|The Ambassador Bridge into Canada! This was my first international race! (Thanks to Exposure.Detroit's Flickr site for the image.)|
I am officially in love with the City of Detroit. Scrappy underdogs always provoke my sympathy, and this city has been and is still going through so much that it was actually sweet (not a word I often use) to witness the legions of volunteers, police officers, charities, and cheering spectators who came out to help thousands of us run.
My feeling for the city is probably also influenced by the fact that I ran a half-marathon personal record in the Detroit International Half-Marathon. Perfect weather (temperatures in the 40s and 50s, clean rain-washed air) and a course that was mostly flat but not so flat as to be boring or hard on one group of muscles helped me do this.
|After the race. I was a pretty happy camper.|
My results: 1:46:48, which amounts to an 8:09 average pace and was good for 30th in the 35-39 year age group. That put me in the top 3% of the 1,001 women in that group. Among all women, I was 151st out of 5981 total, also the top 3%, and overall I placed 615th of 9556 male and female runners, the top 6.4%. These were my best percentages for any race in recent memory (and maybe ever).
I could not have done this race, coming as I was off of a spring and summer of injury and cross-training, without three people. One is my husband, Dan. He’s the one who helps me make time for my training on a daily basis (especially Saturday morning long runs). And I was so lucky that in the case of this race he was out there watching. We can’t usually afford for him to come with me when I travel to race. When I rounded the cobble-stoned corner where the half-marathoners split off from the marathoners just before the Mile 13 mark, I heard him yelling and calling my name, and then saw him running down the sidewalk parallel to me. I was running as hard as I could, and I knew from the happy look on his face that I looked good. It was a huge lift.
The second person I couldn’t have done without is my coach, Darren De Reuck of Boulder Coaching. The training I’ve done under Darren has been so smart, so focused and so fun. I haven’t once felt tired, except when I was sick (and Darren is the one who made me take four days off running to get over that, something he was right about as he has been about everything else). Darren told me three days before this race that I could run a 1:45. I didn’t run quite that fast, but when I look back at my heart-rate splits, I see that he was right. My average heart rate in this race didn’t get over 160 until I was into the second half—which tells me either that I should’ve warmed up better (the one thing that was hard about this big-city, big-crowd race was getting properly warmed up and still into my corral on time) or that I was holding back and could have run harder from the gun. Lesson learned either way!
The pace did feel hard, especially at the end. Which brings me to the third person who helped me. This person was a total stranger to me before he and I started chatting near the bottom of the tunnel that led us under the Detroit River back from Canada between miles 7 and 8 (the famous "underwater mile"). It’s humid and hot and close in that tunnel, and I said so to the tall lean runner in the Marathon Maniacs jersey who I’d been going back and forth with since near the beginning. He asked me what my goal was and I told him. And after that not only did I run with him the rest of my race, he became my de facto pacer.
You never know who is going to be your friend in a race (much less in life). There was no reason for this guy (“Kurt—rhymes with Hurt” he told me in response to my “Terzah—rhymes with Persia”) to help me run four sub-8-minute miles leading into the finish of my race. He was running the full marathon, and was there to pace a friend of his (the friend, he told me, had been overcome by race-day adrenaline and was way ahead of us). He was hoping to run a 3:45, which meant to help me he was exceeding his goal pace by at least 20 seconds per mile, something that can be deadly that early in a marathon.
But help me he did.
Somewhere around mile 8.5, free of the tunnel and back in the bracing morning air, I was feeling good and I said to him, “Kurt, I am going to do it” (referring to my time goal). He said, “I know you are. You look really strong.” From then on, he was there for me, letting me run on his shoulder, pointing to indicate potholes and slippery mud in the road and which direction our next turn would be. Each mile he led me on was faster than the last, even with a few small bridge inclines thrown in. As we neared the split where the marathoners leave the half runners, he said, “When you leave me, you have to give it all you’ve got.”
I wasn’t talking much at that point, but I think I managed to grin and nod once. The fork in the road came, marathoners went left and halvers right, and I was on my own, going as fast as I could, mostly focused on that last half-mile but already feeling a swell of gratitude toward him underneath my determination. Soon I saw Dan, as I’ve already mentioned. For that last push, I cranked out a 6:34 pace.
I was with it enough to get Kurt’s last name. He’s pushing to get his 50 marathons in 50 states, and I’m hoping that when he does his Colorado race he’ll let me help him run those last six miles, fast or slow, however he wants to do them, whichever race he chooses.
When the race was over, I got a massage and a giant medal with the U.S. and Canadian flags on the ribbon and went back to the hotel for my shower. I had plenty of time to get back out with Dan and Kathy’s husband, Eric, to watch Kathy finish the marathon (her running club buddies, Kelly, Melissa, and Tina, had finished already—Kelly in a spectacular 3:32 that was her first Boston Qualifier! That has to be a good omen, right?). And that night we went out for a barbeque feast. Kathy, Eric and Eric's parents were superb hosts, her running friends were fun and funny and her kids were as clever as ever (and I've known them since they were babies). We couldn't have asked for a more fun weekend.
|Pre-race in the lobby--Tina, Kelly, Melissa, me and Kathy. No jitters here. Nope. None.|
I’ve been running long enough to know that perfect days don’t come along very often. I don’t know if I could have run that fast without Kurt’s pacing, without the energy of Kathy’s group, without Dan’s presence and steadiness, without Darren’s coaching.
But it doesn’t matter because I had those things in Detroit—an underdog city for an underdog runner’s damn-close-to-perfect return to racing.