The Backstory – Monroe has a storied history. Nestled in the southeastern corner of Michigan along Lake Erie, it is the former site of an ancient sea bed, home for Native Americans, a new frontier for French colonists in the 17th century, birthplace of General George Armstrong Custer, and part of the “Arsenal of Democracy” during World War Two. It is also where I spent my formative years – the 1970’s and 80’s,when my primary concerns centered upon Rocky, Queen, Farrah Fawcett, Smoky and the Bandit, and the great Michigan rocker, Bob Seger. I have been living out-of-state for well over three decades now, but I still have rich memories to be found on nearly every corner of this great old town. What’s it going to be like to run a half marathon in a locale with such rich history? I’m about to find out.
Race Day Preparation – From the moment I peaked out the window at 6:15 AM, I new the day was going to be beautiful. I opted for my standard half marathon gear, including my black Asics running shoes, green “Empire State Marathon” long sleeve shirt and charcoal Nike running shorts. I am bringing along a special shirt to wear as well: one of my Dad’s Detroit Edison uniform shirts – one that he had worn during his 39 years of reading electric meters in Monroe. I had a great Dad, and I’ve really missed him since he passed away in 2007. He’d be with me in a special way today, as I run a portion of his old meter reading routes.
For breakfast, I have a big bowl of Quaker oats with peanut butter, a banana, and strong, black coffee. The Better Half was suiting up as well; she’s going to run the Monroe 5K, which begins 15 minutes after the half marathon start. By the way, we take pride in the fact that all proceeds from the event are earmarked for support of local Special Olympics – terrific!
The Start – We pulled into the pleasant grounds of the Tenneco Corporation off of Albain Road, on the southern edge of Monroe. I think of this business as “Monroe Shocks”, but it appears that a corporate acquisition has resulted in a change of identity since I moved away. As I shut off the engine and gather my things, my oldest son, Joseph, surveys the expansive parking lot and reports that we appear to have the only vehicle in the lot made by a foreign car company (Subaru). Yep! We are back in Michigan!
The sky is a spotless blue, and it is a cool 44 degrees at start time – great weather for running! Several hundred athletes, family, and friends are enjoying the excitement near the well organized start area. Not only do I have Better Half and son with me, but I am running with an old friend from my days at St. Michael grade school and Monroe Catholic Central High School, Bill C. Bill lives in Nashville now and has made the trek back for this half marathon as well. Bill’s a lean, disciplined runner. I admire his skill, but, even more than that, I admire his love of the sport and his good-natured, zestful approach to this race in particular. This is pure leisure; a real joy and blessing to be out here on this crisp Fall morning, and I can tell Bill knows it! I knock off a Salted Caramel GU for a boost of energy. After a great rendition of the National Anthem by a local musician, as well as group recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance led by a Special Olympiad, we are off!
The Race – We tear off east for about a quarter mile on Albain Road and hang a left on Hull Road. Hull Road is an approximately 3 mile straightaway that is as flat as a pancake. We run past Hull Road Auto Parts, the family business of an old high school buddy whom I have not seen in over thirty years. Bill and I are running together at about a 7’30” pace for the first 5 miles. We enjoy each other’s conversation and the excitement of the task before us. I feel giddy. It is that feeling of elation when one senses that, for at least the moment, he’s winning.
We pass some great Monroe landmarks that evoke memories: the Silver Cue pool hall (popping quarters in Asteroids and Space Invaders games), Dorsch Memorial Library (is it really skipping school if one hangs out at the library?), Saint Joseph church (my childhood parish) and Monroe Junior High, where I boarded the bus to go home at the end of the St. Mike’s school day. Nothing like being a grade schooler dressed in a blue Catholic school uniform on a bus packed with wild students from the local junior high. In my head, I hear Billy Squire (“Lonely is the Night“) and Steve Miller (“Fly Like an Eagle“) through tinny bus speakers, and a gruff bus driver voice: “If you want to go home, you have to sit in your seats!” The flashback brings a smile to my face. At 51, I’d have to do a lot more than that to go home now, though, for a moment, I’m half way there.
It dawns on me that I am going to have a hard time keeping pace with Bill for the entire 13.1 miles, and as I momentarily slow down at the Mile 6 aid station to grab an orange slice, I see Bill run on with seemingly boundless energy. I’m now on my own. Thankfully, the course is well marked and the aid stations plentiful. Every single person throughout the race is kind and supportive.
A beautiful aspect of running is the opportunity for clear-minded contemplation – the chance to really sort some important things out. Here’s a sample of topics I ponder: (1) I wish I knew how to work on cars better. (2) Are big dogs better pets than small dogs or vice-versa? (3) I’d like to belong to a country club, but I would never pay the dues. (4) What food do I like more: Chinese or Mexican? (5) How can it be that not one person who has “spotted” Bigfoot has had a decent camera handy? Hey, I never claimed to be a genius!
We cross the River Raisin over the Macomb Street Bridge and enter neighborhoods lined with houses. Some streets have modest homes and others have expensive ones, but all are well-maintained and reflect pride of ownership. I think about my Dad reading these meters and greeting folks with his ready smile and a positive word. Over 39 years with Edison, he got to know “everyone” in Monroe and established friendships with many, including Elizabeth Upham McWebb (“Little Brown Bear” book series) and Vern J. Sneider (“Teahouse of the August Moon“).
I see my son, Joseph, on my return across the Macomb Street Bridge, so, in order to look macho, I straighten up and quicken my pace. I don’t want him to think the Old Man is losing his edge. I give him a high-five. At about mile 10 I start really feeling it, and my pace drops to about 8’10” per mile. The return up Hull Road becomes a grudge match between myself and increasing fatigue. I put my head down and slug it out. A fellow runner about my age passes me, and we express brief words of support. I can tell he’s feeling it too. Time to suck it up, cupcakes!
The Big Finish – I felt a surge of energy as I turned off Hull Road and back on to Albain Road for the final half mile. Time to let it rip!…After all, what am I saving it for? My pace quickens. I pass up the fellow runner who had passed me a few moments ago, and he gives me a kind acknowledgment. His tank is empty. As I enter the Tenneco property, I see a smiling face running towards me – it’s Bill, who returned a few minutes before me, and he has come out to run with me through the shoot. He yells words of encouragement, and I respond by driving it up to full throttle. Now, I’m thrusting my arms and legs out in front of me like a true athlete, and the pain and fatigue are gone. I hear the crowd yell, and I cross the finish line at 1:43:00 (a 7’52” pace; 48 out of 312 runners).
Bill got first place in our age group with a time of 01:36:57 (7’25” pace; 28th overall). I came in third in our age group and was awarded a great Monroe Half Marathon “PLACER” mug that can hold enough beer to put me down for the night. The Better Half is there as well, and she reports that her 5K went great, and she has a new PR. Son Joseph is there in his ever helpful support role, including foreign car chauffeur. The post-race party is great fun. The organizers of this event have done a terrific job from beginning to end….Thank you!
Bill asks if I ever considered running the Nashville St. Jude Rock and Roll Marathon in April 2017. If I did, I’d have a place to crash. Well, you know, I just might! Who knows? Since it is a rock and roll marathon, I just might hear some Billy Squire or Steve Miller and, well, maybe, just maybe, for a brief moment, I’ll be home again.
Epilogue: I’m all signed up for the Nashville St. Jude Rock and Roll Marathon. Get ready to rock, Bill….it’s going to be fun!