Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Throw Down in Motown - Justin Gutierrez Debut in Detroit

It is said that sometime you have to remember where you came from in order to know where you are going. So it is through that lens that I try to make sense of the 2011 Detroit Free Press Marathon.

I moved to Charlotte from Flint, Michiganin August of 2009. Upon my arrival Ihung up my running shoes vowing never to return. At that point I had run cross country, track and road races for 13 years. I guess anything you do for 13 years straight can become very cumbersome and at times, pointless. I needed a break. So from August 2009 until January 2011 I took that break. I might not have run more than 5 miles in a given WEEK but I did get my bench press up to 200lbs!

Fast forward to December 2010. At this point I had been inactive in the running scene for almost 18 months. I had days where I may or may not have missed running and competing but mostly it was a nostalgia that comes with looking at old trophies and plaques. So what got me out the door? Would you believe me when I said it was a commercial? To be more specific it was a Chrysler 300 commercial featuring Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle of the
Detroit Lions (Watch Here).

The commercial tells the homecoming story of Suh that’s rooted in, “humble beginnings are true beginnings...”

I don’t know what it was about that commercial but I knew I had a responsibility to fulfill. As a city kid from a blue collar town like Flint I had a responsibility to myself, to my family, to all my former team-mates, coaches, and neighbors that invested hours upon hours of time in my training and racing as a high school and collegiate athlete. A responsibility to respect and honor the talents that I have been given. It was with that I found my old Nike Elite’s (best shoe ever), laced them up, and went for a run.

The Build Up
With the help of coach Mark Hadley of Maximum Performance Running I started training for my first marathon in January 2011. I had a great training schedule mapped out with goal mileage, goal races, and goal times. I was excited to get it all organized and laid out in front of me. To my surprise my body transitioned quite well back into full time training. I started week 1 at 50 miles. The plan was simple, 18 week build up to the Bayshore Half Marathon in Traverse City, Michigan then a 19 week build up to the Detroit Free Press Marathon. I figured since I took a full year off I needed to play all my cards right to avoid injury and also to make it an enjoyable experience. For the first time in my training I actually did my core, and stretched, and ice bathed and all those little things to help with recovery and maintenance. But what I carry the most pride in is that in these 38 weeks (18: Half, 1: Recovery, 19: Marathon) I missed 5 days of running with 3 of those days were during my recovery week! That consistency really allowed me to get up to speed.

I ran the Bayshore Half (May 2011) in 1:15:45. I hit my goal of a sub 1:16 but in the back of my mind I knew I had a loooong way to go (that time being 5ish minutes slower than my PR). With that I jumped into my 19 week Marathon cycle ready to hammer the miles and see what the marathon was all about.

I chose Detroit because it’s essentially my home-town and it’s been my family’s choice for marathoning debuts for about 20 years. So, 19 weeks came and went. I hit a few weeks of 80-85 miles and a longest long run of 22. Big thanks to Charlotte Running Club for being there on some of those training runs!

Race Day:
The Detroit Course is unique in that it runs into Canada on the Ambassador Bridge and comes back into the US through the Windsor Tunnel. Race morning went much smoother than I expected. Knowing the city quite well I was able to get downtown with ease. Race morning temps were in the high 40’s, perfect but I was not as enthused about the strong southwest wind and the possible rain that was on it’s way in. Oh well, everyone races in the same conditions.

Mile 1 - 4
What’s the best way to kill your chances to run well during your first marathon? Go out too fast! Fortunately the half marathon and full marathon start together. I rolled the dice and guessed that the top half-marathon women would get out too fast for these first few miles but those would be the paces I needed to hit to get out conservatively during the marathon. The bet payed off. I didn't see any splits for the first 4 miles but just tried to run relaxed and hold back.
4 mile split: 23:42, bam, right on pace. The bridge wasn't that bad…the way they had us approach it, it was a very steady manageable incline and i used the down hill to even out the split.

Miles 5 - 7 (5:43, 5:46, 5:45)
Welcome to Canada, eh? I must say, Canadians are pretty friendly. I was impressed with how many people were already lining the streets in Windsor to cheer the marathoners on. This part of the course is flat as a pancake as it follows the Detroit River. It was during these three miles that I had to make a choice about pace. Up to this point I was running with the lead half marath
on women and some mid front pack marathon men. I dropped the women but the guys I was running with started clipping off 5:30-5:35’s. Do I go with them or get stuck in no-man’s land within the first 10k? I committed to stay to my race strategy (5:45’s) and let that pack go.

Mile 8 or should I say 8- mile? (Underwater Mile: 5:50)
Now I know what a claustrophobic menopausal woman feels like.
Very interesting experience to say the least.

Miles 9 - 13.1 (5:55, 5:54, 5:48, 5:46, 5:45, Half: 1:16:38)
As I ascended out of the Windsor Tunnel I was greeted by spectators, family and friends all waving American flags and a banner saying, “Welcome Back!” Back in Detroit the course takes you through the historic neighborhoods of Mexicantown and Corktown. Mile 9 & 10 were straight into a headwind as the wind seemed to just tunnel through the north/south city streets. Running alone and just resettled into my pace and enjoyed the slight rain that had started since returning to the US. I personally enjoyed the mariachi band in Mexicantown, those guys were jammin’. I ended up hitting the Half in 1:16:38. This was actually a tad faster than anticipated but it was a welcomed surprise since I felt like I was in the zone. *Side Note* I feel that my only real mistake was my choice of racing flat. I was wearing the Nike Streak XC 3’s. Fabulous 5k/10k shoe. Heck, maybe I’ll wear it for a 10 miler but let me tell you, I don’t care how efficient you are, they are brutal for the full 26.2. It was around mile 12/13 that I started to feel every step I took. I could feel every crack and pebble. Next time I’m wearing my Saucony Fastwitch.

Miles 14 - 20 (5:50, 5:45, 4:45, 5:47, 5:54 (head wind), 5:56 (head wind), 5:52 (head-wind).
As with 90% of marathons these days miles 1-13 are scenic, eventful, and spectator friendly. Unfortunately that usually leaves miles 14 on as the red-headed step-child section of most courses. I have 1 word to describe miles 14-20. Lame. Oh, I enjoyed racing. It was here I started to slowly reel guys in as they started to fade but there was NOTHING esthetically pleasing about this section of the course. No entertainment, no spectators, and nothing scenic. We did run through Indian Village but if you have run through one suburb of a major city, you have run through them all. This part of the course was all multiple mile straight-aways. Very boring BUT at least I could see those racing ahead of me.

**Running solo pretty much
from mile 6 was an interesting experience. It was easy in the sense that I've done most of my training solo BUT i wish I would have had someone there to 1) help "zone out" and clip away at 5:48-5:50 and even out some of those spastic mile splits and 2) help break the wind. Being a bigger marathoner (6'4, 175lbs) than those I was racing against I can handle the wind a tad
better but it would have liked a group to chill with for the first 15 miles or so.

Miles 21 - 23 (5:51, 5:54, 5:55)
BELLE ISLE: I entered the Island look in 10th place. 10k to go, this is were I start to make a move. It was bizarre being on Belle Isle, I figured I’d be able to get some tail wind but every time we took a right turn the wind was still a head wind. I steadily started to close the gap on the 2 or 3 runners that I could see in front of me. I made it a point that every person I caught and passed I did so very quickly to prevent myself from falling into their stride. I would catch them and get past them with in 4 or 5 steps. I wanted them to know that I felt pretty fresh and if they wanted to go with me that they’d have to really change their stride to do so.

Miles 24 - 25 (6:00, 6:03)
You take a left turn off the Island and hit mile 23. Just over 5k to do. It was here I passed another guy and put myself in 6th place. You run south west back into the city and all I remember about these last few miles was the wind! That wind comes straight off the river so it’s chilly and strong. Mile 24 and 25 are part of the Riverwalk which is basically a boardwalk into the city. I must say I’m not sure how the masses of marathoners ran through this section during the later stages of the race. It’s a 8-10 ft wide path that weaves in and out of the shore line. Nothing like throwing you off your cadence then having to take tight turns. Some sections also had random rubber mats laying over what I assume were utility doors. The rain made those really slick and I found out really quick that if I wasn’t careful I’d slip and probably not get up!

Since mile 22 I was in uncharted waters not only in pace (I had done 15 miles at 5:50 pace about 6 weeks before) but also in distance (Longest run was 22 miles). I wasn't sure if I should start “picking it up.” What did that even look like? I passed 2 more guys through this section to
put myself in 4th place but I committed to just stay even. I wasn’t sure if that notorious wall still lay ahead.

Mile 26 (5:56)
“But the most powerful thing about humble beginnings is that they are
humbling” -Chrysler 300 commercial-

Even now I don’t even know how to describe this last mile to you. As I entered back into the spectator area downtown I could hear the cheers of the crowd as those ahead of me were finishing. This last mile was pain free. To be honest I don’t remember a single thing about this last mile. I can’t tell you (apart from looking at a map) whether I took a right turn or a left turn. I don’t remember a friend getting with-in 5 feet of me to yell, “Take it home Gooty.” I can’t even remember what the city scape looked like. I was in my own zone...I was having a flashback of sorts. It was in this last mile that I replayed the most significant moment in my running “career.” If you asked anyone what race it would be they’d quickly suggest, “being a State Champ,” “being an All-American,” or “Running USATF Nationals.” And to those I say “no,” the race that is most significant to who I am as a running today came when I was 15 years at the First Light 5k in Mobile, Alabama. At that point in my life I hated running. I hated logging the miles and I hated SHORT SHORTS! I jumped into this 5k as part of my winter training during Christmas vacation. It was on that day I ran an average 18:30, nothing special.
But more importantly, it was on that day I won my first race. The humbling thing about it was that I would have never imagined that it would be the first of many to come. The award from that race still sits on my bookshelf as a reminder that I was perhaps 18:30, 5000 meters, 1 winter vacation away from NOT being a runner...

385 yds (69-70 seconds)
I probably looked like a giant dork running down the home stretch. I could see family and friends in the crowd and I probably had the cheesiest smile ever on my face. To be honest the most important thing I was thinking about was “get a good picture, get a good picture...”

It’s been about 5-6 weeks since the marathon and I am still wore out. I can just tell I’m not 100% yet. I’ve been told this is pretty common for first timers. I have a new training plan and it’s been great to take what I’ve learned leading up to Detroit and put it into my training for my next marathon.

What’s amazing about this distance is that there are people faster and there are people who have way more inspiring stories but on race day, you’re all in the same boat. 2:03:02 or 5:00:00: they are all heroes to me and I am honored to be in their company.

Decemeber 5th was 19 weeks until Boston 2012. It’s the Miles
of Trials and the Trials of Miles. Good luck to all those running winter and spring marathons, I’ll see you on the roads.

Justin M. Gutierrez

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