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race report – 2015 Detroit Marathon

i think that they technically call it cold-induced diuresis.

i call it an unexpected annoyance that may have cost me a 3-hour marathon. but when you gotta go, you gotta go.


with the very real prospect of snow squalls forecasted for the toronto-windsor corridor i elected to head down on friday night to stay over at a friend’s house before booting over across the border on saturday to quickly hit up the expo and nab my race kit.

getting in and out of the USA (by car) proved to be easy as pie on saturday morning – although it costs a pretty penny as the toll for exiting the ambassador bridge is $6.25 CDN each way! i think that the sign said that the equivalent in US currency was $3.50, which really made me wish that i’d exchanged a bit of cash before the weekend. the lineups for the border guard stations were what you’d expect – a slow grind through what felt like the grocery store cashier lines right before dinnertime. but there must have been more than a few people like myself who declared their intention to only be in the states for an hour or two for race purposes, as the US guard joked with me about the race being cancelled due to an unforeseen bridge closure (although he couldn’t play it out with a straight face), and the CDN customs officer queried me about my personal best and then one-upped me as his PB beat mine by about 40 seconds. we also went on to chat about my upcoming trip to boston in april to run the marathon there as he made his one trip to the boston marathon some 20 years ago … we ended up having to stop each other because our lively chat was holding up the line.

i decided to park at the MGM Grand Detroit Casino as the parking there is free and it would offer a good opportunity to test out my plan for sunday morning, which was to deposit my car there and hike the seven blocks down to the start line. aside from my GPS navigation unit giving me a bum steer and turning me into some dead-end construction zone it was fairly straightforward in terms of finding the garage and winding a path to the center of activity (near the Cobo Center)

the expo itself struck me as being somewhat similar to the layout employed at the mississauga marathon – the race kit pick-up was lickety-split (seriously – there was no one in the line-up for bibs #101-750) and i could have been in-and-out in five minutes flat except that the flow of traffic necessitated that everyone wind their way through the maze of vendors and exhibitors in order to exit.  plenty of LRSs (local running stores) were on-site with lots of wares to be had, as well as other race promoters and various novelty companies (e.g. the ‘running bumper sticker’ people, medal display rack people, and even some guys who had a neat gel-pad instant hand warmer).  while i deliberately didn’t bring any cash so as to not spend the money that i don’t have (!), i do admit to lingering a bit at the Hansons Running Shop area because of their notoriety around the hansons marathon method and their former relationship with america’s own MUT-runner extraordinaire sage canaday.

after returning to canadian soil again i spent the remainder of the day fairly relaxed, taking in my carbs and hitting up an LRS in windsor (the running factory) to stock up on my complement of gels needed for the race.  even though the gels cost me a little more than twice what they were available for at the expo, i knew that i wanted to keep the money on this side of the 49th.

race day

i’m glad that i’d gotten a decent sleep on friday night, because saturday night’s sleep was cut somewhat short by a bathroom trip (oooohhh … foreshadowing) at 1:30 a.m. after which i couldn’t shut my brain off enough to actually return to sleep.  after 90 min. of fish-flopping in the bed my alarm went off and i got up for my shakeout run, breakfast and shower (in that order).

having been informed that spots at the MGM Grand Casino parking lot tend to be filled up by about 5:30 a.m. i set out just around 4:30 a.m. to ensure that i’d get a space.  i figured that i could always hang out in the car or in the casino to stay warm and rested with a couple of hours before start time.  this proved to be a smart move as the lineup just off of the freeway onto the exit for the casino lot was backed up and took some time to negotiate – but once inside the parking structure there was no problem finding a space, to my relief.

with just over an hour before the 7:00 a.m. start i joined the throngs of runners and supporters/volunteers making our way down the seven blocks toward the start/finish area.  i stopped to use the port-a-potty about halfway which seemed right on schedule in terms of me clearing out my GI system in prep for the long haul to come on my feet.

i was surprised at how abuzz the downtown core was at such an early point – it was a reminder of just how many of the marathons that i’ve run are smaller races.  all told there were over 17000 competitors lining up on sunday morning, plus their families and friends adding to the crowds.  it definitely made for an electric atmosphere – which was a good thing for such a chilly morning.

[and this is a good point to insert a note about the weather conditions – the advance forecast had indicated sub-freezing temperatures (about -2°C) at start time and reaching about 3-4°C by 10:00 a.m.  armed with this information i packed just about every conceivable outfit combination that i could, including split shorts, compression shorts, capris, arm warmers, calf sleeves, singlet, t-shirt, toque, thin socks, wool socks.  after consulting with some friends on facebook i chose to go with the singlet, arm warmers, compression shorts, calf sleeves, gloves and toque – which still left me shivering while waiting in my corral.]

as the starting chute started to crowd up i met both the 3:05 and 3:00 pacers – each was a capable 2:40:xx racer in his own right, but i was a bit surprised that when i inquired about their strategies for the race the best answer that i got was “to finish with 30 seconds to spare”.  no plan about even-splitting or taking the 3rd mile (climbing the Ambassador Bridge) a bit slower to level out the effort expended.  there’s was no question about how capable they were to cross in the designated time – i had just hoped that perhaps they would be a little more focused on coaching/encouraging the aspiring racers in their group instead of just hammering out a time.

and at about 6:57 a.m. it happened.

i had the feeling that i needed to pee.

by this time i was sandwiched in on all sides, having even forgotten to perform my lunge matrix of stretches.  i had already hit the washroom twice since arriving in detroit but the cold weather had constricted my blood vessels, elevated my blood pressure and forced a fluid dump into my bladder to try to maintain equilibrium.  i really needed to pee – but with nowhere to go, i tried to focus on just getting the race started and hoping that the sensation would go away.

alas, it didn’t.

after latching onto the 3:05 group for the first two miles we hit an aid station and i veered off to make use of the port-a-potty.  i’m glad that i did as i’m surprised at how much my bladder had filled since my last bathroom break not 30 min. before (and that without taking in much by way of additional drink).  by the time that i exited i could see the 3:15 pacer had already passed me – and fearing that i would get caught in the congestion of runners on the Ambassador Bridge i decided to squeeze the pedal a bit to try to catch back up to the 3:05 pace group.


of course you don’t feel like you’re expending too much energy – it’s early in the race.

you’ve got lots of glycogen stored up.

and it’s easy to tap into that fuel source.

so i did – scooting by scores of fellow runners as we ascended the ramp to cross the bridge.

early speed + up up up = bad idea.

on the plus side i managed to lock back onto pacer jeff and his 3:05 congregants before the end of the bridge and decided to hang with them for another two or three miles after that.  it was quite an experience humming past the lineup of six or seven border patrol guards on each side of the race course as we entered into canada – they were there spotting your bib to see if you were on their list of properly accredited/identified runners, but they were also quite encouraging as they smiled or shared the occasional “great job” compliment to a passing racer.  there was also an announcer at the border reminding us to all ensure that the view of our bibs was unobstructed, as well as providing some entertaining commentary about how the exchange rate is so low that we can carve off nearly 30% from our time while running through windsor.  (hardee har har …)

the stretch along riverside drive was fairly pleasant if plain – except for the one tanker ship that was navigating the seaway just as we were strolling by.  i did note that a couple of times there were some of the pace group runners who were asking pacer jeff if we were “going a bit fast”, which he confirmed – and as he dropped his pace ever so slightly i decided that i would try to maintain and perhaps inch up on the 3:00 group.  while i never did catch them, i was able to tuck into one or two other runners at a time in order to take advantage of some drafting (the winds were maybe at 17-18 kph) and dialing into another person’s cadence.

the tunnel back into the states was an interesting stretch for a few reasons:

  1. immediately upon entering the tunnel the temperature rose a good seven or eight degrees, which initially felt like a blast furnace door opening but then turned out to be a pleasant climate.
  2. my garmin 305 indicated loss of GPS signal about 15 seconds into the tunnel – this would mean that my distance vs. time displays would be off and i would most definitely be relying on the roadside mile markers to indicate how i was faring.
  3. the exiting climb seemed quite long – and not knowing how i was actually pacing i had to rely entirely on perceived effort.

the u.s. border patrol guards were out in similar force upon our resurfacing from beneath the detroit river checking bib numbers and cheering us on.  my initial concerns about whether or not i needed to actually carry my passport with me (as per the strong recommendation of the race officials) turned out to be quite unnecessary as the process was so well organized and painless.

the middle miles were where i was caught in no-man’s-land … not really running with a pack, and occasionally eyeballing someone who was clicking off a similar pace and trying to stick with him or her.  this became tougher as the runners of the international half-marathon peeled off to their finish line, thinning out the field – but for a good 10k after that i was able to focus in on a guy who was running pretty effortlessly with a quick cadence.  he was wearing a green tank top and every time that we approached some roadside spectators i would hear “go green!” or “go state!”, which provided me with enough information to surmise that his singlet said “Spartans” on it (as in the Michigan State Spartans).

at the 20 mile mark we had crossed another bridge onto belle isle – a point in the race that i had visualized and had tentatively planned for a shift in gear to try to finish out with a real ‘racing’ effort.  however i was watching the mile laps on my garmin increase in time (to 7:09s and 7:11s) so i thought that i would try to slug it out until returning to the main shoreline and detroit’s “riverside walk” where i would try to put in a burst effort for the final 5k.  in my head i would be simulating the negative split runs that i’d been doing all summer with the barrie roadrunners along the kempenfelt bay waterfront – a little mental trick that i hoped would help turn on some afterburners.

i can’t say enough about how invaluable this video was for my race prep!

just before we started hit the section of riverside walk i passed my spartan-supporting friend and tried to urge him on saying “i’ve heard ‘go green’ in front of me for the last six miles, i don’t want to be hearing it from behind!” – but he encouraged me to keep pushing and i wouldn’t see him again.

i did find that my legs were able to pump it up again and found myself passing another three or four runners down the final stretch – this definitely helped to lift my spirits.  since the 3:00 pacer was nowhere within sight my goal at this point was to not let the 3:05 guy pass me at any point – and while this was made tougher by an uphill, into-the-wind turn at the 25 mile mark i channeled my inner deena kastor (who said “Today it was just putting my head down and grinding through it” after setting the new u.s. masters record at the 2015 chicago marathon) to see me through to the finish line, and a 3:04:34 gun time finish.

A photo posted by patrick voo (@pbfvoo) on


the march through the finish chute was very well organized (as was the race all the way around), with a very cheery volunteer congratulating me and donning the hefty Detroit Marathon finisher medal around my neck followed by tables of chocolate milk, bananas, fruit slices, water, hummus and protein bars.

i’d decided not to stick around for the much-touted “Conquered” after-party but instead grabbed my throwaway clothes (all but one piece – the hoodie – had remained where i’d left it before entering the starting chute) for warmth and headed back to the car for the short ride back to my friend’s house to nab a shower before the long ride home.

at the border i had one more fun exchange with the canadian patrol officer who asked me how long i’d been in the states – i responded with “around six hours”, to which he said “are you sure you didn’t run past me just about four hours ago?” at which point i chuckled for not having accounted for that crossing.  he also quizzed me about items to declare which i’d obtained in the united states – and i noted a bunch of protein bars, a banana and some free hummus.  his response was to give me the people’s eyebrow and say “anything else …?”, and i quickly came back with “oh, and this beast of a medal around my neck.”  he then broke a big smile and said “you’re darn right!  congratulations – have a good day!”, sending me on my merry way.

as i reflect back on attaining my second marathon PB this year (with a fairly significant cut of 7:33 from my accomplishment just over months ago) there are a few key takeaways:

  1. it was great to run in detroit – i really do like the city, and it was great to sense how encouraged the people of the motor city were that they were being supported.  it’s definitely been tough times and tough neighbourhoods that have dogged this community – and we ran past a few areas that seemed like they were post-apocalyptic landscapes with abandoned factories and apartment buildings – but they sure do have spirit there.
  2. i hit goal ‘A’ and ‘B’ but not ‘C’ – maybe i have to re-order those?!?
  3. there was a better race that could have been run out there for me – potty-stops aside, i could have made up the time in much smarter fashion without expending nearly as much energy as i did, and may not have had to pay for it as much in miles 14-20.  was sub-3 possible?  maybe not, but 3:00:xx maybe … and that may just become my target for the 2016 boston marathon.
  4. i still don’t know what it’s like to experience the full benefit of running with a pace group.
  5. GU gels are getting harder and harder to stomach, especially on cold days when they coagulate like crazy.  honey stinger gels were not bad, but the packaging was a little more bulky than i would have liked.  powerbar power gels went down the easiest, but i still found myself wanting to finish the race faster so that i would have to consume fewer gels overall.

thanks again to my tribe of Barrie Running Ninjas, the Barrie RoadRunners and the Barrie Trail Running Club for all of your companionship, coaching and support in preparation for this race. i was proud to sport my Team Skechers Performance and Team Running Free colours as well in and amongst the sea of other running brands and clubs.

so it’s time to embark on another off-season, and construct my plans and goals for 2016.  i’ll be sharing them later, but for now i can say that i think it’ll involve a combination of attempts at going longer and a bunch of attempts at going faster (how’s that for obscure??).


race gear for the 2015 detroit marathon:

One comment

  • Great result and report, Patrick! I like this race and city as well.

    You would not have to feel guilty about spending money on the north side of the Detroit River, poor Detroit is bankrupt…

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