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At first I felt ashamed, that I run without a special cause. I saw people wearing T-shirts with pictures of others they run for. Logos of organizations they run for. I just had my brand new Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon tech shirt on and no special reason, but the selfish purpose of waiting for the great feeling of accomplishment when I cross the finish line.

Then two days after this great event, I figured out the reason what I was running for. Better late than never, right? So I was running as a celebration of my great fortune. The great fortune that

    • we did not have anybody close to us who died recently that I could run for,
    • there is no close relative/friend we know who is suffering from serious illness that I could run for to raise awareness,
    • our life is blessed with two beautiful children,
    • when life presents challenges, our family of four sticks together and keeps pushing forward,
    • I am healthy enough to be able to run.

This has been a year with full of significant changes in our life and this race just has been a perfect representation of our year so far. Started easy and getting more and more challenging as the year end is getting closer.

I am not sure how I found this race back in July or August, but I am glad I found it and more importantly that I signed up. It has been a great race and an even greater running experience. This race was the annual Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon. I was very excited about it and as we went to the Health Expo to pick up my race packet, I could not stop smiling. When I was reading about this race and checked the race course, I knew I wanted to participate. I wanted to run through the Ambassador Bridge to Canada and run through the tunnel back to the United States. I do not know how many Half-Marathon or Marathon races are in the world that goes through two countries with such unique experiences, but I am sure there are not too many of them.

162.1 miles effort…

My first ever Half-Marathon race was a great event in Chicago in the beginning of September. Since then I have been working through my “mini training plan” for this event and could pass the invisible 13.1 mile marker during my 15 miles long practice run already in less than 1:50. I purposely practiced taking snack while running with the intention to get more and more experience with it and to minimize distraction during the race. I think I had a good plan. Despite I was getting faster and faster, I felt less and less exhausted at the end of the 15th mile as I started to learn to refuel my system while running. So everything seemed to be well set and prepared for reaching my goal of finishing in less than 1:55 and my top secret goal of finishing in less than 1:50. No wonder I had hard time waiting through Saturday. Finally Sunday morning came, the race started and I finished with a surprising result. And here is how all this happened…

Pre-race preparation:

As mentioned above, picking up the race packet at the Health Expo in Downtown Detroit was in itself a great experience. Unfortunately we did not have too much time to stick around, but it has been a great expo. Picking up my package was no issue. The Border Patrol agent checked my passport, everything was fine and with my packet in my hand, I was ready to roll…

Happy face…

I had an easy run Saturday morning, where I did not feel as strong as I wanted to, but thought might be just being too excited. Saturday evening I had already everything prepared. Therefore Sunday I did not have to spend time and effort searching for everything. Also the family decided to support me with full heart and they all were going to join me and cheer for me at the finish line. Another reason why I was so excited to run this event. For reference, here is my “mini training plan” that I went through in preparation for this event.

We also decided which parking location we are going to use and to leave a bit earlier in the morning as we rather wanted to sit in the car a few minutes, than sitting in a middle of the traffic jam. If you are to join this race in the future, I strongly recommend getting to the parking lot by 5:30AM to avoid the traffic getting there. It will get you a more relaxed start. At least it worked out really well for us. Also based on your estimate run time and how much additional time you plan to spend at the event, check the street closure information. There was a great overview published online which turned out to be a great help. The weather forecast promised nice weather, which was a great thing considering the cold and rain we had earlier through the week.

Chilly morning, but great running weather

Race day morning:

The kids took the early morning wake up surprisingly well although they expressed a few times, that they might not want to join me next time. We will see… And some very early morning faces…

Getting ready – dressing up in layers for the morning cold

Early morning breakfast: belly is full, one less thing to worry about….

Our drive to Downtown was without any issues and without any significant traffic. However the closer we got, the more cars and people we started to see on the streets. Parking was 7 dollars, which is not bad considering that we parked a couple blocks from the Start line.

Our decision to get to the parking lot by 5:30AM worked out really well. Just as we parked the family van, the lines of cars started to grow from each street. Packed up everyone, stroller, snack, camera, gloves, blankets. Ready to walk to the Start line. By the time we started walking towards the Start line, there were already cars everywhere, traffic was moving slowly.

Start of the race:

We walked around, set up the family at the Start/Finish line, and watched the massive flow of people. At the same time we all tried to stay warm.

I am not going to lie: it was not warm that morning…

I took my pre-race banana. Then hugs, kisses and I left the girls to take my position at my assigned spot: wave group E.

Ready to go: view of the Start line from Wave group E

Stretching and trying to stay warm was the key here. Early mid-October morning can be chilly in Detroit. I had to keep moving my fingers to leave any chance to be able to press buttons on my phone to start the Sports Tracker App when the race was going to start. Somehow these 25 minutes went by pretty quickly. I also had to deal with an unexpected challenge: despite of efficient restroom breaks at home and on the way to the race course, I started to feel increasingly urging need to leave my spot for an unplanned port-a-john visit, which did not seemed like a great idea, given the fact that I saw the massive line of people and the countdown was already down to its last ten minutes. I decided to deal with this situation later as needed. Then few minutes later all of a sudden the crowd started to move. Everybody started walking as a wave was released in every two minutes.

Black shirt (blue arrow): walking towards the Start line, absolutely ready to run…

I was able to give a last high five to the girls, then watched the giant screen showing the countdown and wait for my wave to be released. And off we go…

Mile 2:

I was planning to record my time at every mile marker. Not sure what happened. I must have passed out, sleeprunning (faster version of sleepwalking), maybe I stepped through a time gate. I just do not remember seeing the Mile 1 marker. A couple of great things happened by the end of Mile 2:

    • I started to feel my fingertips again => warm blood started to flow again in every remote points of my body;
    • Thanks to the waves being released in 2 minute increments, I was running with a reasonable crowd: sufficient space around me to run comfortably;
    • I felt great, while running;
    • I saw a line of port-a-johns and I saw a couple people suddenly pulling to the left stopping by. I felt I was OK and never even bother to worry about taking this kind of a break through the race. But I could completely relate to these fellow runners now;
    • I could not help thinking how great this morning run felt and nothing confirmed my feeling better than the fact that running two miles felt like running a half mile. Whenever such thing happens, it means I really enjoy running.

Finished the first two miles in 17:17 with a pace of 8:02. (Heads up: not sure why, but again the Sport Tracker mile counter and the race course mile marker positions are not in sync, could not figure out a solution for that)

Mile 4:

If there was any marker at Mile 3, I completely missed that as well as my next recording was at Mile 4. At this point I thought either I am now seriously sleeprunning OR I am so fast that I am only able to see only every second mile marker. These thoughts made me worry that I might have to take the Marathon path to complete even number of miles (26) instead of the 13 for the Half-Marathon. If I just blast through every odd mile markers (1, 3…13), then I will completely miss the Finish line experience… Yeah, sure… But I have a reason for this skip as well: between Mile 3 and Mile 4 is the Ambassador Bridge. I blame the bridge and the amazing view from the bridge. I did not stop to take pictures, but as we were climbing up to the bridge, I saw the massive flow of people from the previous waves already on the top of the bridge.

Massive flow of runners on the Ambassador bridge

Running through the Ambassador Bridge

Source: pictures of runners on the Ambassador bridge are from the Detroit Free Press Marathon galleries

Then climbing up to the bridge does not sound like a big deal, but it is a continuous uphill battle until you reach the middle of the bridge. Not impossible task to tackle, but I think I am not alone when I say that by the time you reach the middle of the bridge, you are ready for some downhill. In conclusion I must say that all this uphill effort worth the experience that the view of the river, underneath, Detroit on the left and Windsor on the right provided. The rising sun has been a perfect background for this amazing view. Just simply amazing.

Reached the Mile 4 marker in 18:28 with a pace of 8:53.

Mile 5:

Good morning Canada!!! Felt like visiting nice friends. The border on the Canadian side was wide open: nobody stopped us (that is why we needed our passport to pick up the race packet), there was a funny guy talking funny things through a loud speaker at the border, there were people waving Canadian flags and cheering for all the runners. I wanted to shout out loud “Good morning Canadians! Good morning Canada!”, but I just did not. Sorry, maybe next year…

I got to the Mile 5 marker in 8:33 with an 8:10 pace.

Mile 6:

As we turned onto Riverside Dr, it was a great place to run. On the left the river with Downtown Detroit on its other side. On the right all kinds of houses: single family homes, multi-story apartment buildings. On the side of the road people with signs, bells and flags cheering for the runners. Great feeling. I still felt great, so I kept pushing forward, but I started to have some thoughts that maybe I should slow down just a bit, to conserve some energy and have a strong push through the last three miles of the race. At the same time I had the 3:50 Marathon pace group close to me, so I made some quick calculations: 3:50 for Marathon means 1:55 for Half Marathon and at the same time I had a runner with a 4:00 Marathon pace group bib passing me. So I decided to keep the current pace. Especially with all the people cheering and the amazing view with the amazing weather. By Mile 6 all the freezing from any body parts were long gone, I felt comfortable and I felt I am running at a good pace.

Passed the Mile 6 marker 8:24 later, with an 8:16 pace.

Mile 7:

Finished our run on Riverside Dr with the same great spirit as Mile 6. I enjoyed every minute, every second of it. We passed also the first Relay station. This race had a Relay part as well. I thought it was a great idea to have various teams to participate. It was interesting to see all the Relay participants as they have been waiting for their teammates to arrive. I kept pushing on. I wish I could download here the thousands of pictures that I captured in my mind. And I wish there would be a new technology that would allow transforming feelings and post them here. Well writing is one “technology” to achieve that, but you know what I mean. I would want to share here all the pictures I captured in my mind and the amazing feeling I felt running through these miles. Next time I might strap a camera onto my head.

Reached the Mile 7 marker 8:27 later with a pace of 8:09.

Mile 10:

So much to share here. Turning our back on the river as we left the Riverside Dr, we started to run through the street that took us to the entrance of the tunnel back the United States. On this street there seemed to be even more people. At some point another funny guy was cheering the runners through another loudspeaker. “Raise your hand if you are a firefighter!” Some fellow runners raised their hands. “Raise your hand if you are a nurse!” Some fellow runners raised their hands. “Raise your hand if you are an engineer!” I proudly raised my hands, while kept running. Then we turned into the tunnel and started a brand new experience. I heard about running in the tunnel and I was looking forward to this experience. For a long distance it goes downhill so it is easy to get caught up increasing speed here, but I tried to stay focused on maintaining my already “faster than planned” pace. Something goes up will eventually come down. The opposite is true as well: after a longer downhill there is going to be uphill at some point. It did not wait too long: we had to run uphill as we were getting closer to the exit of the tunnel. The air inside the tunnel was nothing special. At least it did not feel uncomfortable to run in. Everything is relative. I got a nice reminder of this. Just as we exited the tunnel and cool, fresh air was blowing into my face. That was very refreshing. I must have been very focused on my running and got used to the air that I was breathing inside the tunnel together with thousands of fellow runners that now it sounds funny as I type it, but the Downtown Detroit air felt so refreshing…

I can tell you another thing that is very refreshing and motivating: massive lines of people as they stand and loudly cheer on both sides of the road as you enter the United States. Amazing. I completely forgot about the more than 8 miles that were already in my legs and as we were turning towards Cobo Center I felt as proud as I have ever felt. I was secretly hoping that I will recognize my girls somewhere in the crowd, but I knew it would be difficult to get from one spot to another with two freezing little ones. I also decided that I will take my refueling snacks here, so I passed Cobo Center and the Joe Louis Arena while munching on my Mott’s fruit snacks. I know everyone is using GU or some other gels and probably more scientific refreshments during running. During my long practice runs the Mott’s fruit snacks turned out to be sufficient fuel for me. Although at the Health Expo we did purchase our first GU samples that I will try out on my next long training run. By the time I finished munching, I started to feel a bit tired. At that point I realized, that I will not be able to start a strong push right after 10 miles as I originally planned and I was still around the 3:50 Marathon pace group, so I started to accept the fact, that unless they were minutes ahead of their planned pace, I will not achieve my top secret goal of finishing below 1:50. But I still wanted to finish as strong as possible. Not to leave anything out in the course. Also as I felt that I started to lose strength, I stopped to pick up a previously not-planned Gatorade drink. Hoping for some miraculous energy boost that was going to propel me to the Finish line.

I reached the Mile 10 marker in 26:28 with an 8:53 pace

Mile 11:

What a world of difference one mile can make! I felt rapid decline in my strength here and no cheering from the sidewalks seemed to help. I knew I was slowing down and all of a sudden the 3:50 Marathon pace group was ahead of me. At first I thought I will try to keep them in my sight and when I turn on my full running power on the last mile, I will pass them and I will sprint till the Finish line. Keep on dreaming Laszlo! Through this mile I felt everything was falling apart. Minutes later the pace group was long gone, I could not see them anymore and every step felt like I am getting further and further away from the Finish line instead of getting closer. I started to feel the heat waves running through my back, through my head, which I have not felt in a very long time. Not even during my 15 mile training runs, when I reached the invisible 13.1 mark in less than 1:50. I felt completely exhausted and a reminder that I heard from the loudspeakers at the Start line kept echoing in my head: “Listen to your body!” “Listen to your body!”. My body was finally saying: “Laszlo, switch to walking. Please!” If there is one thing that can help to pull together all the remaining, hidden energy packets from your body is the fear of the self inflicted shame that I would have felt have I switched to walking so close to the Finish line. In the meantime more and more people were passing me, which was another obvious confirmation of the fact that I was slowing down. At the same time I remembered for the fellow runner from the Chicago Half Marathon who collapsed and needed medical attention somewhere between Mile 12 and 13. Then I made the executive decision: try to find the right pace that still feels OK, but safe enough to help to recover my breath and composure a bit. And also I decided to grab some water at the next station as that Gatorade did not seem to work well this morning with my stomach.

I struggled to the Mile 11 marker in 8:55 with an 8:44 pace.

Mile 12:

At least by now we were running towards the Downtown Detroit area, which was at least a mental and emotional boost as that was a sure sign of getting closer to the Finish Line. However every step seemed like an eternity here. I think probably closer to the Mile 12 marker was when I got through that physical and emotional low-point, which I never expected to happen to me. Maybe in a Marathon yes, but not here, running this Half Marathon and not for me. Wrong! I think the water also helped my stomach to recover after the Gatorade I took earlier, the slower running pace helped me to get some of my strength back and definitely helped to recover my composure. I started to put a bit more focused running together that I was planning to maintain until the Finish line.

I got to the Mile 12 marker in 9:12 with an 8:53 pace.

Crossing the finish line:

There were people already on both sides and I could even increase my speed a bit. Right before we turned onto W Fort Street there was that giant sign showing where the Marathoners had to turn left (another 13 miles were still waiting for them) and the Half-Marathoners to turn right towards the Finish line. I was hoping that next year I will be strong enough to be able to run the Marathon, but for now I just simply focused on crossing the Finish line as soon as possible. I have to admit that Mile 11 meltdown took its toll and I could not manage the big smile and the “strong arms in the air” when I was crossing the finish line.

Crossing the Finish line!

The result:

I was still happy that I completed this challenge and I was definitely thankful for this great experience and to be able to complete it without any injury. My currently still unofficial chip time was 1:55:51. It means I could not accomplish my goal to finish under 1:55 and I was far from my top secret goal of finishing under 1:50. For my Sports Tracker App recording of the Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon, please click here.

My own recording: something to analyze later…

The Conclusion:

Two main lessons for me from this race:

    • I will definitely be back next year. Half Marathon or Marathon, I do not know yet. I still have time to decide, but I must run here again.
    • I can train as much as I want, but if I am ready to give up mentally, then I will have extremely hard time to overcome that physically.

And last but not least: many thanks for all the volunteers and the organizers for all their efforts!!! See you again next year!