In May of 2004, I ran my first race ever. I’m a bit insane, so my first ever race was a half marathon. I didn’t really know what I was signing myself up for at the time. When I was done, I was grateful for the experience but had pretty much decided that running long distances was not something I wanted to keep doing.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, though, I still had the dream of running a full marathon someday. I even wrote it out as one of my goals many years ago, a goal I had hoped to accomplish before having children. I was smart enough to recognize that running marathons while raising young kids was not exactly a walk in the park. But, the babies came first and running was put on the back burner.
I finally got back into running when my youngest was a little over a year old. In 2014 I ran another half marathon and swore to myself that it would be my last long distance race. It was awful and I felt miserable almost the entire time. However since that race, I’ve run 4 additional half marathons, a 25K (15.5 miles), and now, finally, a full marathon (along with numerous 5k and 10k runs).
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A year ago my sister and her boyfriend told me about the Detroit International Marathon. At first, I wasn’t interested, what was so cool about running in Detroit in frigid October? But then I caught onto the International part. The Detroit Marathon crosses over the Ambassador Bridge into Windsor, Ontario, Canada, travels through Canada for several miles and then travels through the tunnel back into the US for the remainder of the race. It is the only race that crosses international borders through two ports of entry. I was intrigued.
Since I’ve been running every single day for well over a year, I knew I was in pretty good shape. I know I’m not getting any younger, and our kids are young enough that they aren’t yet involved in many sports and other activities, so our schedule is as easy as it will be for a while. I decided that this was the year to run my first full marathon and the Detroit Free Press Marathon was the race.
I take walk breaks on just about every run. I run at least one straight mile without breaks for my running streak, and then allow myself a short (less than a tenth of a mile) walk break about every half mile for the rest of each run. Running without walking once in a while does not sound fun to me at all. Walking helps me reset my form, catch my breath, but also slow down and enjoy my surroundings a bit.
Lots of people have asked me if I use the Jeff Galloway run-walk-run method. Truthfully it feels too complicated and technical for me. I walk when I want and I run when I want. But as I looked into the method I realized that my method ends up being pretty similar to what Jeff suggests, I’ve just never calculated out my exact walk run ratio.
While researching the run-walk-run method I found Jeff Galloway’s training plans. I really liked that his plans take you up to or very close to your goal distance in your training. The traditional marathon training plans that only go up to 20 miles terrify me. Those extra 6.2 miles cover a whole lot of distance and I’d be really nervous stopping that far from my goal and just hoping that adrenaline would take me the rest of the way.
Another aspect that I really like about Jeff Galloway’s training plans is that they are fairly low mileage and do not include a mid-week “long” run. As a working mom with a full-time job, a blog, two kids, and a husband who also decided to train for this marathon, I just don’t have the time for a high mileage training plan and lengthy runs in the middle of the week.
I used Jeff Galloway’s Half Marathon Training Schedule for Time Goal Runners (2nd chart on the linked page) to prepare for my half marathon this past June and really enjoyed it. It’s an “advanced” plan so it actually takes you up to 17 miles to prepare for the half marathon. I felt very confident in that race, so I decided to stick with the Jeff Galloway plan for my marathon training as well.
I did modify the plan a bit. Since I decided to continue my run streak through my marathon training, I actually ran every single day. Basically, I ran one easy mile four days a week, these were my “rest” days. I ran two 3 mile runs twice each week. And then on the weekends I ran the long run listed on the training plan. I ignored the “magic mile” component of the plan because I’m lazy. I would have never imagined you could train for a marathon with such low weekly mileage.
I also tried to include at least one strength training session each week. I really only ended up getting the strength training done 2-3 times a month, but something is better than nothing. Most of my “strength training” involved PiYo video workouts from Beachbody because they are easy on the joints but still very challenging.
For the most part, I stuck with the training plan. The last long run was scheduled to be 26 miles. Halfway through that run, I knew I was in trouble. My legs were far more tired than they should have been. I was drinking lots of water, but still feeling thirsty. My lips felt really chapped and it was very hot. I started getting really nauseous and dizzy around 18-19 miles and knew I wouldn’t make it all the way to 26. I hoped to at least make it home which would have been around 22 miles but ended up calling my husband to come rescue me at about 20 miles. I continued to feel nauseous and tired the entire week after that run, so I’m not sure if it was the heat or if I had some kind of bug to start with.
I was really nervous going into the race with such a bad experience on my last long run. What if it happened again? Why did it happen in the first place? Could I make it 26.2 if I didn’t technically finish my training schedule?
As I mentioned, my husband decided to run the marathon with me. He ran the first half marathon with me back in 2004, just after we started dating. He really struggled with knee pain during the training for that race, so he told me he’d never run a long distance race with me again. Never say never, friends. It seems that my husband is somewhat competitive and cannot let his wife outperform him, so when I jokingly asked him to run the marathon with me, he said “yes”. Silly man!
Since my sister lives in the suburbs of Detroit, we had a cheap place to stay for the weekend. My mom, grandma, both kids, and my husband and I all drove up after work on Friday night to start our race weekend. We tried to be as lazy and low-key as possible on Saturday. We went to packet pickup, ran a few errands, and the runners were in bed by about 7:30pm to prepare for our super early morning race day.
My (multiple) alarms woke me up at 3:30 on race day. I spent some time scrolling through my phone and reading some Bible verses to help motivate me and get me in the right mindset for the day. I said a few prayers, woke up my husband, and started to get ready. I started the day with a Spark, my vitamins (Coreplex and Omegaplex), and a Rehydrate. For breakfast, I had oatmeal with peanut butter, raisins, and a drizzle of honey, one of my tried and trusted pre-run breakfast options.
The morning was going really well. I didn’t feel extremely nervous, I wasn’t tired, and we were making great time. We headed out the door shortly after 4:30am to make our 40-minute drive downtown, assuming we would arrive with lots of time to spare. We planned to park at the MGM Detroit Casino garage. It was close to the starting line (around a mile away) and had the most spots available.
As we approached the exit off the highway things slowed way down. We ended up sitting on the highway waiting to exit and park for nearly an hour and a half. We could see the parking garage we were trying to get to almost the entire time. It was so stressful. I had to pee so bad and we were very nervous that we were going to miss the start. At one point we saw a couple runners jump out and start running down the highway. Eventually, we inched our way through the long line and found a parking space. Praise the Lord.
By this time I needed a bathroom so badly that I could barely think. I have no idea how I made it to the porta-potties at the starting line area and waited in line forever to use them, but I’m very proud to say that I did not pee my pants!
We finally found the starting line and corrals as they were counting down to let the first wave of runners through. Fortunately, we were in the later corrals, so we knew our waves wouldn’t go for another 20 minutes (perks of being slow runners). The corrals were absolute madness. There were so many spectators that we had to squeeze and push our way through. Each corral had a small opening in the gates for runners to get in, but there were so many people crowded around that we couldn’t really see where those openings were. I was assigned to the corral just before my husband, so he dropped me off at mine and headed back to his. We had made it! Several minutes later my corral began moving forward toward the starting line and it was time to go.
It took me a little while to really get my head in the race. I was so flustered from the parking mess and rush to the starting line. I grabbed a banana from the car with the plan to eat it on the way to the start but never did. I ran with it in my hand for the first couple miles. I knew I would be mad several miles later if I just tossed it, but my stomach was a little too anxious to eat it right away. As we approached the Ambassador bridge into Canada I decided I should probably eat it before I tried to pass through border patrol.
It took forever to actually get onto the bridge, we had to wind around in circles for what felt like miles. It is a pretty steep ascent to get on the bridge. I was approaching the bridge right at sunrise so it was a really beautiful sight even if it was uphill and crowded. Once we got to the top of the bridge there was a really strong crosswind. Fortunately, the wind was coming at us at a diagonal, so it wasn’t too hard to push through it. Eventually. we crested the bridge and began the long downhill descent into Canada.
The Canada side of the race was really fun and upbeat. There were a lot of spectators out cheering us on and we all still had plenty of energy to smile and enjoy the miles. The run in Canada goes mostly along the river looking back toward Detroit, so it was a really fun view. I also got to see the new USS Detroit across the way. My husband caught up to me near one of the water stops in Canada. It was nice to see him, but I was kind of disappointed that he moved ahead of me so soon.
My favorite race sign (besides the one my daughter made) was in Canada. It said, “At first I thought it was November 9th!” Hahaha. Apparently, there were a few signs I heard about with similar sentiments. No worries my fellow Americans, the Canadians are ready for us next month.
Eventually, I arrived at the tunnel to head back to the US. The rumor from the runners around me was that the tunnel was awful. I hadn’t considered that before but now I agree. It was a neat experience to run in the tunnel for about the first minute and then you just prayed for the end. There is no air flow in the tunnel so it is hot and stuffy and extremely full of sweaty, heavy breathing runners. I was dripping with sweat and struggling to breathe by the end. At one point someone passed out ahead of me so a medical golf cart was trying to make its way in behind us. They didn’t have a horn so they had to shout their way through, which is hard to hear and understand in the tunnel, especially when many people had headphones on. The golf cart was also releasing a lot of fumes which didn’t help the air flow.
I finally reached the other side and everyone cheered as we hit the fresh air. It almost felt cold after being in the tunnel for so long. There were tons of spectators just outside the tunnel, so it was a nice welcome back to the states. A few miles later I spotted my family! My daughter made a bright pink sign the night before and it was very helpful for me to spot them as I approached. I stopped for a couple quick hugs and kisses from my kids and kept plugging along.
The race really cleared out after the halfway point as the half marathoners cut off to the finish line. There are not nearly as many runners who complete the full marathon. At some point, I ran into my husband again. He was cramping up and starting to struggle. I walked with him for a minute but then took my chance to take the lead back. (I’m such a bad wife.)
The next several miles were really long and fairly quiet. With all of the half marathoners cleared out, the marathoners started to settle in for the long haul. Way back at the start I hadn’t been able to get my music to start up. I use Pandora and the signals were so busy with all of the crowds that it wouldn’t load. I decided to just skip the music until I really needed it. I was worried my phone battery might not last for nearly six hours using GPS and streaming music. I almost decided to turn my music on during this quiet stretch but decided to try and push through for a little bit longer without it (I ended up going the entire 26.2 miles with no music. That is insane for me. I would have never believed I could do that.)
Eventually, we reached my favorite neighborhood of the route. It was a historical neighborhood with big, old, beautiful houses and the streets were lined with beautiful fall trees. But it was also a party neighborhood. There were several big groups obviously having a marathon cheering party and tons of smaller groups of families out to cheer us on. They had tents and grills and lots of alcohol. Throughout the neighborhood were several “beer stops”. Brave runners could stop for a cup of beer to power up your race. At least one group had a full keg to pass out. I did not imbibe, but it was such a fun atmosphere. (I stuck with my trusted fruit snacks and Rehydrate gel to fuel my run, along with the water and Gatorade at each water stop.) They had music blaring and tons of people out having a good time. It was a really fun experience and a great distraction for this point in the race.
It started to rain just as I was leaving the fun neighborhood. The rain made salty sweat drip in my eye at one point and I had to run blind for a minute. It was a cold rain, so it took me a while to be okay with it. The temperature seemed to drop right before it rained, so I hadn’t been all that hot. Eventually, I made it to Belle Isle. I had been really excited about Belle Isle as I’ve been there before and it’s a really pretty area. Unfortunately, it was raining so hard for most of the time I was on the island that I didn’t actually get to enjoy the pretty views very much.
I was definitely starting to get tired by this time. I stopped to go to the bathroom and when I came out the pacer for the 5:30 group was coming by. My first goal was to finish the race, but my second goal was to be ahead of 5:30. I knew by this point (about 20 miles) that I should be able to finish, so I decided to do my best to pick up the pace a bit to stay in front of the pace group as much as I could.
There is a second half marathon that only goes through the US and starts later than the marathon. They caught up to us tired marathoners at this point, so it started to get more crowded and energetic again. I was mostly annoyed with these people as they were so fresh and energetic on their leisurely 13-mile jog while I was exhausted and hungry and just wanted to be done.
As I was leaving the island I ran into my friend Penny who was also running the full marathon. We gave each other hugs and high fives for making it so far and doing so well. We were both feeling pretty good and confident that we were actually going to finish this thing. Just four miles left, we can definitely do four more miles.
We crisscrossed each other for pretty much the rest of the run. The rain continued. And we kept moving. The last couple miles all I could think about was the fact that I had to run a mile the next day. I knew I was going to eventually finish these last couple miles and I could already tell that tomorrow was going to be rough. I’ve done enough running to know that you should always run the mile you are in and not worry about all the upcoming miles. What silliness to worry about tomorrow when I haven’t even finished today!
At one point I saw a sign that said, “Yesterday you were a runner, today you are a marathoner.” Reading that while so close to the finish line brought tears to my eyes. I’m almost there! I’ve almost achieved my dream! As we were coming up on the last couple miles I decided I might try to run the last mile or so with no walk breaks. I knew it would be tough with the way I felt, but I wanted to finish strong and I was ready to be done.
Fortunately, I rounded a corner and saw my family again! I didn’t expect them to be on the course twice. I thought they saw us once and went home to get out of the rain. But there they were, waiting for us with just a mile left to go. It was the absolute perfect way to energize me to finish strong. The sign my daughter held said, “When your legs get tired, run with your heart. Go mom and dad!”
The last mile is somewhat of a blur. I remember thinking I needed to finish strong and give it my all, but also realizing that finishing strong felt really slow! I may have been running, but my legs were tired and didn’t have a whole lot of strong left in them. The last half mile was the longest ever. It felt like people kept saying “one more turn”, “you’re almost there” for hours. Finally, I turned the corner and saw the finish line! I pushed my little legs as best I could at that point and ran in for the finish.
The announcer called my name and city as I crossed the finish line so that just made it even more special. I finished! I am a marathon runner!!
Official time: 5 hours, 26 minutes, 30 seconds.
Just after I crossed the finish line and got my medal I heard my friend’s name announced and spun around to see her cross the finish. (My friend started several corrals behind me, so she actually beat me in the race even though I crossed the finish first.) We hugged and cried. We did it and we lived! After that, we made our way to the goodies. I was very excited that they had heat sheet wraps because I was soaked and knew I would be freezing soon. We grabbed some snacks and talked with her husband and son who had been waiting at the finish.
I knew my husband was somewhere behind me, so I texted my mom to see if they had seen him yet from their stop around mile 25. She had not, so I started to get worried. She had been tracking him and said that he had passed the 20-mile mark, but the next tracker wasn’t until just before their cheering spot. A few minutes later she texted back to say that he had just gone by. I said goodbye to my friend and headed back toward the finish line to wait for my husband.
I couldn’t get very close to the finish as they were blocking people from going back up to avoid traffic jams. I stood around for a while shivering and praying he would finish soon. I just wanted to sit in the car with the heat on full blast. I was so cold. Finally, I saw him coming through with his medal on. He did it!
(My husband had been struggling with an injury to his hip flexor for weeks leading up to the race. His goal was to finish the marathon, a bucket list item, even if he had to destroy his body in the process. He was determined to finish. The hip flexor and some cramping in his legs caused him to walk more than he wanted, but he finished! And his body isn’t too destroyed, he just needs to give his hip flexor muscle some proper time to heal. His official time – 5:50:41).
We grabbed our snacks, took some pictures, stretched a bit, and headed to the car. We were going to stop at the after party tents, but couldn’t find them right away and we were too tired and cold to care that much.
We spent the rest of the day trying to sit as much as possible. My sister’s boyfriend made us giant steaks and the house full of people helped handle our energetic kids. The only downside was that we had picked a bed in their basement, so we had to go up and down the stairs a number of times. I ended up sitting on the stairs and scooting my way down and crawling on the way up. The kids got a kick out of that. I started falling asleep around 7:30 and slept for 12 straight hours.
Overall, I had an amazing experience for my first marathon. I’m very glad I chose the Detroit Free Press Marathon. It was a really fun course, a unique experience, and it was wonderful to have my family there to cheer and support us throughout the weekend.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever run a full marathon again. Before the race, I said this would be my first and only full marathon. Now that it’s over, I’m not so sure about the only part. It really was a great experience, it was extremely hard, but not as terrible as I imagined. The hardest part is finding the time to train. I sacrificed a lot this summer in order to get in all of my training runs. Since my husband was also training and our kids are too young to stay home alone, it was really difficult to work out our schedules so that we could both run for over four miles, at separate times. Who has an extra 8 hours to spare on multiple summer weekends?
For now, one-week post marathon, I’m still only running a mile a day to keep up my streak. My ankle and foot have been bothering me, so I’m giving them a little extra time to recover before I go back to running multiple miles. I’m hoping to do a half marathon and maybe a couple more races before the year is over. I’ve done so few races this year in comparison to last year, so I’m anxious to race a couple more times. A few friends are talking about running a full marathon in the Spring. I’m just going to say “never say never”. Who knows what the future holds?
Have you ever run a marathon? What was your experience like?
Do you dream of one day running a full marathon? What excites you the most about that goal?