Fort Street near Third in downtown Detroit is jam packed with a record number of runners in the 2013 Detroit Free Press-Talmer Bank Marathon. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
Detroit — People from every corner of the globe took to the streets of downtown Detroit on Sunday morning to put their tireless months and countless hours of training to the test in the 36th Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon.
Of the 6,000 runners who embarked on the 26.2-mile trek across the Ambassador Bridge, through the winding Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and around scenic Belle Isle, many were aiming to set a new personal-best time while others were striving just to finish.
Then there was Zachary Ornelas, a 22-year-old University of Michigan graduate who ran track and field but had never ran a full marathon before.
Ornelas set the bar high for himself with the ambitious goal of breaking the tape at the Fort Street and Second Avenue finish line. And he did, clocking in the fastest time in the past five years at 2 hours, 20 minutes, 9 seconds.
“It was a relief,” Ornelas said of crossing the finish line. “The last two miles were the longest two miles of my life. Right around Belle Isle I hit a headwind that was brutal and from there it was just how bad you wanted it. I’ve been training since May for this so I couldn’t let it go to waste in the last two miles. It was hard but I’m very happy.”
Despite struggling down the stretch, Ornelas said he was able to overcome the windy conditions and pain by flashing back to his training days at Michigan.
“It’s weird but when I was at Ann Arbor there was this dirt road we trained on in Dexter,” he said. “It was three miles out and three miles back and I had my best workouts ever on that. So when I got to six miles and three miles to go, I just told myself this is the dirt road and to keep going.”
Ornelas, who lives in Ann Arbor, added he did 25-mile training runs in preparation for the marathon, but never anything longer than that.
“This is my first time doing 26.2 (miles) and I can definitely feel it,” Ornelas said. “When I finished college last year, I was thinking I want to do marathons and there’s no better way to do it than starting in Detroit. I love Detroit and I love coming to Tiger games. A lot of my friends work down here, believe in Detroit and I wanted to start here.”
Yet Ornelas’ celebration was short-lived after finishing. He immediately hunched over and vomited on two separate occasions.
Evan Gaynor of Perrysburg, Ohio, finished second in 2:25:28 and Arturs Bareikis of Crestwood, Ill., came in third at 2:28:36.
In the female division, 2012 winner Lyubov Denisova took first with a time of 2:44:50, nearly two minutes quicker than her time last year.
Denisova, 42, became the sixth woman to win the marathon more than once and the first since Ella Willis in 1988-89 to win it consecutive years.
“Last year I didn’t feel good but this year I felt very good,” said Denisova, who lives in Gainesville, Fla., and is originally from Moscow.
Like last year, Denisova said she had to fight through a hamstring cramp that began bugging her around the 17-mile mark. She added the windy conditions made it much more difficult this year, especially the headwind she had to endure while crossing the Ambassador Bridge and going around Belle Isle.
“I wanted to run a 2:42 or 2:43, but ran 2:45. But it’s the same result as last year, so I’m happy,” she said.
Both Ornelas and Denisova led the entire time and took home $4,000 in prize money.
Despite the chilly temperature, an estimated 50,000 spectators were on hand to cheer on the roughly 27,000 runners and walkers, shattering last year’s record of 23,799.
In addition, there was a MPVA Disabilities Division, half-marathons, a 5K run/walk and a five-person relay, with prize money awarded to the top three male and female finishers in all but the five-person relay. Non-cash awards are also given to the top three males and females in varying age groups for the full marathon, half-marathons and 5K run/walk.
James Hawkins is a freelance writer