October 24, 2007


Part One: Half the Fun

I went to bed perfectly calm and not at all freaked, which I took to be a sure sign that something was going to go wrong. I dreamt that Dann-o left the start line without me, because I couldn’t find—wait for it—my other shoe. My brain is so funny, playing its little jokes on me. Woke up on time, ate breakfast, stretched, felt good. Dann arrives, we geek out over the homemade decorations and chatter about nothing to avoid nervous barfing. We—Dann, his missus and her mother, The Sooz and I—all piled into the car looking good and ready to go, our stomachs doing flip-flops all the way there.

We were able to park about 5 blocks from the starting line. It was colder than expected, so I put on the free dri-fit that came in the goody bag, hoping the long sleeves would help against the 20mph-winds. The sun is not yet up.


After this picture, we said goodbye to the Ubercul cheerleaders and made our way behind the Runners Only barricades. Dann scanned the signs to locate our corral; I searched desperately for a place to pee. Three blocks later, we find a huge cordoned-off are filled with about forty port-a-johns, queues of hopping runners in front of each. Dann hesitantly asks if maybe I can hold it for a mile, as it is now 6:45 AM—and I affirm that I cannot run if I do not pee, since all the blood that should be keeping my body warm is keeping my bladder warm instead. Dann and I queue up and, although it seemed interminable to me at the time, the line moves pretty quickly. Ten minutes and a probable case of Hep C later, I emerge from the port-a-john with all the energy an empty bladder endows, plus two.

We hit our corral, a little surprised to find ourselves among competitive walkers. We estimated our finishing time six months ago at 6 hours, 15 minutes—far back enough to be considered “walkers.” I knew our 11-min mile training pace would put us at least 45 minutes ahead of that, so we push ahead as far as we can, but as the rules of corral-jumping were pretty strict (and I wanted to run today), we stayed put short of the dividing line. We heard the national anthem, which went more quickly than I have ever heard it. Then they’re playing “Right Now,” which Dann tells me is Sammy Hagar. I tell him it’s Jesus Jones; we fight, I bet him a dollar. Next came the countdown for the wheelchair racers, and everyone cheered.

Then sixteen thousand people were silent. And waiting. We jumped up and down, staying warm. Sporadic wooting and hollering. Random good-lucks. Then the bullhorn, and we heard five, four, three, two…

The crowd was walking a few paces, then stopping. A few more, and stopping; edging to the Start Line. Then all of a sudden they moved in a wave, five paces ahead, then two, then we were running, spreading out—staying together but moving ahead. The crowd was screaming. Dann and I reach the timing mat and hit start on our wristwatches. We see our group’s posterboard, the skull and crossbones; they see us and holler as we turn the corner. Everyone’s running, most are smiling. We pass walkers. We pass runners. We’re passing everyone, and we love the people ahead of us because they’re here, and it isn’t a race yet, it’s just running.

The first mile marker is a surprise. We pass Tiger Stadium, my last chance to see it before it goes on eBay. Both sides of the street are filled with people, cheering, stomping. We keep our eyes on the road to leap discarded gloves and shirts—I keep my shirt on, not warm enough yet. There’s a live act on the corner: rappers, Detroit, 7:30 AM. I know Dann hates it and he says so, still grinning like an idiot. He can’t get over the number of people, all here so early, to run. He says something about fat people and bacon. The sun starts to come up.

For the next nine miles, we are a machine: a human steam engine fueled by pure badass. We come to the approach on the Ambassador Bridge, curving one way and then another on the wide, sprawling ramps meant for automobiles. We don’t feel like people because here, half-asleep, the wind in our eyes, we’re ethereal; one weird serpentine force, the suspension cables painting lines over our nebulous edges. The sun, sick of its pink innuendo and ready to start the day for reals, is in full glow inches from the water’s surface. It’s too much for anyone, even those plugged into iPods have tears streaming into their hair. Dann says he doesn’t even feel like we’re running. We coast into Canada, all together and never all on the ground at once. The border patrol goes wild with honking and clapping.

Miles fly by. We make defection jokes and lame “eh?” references, noting that for the next hour Bush is not the president. Across the water, Detroit looks beautiful; the GM building glinting yellow. Somewhere along the river, I need to lose the long-sleeved shirt. I have to move my race number to the undershirt, which—“safety” pins notwithstanding—means slowing down. I tell Dann to walk; he protests. I tell him to call out times every fifteen seconds to make me switch my number faster. Last pin in and I’m running again, tying my shirt around my waist as I go. We pass most of those who passed us in those two lost minutes, including the 4:45 pacing team. Oh, those 4:45s; we would pass them and they would pass us, many, many times.

How long were we in Canada… five minutes? Forty? We’re already coming up to the tunnel entrance, back to the US. Dad did his best to freak us out about the Windsor tunnel: “water pours down the walls, you can’t breathe, it’s completely dark!” Shockingly, none of this is true. Although packing that many people—heaving, sweaty people—into a tiny elongated space did make for a whiffy experience, we made up for it with whooping and leaping. The carbon dioxide level made it quite close—I’m not claustrophobic, but the sudden whoosh of fresh air came just in time. The tunnel opened, we stomped on the timing mat and pushed into daylight, crowds cheering from the criss-crossing on ramps above us. Lots of people, lots of signs. None were ours, but it didn’t matter.

Twelve miles. The volunteers are calling the half-marathoners to split to the left, down to the Finish Line. Marathoners keep right. My ankle hurt now—it had hurt earlier, just a bit, not worth mentioning—I was starting to lean on it a bit. The half-marathoners branch off, we can hear the distant cheering for them as their race is over. Less than half the crowd is left, making us less and more impressive at the same time. Dann and I spread out—we have more than enough elbow room now—and scan the sidewalks for our people, our supporters, the Ubergrupies, who got just as little sleep as we did.

They wouldn’t be there; we were early.


Anonymous said...

The imagery! The Drama! Where's the bacon, again?


Sarah Beedoo said...