I didn’t consider myself a runner when I was a student at the University of Michigan over 20 years ago. Sometimes I ran a mile or two around the indoor track at the rec center to stay in shape but that was the extent of my running. I did my first half marathon in 2011 and at some point in the years that followed I became aware of the Ann Arbor Marathon. I LOVE the city of Ann Arbor and thought it would be a lot of fun to race there. Weather, the timing of other races, or other things always got in the way. I finally signed up for the half marathon in 2020. That race should have taken place on March 22, 2020, but it was the first of many of my races that were canceled thanks to the pandemic. My first experience with the Ann Arbor Marathon was a virtual race around Stony Creek Metropark. Not exactly what I’d hoped for.
The race shifted to the fall in 2021 because COVID was still too much of a concern that spring. The switch must have been a success because it remained in the fall this year. A March marathon means there’s a possibility of ice or snow and that’s not a problem in the fall! I didn’t make it in 2021 and didn’t think I would this year either since I was scheduled to run the Toronto Waterfront Marathon two weeks later. When my friend Lisa told me that she was going to run the Ann Arbor half a week before doing the Chicago Marathon, I figured maybe two weeks would be fine for me after all. Thanks to Lisa’s influence I signed up to do the race on Sunday, October 2.
The race had an 8:00 am start and I parked in a lot by Michigan Stadium around 6:45. Seeing the big block “M” at the stadium elicited my Michigan pride and got me excited for the day. Lisa and I both happened to arrive in the same lot at the same time and got to chat for a few minutes before I went to pick up my packet.
It was around 50° so I left extra clothes at the bag drop to wear after the race. I had half an hour to spare and used half of that time to go for a warm up jog. I wanted to run to areas of the campus that wouldn’t be a part of the race course. My level of giddiness grew as I began to pass familiar spots. I went by Angell Hall and the art museum, cut through the Diag, and ran past the Law Quad.
Memories came back and I thought about how much I loved spending four years of my life there.
I warmed up for 1.25 miles then went to the starting corral where the half and full marathon runners would start together. Right after I started I noticed Greg Sadler taking photographs. I’ve come to know him and love that Epic Races uses his services at their races. When I spotted him it motivated me to mug for the camera.
We did a little bit of climbing during the first part of the race and saw Michigan Stadium ahead in the distance. Not a bad way to start! There were some quick downhill segments too which was great for momentum but I wondered how my legs might feel later. I loved running past some of the campus buildings and dorms for the first couple of miles. There were some new buildings that didn’t exist back when I went there, and other parts of campus that I had never made it to. One thing I love about running is how much ground I get to cover and how much I get to see. I wish I had been a runner as a student because I probably would have seen so much more of the campus.
We headed east of campus and out on the roads which were tree-lined and pretty. The sun came out and I enjoyed running past a golf course then by the Huron River. We ended up on the Border to Border (B2B) Trail which connects cities and parks throughout Washtenaw County. It was a nice paved path with beautiful scenery along the water. The leaves hadn’t changed much yet but every now and then I’d catch a random tree that was bright red. We ran 2-3 miles on that path which started to wear on me despite the nice scenery. I was more than halfway through the race and it was getting harder to maintain a fast pace. Running one long stretch got to me a bit mentally. I went back to Gallup Park and walked on the trail later to take some pictures because I really did love that area.
We ran past some soccer fields then I realized we were on the road I always used to take between central and north campus. Time for more reminiscing. I knew the climb by the medical center was coming and I wasn’t too excited about that. It definitely slowed me down for a bit but then it leveled off as we headed toward Nichols Arboretum. Normally it would be nice to run on the dirt path through that area. It was really pretty when I took some photos there toward the end of October in 2016.
I knew that the Arb hill was supposed to be one of the toughest parts of the course and I kept wondering when that would hit. When it did, it helped contribute to me running my slowest mile of the race – the only mile where I was over an 8:00 pace.
I survived the worst of the climb then appreciated a garden area that had a number of entertaining Ted Lasso quotes on signs. Then we climbed a little more as we headed back toward the main part of campus. By that point there was only about a mile to go and I knew it was time for me to push it. We ran just east of the Diag again along the same route we took at the beginning.
After the hills had slowed me down so much I was glad that I was able to drop my pace significantly for the last full mile. A downhill stretch or two helped. I finished with an official time of 1:40:46. After he took some nice finishing photos, I got a high five from Greg Sadler.
I was pretty happy with my time. I even ran that exact same time in 2014 at the Wildlife Half Marathon in Concord, MI! I’ve run several faster races but the 1:40 range is really solid for me. Although I probably should have been more disciplined and held back a bit more because the marathon is the real goal, I knew I wanted to push. Realizing how challenging this course was made me even happier that I ran as fast as I did.
Epic Races has the best food and I was happy to get pancakes, an egg and cheese wrap, and a chocolate chip cookie.
Soon I found Lisa and her husband Anthony and we hung out for a bit until I went to meet up with my friend Beth who only lives a few blocks from the finish. I knew the Washtenaw Dairy was close to her house so I suggested stopping there. We ate ice cream and I got some donuts for later, then we went to visit with her family for a few minutes. One of her sons wrote and illustrated a haiku while I was there and wanted to give it to me.
I wanted to make the most of a beautiful day in Ann Arbor and spent some time walking around campus.
Last weekend I was still concerned about lingering effects from COVID when I raced a 10K and did 20 miles for the day. Fortunately now that it’s been two and a half weeks since I first got sick, everything seemed fine for this race. What a huge relief. I think this race helped confirm that I should be in good shape for the marathon. It’s hard to believe it’s only two weeks away! No more racing until then. I’m sure time will fly by as I begin to taper. I will hope that all of these hills that I ran in my last couple of races has helped strengthen my legs and that the flat course in Toronto will feel like a breeze.
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