First Lansing Marathon came together, despite difficulties and challenges
Sunday, April 22, downtown Lansing.
At 7:35 a.m., several hundred people are
milling about in the shadow of the Accident Fund Building, jumping and
stretching to keep warm. It’s cold enough to snow, but clear blue skies
belie that fear. The cutting northeast wind is their concern today.
Well, that and the daunting challenge of running 26.2 miles before
After a year of build-up and countless
challenges, including eleventh hour infrastructure reorganization and
course changes, the first-ever Lansing Marathon is about to begin.
Angie Simpson is pacing with nervous
energy, ready to go. The 45-year-old Chicago resident has never run a
full marathon before, but says that she’s “feeling strong” — and she’s
got humor to spare.
“I’m originally from Lansing, so I know
the route, my friends and family live here, and the emergency rooms are
close by,” she says. “I think I’ve got this.”
Simpson says that the novelty of running a
first-year event spurred her to sign up last winter. She encountered
some online registration problems, including having her $15 coupon get
rejected, but says that things seem to be working fine now.
“Thank God for Playmakers,” she says.
“This race was definitely having some communication and organization
issues, but once they got involved, everything just fell into place.”
Playmakers is the runningwear store in
Okemos that is synonymous with well-organized races throughout the
region. It came aboard several weeks ago to help Lansing Marathon
founder Owen Anderson in the Sisyphean task of putting together his
first major running event. Anderson, a Lansing-based runner, speaker and
author, proposed the Lansing Marathon last year and was the driving
force in launching it. With the addition three months ago of famed race
organizer Bill Ewing of Detroit, things were finally in place for a
“Owen is very passionate, but we had some
differences in opinion that kept us out initially,” says Brian Jones,
one of the owners of Playmakers and an official adviser of Sunday’s
activities. “But you can have different offenses and still be
successful. Operations is like the third leg of a stool, and that was
something this race needed.”
At 7:50 a.m., announcer Tim Barron’s
voice booms over the loudspeakers, beckoning runners toward the starting
line. He then hands the microphone to Anderson.
“A marathon is about 26 miles, but more
than that: It’s about dreams,” Anderson said, before turning the mike
over to Mayor Virg Bernero who decreed April 22 as “Dr. Owen Anderson
Day.” Bernero then pledged to be there for every step of the marathon —
in spirit — before leading the countdown that sent the runners on their
way at 8:05 a.m.
Almost right on time.
At the 5K starting line on Capitol Avenue
several minutes later, the countdown makes it to “3” before someone on
the ground shouts, “Hold the race!” After a couple of seconds of awkward
silence, Barron quips that a train is responsible for the holdup — the
joke being the course map’s first draft included a train track crossing,
a big no-no in race course design.
Bernero doesn’t miss a beat: “Did someone
say, ‘Speech?’” Thirty seconds later, the delay is resolved, and Barron
does his best race-starting “beeeeeeeeep” in lieu of an actual air
Barely 15 minutes later, the first
sprinter crosses the finish line. Eight minutes after that, Jerry
Platte, 36, finishes with a time of 23:35 — well within his goal given
the training he put into it.
“I signed up yesterday, and last night I
only had four beers and a shot,” he says. “The course was easy — just a
square (up and down Allegan and Ottawa Streets) that you run around
twice. It was nice.”
By the time the half-marathon starts at
9:30 a.m., most of the 5Kers are done and the full marathoners are well
into their race. At the Mile 8 marker, marathon runner — er, walker —
Kent Moore, 45, was striding down Mt. Hope Road.
“I have no interest in running,” says the
Atlanta native. “I’ve walked 11 marathons in the last 10 months. My
goal is to walk one in every state.”
Moore says he sought out the Lansing
marathon because it seemed “interesting” — and enabled him to see two
new sports stadiums (his hidden agenda): Spartan Stadium and The Big
House in Ann Arbor.
“But they did a good job putting this
together,” he says. “I know I’m in last place, and I’m still seeing 10
people at the water stations helping out. Usually by the time I come
around, they’ve already packed up. But not here.”
The course takes a right on Beaumont Road
and a left down Bennett, leading into an idyllic golf course
neighborhood in East Lansing. Runners cut down East Sunwind Drive, a
block of stately homes and manicured lawns, before the course gets
slightly rural through a paved bike path in the woods. Then a 5-mile dip
down to Willoughby Road and back up College Road toward Michigan State
University, where the view became bleak and the smell of cow manure
overpowering. Reported 22 m.p.h. winds (with gusts up to 31 m.p.h.,
according to weather.com) made the going tough, cold and dispiriting.
Elizabeth Demers chose to walk the stretch leading up the Mile 19
“This wind is brutal,” she says. “I’m ready for this part to be over.”
In fact, it was already over for marathon
winner Nicholas Maiyo, from Kenya, who completed the course in two
hours and 20 minutes. Reportedly, he complained about the wind, too.
After the turn west down Forest Drive,
Thanh Truong, 50, chugs along at a healthy 10-minute-mile pace past the
21 Mile marker. Truong drove 10 hours up from Springfield, Va. to run,
and, like Moore, has the goal of completing a marathon in all 50 states.
But why the Lansing Marathon?
“This is a good time of year for a race,”
he says. “Not too hot, not too cold, plus it’s nice and small. I really
like that. This is a very pretty course, with parks, farms and streets.
This is the only good way to see a city.”
Truong says that he’s taking in the
sights while he’s in town. He paid a visit to the Capitol on Saturday,
where he was bummed to learn they don’t do weekend tours.
“But I don’t leave till tomorrow, so you never know,” he says.
At Mile 25, Doug Graustein, 26, is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“I’m part of a triathlon team in metro
Detroit, and I wanted to do a spring marathon before tri season really
gets going,” he says. “This seemed better than the Dearborn one. It was
beautiful. I’ll definitely be back next year.”
He runs a couple of steps, then adds, “Provided I can make it this last mile.”
At the finish line, 86 cadets from the
Michigan Youth Challenge Academy in Battle Creek are handing out medals,
picking up debris and sorting recyclables. Like the plover birds that
clean crocodile teeth, the benefit is mutual: Race volunteers don’t have
to worry about clean-up, and MYCD cadets get precious community service
hours needed for graduation. With spit-shined boots, berets, sashes and
last names sewn on the breasts of their uniforms, they’re a
paramilitary-looking crew, exceedingly polite and fastidiously adhering
to their code of conduct.
According to the official Lansing
Marathon website, lansingmarathon.com, there were 412 marathon runners,
882 half-marathoners, 226 5Kers and about 174 people making up the relay
teams, for a grand total of 1,694 — less than the 2,000 that organizers
had hoped for and well short of last year’s stated goal of 10,000. In
addition, there were 600 volunteers helping out at 150 locations around
But whether it was a case of post-race
ecstasy or true adulation, nearly everyone agrees that whatever Anderson
and his team did, they did it right.
“This was a hell of a lot better than I
was expecting,” says DeWitt resident Steve Brodeur, 40, as he stands
wrapped in a silver blanket and going to town on a bagel. “Both in terms
of participation and support, for a first-year event, this was
fantastic. But man, I wish they could have done something about that