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Exploring the Detroit Free Press Marathon's 4 Most Iconic Routes

Race Weekend for the 2023 Detroit Free Press Marathon is HERE! As runners finalize their pre-event prep and arrive in Detroit, here are the 4 most iconic routes that runners and spectators alike should explore before AND after the race kicks off.

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I mumbled those eloquent words to my father nearly four years ago as I paused my morning run in the middle of one of the most striking architectural landmarks in the Great Lakes region: the Ambassador Bridge. The sunrise unfolding in front of us illuminated and contrasted the glowing skylines of Downtown Detroit and Windsor like a Van Gogh masterpiece, complete with a myriad of colors and abstractly-defined shapes. Truly one of the most beautiful sights that I've ever seen.

Or should I say *we've ever seen, because I was far from being alone.

I was joined in that magical morning moment by thousands and thousands of Detroit Free Press Marathon participants hailing from all corners of the running world. When I finally managed to peel my eyes away from the scenery surrounding us, I was equally intrigued by the expressions of the fellow runners also enjoying this spectacular moment. I wondered how many of these runners had never visited our corner of the outdoor world before.

And how many would have their perception of the Detroit region forever altered by experiences like that.

If any first time Detroit Free Press Marathon runners are reading this article as part of their pre-race prep - especially anyone who has never visited Detroit before - then we'd like to be the first to welcome you to our great city and region! We wanted to start this article with that micro-memory for illustrating just a snippet of the incredible moments that await you during the race. The Detroit Free Press Marathon truly constitutes the crown jewel of Detroit's outdoor events calendar, one in which our international community pulls together to host the running universe in spectacular fashion.

Once you're settled in to your Detroit or Windsor accommodations, we strongly encourage you to explore the marathon's course. Beyond the massive race day boost that stem from visualizing the route, the race coordinators purposefully planned the 2023 course to highlight certain neighborhoods and destinations that are integral to the history, culture, and future of the Detroit region. Even long-time race runners should consider scouting this year's route due to its several updates and course modifications.

Updated for 2023, here are the Detroit Free Press Marathon's four most iconic routes:

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1. The Windsor Riverfront

Marathon Route Markers: Miles 3 to 8

Route Highlights: Ambassador Bridge, Windsor Sculpture Park, Riverfront Trail, Trans Canada Trail, Dieppe Memorial and Gardens, and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel

You may be tempted to think that running over the Ambassador Bridge right at daybreak may represents the highlight of the race. Yes, it's an undeniably remarkable moment. But we've got even better news: the Bridge marks the just the starting line of one of the most unique, memorable, and beautiful segments of the race.

Runners: welcome to Canada! The next five miles will guide you right along the pristinely-maintained Windsor Riverfront, complete with direct access to the 17,000+ mile Trans Canada Trail and the best views of the Detroit skyline. The route also leads runners past the Windsor Sculpture Park, Dieppe Memorial and Gardens, the largest Canadian flag that you'll ever seen, and thousands of cheering Canadian spectators. Oh, and this unforgettable route also concludes with the only official underwater international mile in the world, the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Talk about a whirlwind, bucket list-worthy visit to Windsor..!

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2. Downtown Detroit

Marathon Route Markers: Miles 8 to 10

Route Highlights: Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, Hart Plaza, Spirit of Detroit Plaza, Monument to Joe Louis, Grand Circus Park, Comerica Park, and The District Detroit

Welcome back to Detroit City, international travelers! As you venture towards the depth of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, you may notice a small gathering of runners huddled to the left side of the tunnel. They will most likely be taking selfies at the mid-point of the tunnel, with one foot in Canada and the other in United States. PRs be damned, this is a fantastic photo op.

Emerging from the tunnel is also one of the most energetic - and for Americans, patriotic - experiences of the Detroit Free Press Marathon. You will run into a sea of waving American flags, cheering crowds lining Jefferson Avenue, and the gleaming towers of Downtown Detroit. Peering through the crowds you will catch glimpses of the famous Spirit of Detroit statue, the iconic (and soon to be renovated) Dodge Fountain at Hart Plaza, and the Joe Louis Fist. Continuing north, the route's self-guided tour of downtown concludes through the heart of Grand Circus Park down Woodward Avenue, past the roaring tigers of Comerica Park, and into the renovated core of The District Detroit.

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3. Midtown and Woodbridge Neighborhoods

Marathon Route Markers: Miles 10 to 16

Running Trail Highlights: Cass Park, Woodbridge Neighborhood, Wayne State University, Cultural Center, Little Caesars Arena, and Brush Park

With nearly a fourth of the race occurring in Detroit's Midtown and Woodbridge neighborhoods, you know that the route coordinators designed the Detroit Free Press Marathon to purposefully showcase these beautiful blocks of the city. Starting at Cass Park, the route follows popular 2nd Avenue north past the Masonic Temple and Midtown's trendiest bars and shops. This segment continues through the Woodbridge neighborhood's victorian home-lined streets, just south of Wayne State University's main campus, and around Wayne State's Hogwarts-esque "Old Main" Building. A few miles down famous Cass Avenue completes this route as runners head directly south towards Little Caesars Arena and east into ultra-modern Brush Park.

As a Wayne State University Law School alum, I'm personally stoked for the race to finally showcase this incredible and often-overlooked area of Detroit. Running routes through Wayne State's campus, Midtown, and New Center was a favorite post-class (and de-stress) ritual of mine, so it's beautiful that the Detroit Free Press Marathon has re-routed to include the cultural heart of the city.

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4. The Dequindre Cut Greenway

Marathon Route Markers: Miles 17.5 to 19

Route Highlights: “Art Walk” murals, Dequindre Cut Freight Yard, Eastern Market, and Wilkins Street Plaza

Possibly the most famous "Rail Trail" in Michigan, the Dequindre Cut Greenway trail was part of the Grand Trunk Railroad line in a former life, running parallel to St. Aubin Street. In its current glory, the Dequindre Cut is a 2 mile trail that serves as a lightening rod for invigorating community recreation, social events, and urban art inspiration. A run down the Dequindre Cut is a quintessential Detroit experience - a microcosm showcase of the past, present, and future of one of America's greatest cities - so it's no surprise that the greenway is making its Detroit Free Press Marathon debut this year!

The marathon's Dequindre Cut route begins on the trail's north end at Mack Avenue. Heading south, runners will jog past several landmarks, including Wilkins Street Plaza, Eastern Market, and the lively Dequindre Cut Freight Yard. Continuing south, runners will enjoy an uninterrupted display of Detroit's finest street artwork - known as the "Art Walk" - until verging off the greenway trail at the E Lafayette Street exit.


ATTENTION ALL RUNNERS! We wanted to end this article with a few Race Weekend Reminders from the Detroit Free Press Marathon Team:

  • PACKET PICKUP: You must come in-person to pick up your race bib and runner packet at the Health & Fitness Expo at Huntington Place (formerly TCF Center/Cobo Hall). You can NOT have a friend or family member pick up your race bib for you.

  • DOCUMENTATION: You must bring proper proof of identifcation to receive your race number. This means your WHTI-Compliant ID. For most participants, that means Passport, Passport Card, or Enhanced Driver's License.

  • BORDER AGENCIES: A small percentage of participants will need to speak with border agencies at the Expo. Border agents and marathon staff will guide you through the process.

  • RACE DAY: On race day, please carry your WHTI-compliant travel document on your person. Please note REAL ID cards cannot be used for border crossings into Canada, Mexico or other international travel and will NOT be accepted as a valid travel document to cross into Canada.

Good luck, runners - we'll see you at the starting line!


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