Detroit Marathon has something for every competitor

Al Willman
Special to The Detroit News
Zachary Ornelas returns to defend his win in the men's marathon.

Detroit – Sunday’s 39th Detroit International Marathon will feature thousands of runners, each with their own unique reasons for being there.

There are two different half-marathons. One will take runners into Canada before finishing in Detroit, while another will run only on the U.S. side of the Detroit River.

There’s the main event, the 26.2-mile race whose two 2015 winners, Zachary Ornelas, 25, of Ann Arbor and Lyubov Denisova, 44, of Gainesville, Fla. took home more than $4,000.

There will also be a 26.2-mile race for competitors with disabilities, a 5K run and an untimed run for kids.

Rachel Hoffman, 29, of Kalamazoo is one of 12 race ambassadors responsible for promoting the race. She’s also running the full marathon for the fifth time.

Hoffman played soccer at Kenyon College in Ohio and was originally encouraged by her dad, who was a half-marathon runner.

“He encouraged me to do my very first half (marathon) in 2012,” she said. “He actually died very suddenly the day I ran my very first half, a couple hours after (I finished). That really motivated me to push myself to do more than I think I ever thought possible.”

Hoffman said running with a field of nearly 7,000 in the full marathon is helpful, especially when runners get down on themselves during the race.

Hoffman recalled her first full marathon, shortly after her father died.

“I was really overwhelmed,” Hoffman said. “I had no idea what to expect. It was really about mile 12 when I realized I had 14 more miles to go. I fell in line with a woman and she told me a lot of positive phrases and ways to think about (the race) and how we don’t have double digits left, now we just have single digits. At mile 23, we have a little more than a 5K to go. So I’ve really taken those lessons and every marathon I run, I try and make sure I’m out there encouraging other people.”

She said her job as a quality assurance analyst for a Kalamazoo-based bank, and the opportunity to work from home allows her to get out and run more often.

“I typically work 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., or 7 to 3:30,” she said. “So I have the flexibility of going out to work out fast on my lunch hour and getting out early enough to still enjoy the daylight. I feel really thankful in that respect.”

The weather is expected to be better than it was last year. Rain is in the forecast for Sunday morning, which is — for many — an improvement over the snow that fell at the start of last year’s race.

“I’m excited,” she said. “At the end of the day, we’ve trained in all sorts of conditions. I’m still going to finish the marathon.”

Hoffman, who said she is interested in seeing just how far she can push herself, isn’t counting out a triathalon in her future.

“I always wonder how much more I can ask of myself,” Hoffman said. “I’m not a very good swimmer, but I have a lot of friends who do triathalons. I’d really like to do an ultra marathon or a triathalon. I don’t know when. I’d like to get a bit better at doing marathons first.”

Quick study

For Jodi Friedman, 44, of West Bloomfield, Sunday’s international half-marathon will be her third half-marathon in as many months.

She will be running another half next month in Las Vegas.

“The idea of running in two countries in one half marathon just seems very cool,” said Friedman, who only started running last fall.

She said she’s come a long way in a year.

“I couldn’t even run 30 seconds then,” Friedman said. “So I’m pretty new to this.”

Friedman said, combined with the support of her twin 14-year old daughters and husband Matt, she’s excited for Sunday.

“I’m proud of myself,” she said. “Honestly, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to run. To be able to do this is pretty powerful.”

As for the rain in the forecast, Friedman said she isn’t worried about it.

“It’s the story of your half marathon, then; it’s a part of your day,” she said. “I don’t look at it in a bad way at all. If it rains, it rains. If it snows, it snows. It just becomes a part of the experience.

“If it rains and its 60 degrees, it’ll feel pretty refreshing. “

Friedman is running with a purpose, too, raising money for the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation.

“I’m getting close to my goal, which is $1310, so $100 for every mile,” she said. “These are kids, some of them, who will never be able to run. For me to complain about the weather, or worry about the weather, it’s just being silly.”

Al Willman is a freelance writer.

Twitter: @AlWillmanSports