Chicago Athlete on the Road: Detroit Marathon

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Deeetroit city. What a weekend it was. Mileage-wise, Chicago is not far from Detroit and should be an easy drive. However, the traffic on the Illinois/Indiana border is always extreme, so make sure to plan for a 1-to-2-hour delay based on the time of day. This was an element I forgot to prepare my family for, so we were all quite happy to make it into Michigan and away from that traffic jam filled area. Without traffic, you can make it to Detroit in about five hours. It’s a relatively easy drive and beautiful as it passes through tree lined areas and nature filled scenery. So maybe just take a peek at WaZe and plan better than I did for the drive!

The Detroit Free Press Marathon is one of my favorite marathons in the Midwest. It is one of the only marathons that crosses country borders. Runners have the unique experience of running across the Ambassador Bridge, spending a few miles in Canada, and running back through the Windsor Tunnel. This unique experience is what makes this marathon one of a kind, but the people are what make it extremely special.

Let me back up and begin with our arrival on Friday evening, October 14th. We got into Michigan right around dinner time, when you factor in the Eastern Time Zone change. Upon arrival, we went straight to the Race Expo which was held at their large convention center. Understandably smaller than Chicago, this expo is still a good size and offers runners exposure to a variety of running products, as well as a large race gear store. The marathon is sponsored by New Balance, who put out a great line of products for marathoners to enjoy.

I easily picked up my packet, showing my passport as was required, and hit the vendors. I spent about 30 minutes at the expo and stocked up on some of the best race gear I’ve seen this year. We then headed back to the hotel, which is conveniently placed just outside of the start line. I would highly recommend the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Detroit Downtown – Fort Shelby as a place to stay if you are running this marathon. All of the rooms are suites, and allow a bit extra space than some of the other hotels.

There is no pool, but this is quite common in city hotels, so just prepare your kids for a no swimming weekend in Detroit. This hotel offers one of the best fitness centers I have seen in a city hotel. There are lines of cardio equipment and stretching equipment that runners can use before and after their race experiences. The hotel is clean and all of the facilities are taken care of.

The staff is incredibly helpful and kind. There is a small café in the lobby where runners can enjoy some healthy snacks like Greek yogurt, fruit, and even Starbucks coffee. The hotel made all of the runners feel extra special, even crafting their key cards in the marathon logo detail. As with most city hotels, parking is extra and is offsite, so prepare for a bit of extra work when loading and unloading your car. Especially if you have a family like mine that travels with a ton of extra luggage and snacks.

The hotel is just a block from the start line, so you can hang out in the lobby until just minutes before the race start. This was especially helpful this year, as it was a cold, 40° morning on race day. Plus, I could use a hotel bathroom and not a porta potty!

On Saturday, I participated in the competitive 1 mile and 5K race. These 2 events coupled with the marathon made me a participant in the Supreme Motor City Challenge. Another challenge that was quite popular allowed runners to race in the 1 mile, 5K, and half marathon. Challenge participants received a jacket in addition to their race shirt, as well as a sticker with the 31.3 mileage number on it.

The competitive 1 mile began at 8:30 AM about a block inside of the Riverwalk. Runners raced through the streets of Detroit and circled back to the start line. Finish times were incredibly fast, as there was prize money for the 1-3 winners.

20 minutes later, the 5K began and runners took a lengthier view of the downtown/riverfront area. The Detroit Riverwalk is well-maintained and incredibly beautiful. There happened to be a large yachting boat docked while we were running, which looked majestic as it allowed its passengers off for a few hours.

Following these two fun events, I returned to the expo to volunteer a few hours with my family. We worked the volunteer registration booth where we checked in hundreds of volunteers. It really opened my eyes to how many people it takes to put on such a large scale event. Several individuals lived in Detroit and volunteered every single year to help support this event.

I thought it was a true example of the character and compassion that you can find in Detroit. These residents truly care about each other and about the large scale events that help to support this city. I had one individual who came up and said “I’m not signed up to volunteer, but you can put me wherever you need me tomorrow morning. I will be here at 4 AM.”

You can feel this supportive heartbeat throughout Detroit in it’s citizens who go out of their way to make you feel welcomed and appreciated as visitors. With every other store front bearing the name “Detroit”… Detroit Pizza, Detroit cycle, Detroit coffee, it is easy to see how much pride is in the city.

After we left the expo, we had lunch at Hudsons Café. This historical landmark has changed locations, but kept the character it was founded with. Their prices are low and their serving size is massive. And the food is absolutely incredible. Just take a quick look at their menu and try not to drool over the pancake and French toast selection.

Since it was already mid-October and I had been racing every weekend, I searched for a family friendly Halloween activity that would keep us moving and active. The same event kept popping up in my social media feed and online searches so I took that as a sign of what to visit.

The Henry Ford’s Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village is Michigan’s premier outdoor October celebration and a must see for anyone who is in the area during the Halloween season. This remarkable event is open during 16 evenings throughout the month of October. The event is a 42-year-old Halloween tradition that families return to again and again.

A national historic landmark, Greenfield Village is part of the entire Henry Ford estate which also includes the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Ford Rouge Factory Tour, Giant Screen Theater and the Benson Ford Research Center. This massive property is open for visitors to relish in the historical collection of the Ford namesake.

During the Halloween season, Greenfield Village is transformed into a spooky, family-friendly immersion experience that is fun for everyone. And it keeps everyone moving! The property is massive and families travel on foot throughout, enjoying different Halloween scenes with real life actors who pull you into their spooky setting. There’s even a carousel that is free for everyone to ride which has been transformed into a skeleton filled spooky ride. Park goers can enjoy a hot cider, flavored popcorn, chocolates, and even adult beverages.

My children had a blast and I am so happy we were able to fit this into our marathon weekend trip. If you sign up for the Detroit Marathon next year, I highly encourage you to get tickets for this Halloween event as soon as they become available. They sell out quickly, so make sure to put this on your radar for next October.

Sunday morning came quickly, especially with the EST time zone change. At 7 AM I toed the line with thousands of other runners to tackle either a half marathon or a marathon distance. Both international races began together. There was also a domestic, US-only half marathon which began later in the morning. With the city still clothed in darkness, we stood at the start line listening as Eminem and Kid Rock, two Michigan born musicians, reverberated through the speakers, bouncing off the buildings and pumping us up. I think it is safe to say that every single runner was ready to go after that.

The first 2 miles took runners to the Ambassador bridge, where we made the circle up to the customs entrance. Border patrol lined the sides, checking bibs to ensure that everyone was supposed to be there. Runners were advised to carry their passports, in the event they were pulled from the group. (This happened to me in 2018, so you better believe I had my passport!)

The sun had just begun to peek through as runners got to the middle of the ambassador bridge. It is a breathtaking experience that I would not be able to give justice to with words. This is the reason that most people sign up for Detroit. Running across a massive bridge as the sun is rising and entering another country is an experience that you just don’t get every day. It’s a challenge to your legs for sure, as the bridge feels unending, but you barely feel the pain that early in the race, surrounded by the beautiful scenery.

As we came down the Ambassador Bridge, we were greeted by border patrol from Canada and Canadian residents that welcomed us into their country. This was the first time since before the pandemic that the race had been allowed to cross the border and everyone was glad to see a return.

Canadians lined the streets as we spent a few miles running along the river front on the Canadian side. We then circled back into the Windsor tunnel to re-enter America. The tunnel was warm, and on a very chilly morning it was welcome. It’s a strange sensation to be running underground and underwater, through a mile long tunnel. As we felt the incline begin we knew we were coming back out of the tunnel and into the states. Daylight was breaking through as we Re entered the states. We were welcomed back into the US by customs and began the rest of the race throughout the city of Detroit.

The course changed from the last time I had run it and was really a showcase of the city. Runners ran through the Woodbridge neighborhood, the District Detroit, Eastern Market, the Dequindre Cut and a finish line at the foot of Campus Martius. The course included several historical neighborhoods like Indian village and West Village, where residents had set up bounce houses and picnics in their front yards, cheering us as we ran along their streets. The course also went by Wayne State University where the college students showed up and showed out to keep us moving!

Aid stations were placed appropriately every couple of miles. The weather was very chilly, and I found myself not needing water, but taking it because I knew it was necessary. I also ran with my throw-away shirt until mile 20, unsure of what to do with it. It was one of those mornings that was cool enough that I could have kept it on, but as I became more fatigued, I thought my body would react well to the change. Sometimes a simple change like taking off a layer at mile 20 or her changing what you are listening to is just enough to get you through those last 6.2.

We circled back into the downtown area and ended in the city circle with a huge finish line party that included a live band and lots of refreshments. All participants received a medal at the end and a long sleeved, technical shirt depicting the American and Canadian aspects of the race.

This is such a unique experience and I hope you have a chance to run this at least once in your lifetime. Chances are, if you hit it once, you will find yourself signing up year and year again.

 

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