*This is about touring around the City of Detroit, MI and Windsor, Canada prior to the Detroit Free-Press Marathon. The next post will concern itself entirely with just the marathon. **
We arrived in Detroit, Michigan, mid-morning.
It wasn’t too chilly, not warm… just right for a fall race.
I’ve never been to Detroit. In fact, in making my plans for being there and in requesting the time off for a vacation, when I told people we were heading to Detroit, the question was always, “Why, though?” An understanding seems to hold over people that Detroit doesn’t actually have much to offer tourists. At least, not beyond the criminal dangers. I was even asked if I was going to make sure I brought my gun along. My husband cracked jokes that we were going to see that Robocop wasn’t just a fiction movie, but a documentary of Detroit.
Let me say, first impressions of the town made me worry that my husband and friends were right. The first few buildings we passed were abandoned and decrepit. There were fenced-in, empty lots, with trash bags and trash piling so high along the fences in areas that the trash was tumbling over to the sidewalk and streets. And many of the streets into town were hellishly potholed.
I fretted as we checked into the hotel – the Double Tree at Fort Selby… it’s the choice hotel for being in town for the marathon, really. Mere blocks from the start and finish lines, blocks from the convention center, and not so deep downtown that you fight traffic to get in and out of the City from it. Valets accost you from the get-go, advising that the only way to park for the hotel is by valet. It’s not true, but the hotel also did not recommend using the nearby lots for security reasons. Valet said they’d be $32/night, and charged to the room as part of the stay, but that was a lie. In fact, it was cheaper! At $25/night for our stay at least. Even the charge for the hotel was proposed to be higher than it was when we actually checked out. I have no complaints about this hotel. Well. The faucet in the bathroom leaked a lot and the water pressure in general was mostly non-existent, but the staff was nice and the host on our first day gave us a post it note containing all the places he recommended we go to eat. He was the one who clued us in about Detroit’s big secret: It’s a foodie town now.
We set out around noon to grab our kits from the expo. The expo hadn’t opened yet, and wouldn’t for another hour or so, but there was a line forming already. We opted to grab some lunch and come back.
At this point, I’m torn…. Do I turn this into a blog about the amazing food and people in Detroit? Do I wax on about how pleasant people were and the surprise friendliness in a very northern city? Or do I stick to the point of the blog in general and just talk about the marathon itself?
The fact is. I have to tell you all of it. Because if we were just there for the run and gone, the experience of that City would be cheapened. I think a lot of that marathon that I enjoyed was because of how I enjoyed the town before I went into it. Otherwise, folks, this was a quiet marathon…. nothing like the big city stuff you get from Chicago or New York…. And nothing like the dying city you get from Tulsa’s Route 66 Marathon. No. This city is still kicking, and to know that, you have to be here for more than a quiet marathon. You have to see the city as well as run through it.
The Expo wasn’t anything special. Typical expo setting. My husband and I signed up for international events, so we were expected to show our passports to get our kits, which was no big deal for us. The most notable thing about the whole situation was the amount of police in the area while getting our kits. There were clusters of them everywhere in that part of the event. The stick guy wanted to demo the stick for me, but I told him I have one and Love it…and he gave me a sticker… they have a sticker specifically for if you say, “I love the stick”. Guys.
After the expo, my husband and I decided to wander the City for some food. With our car safely tucked away in whatever pocket realm the valet shoves the vehicles in here, we would determine a heading for wherever we were going to go and just walk. On our way in, my husband noticed a large building bearing the signage claiming to be Michigan’s oldest, and one of the largest used and rare bookstores. We decided a couple hours spent wandering in this shop would give us something low-intensity to do and keep us out of the cold.
Marathon-wisdom and unwritten (Though often, over-written by any and every magazine) rules of marathoning will tell you don’t spend too much time on your feet the days before a marathon. I’m here to tell you that maybe that is a true thing… if you’re aiming for Boston times or to win or PR. But my training season has been probably the shittiest I’ve ever run. I had my brain set on an outcome of “hopefully it’ll only be 4 hours and 45 minutes for this one…” and I was fearing entirely that I would run a 6-hour marathon sufferfest. After all, that’s what all my training was pointing toward. Both of my 20-mile runs took 5 hours or more to do. True, I didn’t just go out and run them, I opted a run/walk group to start one with and an ultra-runner who hates going the full distance in one go to train with on those runs. But I still struggled, and that hurt my confidence a lot. I confided a lot of concern about the distance to my husband in the build up to the marathon. And doing these walks through the city to our destinations actually did help keep my nervousness in check. Moving would be better than laying around reading – or just thinking about how much I expected my marathon to suck on Sunday. No. We needed to tour.
The bookstore was five floors of “holy hell are they for real?” It was like something out of a movie or novel itself. While my husband paced through the various floors and looked at all the offerings, I found myself sitting on the floor in the back of a dark 2ndfloor paging through magic books to see if any were worth picking up. Books and magazines from the 1920s on with magic tricks and notes on how to present the tricks… I was super tempted. There were signs everywhere about “no professional photography” so I figured I was safe to take a couple photos of the place. Lemme tell you. I almost suspect that this bookstore exists in every City, at every time. That you could go through the wrong door and end up not in the City you started in.
The bookstore was a good diversion, but it did not protect us from the chill as the cold settled into the air of Detroit. It doesn’t matter that most of my training was in 90-degree days, or that up until the last week, the temps have been in the 70-80s (F). No. We were suddenly going to have 30s and “feels like temps” in the 20s for race weekend.
As we paced the many, many stacks, the cold seeped into the building. Maybe it was me, sitting in that dark back corner, but it only added to the place’s mystique. To be fair, back on the 1stfloor, where people were more available to be observed as they entered and left, and where the lights were on full blast, and they had what they called “comfy chairs’ for people to sit and relax and read. Here, I found my space to people watch. Everyone, from customers to workers were so kind and smiled as our eyes caught. Maybe the exterior of this building fit the theme of what I expected from Detroit, but in the end, the people were not dilapidated. The people were not spent and torn. The people, were the experience.
When I finally convinced my husband that there was more to the world than this bookstore, like… food… we were able to leave. We headed into downtown, taking one of the recommendations from the list given us by the hotel host. Wright and Co. was a small plate, steam-punkish, and almost hidden away gem for our first dinner in Detroit. My husband and I laughed over the negative reviews we found – one lady proclaiming that the place was awful because she couldn’t find the entrance…. Okay, she may have been onto something. The entrance being a rear building side door used for residents of the apartments as well. I did stare dumbly at the elevator buttons for a long time before my husband located the actual elevator buttons and got us started up.
Wright and Co, sits on the second floor, has a dark atmosphere, and serves amazing food and drinks for sharing. Another poor review was from a man who bemoaned that this was the worst place to go on a date because the plates were so small and “you’ll never get full.”
Readers. This is the ideal place to take someone for a date. Women don’t want to feel or look like they’re overeating on a date, and they want real food more often than not – not to feel obligated to have salads. It’s a bit pricey… but if you want a special night, of really good food and drinks… then this is a perfect date night spot. My husband entertained ourselves over the amazing food trying to guess what that bad rater thought he was getting into with this place…. And how badly his date night must have gone.
Our date night, on the other hand, went beautifully. We were entertained by the atmosphere, and the people around us, and the staff were excellent. We left the place for our walk home in the brisk air. Brisk. Soberingly brisk. With rain drops. Our weekend was turning cold.
Our first night proved two points: one, that it is excellent to be so near the race event placements because trying to get the car in and out of parking is lame as helllll. But also. It’s lovely to sleep until the last minute and then still make it to the race start without issue or concern. But. On the other side of this coin, we have the overnight pre-race set up.
Friday into Saturday, the crews worked all night long, dropping things, backing up beepy trucks, and yelling at each other. All. Night. Long. After all, they had to set up for Saturday’s 5 and 10ks. Which I thought were farther away from our hotel than the marathon and half marathon, but in a city, sounds echo. In the end, it was a long, very unrestful night.
Saturday, we slept in a little, and woke for an easy shake out run of a little more than 2 miles. We made our way to the river front, where we determined, based on the statues there, that Detroit is really a crashed space ship… and we had found the Stargate.
The riverfront was actually quite pretty. And, as we made our way back toward our hotel, was full of other runners out getting the traditional miles before the race run in. I think I had more fun with the run than my husband, but he did appreciate being out there for it. It was perfect weather for being out on a run. And it was a beautiful sun rise over the river and viewing Canada.
We then made our walk toward another one of our hotel host’s recommended food spots. It’s a good thing we made the journey on foot again, since parking is a serious premium in this City. There was a tailgate party for the big rivalry sportball game that would be played that day. There were people everywhere. And the breakfast spot we chose, a place called Park and Rec was starting to get crowded all over for the brunch hour rush. We managed seats pretty quickly, despite the crowd, at the “bar”, and with coffees, menus, and a mimosa ordered, we were comfy to watch the crowd flow around us. The restaurant was very small, for the amount of people there – both serving, served, and waiting to eat. We were lucky getting in like we did. The menu was a bit… specialized… which isn’t bad, just, be sure about what you want. I ordered the avocado toast – which is usually my solid jam – with a poached egg added to the dish. They cover the avocado toast with a super sweet candied pistachio… and it turns the dish from something savory to something a bit too sweet. And. It is small. Even with the egg it was not so much a filling meal, but it was a delicious one. For my day, it was fine, but it wasn’t what I expected from ordering avocado toast in the past. The mimosa was wonderful, and the coffee were also delicious. In all, the atmosphere here and the food was great, but be sure to choose your food appropriately.
We wandered back to the hotel, packed some snacks, and decided to make our way across the boarder for, as sad as it may be, our first trip out of the US together. Now, we’ve both been to other countries on our own while we were dating. He’s gone to Paris and England, and I’ve been to Ireland a couple of times and Canada a few times before. But this, this was our first time with each other, leaving the US. And it was to Windsor, of all places.
I’m telling you guys, a trip across that bridge into Canada is worth it! That view, though! And, while true, we would be running that bridge the next day, it was still worth seeing from the car as well. Who doesn’t like a tour of the course before race day? Though, our plan was not to check out the course – I actually think I do better when I don’t know what’s facing me. The course becomes a surprise that way. We found a national park – “the southernmost point of Canada” – called Point Pelle. It was supposed to have all manner of wildlife and birds and whatnot and we were excited to get there.
Except that getting there was a bit of an adventure. Between not thinking about getting a map prior to leaving the US, not having international data plans for accessing directions on line, and the many, many, many detours that Canada had set up taking us away from the main routes and what our screen captures of directions were telling us to do – it was an educated guessing game to get to the park. But it was WORTH IT!
Seriously folks, if you ever get the chance to head out to Detroit, and you can swing a day trip into Canada… it’s about an hour, but it’s completely worth it if you like natural sights.
While there, a storm blew in and terrorized the area, bringing the temps down even lower than they were to start, and dropping hail on us. We puttered the gift shop before turning back to US soil.
Back in Detroit, we headed to another location on the list from our Hotel Host. Lumen was busy as we (over)paid to park in the lot beside it. Hail was screaming down on us now, and it looked like snow, with it collecting all over the roads and other vehicles. Full disclosure, readers? I didn’t want to run this marathon. My training was absolute shit all summer coming toward this race, and I was honestly worried that it would take 6 or more hours for me to do this run. I kept trying to talk myself into believing that even if it went down to a sufferfest, I’d still manage about 4:30 hrs… Watching that hailstorm from the car outside our dinner spot, I knew…I knew that if I woke up and the weather was the same in the morning, I would not be running.
Dinner, like every other meal we went for in this City was delicious and wonderful. The staff at Lumen were very kind and pleasant – the manager allowing us to squeeze into a table between reservations on it. My husband was blown away by his pot roast. My gnocchi was pretty much the best thing I’d ever had. We shared an appetizer of the fries, and that was unbelievable. It was just fries for the love of God, but they were delicious!
Fully carbed and ready to … fall completely asleep… we went out into the very, very cold night and drove home to try and get as much sleep as possible before the start of what would be my 24thmarathon.
To Be Continued….