TLDR – 10th state completed. I enjoyed my weekend stay in Ann Arbor, Michigan, brief as it was.
I was nervous when I arrived on Friday in Detroit, Michigan. This is a cold place. Though I run well when it is nippy, I don’t like the cold. I packed a bunch of sweaters and long pants, and all my other winter running stuff seeing the temperature might reach down to the 30s.
The cold weather ended up being not an issue. We had a great and warm day. Overcast in the morning and became sunny later on. The temperature was little cold for some, but for me it was perfect. It stayed almost constant around 60F, about 15 C. I ran in tee and shorts, though I wore a double layer tee I got from the Duluth marathon and a thick shorts, I think of wool like material. The shorts were a bit too warm later on.
The race started at 8 AM so, to me was kind of late and it allowed me to sleep in a bit. I like starting after the sun is up. Many races usually start at the crack of dawn.
I stayed in a motel not too far from the race location, at about three miles away. I could have run to the start. Ann Arbor is a small sweet town. It has all the city anemities without the big city’s headaches. There was plenty of time for me to get to the race. I left my hotel around 6:30 and felt kind of late, but did not have to rush.
Ann Arbor being so close to Detroit, its marathon get over shadowed by the Detroit Free Press one that will be taking place in a couple weeks. That one is an “International” Marathon, because the course takes you into Canada and many times more people from all over will run it. It is always fun to say you run in another country.
But today, Ann Arbor is just a “boring” two loops around the course. It seemed kind of a let down. Nevertheless it was a great marathon, and I did not regret my choice. A pacer asked me why I didn’t choose the Detroit one. I said because I did not like the cold. Plus, I was really over with the big marathons. I like the flexible low key races offer. Did you know, you could still register for the race on the morning of the race? I never heard of a recent marathon that allows you to do that! And you can pick up your package on the race day morning too! You couldn’t do such thing in any bigger marathon. Even several smaller races I did in my city, they wouldn’t allow a race day bib pick up.
My impression is it was well run. Crowd support was tame, but they had volunteers almost at every block and I was never alone. Most of the crowd was at the start and finishing area (and at the park, mile 8-ish, and 21-22).
They had buses to take spectators to the park (Gallup Park). Hence, there were more crowd support there a little past midway. It was also the relay exchange point.
The course was well marked. Signs were at ever mile for the half and the full too! I noticed they replaced signs for the first loop and put up signs for the second loop (not sure how they did it)! That is attention to detail. Since the course is lap course, they really did not need signs on for the second lap (both laps should be 13.1 miles), but they did. Usually in many events, marathon is a second class citizen compares to the half marathon (nobody cares for the full once the half is done). I have been to races, where mile markers for the second half of the course were not provided (not naming which one).
The first six miles, we followed the roads out of town. We passed through the University of Michigan. I have been through some big campuses, but this was on another level. It is a big campus. I imagined myself being on a quest in the game Final Fantasy. I already ran on the course the day before so as not be distracted by the sights on race day. I have a particular attraction toward big tall buildings and such.
The other six miles, we were on some kind of rail to trail (I’m guessing) called the B2B (Border to Border) trail. It is paved. Nice and smooth. My first time running on a trail paved with concrete. Yes, it is same as running on the sidewalk. We were on it for maybe three miles before we reached the Arboretum. It is just a short section, maybe half a mile but there was a tough climb (I think about couple hundred feet). Later, I found out this was called the Arb Hill. Most walked up the hill. I tried to run it. On the first loop, I did it well, but on the second loop, it almost broke me. I made use of a relay team person to pace me up the hill. She was the only other person running up on the hill. Then we were back at the university and back at the start. Marathon runners were diverted to the back streets to run around the block and back out.
The half marathon started with the full. There were many more running the Half than the full. My goal was to run fast enough so that the first place runner doesn’t lap me and that I could lap some half marathoners. I thought it might be impossible for me because I was expecting the first place to come in between 2:15-2:30. I didn’t see the first place runner passing me nor was I able to catch up to some who walked the half.
The course was not crowded nor was the street dead empty. I have been in races where I was the only one running. Being alone doesn’t bother me, but when I do marathons, I like having some crowd around, maybe to witness me and fan my pride. I ran a 4:30-ish finishing time, so there were always people around me. Honest truth, I didn’t run slower just to be with people.
I came to the race not sure what pace to run in or time I would get. I got a fast time back at a marathon in June. I did not feel I would be able to repeat it at this race. Any time around 5 hours would be good and was an acceptable goal for me. I lined up with the 5:00 hour pace group. Erwin, one of the pacers was pretty fun to talk to. We had done the Marine Corps the same year a while back. I didn’t know him before, but his races tied us together. By mile 2, I felt I could start pushing my pace a bit harder. I felt great and left the pace group. I was on my own. Usually this could spell disaster because I would have gone out too early and too fast and could suffer by the second half.
The day before, I checked out the course and ran about 15 miles of it. (Not really advisable, because part of the course had no sidewalks, and required sharing the road with cars, which can be scary; this was before the race, during the race, they closed the roads, so no danger). I was a bit tired after a few miles in but not too much. In the back of my mind, I was thinking whether that “long” run I did was a smart idea, because now I started with tired legs. However, I was glad for the pre-run because I knew every turns and everything what to expect for the course. I could be more aggressively tackling the hills because I know how long they would last. Indeed, I will boast a bit, after doing trail racing, no hills in a marathon really scare me.
By halfway, 13.1 miles, my time was around 2:18. (first place finished at 2:48).
My feet felt a bit stiffer and heavier but miles still flew by under me. Little did I know, I was faster on the second lap than the first. My goal was to break it down by 5k, knowing recently I did 20 5k in one day, so 5k distance was fresh on my brain and easy to see in my head.
Normally in the past, I didn’t focus much on calories. Today, I brought couple candy bars (those sticky granola bars). It was something I learned from the MMT race to be prepared for the bonking. I ate a bar for breakfast just right before the race. I did not want a heavy breakfast this time and I was too lazy to go for a real breakfast. I had another one by mile 8-ish when I was hungry. I was originally saving it for mile 13. I figured I need another bar by mile 20. Then I had a gel left for the final hill climb.
I started hitting the wall at mile 20. So I popped my last granola bar. My strength came back and I could get to mile 23. Before mile 23, the aid station offered me gels. I took one. It kept me going to the big hill at Mile 24. By then, I lost track of the 4:30 pace team (they out ran me). According to plan, I then used my last remaining gel. Going up the hill was tough. I was able to pass some people because most were walking except the relay team people.
There were about two more miles to go and pretty soon it was down to one mile. I love running through the school. It gave me some extra boost when I could see people around.
I might have pushed a bit harder here. The bonking was completely out of my system. My legs felt great. No longer was I fake running. You know when you are tired, you kind of gingerly tapping you feet with each step (I called that fake running because you are in the motion of a run but you are not going anywhere fast). Real running is when you pound the pavement hard. Probably the gel kicked in by now. At this time, I knew no matter what, I would finish. Always in a race I doubted my ability to get to the end, but there is always a turning point. This was my turning point. It came kind of late, but I felt a rush of power. I reached Hill St. Basically the end is in sight, just down the road and make a right to the chute. I crossed the finish around 4:31. (The actual bib time was 4:30:01).
Because I had a flight to catch at 4:00 pm, I did not linger long. I figured I had to absolutely leave by 2 pm in order to make it. I normally would like to wait till the race is closed before leaving. It is part of the fun. This time, I left by 1 pm (at the 5 hr mark) after my pace group came in.
It was a small race, so I think by 5 hours, many already finished. There was no post race celebration for me. I took couple water bottles and a cookie and a banana. I was not sure if there were free beers given out like in many other marathons. I just tried to leave as quickly as possible, since I needed to return the rental car, get gas for it, and take a bus from the car rental to the airport, go through security and get to my gate. There were many unknowns that could ruin my trip home. Luckily everything worked out smoothly, I still had about an hour left before boarding when I arrive at the airport and I finally could relax. To me that was the real finish. I celebrated it at the airport and I grabbed lunch.
Compared this to my other marathons, I enjoyed it just as much. We had great weather, and that like 75% making the race better. It was a repeated (double) loop course. I generally do not like doing a marathon of this format (because it’s boring), but the plus side was there were plenty of aid stations. My finish time was decent. I did not finish with cramping like in some of previous marathons. I think I ran at a relaxed pace, and it was alnost like a morning stroll or a training run. Weird for me to say that. My 10th state in my 50 states quest was easily completed.
Milesflyby also ran in the Ann Arbor (Half) Marathon. Her report is way better at describing the course. Congrats to her for a fast finish.