Race Recap: Living History Farms 2013
I should probably use the term “race” very loosely when describing this iconic Iowa off-road running event. However, what this race lacks in a traditional sense, it more than makes up for in a crazy, friendly, energetic, history-filled experience! This year marked the 35th anniversary of this piece of Iowa culture and history, and I couldn’t have been happier to don my superhero mash-up costume, and toe the line with close to 6,000 of my closest friends!
Nestled on several acres of undeveloped natural habitat just outside Des Moines, Living History Farms was created to as “an interactive outdoor history museum which educates, entertains and connects people of all ages to Midwestern rural life experiences.” For the last 35 years, folks have been running this cross-country race which resembles many of the trail races I’ve done far more than a high school cross-country meet! This was my 4th time participating in this event, and it lived up to expectations as always. From the beginning, the organizers sum up the race with some common questions:
Will it be cold? Probably!
Will I get wet? Probably!
Will I get dirty? Probably!
Do I need gloves? Yes!
Exactly how far is it? 7 miles
I arrived around 8:30 and parked, with plenty of time for the 9:00AM start. In previous years, I’ve gotten down there earlier for some tailgating, but it’s been a busy fall season, and planning was minimal. I believe it had warmed up to 10 degrees by the time I got there, which was clearly balmy by November standards in Iowa (in actuality, the temps were unseasonably cold, but they seem to do that a lot!). I found some friends on the trek from the lot to the starting line, and took in the scenery as I made my way to the giant corral teeming with costume-clad runners. One of the best parts of this race is the fact that runners dress up to the extreme, sometimes more elaborately than even the most extravagant Halloween parties. The temperature is never a deterrent for exposed skin, but plenty of folks find costumes with a bit more fur for warmth. I could spend an entire post dedicated solely to the diversity of costumes, and they truly make the race. When else is slogging through creek beds and corn fields in a giant yeti costume acceptable? Ok, so maybe filming one of those documentaries would be an exception, but I’m still convinced that Bigfoot is legit!
The “gun” went off at 9AM, and the packed crowd surged forward. Now, I indicated earlier that it was a bit of a stretch to call this a “race”, and that is mainly due to the mechanics of squeezing thousands of people onto a very narrow path. Unless you are at the front of the pack and take off sprinting, you are going to do your fair share of walking and dodging other bodies along the route. Needless to say, this would not be the place to be during the Zombie apocalypse!
I warmed up fairly quickly once I started moving, and proceeded along the snow and ice-packed trail. You spend the first few miles winding through relatively open fields, and then the fun begins. As you hit the wooded portion of the course, you are greeted by the first of seven (or eight…I lost count) water crossings. I made the mistake of bothering to try to stay relatively dry by walking on walks across the stream, but the ice-covered rocks had other ideas, as did the next stream, which was wider, deeper, and only about 50 yards further down the trail. In previous years, these water crossings have ranged from bone dry to completely flooded. The water levels weren’t insane this year, but certainly high enough to get me nice and soaked up to my knees or so.
Running on cold, wet feet isn’t high on my list of favorite activities, but somehow I always find myself enjoying it during this race. We made our way up and down steep, dirt-covered hills, sometimes moving up under our own foot power and other times relying on ropes to pull ourselves up and help those around us along the way. Part of the enjoyment of this race is truly the friendly environment. Everyone is out there to have a good time, and always willing to lend you a hand to help you up our down, no matter how muddy you might end up in the process. The ground was actually cold enough this year, that even with a light dusting of snow, the dirt stayed pretty solid and held the mud at bay.
The entire route twists and turns for seven miles, but it always seems to be the quickest seven miles I ever run, despite it actually being the slowest seven miles I’ll ever run. This year was no exception. As I reached the last water crossing and pulled myself up for the final stretch, it hardly seemed like I had been out there for over an hour already. Everyone was cheering and reveling in the delight of a wonderful romp through the woods as we crossed the finish line. There were even medals this year to commemorate the 35th anniversary, and then we headed up to the excellent post-race spread for various delicious snacks. The cold reality revisited me fairly quickly and I was ready to take off my soaked shoes and socks and thaw out my hands, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t stop smiling the entire drive home. Another enjoyable LHF off-road race is in the books and I can start planning my costume for next year!