Disclaimer: I received an entry into the Detroit Free Press Marathon as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review, find, and write race reviews! All opinions are my own.
Have you ever wanted to run across International borders during a race? Well the Detroit Free Press Marathon cross the border not once, but twice. Did I mention that one of those border crossings just happens to be through a tunnel under the Detroit River?
This year the 40th running of the Detroit Free Press took place on Sunday, October 15th, 2017 at 7:00am. More than 26,000 runners would be participating in the International Marathon, the Marathon Relay, International Half-Marathon, and the US Only Half-Marathon. Wow, talk about a showing.
For my race review I will break out each area that I feel runners should know about the race going in. This will allow for a basis to determine whether the race is for them or not.
Pricing & Registration⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Pricing for the Marathon was in line with other marathons that I’ve run in the past. Increases are spaced out over the months from when registration opens up until registration closes. Note that since the marathon crosses the U.S./Canada border, you will need a valid Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (“WHTI”) compliant document such as a passport, passport card, enhanced driver’s license (“EDL”), trusted traveler program card (NEXUS card) or U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident card. All entries are reviewed by government agencies prior to the race and yes you must run with the above during the race. Don’t think of the above as a pain think of it as having celebrity status!
Communication⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: The communication and social engagement by the race crew was awesome. They remained engage starting early on via all social media outlets (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) answering questions, sneak peaks, and countdown information. This was exceptionally key day before the race when the weather outlook was ominous. Hands down awesome and takes an army to accomplish, yet they are so much smaller.
Expo ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: The race expo was held in the Cobo Convention Center in Detroit. The expo opened Friday afternoon and once again on Saturday morning. There was no race day packet pick up due to above mention items. Packet pick up was easy if you followed directions, then again even if you didn’t it was that difficult. The race sent out a link to look up your bib number, which was requested from the volunteers at pick up. If you didn’t heed the warning luckily there was a computer onsite where you could complete this step. Hopefully you remember your WHTI document as it was required. All in all this process was easy. You received a bag with your swag and bib. Vendors were plentifully where you could purchase official race gear and anything running you could think off. Overall the Expo was on par for expos I’ve seen in the best.
Cobo Hall – Home of the Expo
Swag⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Who doesn’t like swag? I know I look forward to it. Inside my swag bag was a New Balance long sleeved tech shirt, Bib, bandana with The Free Press logo on, a 26.2 Free Press marathon sticker, and a official race program. The finisher medal for all sweet!!! Cool thing that participants were able to vote on what was featured on the medal. I selected the corvette and was I surprised to see that was part of the final product!
Course⭐️⭐️⭐️: Don’t let the three stars deceive you as that is focused on the difficulty and not scenery or the awesomeness of Detroit. Not a lot of elevation outside of crossing the Ambassador Bridge or coming back through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. I did say you cross the International border twice right? Well the Free Press Marathon is the only race in the world that does this TWICE, along with adding in the fact it is the only underwater mile. Through the race you will run on pavement and occasional brick roads through Indian Village and on to Belle Isle while finishing up the last miles along the Riverwalk. For the most part the roads are in good condition, but you will see a few areas that could be troublesome if you aren’t paying attention. Crowd participation can be found throughout the course, minus a few areas. What was interesting about this course was having to run through the border twice, as border patrol and custom agents were in high numbers checking for bib numbers and anyone carrying excessive liquids through those crossings. If you paid attention to directions traversing through these areas was relatively easy.
Big Course Map at the Expo
Aid Stations⭐️⭐️⭐️: Numerous is all can say. Aid stations could be found every two miles through the first half of the course offering Absopure H2O and Lemon Lime Gatorade. They lined each side of the street and were staffed by awesome volunteers. At times the stations were congested and it was difficult fining your drink of choice. After around midway the aid stations increased to every mile. Cliff shots were offered along the course consisting of Strawberry, Citrus and other flavors. There were other areas where oranges, bananas and other beverages were being handed out by spectators.
After Party⭐️⭐️⭐️: The after party was open for race participants and families. The location was a few blocks away from the finish line where additional food items, beverages, massages and race gear could be found. When you finished the race you were handed your medal, water or Gatorade and a bag of goodies for refueling. A much needed heat sheet was provided to all runners. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the after party due to a stop at the medical tent.
Parking⭐️⭐️⭐️: Several parking options were available in the downtown area. Race communication was sent out to use SpotHero to book your spot ahead of time. This saved time in the long run. Traffic going into Detroit wasn’t too bad, but there is quite a bit off construction downtown. I arrived early and had no issues making it to the start line well ahead of schedule.
Overall I would recommend this race to anyone looking for an October race. Great course, exceptional race volunteers and superb communication. If you want to see Detroit and Windsor all in one day this race is for you.
Now on to how my race turned out!
Heading into the Detroit Free Press Marathon to say I was excited would be an understatement. Growing up in Michigan for a good part of my life and going to college in downtown Detroit made this one special for me. Add running this as a BibRave Ambassador felt like having my cake and eating it too! Going into the race I was targeting a goal time or PR based on my overall preparation. I ran into injuries and a new job that impacted my training. This race was all for fun!
About two weeks prior to race weekend all the BibRave Pros received an email from the race team offering a “Behind the scene” VIP tour. Talk about sweet!!! So I headed up to the D on Saturday morning to arrive just prior to meeting up for the tour. I arrived at Cobo and found a parking spot, where we received a discount from the $15 parking fee. The Expo was hopping with excitement. Always great to see on race weekend. I picked up my packet without issues and met up with fellow BibRave Pros (Dane, Angie, Nicole, Josh and Jeph).
Shortly thereafter Leah from the Free Press Marathon Crew directed us to where everyone, including the Free Press Marathon Ambassadors, was meeting up. We were handed an extra swag bag and off we went on the tour. We got to see where volunteers packed all the swag bags then headed outside to the start and finish line. Along the way we passed several cadets that volunteered packing up all the food finished bags. Talk about taking their jobs seriously while having fun doing it. The start and finish lines were being constructed which allowed for several photo opportunities and behind the ropes areas most are not privy too. To end the tour we headed up to marathon headquarters and to where all the pre race magic happens. Cool stuff and really appreciated the open arms during the tour!
Next day I woke up to rain and severe wind. Weather reports were calling for 70 degree temperatures and 30 mph wind gusts at race start with possible thunderstorms shortly thereafter.
I headed up to the race hoping for the best and met up with the BibRave Crew once again. We said our good lucks, snapped a few pictures and looked for the numerous port-a-potties! Lines were long as usual on race morning. Entrance to the corrals was a bit difficult as you entered from the sides. Each bib had a corral letter, but I didn’t see anyone checking at the corrals.
We piled in and the Canadian & American Anthems were sung and it was race times! Each wave were separated by 2 minutes to prevent on congestion during those early miles and ultimately to allow for bridge crossing. I felt great in those early miles, although the humidity was getting to me. At mile 3 we entered the first border crossing and throngs of border/custom agents we large weapons.
As mentioned earlier communication was sent out that your bib should be placed chest high, for easy identification by the agents. I saw one guy with his bib on his back get stopped. Sorry for him. Crossing the Ambassador Bridge was amazing as the sun was rising. As soon as I got over the bridge I needed to stop for a bathroom break. Always happens!!! Needless to say I was in and out and back out on the course without losing any time. I was keeping my goal pace of 8:30/Mile all the way through Windsor.
Around mile 7 we headed out of Windsor and into the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. I think this is where my race went downhill, literally. The tunnel headed downward and I didn’t pay attention and picked my pace up well under the 7:00 min mark. The tunnel was very HOT and very HUMID without much air circulation.
I tried to slow down, but felt the calve muscles taking a beating and that uphill climb around mile 8.5 was tough. Lone behold I kept pushing and got back on pace, but to no avail it was a struggle for the remainder of the race. Coming out of the tunnel runners were met with crowd support that reminded me of the parade after the Red Wings won their last Stanley Cup!!! That was just awesome!!! Talk about a brief uplift of energy!
After we headed out of the city into Corktown staying focused was difficult. I continued on to the next mile marker I was looking forward to, 11. My sister, who is an accomplished marathon and ultra runner was waiting with oranges for me there. I came running into Mile 11, where she said I was doing great and I went on my way. Always feels good to know people are waiting to cheer you on, even if it is for a few minutes. Runners headed back into the city where half marathoners split off and marathoners headed back out of the city towards Indian Village and Belle Isle. I spent several of the next miles fighting calve cramps and being winded. Luckily for technology and FaceTime, my wife and daughter willed me to fight and continue on. I can’t thank those two enough for pushing me along. At this point from miles 14-18 my pace had dropped down to around 13mins. It was a steady dose of running 3/4 of a mile waking 1/4 of a mile intermingled with stretching. Indian Village was filled with spectators passing out adult beverages, bands playing music and the numerous high fives! Aid stations were key to my survival and it was great to see the various Wayne State University athletic teams volunteering! Well done from my alma mater. At this point of the race runners were faced with drastic weather changes from humidity, to sunshine and WIND! The wind during the race made me know what it’s like to try and run with a 30lb weight tied to your back. Little did I know the wind and weather would get worse on Belle Isle.
For those of you that don’t know, Belle Isle is an island that sits out on the Detroit River. We crossed the bridge at mile 20ish and that is when the rain started. This was an area where there wasn’t much crowd support outside of the aid stations. It was scenic and took me back to my college days. Thankfully I persevered and made it off the Isle where I passed BibRave pro Angie entering. The home stretch was in sight and winding back and forth along the Riverwalk. Around mile 24 several motorized bikes came up from my rear saying move to the right. At this point I was like what the heck, but forgot that the US only half marathon started at 10am. So while I was struggling I had runners go flying right by me. At this point seeing the city was all I was hoping for. With my daughter in hand and on FaceTime, she pushed me to run it the remainder of the way. Emotions were were draining, the calves were hurting, but talking to my daughter let me see how excited she was. I raised my arms and crossed the finish line under the 5 hour mark. Definitely not my best time and probably won’t be the worse. The Detroit Free Press Marathon humbled me. It made me work. It made me proud I finished!!!