Racing Grit, Guts & Crossing the Line at the Detroit Free Press Marathon

Grit, Guts & Crossing the Line at the Detroit Free Press Marathon


Sometimes you need a way to focus that takes you outside, mentally and physically. Last February I knew I needed running, and with it a training goal that would see me through to a fall marathon. Fortunately my training partner also wanted a goal to keep him motivated. And with his deferred 2020 Detroit Marathon race entry in hand, we set our training on 42K in the Motor City together.

Detroit has a level of grit that has developed in part of being dealt a fair share of tough times. It’s a relatable vibe, many of us have maybe felt over the past few years. Among runners, that need to dig in, push forward and keep on going, even when the going gets tough is ever present.  

At sunrise, shades of orange, and amber break over the horizon, we round the bend and the historic Ambassador Bridge coming into full view. On a Sunday morning in late October, more than 30,000 runners are taking part in the 46th Detroit Free Press Marathon. It is the largest international race in North America, and because it’s only about a four and a half-hour drive from Toronto, it’s also a great weekend road trip.

Making comeback after comeback, Detroit underscores the very fact that even in our toughest moments we can all find hope. Much like running a marathon requires you to find strength in difficult moments, this city reminds you that sometimes you’ve got to give a little more of yourself in order to be rewarded. For the Motor City, the reward has been its incredible transformation of an industrial downtown area that now includes an incredible sport lover’s atmosphere with Comerica Park, Ford Field and Little Caesars Arena in close proximity to one another, and an emerging arts scene thanks to an impressive number of galleries and public are displays including the Detroit Arts Institute.

The course takes runners back to Detroit through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, and weaves through some of the city’s most historic neighbourhoods. Running through the downtown core along with the turn-of-the-century homes in vibrant residential neighbourhoods is invigorating. Detroit’s Cass Corridor especially hits a high note when it comes to arts, music and all things local. Home to musician Jack White’s Third Man Records production studio, the area will strike a cord among runners, many who are also music lovers, on and off the race course.

The area began as an artist’s community and with the eclectic mix of public art and expansive murals adorning its historic buildings it holds to its roots and has evolved into a vibrant hub of local eateries and retailers.

Detroit’s heartbeat becomes my own as I make my way through the residential neighbourhoods rich in community spirit. Feeling the cooling spray of garden hoses on streets where neighbours lined up to create a refreshing archway, my spirits lift and I am revitalized. Resilience is essential in life, this years has proven this to me. Taking note of the architecture, breathing in the landscape and soaking in Detroit’s rich history of rising above it all, I found a meditative calm, something that is necessary not only in the marathon but in my life.

Here you’ll also a feeling of hope and promise for better days ahead. It’s a true, authentic feeling that is palpable with each foot strike on the pavement. It’s been a difficult year for many reasons, and as ever, running has helped keep me on my feet focused on my goal. Today, Detroit itself is keeping me moving forward, and across another finish line.

And whatever your post-marathon celebration meal is, make it indulgent. Here the pizza is just that. Buddy’s Pizza has been around for 75 years and its Detroit-style pizza is iconic. This is the perfect place to not only celebrate this marathon but also this year. For all the ups and downs, here we are coming out at the end of it all because of this wild and crazy sport. Sitting down across from my training partner, medal in one hand, pizza in the other and all smiles, I am grateful for making it to this moment. Training for this race, holding to an actual plan, trusting in myself and our training, even on days when I maybe didn’t want to do either, it all brought me here, back home to where I feel most like me.

Anna Lee Boschetto is a regular iRun contributor and runner covering destination racing, fitness travel, food and nutrition.