thought all my "firsts" were over and done with. First word, first step, first lost tooth, first car, first day of college, first kiss, first...well, you know, first hangover, first job, first house. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would add "first marathon" to the list.

In the predawn chilly chaos before I went to the starting corral area

Saturday we went out to dinner and I said "no" to the wine and "yes" to five rolls, the same rolls of which I won a dozen in the Run for the Rolls. I chowed down on chicken pasta (carbs and protein!) and went to bed around 9:30. I had a decent night's sleep and bounced out of bed when the alarm went off at 4:30. We were on the road just after 5:00 and parked in downtown Detroit about an hour later. I found the bar that Running Fit had rented for the RF501 team and made some final prerace preparations: strap on the heart rate monitor, pin my Gu packets into my shorts, put on my new headband, don the throwaway sweatshirt which John sacrificed to the cause of keeping me warm while waiting for the start.

Standing in the corral immediately before the start, I was overcome with emotion and had to scrub briskly at my face to dispel what might have turned into tears. I just couldn't believe I was about to embark on this crazy adventure. I thought, I'm going to run a MARATHON. It was totally dark, freezing cold, and I was about to take the first step of thousands on my 26.2-mile journey. I folded my hands and tucked them under my chin to keep them warm. This was not the time for weepy introspection.

And then we were off.
I'm in this teeming mob somewhere.
In the Beginning

I ditched the sweatshirt around mile 1. I wasn't cold anymore. I felt great. I breathed deep, slow and even and let the excitement of the day sweep me along. I passed the lonely monolith of the one remaining side of old Tiger Stadium, fallen victim to progress and the wrecking ball. As we neared the bridge around mile 3 the sun was just beginning to rise. A long line of runners, silhouetted black against the sun, stretched across the span of the bridge. There were just enough clouds to turn the sky pink and orange (just like my headband!) and I thought it was beautiful. My friend and fellow RF501er Erika caught up to me on the bridge ascent and we started running together at a good pace. We came down off the bridge and then we were in Canada. From the other side of the river, Detroit didn't look so bad, the glass of its buildings shining in the morning light. After three or so miles of Windsor we looped around and headed for the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. Last year this was my least favorite part of the race: hot, loud, crowded, and stuffy. This year it was less loud, less hot, less stuffy, but still really crowded. We were spat out of the tunnel at mile 9 and the crowd support there was awesome. After a cruise through Corktown (where we saw a woman running totally barefoot) I was almost at the halfway point and feeling great.

(Miles 1-12: 8:34, 8:27, 8:30, 8:46, 8:21, 8:33, 8:23, 8:40, 8:58, 8:07 (yikes!), 8:28, 8:15)

The Pivotal Moment

Somewhere during mile 13 I said to Erika, "I have to stop. I have to go to the bathroom." We had been hanging just behind the 3:45 pace group for miles and I thought I had a good shot at meeting my top goal of a BQ time. I had been feeling twinges of unrest for a few miles and knew the beast in my GI tract wouldn't stay under control for much longer. I pulled over at a Porta-Potty stop; unfortunately I chose one with a line and SOME SLOW-ASS PEOPLE DOING WHO KNOWS WHAT IN THERE FOR WHAT FELT LIKE FREAKING 15 MINUTES. I stood there getting colder and colder, feeling my muscles start to chill and stiffen, as my Garmin whirred on and about a bazillion people passed by. FINALLY it was my turn and I wrestled my shorts and underwear off (they were recalcitrant and glued to me with sweat), took care of business (AAAAAAHHHHHH) and wrestled my clothes back on, popping a pin in the process, sending a Gu packet to the ground, where I snatched it back up after an instant's pause (ohmygod it fell on the floor in a PORTA-POTTY...oh, what the hell, I can't leave it there) and burst out of the john with my shorts all bunched up and askew, underwear half hanging out, and my rear on display because the hem of my shorts had gotten tucked inside the liner. I saw that the 3:50 pace group had just gone past, and I bolted after them, rearranging my shorts as I went. I turned it on hard because I wanted to catch back up with the 3:45 group so badly. I passed the 3:50-ers and by the halfway point I was somewhere in between the two groups and feeling the first pangs of something deep in my quads.

(Mile 13, the Porta-Potty Stop Mile: 10:02)

Approaching my family at the halfway point. I'm the crazy person waving my arms.

Things Get Ugly

I saw my assembled family right at the halfway mark and I ran exuberantly over to the side and gave John a big high five. My time at the half was 1:54:44, an 8:45 pace, and faster than my official half marathon race PR I set in May. I was now on a course out of the city that would lead me to Belle Isle. I had heard unpleasant things about the Belle Isle portion of the course (miles 17-20): windy, dismal, boring, no crowd support. Shortly after mile 17, I had to make a quick stop at a Porta-Potty again. I just groaned when I realized I needed to stop again. My quads were now officially singing an aria of pain the composer of which I did not know. This level of pain and interference with my performance was new to me. Never before had my muscles rebelled so thoroughly against what I was asking of them. I had smoothly run 16, 18, even 20 miles before without experiencing this mind-boggling ache. When I left the Porta-Potty the 3:50 pace group had just gone past and I staggered after them. Try as I might I would never pass them again. I slogged onward. I found the Belle Isle miles rather pleasant from a scenic perspective. The 20-mile mark was right after I crossed the Belle Isle bridge back to Detroit.

(Miles 14-20: 7:47 (still playing catchup), 8:13, 8:37, 8:33, 9:53 (Porta-Potty stop #2), 8:36, 8:41)
Closer, but more blurry. I still look happy!

On my way out of the city toward Belle Isle. A long 13.1 miles still lie ahead.

Running along the Detroit River Walk around mile 16.

On the way to Belle Isle.
The Long Run Home

I was now in uncharted territory: over 20 miles. As I came off the bridge I thought, Only a 10K to go. What's a 10K? I can do this. I came up behind a familiar blue shirt: it was my RF501 teammate Ted. He looked less than his usual self. I asked him how he was doing and he replied he had been in pain since mile 5. We hung together for a long time, trading places back and forth as the course wound through the Indian Village neighborhood. Around mile 21 things really started to disintegrate. I could feel myself falling farther and farther off my intended pace as the pain in my quads reached a crescendo. I zeroed in on a spot on the pavement about 20 feet in front of me and stared at it grimly as the street slipped by under my feet. I didn't even look around at the beautiful old homes which normally I would squeal over. I even passed up a table full of shots of beer (sorry, Viper). I just wanted it to be over. The course made one final turn onto Lafayette around 22.5 miles and then it was just one long-ass straight stretch (death march) all the way back into downtown and the finish. As I swung onto Lafayette and saw the Renaissance Center miles away in the hazy distance, I cried inside, knowing I had to run all the way there. How was I ever going to be able to do it?

One foot in front of the other. Just keep moving. I couldn't even see the 3:50 pace group any more. The 3:55 group hadn't passed me yet, and I decided that if I couldn't meet my A Goal of a Boston qualifying time, I was going to move mountains to finish in under four hours and meet my B Goal. I gritted my teeth and pressed on. At a water stop at mile 24.5 I was walking (well, lurching would be more accurate) with my cup when my friend and fellow runner Fritz, who was spectating and helping cheer on the RF501ers, came across the road to me. I rolled my eyes and gasped, "I'm in so much pain." "You're almost there, just keep going," he said. I staggered off, legs clamoring in protest as they were forced to start moving again. Not long after, shortly after mile 25, I passed another table full of little cups and a sign that said, "BEER." I thought, Oh, why the hell not, and swung over to the side to grab a cup. The guy handing out cups yelled, "ALL RIIIIIIGHT!" as I tossed back a shot of warm, nasty, light beer. Why couldn't it have been something really awesome, like Motor City Nut Brown Ale or Atwater Brewing Vanilla Java Porter? I thought, Well, if this makes me feel gross, at least I'm almost done.

At long, long last I was back downtown. The course made a 90-degree turn to the north, a little curve to the west, and then plunged south down Woodward Avenue to the finish. When I rounded that final turn and saw the finish line in the distance I reached down and scraped up everything I had left to make a strong run to the end.

This is the face of suffering at Mile 26.

All of the spectators were screaming and rattling cowbells and the banner over the finish drew closer and closer. I saw the clock reading "3:53:XX" and I rejoiced because I knew I was going to come in under four hours. I reached my arms up and crossed over, mashing the stop button on Garmy, and finally, finally, it was OVER. I looked once, tiredly, at Garmy and it said 3:52:00. I then lapsed back into a daze, repeating to myself, I ran a marathon. I ran a marathon!

Can you feel the power of the moment?!

Don't forget to stop Garmy!

(Miles 21-26: 8:59, 8:47, 9:18, 9:11, 9:33, 8:54, and the final 0.2 at an 8:13 pace for my official chip time of 3:52:01, an 8:52/mile average)


A finisher's medal which weighed approximately 50 pounds was slung around my neck, a Mylar wrap found its way around my sweaty body and promptly sealed itself to me, a bag of food was pressed into my hand, and I ambled out into the bright sunshine of a gorgeous October morning to find my family.
My mom and I

John and I

One newly minted marathon runner.

After a rambunctious reunion we made our way back to the RF501 HQ where I changed clothes and gathered my things. A mere 45 minutes later we were tucked into a booth at Zingerman's Roadhouse in Ann Arbor where I enjoyed my first beer in five days, a delicious Stoudt's Pale Ale. I inhaled both the beer and my lunch of the best macaroni and cheese (smoked chicken & Monterey Jack) known to mankind.

I know you've seen this one already but I like it so much I had to post it again.

What you haven't seen: what happened after I finished my beer!

I stayed conscious enough to take a shower and put on clean clothes once I got home but then I crawled into bed and took a long nap. I got up around 5:30, hung out downstairs for a couple of hours, and was back in bed around 7:30 (reading) with lights out at 8:30.

I was exhausted, sore, but triumphant.

What Next?

For the first time in four months I do not have to get up and go running each morning. This is not to say I don't want to, because I do. I'm just a wee bit sore. However, I believe the mornings of 8-mile runs before work are over for the time being. I have a few months to relax and just enjoy my running before I start training for the Cleveland Marathon. Oh, wait, did I just say that? Yes, folks, I already have my next marathon picked out. I ran my first in my adopted big city hometown of Detroit. Now I shall return to my roots and run my second marathon in my real big city hometown of Cleveland. And this time I'm going to qualify for Boston.



raulgonemobile said...

Awesome! Congrats! Even cooler that you're going to continue on.

Anonymous said...

Congrats - that is awesome! Amazing that even with the pain you kept the end miles in the 9 min range per mile.

Emma said...

CONGRATULATIONS! That's awesome.

muh said...

i'm thrilled for you. You did wonderfully.
I wish you luck with Cleveland - i think BQ is definitely in sight.

if you ever come up with a cure for having to stop in the middle of the race, let me know. for my training runs i've been trying to get up early and get it out of my system BEFORE i start. I've had mixed success, and it needs to be combined with purposeful eating the night before.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

You did a great job. Nearly everyone does significantly better on their subsequent marathons, since the first is sort of like practice.

I know you'll get that BQ!

As for needing to stop mid-race, I've had good luck with Immodium. One the day before, another the morning of. You'll have an entirely different sort of problem for several days after, but hey, that's why you do it only for races and not for training.

BeachRunner said...

Wow! Congratulations on an awesome race. You are tough as nails. I have no doubt you will get that BQ. Great report and pics too.

Zoomy said...

So awesome! And it gets me all excited for my next one, all over again! I'm not dreading training at all (though I must say that I have kind of liked these last couple of weeks of laid-back runs without much purpose).

You looked great and look at your awesome time! You will get that BQ--of that I have no doubt!


Mechelle said...

Great job! I've been following you for a while and I'm glad to see you accomplished your goal. And I did "feel the moment" and can prove it because I got teary at the photos of you crossing the finish line. There is nothing like feeling the accomplishment of the marathon, no matter how bad it hurts. Enjoy your rest time.

bobbyjohn said...

Outstanding effort! get back out there and gimme some speed work!

Mike Fox said...

Awesome job! Sub-4 is a great time for a first marathon!!! I don't know if I'll ever see that territory...

Keep on runnin'!!! (and blogging too!)

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Sarah, when I saw this morning that your race report was up, it was the first thing I clicked on. Glad it was! This was beautiful! You had me on the edge of my seat, even though (Spoiler Alert!) I kinda knew already how it was going to turn out.

The word "Congratulations!" just seems insufficient, but it's all I got.

Under 4 hours with TWO port-a-john breaks in your first marathon. I'm at a loss, except to say you've made it into the pantheon of mid-range deities of this heathen.

Ellipses say so much. "[F]irst...well, you know" definitely alludes to your first beer, right? Or wait! Does it refer to what inevitably happens after that first beer? ;-)

I must say, I knew I was in the presence of beer connoisseur greatness when you managed, after having run 25+ miles, to raise your pinky, quaff a bad brew, sniff imperiously, and give it a bad review: "A light beer?! Sir, I am a marathoner, not an animal! Good day to you! I. SAID. GOOD. DAY!!"

Let's hope future marathon planners take the hint.

Um ... you might want to apologize to teammate Ted: "I came up behind a familiar blue shit: it was my RF501 teammate Ted" - you've blown his cover as a Blue Meanie.

Can't blame you, though, for having sh*t on your mind, given the circumstances.

Excellent report! Well worth the wait! I will be quaffing a fine(?) home-brewed doppelbock in your honor tonight. I'd've quaffed it anyway, but now getting buzzed will seem noble and selfless. So thanks for that, too!

Sun Runner said...

GQH-- LOL, thanks for the eagle-eyed catch. I fixed it!

Wendy said...

Congratulations!!! I enjoyed reading your race report.

Good luck in Cleveland!

Fritz said...

I have to say... I hope I didn't say that. I'm not saying I didn't, but I've found anyone who says "you're almost there" anywhere from mile 20 to mile 26.1 in a marathon really doesn't know what they're talking about.

That being said, Congratulations again! I'm sorry I didn't see you at Bookie's! I didn't look hard enough...

B. Kramer said...

Great job! You really killed your first marathon and I'm proud of you for reconsidering the on-the-go beer, even if it was some nasty light beer. (This is why I supply my own.)

Congrats again! And maybe I'll see you in Cleveland. At least for half of the race.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! Such a wonderful acheivement. Great race report, way to finish strong!

Jennifer Burgett said...


tfh said...

Great race report. I really can't believe some of the mile times you have in there-- and that even when things got ugly and felt ugly, you really didn't slow down to even CLOSE to a "death march" pace, IMHO. Congratulations again. You accomplished something really amazing and I'm looking forward to watching you continue your journey towards the BQ (after a well-deserved rest)!

Anonymous said...

You go girl! Your splits rock! You're awesome!

Lil said...

You did soo great!! What an achievement - running a marathon is both challenging on so many levels and you persevered! Congrats on a great race :)

Nitmos said...

Excellent work! That is really a very special time for a first timer. You will qualify for Boston considering you were within 5 minutes(minus unscheduled bathrrom breaks) of getting there your FIRST TIME.

Enjoy this one though. From now on you are a marathon veteran.

Congratulations and great report.

Anonymous said...

Sarah, I totally got all teary-eyes when I scrolled through the photos of you crossing the finish line. You EARNED every bit of triumph in that finish. You are a superstar! And I have no doubt you WILL BQ in Cleveland. A big hug to you from the Big Apple.

Laura said...

I nearly cried at the start of my first marathon, too :)

Congratulations on an awesome job! And I'm so glad that you've decided to keep going and do Cleveland.

Anonymous said...

You totally rock! I love hearing different stories about people running. I so want to be there one day ;) How do I subscribe to this blog thing?