My first race: The 2003 Detroit Accidental Marathon
sorry, this is really long...
sorry, this is really long...
My sister Monique, who lives in Michigan, gives me a call.
"Dad wants you to fly up to Detroit and run the marathon with me in three weeks", she said, "He would buy your ticket"
I was confused, "What? Why?".
I was not much of a runner. I had been running minimally off and on, but had never run a race before. Not even a 5K.(see running biography)
My sister, on the other hand, was a serious runner, and had already completed one marathon. My father did not understand the difference.
"He thinks it's too dangerous for me to run in Detroit by myself", she laughed, "And he says that I don't know how far that is."
Our father often has bizarre ideas. We call this "Bizarro Dad World".
For example, he was convinced that the family down the street was in the mafia. Why? Because they had a swimming pool.
"That's nuts. I can't run a marathon", I said, "I think the farthest I have ever run is 6 miles. Besides, I think you will be safe running with three thousand other people"
"I know he's crazy. But it would be nice to have someone to run with. You could do the 2 person relay with Chris, then you would only have to run 13.1 miles. Come on, it'll be fun! You can do it!"
I relented, and signed up to run the relay with my older bother Chris. I would run the first half with Monique, and he would take over and run the second half.
Unfortunately, I didn't know anything about running races, or training, or how far 13.1 miles was.
The race was in 3 weeks, so this was the training plan I came up with:
- One 10 mile run on the treadmill.
So I ran on the treadmill, to simulate the road and make sure I did the full 10 miles. It was a long painful run, it took me almost 2 hours.
Race Day Morning
"I never eat before I run", I said when I got up, "I get cramps."
"But you have to eat something", my sister told me, "You're running 13 miles!"
I settled for half a banana and a piece of toast.
We drove down to Detroit and lined up in the dark with the thousands of other runners. It was about 30 degrees, and I was dressed in long underwear, ready for a polar expedition. I shivered, worrying that I couldn't keep up with my sister, and that the pavement would hurt my knees.
When we started moving, I was startled by how great I felt.
I had been dreading the crowds of people because I always ran alone. But instead I found running with the masses strangely energizing. For the first time, I was experiencing that shot of adrenaline that a race provides.
This was fantastic! We were passing people left and right; it felt like we were flying.
At mile 3 of the race looms the Ambassador bridge crossing over to Canada. I am acrophobic (afraid of heights), and this was my biggest fear coming into the race. It's over a mile long, and features a 152 foot plunge off the side. Just driving over it is terrifying for me, so going over on foot was going to be a challenge.
When we got to the foot of the bridge the thick crowd of runners almost came to a complete stop. We were all being funneled down into a single lane of the bridge. For some reason the sidewalk right next to railing had been barricaded off, and was clear of people.
I discovered that day that my impatience is far stronger than my acrophobia. I sidestepped some orange barriers and jumped up on the empty sidewalk, running right next to the 152 foot drop, keeping my eyes straight ahead. My sister followed me as we skirted past the bottleneck, ignoring the calls from the course monitors to get off the sidewalk.
We ran through the toll booths, down the ramps and into Canada. Here, the course went through a beautiful park right along the Detroit River. When we got to the first aid station, I didn't know what to do, of course.
"Don't stop! Keep going!" people yelled at me as I stood still, drinking Gatorade.This was a day of many firsts. I think this was the first time I ever had Gatorade.
The course was pretty flat. Compared to my usual root covered roller coaster trails, these road miles seemed effortless and passed quickly. Next came the "underwater mile", as we took the tunnel under the river back over to the USA, and then onto Belle Isle.
We covered the first 13.1 miles in 1:49, and looking back now, I find that amazing.
We met my brother Chris at the exchange point. He had forgotten his chip and bib, so I had to take mine off and give them to him.
Then the two of them continued on, leaving me there.My sister turned around, "So what are you doing? Where do we meet you?"
I was so focused on getting there, I had not thought of what would happen at this point.
I kind of felt left out. Even though it was already the longest run of my entire life, I still felt really good, and I didn't want it to end.
"I'm coming with you guys.", I shouted, running after them. It would be the first time the three of us siblings had ever run together, and I didn't want to pass that up.
"You're going to keep running?" my sister was incredulous.
"Sure! I feel great!" But as I said that, I realized that my legs were actually pretty sore. My right knee in particular. "I going to see how far I can get."
Somewhere around here my sister hands me a packet of Gu.
"Here, eat this"
I managed to get it open consume half of it, with the other half smeared over my hands and face.
"What is this? Glue? It's nasty!", it didn't sit well with the half a gallon of Gatorade in my stomach.
Soon after, I ducked into a porta-potty.
When I came out, I sprinted like crazy trying to catch up to my siblings, but they were no where to be seen. They had stopped too, and were actually behind me.
"Anthony!" someone shouted from the side of the road. It was my sister's friend Bridget. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm running!" I was still inspired from the madness of it.
About mile 20, it stopped being fun. My legs were slowly turning to cement. And, the pain in my right knee continued to get worse.
"Hey! There you are!", my sister and brother finally caught up to me.
I hung with them for another couple miles.
Suddenly my knee completely gave out, and I collapsed to the ground like I had been shot.
I feebly called out to Monique and Chris who were in front of me, but they didn't notice, and kept going.
The side of my knee, which I learned later was my "IT band", had become so swollen that I could not put any weight on it. I couldn't even stand.
I gimped over to the curb and sat down on the grass. Obviously, this was as far as I could go. I was done.
"Are you OK?" people kept asking me.
"Yeah. I'm just waiting for the bus"
I had heard there was some kind of "sag bus" that would pick up people who dropped out. So my plan was to wait for it.
After 5 minutes, I realized that no bus could drive down the road with people running down it.
How was I going to get back? My family would be waiting for me, wondering where I was. I stared at the "Mile 23" marker stuck in the grass next to me. I was so close. Maybe I could walk?
I got up and tried walking, but it was excruciatingly painful. I tried a limping jog, and that actually felt better.
I don't know how, but I limped like this all the way to mile 26. I really didn't care about finishing a marathon, I was trying to get back.
Here the course went through a door entering Ford Field, where the Detroit Lions play football. I just had to run in and and down a ramp to the finish line. But as I approached the door, a security guard put out his hand and stopped me.
"Where is your bib?", he demanded.
I wobbled on one leg, delirious with pain, "Uh. I don't have it... I... I gave it to my brother..."
"Well, you shouldn't have done that.You can't come in here"
I stared at him for a second, then crumpled to the ground.
"OK, OK", he said, helping me up, "go ahead"
I tottered down the ramp, through the finish, and a girl put a medal around my neck.
Bizarro Dad World
The craziest thing about our father's bizarre ideas is that they often turn out to be true.
That guy down the street was in the mafia, he was arrested and hauled off.
I actually could run a marathon.
After laying on the field a while, I had to climb the stairs in the stands to get outside. I exited into a enormous, thick crowd of people waiting for their runners to finish.
I had no idea how I would find my family, but I could go no further. I laid down on the pavement, and hoped no one would step on me.
Luckily, my family found me laying there.Our crazy dad snapped this photo.
A Good Day
I was able to find my time from a finish line photo. It was 4:08.
This still amazes me. My only explanation is that I was in pretty good shape from the trail running, and that I had really good day.
It would be about 6 weeks before I could run again, but
I wondered how fast could I run a marathon if I actually trained for it.
So I signed up for Bayshore the next spring, and trained my ass off, putting in all the miles you are supposed to.
My marathon time, with training... 4:03. That's right. Training is good for 5 minutes.