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Here's what to expect for this weekend's Detroit Free Press Marathon

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

The Detroit Free Press Marathon returns to downtown Detroit Sunday with fewer runners and an altered route that doesn't include the usual stint across the border due to COVID-19. 

"We’ll be roughly about half the size that we typically are," said Aaron Velthoven, vice president and executive producer of the marathon. "And that’s kind of what we’re seeing in the running industry for races that have come back."

Runners race down Fort Street towards the finish line in the International half-marathon during the Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank Marathon in downtown Detroit on Oct. 20, 2019. The race, which was held virtually last year, will be held in-person and virtually Sunday.

One of the big draws for the Detroit race is that it is the only race in the world that crosses an international border twice: through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and across the Ambassador Bridge. With that element missing, some runners have chosen not to participate or have deferred their registration to next year, when the race is expected to resume its international component, Velthoven said.

"That bucket list element isn’t there," he said. "And we certainly feel it kept some people from registering until next year." 

David Manciel, 43, has run in the Free Press Marathon six times. Manciel, who was picking up his race packet at the Health & Fitness expo Friday, said he is disappointed because some folks will be participating for the first time without having the international option.

“As much as I love my city —  and I’d run in Detroit all day, every day — it’s a bummer,” he said. “There’s almost nothing more beautiful to see than the sunrise when you run across the Ambassador Bridge."

That said, he’s grateful to be able to run in person following the virtual event in 2020. 

“You can’t beat that,” he added. “I’m happy to think it’s back on, and we’re live." 

Karen and Tom Ostin, of Farmington, are running the half-marathon.

The Ostins, 62 and 67 respectively, missed last year's race, but said they are eager to run for the eighth time on Sunday.  

"We're excited to be down here," said Karen Ostin. "We always love being in Detroit." 

There are new components to the race this year. 

To accommodate the length needed for the course, the route will feature some areas new to the event, including the Woodbridge and Boston Edison neighborhoods, the Motown Museum and through the campus of Wayne State University. 

The Free Press Marathon returns for races Saturday (5K) and Sunday (half and full marathon). The Health & Fitness Expo at the TCF welcomed all the participants on October 15th 2021 in Detroit Michigan.
Racers registered for their numbers for the weekend races.

"This is the third time in our 44-year history that we’ll run solely in Detroit," Velthoven said. 

The other times were in 1993 when the tunnel was under construction and after Sept. 11, 2001, he said. 

Last year's race was held virtually, and there will be a virtual option for this year's race, but all eyes are on the in-person events this year, including  the 5K, competitive 1-mile run and kids fun run on Saturday along the riverfront. The full marathon, half-marathon and a five-person marathon relay will be held on Sunday. There are also three Motor City challenges added in a few years back to push even the most serious runners to their limit. 

These include Saturday's "Temptation," which is the 1-mile and 5K runs back-to-back for a total of 4.1 miles; the "Wonder," the 1-mile, 5K and half-marathon for a total of 17.2 miles over two days; and the "Supreme," the 1-mile, 5K and full marathon for a whopping 30.3 miles over the weekend. 

The Free Press Marathon returns for races Saturday (5K) and Sunday (half and full marathon). The Health & Fitness Expo at the TCF welcomed all the participants on October 15th 2021 in Detroit Michigan.
Vertical Athletic Apparel had merchandise and apparel at their booth.

As for the risks of running during a pandemic, organizers have been working all year with the Detroit Health Department and Henry Ford Health System to make sure everything will be as safe as possible. Even Conquered, The Official Marathon Afterparty, which is held at Fort and Third streets, will return with food trucks and beer sold by Michigan Humane to raise funds for helping animals. 

Being back in person has been energizing, Velthoven said. 

"The virtual run we did last year, it was a little more isolated," he said. "Everyone is so excited to be back running together on the streets of Detroit."

The Health & Fitness Expo at the TCF welcomed all the participants on October 15th 2021 in Detroit Michigan.
Merchandise for both men and women were on sale for the participants.

If you go:

The Health & Fitness Expo at the TCF Center will feature exhibitors offering 2021 marathon merchandise and running footwear, apparel, nutrition merchandise and technology. 

Expo hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday 

Masks are required. 

Getting downtown: 

The marathon runs through a larger portion of Detroit this year, meaning there will be new road closures and detours. The race ends at 3 p.m. and streets will open up gradually along the route as the last runner passes. For complete information, visit

Map of the route and closures

The Detroit Police Department recommends those trying to get downtown, whether for the race or the Van Gogh exhibit at the TCF Center, use Jefferson, which will remain open east and west and accessible from Interstate 375 and the Lodge's Larned Street exit. 

Those attending the Detroit Lions game at 1 p.m. Sunday are encouraged to plan ahead and leave early. To accommodate, the Lions will be hosting a "power hour" starting at 11 a.m. with food and drink specials, gameday giveaways and more.  

Those who rely on DDOT bus transportation should be aware that there are alternate routes for buses running downtown during the two race days. For a complete list of changes, go to