Whitney Black and Steven Phillips were girlfriend and boyfriend Sunday morning when the lined up for the start of the 41st Detroit Free Press/Chemical Bank Marathon.
When they crossed the finish line together 4 hours and 47 minutes later, Whitney and Steven Phillips were officially husband and wife.
The Grand Rapids-area couple became the first to get married during the Detroit marathon. The annual event has been the setting for several marriage proposals, but never before had anyone tied the knot in the middle of the 26.2-mile race.
The bridge and groom were among the nearly 26,000 people registered for this weekend's lineup of races, which, along with the marathon, included two half marathons and a Saturday 5K and new 1-mile race. That was just below the record of 26,733 registered participants, set in 2015.
There were no reports of any medical emergencies among race participants, only cramps, joint pain and some asthma problems
"Just the usual muscle aches and cold runners," race Medical Director Dr. Erin Brennan said.
"As cold as it was, we had no major medical issues," said Barbara Bennage, executive race director of the Free Press/Chemical Bank Marathon.
"We always worry about hypothermia, but in fact on all the social channels — Instagram, Twitter and others — I see a lot of PRs," she said, referring to runners setting personal records.
Steven Phillips and new bride Whitney Phillips exchange rings during their wedding ceremony held at the half way point of the 41st Annual Free Press/Chemical Bank Marathon in Detroit on Sunday,Oct. 21, 2018. Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press
The one hitch of the day concerned the smartphone software for spectators to track the real-time progress of runners. The app was nonfunctional for much of the race.
Bennage said she was as frustrated as anyone else with the app and its history of race day failures in recent years.
"I am waiting to hear from the company that we work with. We've had trouble tracking runners ever since we've tried tracking runners," she said. "I don't know if it's our proximity to Canada or being around all these tall buildings or having thousands of people trying to do this at the same time."
Whitney and Steven's wedding happened in downtown Detroit just before the marathon's halfway point at mile marker 13.1. They made the event short — about 10 minutes — to keep their muscles from getting cold for when they hopped back in the race.
“You are my guide, teacher and one true love," Whitney, 31, told Steven, 33, as they exchanged vows in Woodward Avenue's pedestrian plaza.
She wore a white veil, aqua blue tank top and a white sequined skirt over her running tights. Steven dressed in full-length running tights and a long-sleeve running shirt with a faux tuxedo design.
After exchanging vows and rings and gulping shot glasses of blue Gatorade, Whitney jettisoned her veil as she and Steven sprinted to rejoin the field of runners.
The newlyweds ran the second half of the marathon together. Once at the finish line, they shared a long kiss for the news cameras.
"I couldn't have done it without my awesome pacer," Whitney, who had never before run a full marathon, said of her husband, who previously accomplished 13 marathons.
Opinions were split as to Sunday's cool temperatures, which were in the mid-30s to low-40s. Some runners appreciated the crisp weather for prodding them to faster times. But others found it downright chilly and uncomfortable.
"I’m from Texas, so it was a little cold," said Rebekah Palaian, 37, who moved this year to Lake Orion. “But I PR’ed by about 40 minutes, so it worked in my favor."
For Detroit resident Erin Irwin, the race marked his 23rd Detroit marathon and 46th lifetime marathon. The 46-year-old finished the course in 4 hours and 13 minutes.
"I’ve run so many other marathons, but nothing beats Detroit," he said. "Everyone is friendly in Canada, you come back through Corktown, Mexicantown, Indian Village, then Belle Isle — it’s just beautiful. It's so much fun. Never a boring moment."
Whitney and Steven Phillips met five years ago through the website OkCupid. Neither of them wanted a traditional ceremony, and so because of their shared passion for running, they decided the Detroit marathon would be a perfect wedding location.
Their life journeys to Sunday's starting line weren't easy.
Whitney only recently began running after having barely survived a horrific accident 14 years ago when her snowmobile was hit by a car traveling in the wrong lane on a private drive.
Her recovery required 20 surgeries and years of physical therapy. She did not take up running until March 2017, when Steven encouraged her to try it. He then surprised her by signing her up only a month later for her first 5K race.
Whitney had another close call in September 2017 while running outside in preparation for a Grand Rapids half-marathon.
In an interview before Sunday's race, she recalled how the driver of an SUV ignored a stop sign as she was crossing a road.
The SUV "hit me and knocked me down to the ground. I quickly got back up and looked right at him — I know he looked at me — and he took off."
The SUV didn't stop and sped away before Whitney could get its license plate number. Fortunately, her injuries weren't too severe, but she did need wrist surgery.
“What hurt the most is knowing that someone can just do that to someone and not care,” she said of the hit-and-run driver.
Although he is now fit and slender, Steven once tipped the scales at more than 300 pounds before he took up running about eight years ago. His journey from a sedentary lifestyle to marathon running began on the track at the former Michigan Athletic Club in Grand Rapids.
"I couldn’t run more than one lap on the track, which was about one-sixth of a mile," he recalled. "I would run a lap, walk a lap, and build up from that.”
Steven has since lost 130 pounds and completed 14 marathons.
The idea for a mid-race wedding was originally Whitney's, who joked early this year about how fun it might be to get married in the middle of a race.
The couple initially intended to keep their wedding/race plans a secret so that they could surprise everyone afterward. But they decided to share their plans with family and friends last week following the sudden death of Whitney's father, Gregg Black, 67, so that loved ones could watch the ceremony .
"So not only did Whitney run her first marathon, but we got married," Steven said.
Contact JC Reindl: 313-222-6631 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JCReindl.