Elite athletes regularly run between 80 and 100 miles a week while training. I have always been in awe of those numbers, and the ability for their legs to sustain such a high level of endurance. Clearly, I am not an elite athlete in any commonly accepted form of the term. However, over the past two weeks, I’ve run 134 miles. I’ve also run 2 marathons in 6 days. These are both stats I didn’t think possible even a year ago. Needless to say, it’s been a crazy year!
This past weekend, I traveled to Shenandoah, IA to run the 1st Wabash Trace Trail Marathon. This race was nice and close, relatively cheap, and fit in well with my schedule. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad bit skeptical of the overall quality of the experience. However, this race put those fears to bed and produced a very enjoyable marathon experience! As a first race, the organizers definitely have a lot to be proud of and I have no doubt that this race will be around for many more years to come.
Shenandoah is a small town in southwestern Iowa with a population of just over 5000 people. As I drove in on the main highway running through town, I was acutely aware of the quintessential small rural town feel of the community. Packet pickup was at a local eatery, and as I walked in, it was business as usual for everyone else in town. I found a small table in the back with a nice young woman handing out packets, and she crossed my name off the list. I was camping at a local park in town with some friends, and I was happily given directions. I have a tendency to get lost pretty easily, but I still managed to find the park. We set up our tents, and then headed into town for a quick dinner. We returned to a relaxing evening with the stars overhead. It was a bit chilly at night, but there is something special about sleeping out under the stars on a cool (almost) fall evening.
The race began at 7:00AM the next morning in Malvern, IA (pop. 1142), so we headed out from our campsite around 6:00AM to make the 36 mile drive. Despite getting turned around, we still ran up to the start just as they were finishing the national anthem. The group of friends I was with were competing in the marathon relay, so they proceeded to spread themselves out along the course in due time. The gun went off, and I took off with the 39 other marathoners and the handful of leadoff relay runners. Did I mention this was a small race? 🙂
After about the first two miles, I was relatively on my own for the remainder of the race. I did play leap frog with various runners throughout the course (the half marathon started further down the course in order to finish at the same location), but this point-to-point race gave me plenty of time to think! The trail is an old rail bed, and was a very easy run. The tree canopy was almost universal, providing beautiful scenery along the entire route. As I ran along this trail, sunlight periodically peeking through the trees, corn and soybean fields visible through the trees on either side, I couldn’t help think that it doesn’t get much more “Iowa” than this run. The echo of a farm auction in the distance thus became the icing on the cake.
Water stops were evenly placed, and volunteers from town came out in force to assist with the race and offer encouragement to the runners. Although I love the feel of a densely crowed Chicago street during a marathon, there is something equally special about young children shouting “WATER! GATORADE!” as you approach a clearing along a beautiful tree-lined escape from the chaos of life. It was obvious that many of the volunteers may not have completely understood what possesses someone to run a marathon, but the pride in their community and their general hospitality and caring nature shone through even brighter than the sun peeking through the trees.
As with the Sioux Falls Marathon, I was using this race as a training run to adjust my pace as I prepare for my ultimate goal at the end of October. I certainly came closer, finishing in 4:17, but my work isn’t done yet. I crossed the finish line, was handed a high-quality medal, and greeted by my friends who had, as it turns out, won the race overall and taken first place in the relay category with a time of 3:02! Clearly our goals were a bit different 🙂
We made our way down to the tented area with food and drink, posted outside of the same local eatery I had visited the evening before. We spent some time relaxing, recovering, and chatting with other folks, many of whom were local to the area. The pride they had in such a successful event was clear, and they certainly had plenty to be proud of…all-in-all, a great way to qualify as a Maniac!