Race Recap: Detroit Free Press Relay – Part 1

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This race recap will be in two posts, because it’s long.  I debated chopping out a bunch of the story, but to be honest, if it’s too long for someone to read, they are welcomed to skip over stuff or skip it all together.  For me, this will be something I can come back to read (and enjoy!) many times in the future, and I really want to make sure I include every detail.  So, thanks for humoring me! 😉


Many months ago, I received an email from my friend Katie at RunsForCookies.  She asked me if I would consider running in the Detroit Marathon Relay with four other ladies, including our friend Jessica, who had put the team together. She was looking to find someone to take her place for the last leg, because she had decided to run the full marathon instead.  Her portion of the relay was going to be 4.4 miles.

I had to really think about it for a variety of reasons, with number one being that it was during hockey season, and I couldn’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be a tournament that weekend.  I was really excited about running in the Free Press Marathon as part of the relay, though, and I felt pretty confident in my ability to run 4.4 miles (since I had already signed up for a 10k in July).  Once I determined that I wouldn’t have to cross the bridge or tunnel to Canada, I took my chances with regard to the dates and said yes!

And of course, there ended up being a tournament that weekend. Not just any tournament, mind you, but a tournament in Michigan wine country. In the fall.  On the lake. 😛

At the beginning of race weekend, I was pretty bummed about missing the tournament.  This was a large contributing factor to my rather depressing post from last Saturday.  I hated missing out on the fun of the tournament, and of course, missing my son play hockey!

However, by late Saturday night, I was getting more excited.  Our team all got together to go pick up our race packets and attend the Expo before the race.  It was my first-ever race Expo, and I really didn’t know what to expect! It was interesting, but it was mostly just people trying to sell you their running-themed “stuff.”  That was okay, but I was kind of thinking there might be some more instructional aspect to it, like maybe a guest speaker or something.  Ha ha, what do I know? 😉

Since I lost my armband phone-holder a few weeks ago, I needed something to replace it. So the Expo was definitely helpful to me in that respect!  I ended up buying a SPI belt, which is basically this little itty bitty fanny pack that is designed to sit at your waist without bouncing when you run.

We got a group picture in front of the countdown clock.

Later we went to dinner in the Renaissance Center.  We walked from Cobo to the Ren Cen, and it was a great experience.  I love downtown Detroit, and I enjoyed the walk along the river.  We ate at Andiamo’s, which is a pretty upscale restaurant, and the meal was great.

All in all, it was a really fun evening, and I can honestly say that it helped me feel like a “real” runner as I got ready for the big day.  I went home that night pretty “keyed” up, and I knew from past race experience that it would be hard for me to fall asleep.  So instead of going to bed as soon as I got home, I stayed up, checking emails, writing a blog post, folding laundry.  I found enough to do that I ended up going to bed at 10:45pm.  And then I lay awake for at least another hour. {doh!} Clearly, that was not my best idea, since I had to be up at 3:30am.

I slept pretty poorly, but that’s par for the course before a race.  I was still able to get up on time, take a shower, make some coffee, and get to the commuter lot by my house at 4:30am to be picked up. Jessica drove four of us, and our drive included a detour to a gas station on the way for “pit stops” for some of our team members, who were not excited about using the porta potties at the race site, lol.

Once we got downtown, we managed to find parking fairly close, and then we walked to the start-finish line to meet our fifth team member.  Somehow, we managed to get there an hour before any of us had to be on our bus!  We stood around the start-finish area, and we were all freezing.  It was something like 40 degrees!  We had time for several porta-potty breaks, and also a few pre-race pictures.

Being at the start-finish line was really awesome.  It was right downtown at the corner of Fort Street and Second Avenue, in the heart of all the tall skyscrapers and historical buildings.  They had upbeat music blaring from huge speakers, and there was just an air of excitement all around.  It was truly electric down there! I didn’t want to leave, because I really wanted to be there for the start of the race, but we had to start boarding our buses, so eventually the three of us who were boarding buses made our way down about 6:15am.  (The first and third legs both started at that Fort/Secondintersection, so no bus for them.)

I said goodbye to Jessica, our second-leg runner, who was heading to Canada and therefore had to leave at 6:30am.  I chatted for a while with our fourth-leg runner, ReAnna, and then we broke up and headed to our respective buses.  I wasn’t sure what to expect for the buses, but they were nice!  They were like big tour buses, with roomy, comfortable chairs.  And the best part was—they had heat!!  It was nice to sit on the bus and relax a little in the warmth after standing around in the cold so long.

The bus left right at 7:02am—they weren’t kidding about making sure you didn’t miss your bus!  There was a guy who tried to get on about 6:45am, but when the lady in charge checked to make sure his bib was purple (indicating he was a leg 5 runner), it wasn’t. It was gray, indicating he was a leg 2 runner. The only problem is that the leg 2 bus left at 6:30, and since it was going to Canada, and they were closing the bridge…he was out of luck!! I don’t know what he ended up doing, but I suspect that either his team was unable to compete, or he ended up running with the leg 1 runners to get across the bridge, and then ran his own leg, a total of over 12 miles!

It didn’t take us long to get to Belle Isle, which is where the final leg started.  We crossed over the MacArthur Bridge, which connects the city of Detroit to the island across the Detroit River, and the sun was just coming up.  I wanted so desperately to get a good shot, but this was all I could get.

Ah, well.  You’ll just have to use your imagination. 😉

Once we got to the island, then came the hard part—the three and a half hour wait! They let us stay on the buses, which was really nice.  If I hadn’t had my contacts in, I might have fallen asleep, lol!  Instead, I waited with the other folks on the very-full bus, and struck up conversations with the people around me.  The girl next to me was 22 and was running in her first relay (by the way, she also had 2 kids under aged five and used to run cross country in high school!).  A few other ladies had done the relay before, one having done leg 5 the prior year, and another who ran leg 1 last year.

It was fun to talk and chat about our experiences (or lack thereof) and many other things (like the fact that the much-touted new marathon app wasn’t working for sh*t!).  We enjoyed hearing updates from runners who were getting texts from their team members to let them know how far along their teams were.

We really became kind of a family for a while as we waited. We were the “Leg 5 Runners,” with a shared goal—to bring our respective teams home to the finish line.  It was a wonderful experience, and one I would love to repeat.

During the nearly 3 hours while I waited, I went to the bathroom—no lie—eight times! I had a full coffee in the morning, and I wanted to make sure it was all gone before I ran. 😉 I was on and off that bus a lot that morning, that’s for sure. Eventually, I got off the bus for good about 10am.

I had been trying to use my phone to keep updated on both the progress of my relay team, as well as my son’s final hockey game at the tournament, AND the game of my friend Tonia’s son (at the same tournament).  The bad news is that, since I had broken my real phone and the touch screen would not work properly, I was forced to “downgrade” back to the old phone I had gotten in 2008 or 2009.  The battery life was awful, and it started giving me dire warnings about 9:50am.  Tonia had just texted me that her son’s team had won (yay!), while my husband was texting me in-game updates of DS#1’s game. His texts were like this:

“3-1 end 1st”

“3-2 end 2nd”

I was unsure if we were winning or losing, but I didn’t want to waste battery replying, so I waited for a final outcome.  Meanwhile, my leg 3 person, Sherry, texted me that Reanna, our leg 4 runner, had just left. That meant I had about 35-40 minutes before she arrived, which in turn meant I could get in two more bathroom trips. 😉

At about 10:15, my husband sent me this text:

“Final, 5-4”

I assumed that we’d lost, since he didn’t specifically say we’d won (or show any excitement whatsoever), and I decided to waste a bit of battery to send a text back: “Bummer. So close!”  His reply:  “No, we won.”

Seriously?!?  We win a close game and all I get is a score?! No cheers, no exclamation points?!  I love my husband’s even-keel personality most of the time, because he’s a great foil for my over-the-top personality, but sometimes I hate him for it. 😉

That was the last text I got before my phone died.  This worried me, but I still had my old phone for music, and even though the screen wasn’t working and the service wasn’t active, I knew I could still use it via a wi-fi hot spot to send emails if I had to. The very last thing I did with the dying phone was look up Jessica’s number and put it my old, non-working phone, and then it was truly gone.

That was about 10:30 am, and at that point, I did some stretching while I stood on the side of the road that circled Belle Isle.  Most of the leg 5 runners were out waiting for their team members as well, and we all watched the marathon runners go by while we waited.  Many of us cheered them on…there were two guys in particular that were really cheering and offering encouragement, especially when they saw the ones who were obviously struggling.  It was really uplifting to hear them.  They didn’t look like “super-runners” by any stretch—just average guys who obviously wanted to encourage others.

I joined their cheering for a while, but as it got closer to the time that Reanna should arrive, I focused on watching for her.  I had both her bag and my bag, which included our coats and a change of clothes for me, and I held them while I waited.  I looked far down the road, scanning the approaching runners to make sure I saw her way ahead of time.  I listened as they called out number after number, and then—bam, there she was in front of me, calling my name!  I still don’t know how I missed her until the very last second, but I quickly fell into pace with her as I handed her our bags.  I told her my phone had died and I was giving it to her, but that I would use my wi-fi from my other phone to communicate.

And then I was off!

My actual race experience can be found in part two. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Race Recap: Detroit Free Press Relay – Part 1

  1. Jenn

    Wow! How exciting. The anticipation is building and I am loving it! I really love reading about how encouraging everyone is along the way.


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