Running is about combining committed repetition with a thirst for new experiences. That’s what keeps it interesting, and keeps me motivated. That’s probably why this was an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up. When the alarm went off at 3AM and I stumbled out of bed, I was beginning to regret that thirst for new experiences. I was tempted to listen to the thirst for sleep that was echoing in my head, but I pushed past it and got ready. I was out the door at 3:30AM, heading down to Des Moines, and the day had begun.
Dam-t0-Dam was the first distance race I ever ran, back in 2009. I trained for it, and caught the running bug when I finished, so naturally it holds a special place in my heart. For the past 34 years, D2D has been an iconic 20K race in Des Moines, beginning at Saylorville Dam, and winding its way to downtown Des Moines. Over the years, it grew quickly, and became one of the largest 20K races in the country. Therefore, it was bittersweet for many folks, myself included, when the race directors made the decision to transition the race to a full half marathon. Part of what set D2D apart was the distance, and there were plenty of half marathons to partake in. Would this change spell the end of such a long run? Happily, the experience itself barely changed, aside from the increased distance, and they put on yet another great race as they welcomed almost 9,000 runners across the finish line.
As I said before, my thirst for new experiences has led me to take on some interesting challenges. Running a day of RAGBRAI last year comes to mind! Since my training mileage has been pretty high and I am trying to keep up my mileage, I knew I wanted more than 13.1 miles on Saturday. For most people, the answer might have been squeezing in another run later in the day, or adding more mileage to Sunday’s run. However, it didn’t take me long to consider just how interesting and memorable it would be to run the D2D course backwards before the race started. Normally, I would carpool down with friends, and we would hop on one of the armada of school buses that take everyone to the start since cars are not allowed at the dam. However, they didn’t say the dam was off limits to pedestrians, so naturally I thought running to the starting line, tracing the course backwards, would be fun!
This brings me to 4:30AM. I pulled into the parking ramp and had my choice of spots. I’m sure you’re shocked. I had reverse-engineered the vague map on the D2D website, so I had a pretty good idea of how to follow the course backwards. However, it’s important to note the severity of my directional “issues”. The roads north of downtown were pretty clear, so I had a feeling that getting out of downtown would be the challenge. I was right. My sense of direction is sketchy on a good day, let alone at 4:30 in the morning, in the dark, by myself. I wound my way through downtown and made it to the Des Moines River, knowing that I needed to catch a trail that would head north. I managed to overshoot it a bit, turned myself around a few times, but finally landed on the trail. I continued north at a decent pace and was feeling good. The sun wasn’t out yet, but it was already in the 70s and rather humid so I knew there was plenty of sweating in my future.
The plan was to give myself plenty of time for a nice, slow, comfortable run that would leave me some time to get to the dam and relax a bit before the start of the race. However, getting turned around in Des Moines induced a small amount of panic, so my pace increased. I had brief visions of not getting to the starting line in time, and having to run in the opposite direction of 9,000 runners to get to the start. I was probably still in a bit of a haze as I continued on down the trail, and I managed to miss another turn. I took a quick glance at the map and figured I could cut over on a road further north to get back on the route, and luckily, I was right. From that point on, the route was pretty clear and I was able to relax and let myself drift off a bit, as I’m prone to do when running by myself.
The open countryside north of downtown was incredibly peaceful in the early morning hours, and I enjoyed seeing the course from such a different perspective. I passed by many of the volunteers as they were setting up the aid stations, and I got some pretty amused and interesting looks, but everyone was friendly. They were quick to point out that I was “going the wrong way” and I assured them that I’d be back 🙂 I rounded the final turn onto the dam and began to see runners striding out and stretching as I got closer. I was able to easily blend in with everyone else and run right up to the start and make my way back to the middle of the back. Nobody even knew I had run the course, but I’m sure they thought my hydration back was a bit of overkill for a half-marathon!
I managed to find a group of fellow Vardos in the crowd, and we hung out and chatting for about 20 minutes before the race began. I love getting to a race and knowing I’ll see friends in the crowd. These experiences are meant to be shared with friends, and it can make all the difference during the race and afterwards as well. The dam was calm and peaceful before the start, the sun had just come up, and there was a wonderful energy in the air. The temps were rising quickly and would reach the 80s by the end, which, along with the humidity, made for a soggy day. The gun went off promptly at 7AM, and we all began the slow shuffle past the timing pad. Moving 9,000 runners off a narrow dam isn’t exactly a quick process, so you have plenty of time to “warm up” before the running starts.
My legs were feeling pretty good after the first 14.1 (added distance courtesy of my “detours” downtown), and I was pleased the that rather intense pains in my quad that I had earned the previous weekend hadn’t returned. I still planned to keep it slow and steady, and make sure I was comfortable through the end of the race. I fell into a pretty good rhythm and the first few miles of the race ticked off pretty quickly. I even managed not to get too swept up in the start of the race and go out too fast. Apparently I just need a 10-15 mile “warm-up” to avoid going out too fast. Somehow, I don’t see that being a sustainable solution for most races 🙂
Over the next two hours, we wound our way back down to downtown Des Moines. I smiled as I noticed various sights and volunteers that I had seen earlier on my solo journey. I “ran” into plenty of friends along the way, and it was great to see everyone pushing forward, (mostly) happy and energized! The trademark crowds were out in full force in the various Des Moines neighborhoods, and it became clear that the tradition and reputation that this race holds was in no danger of disappearing because of a slight course change. The hills were definitely a bit steeper than they were earlier in the morning, but I tackled them as I continued to hydrate and combat the heat and humidity.
Around mile 11 (i.e. 25), my left leg/hip cramped up a bit and I slowed down to walk and massage it out. It remained pretty tight but wasn’t getting any worse so I kept running. The course took us past the Exile Brewing Co. around mile 12.5 and I took the staff up on their offer of a small shot of beer. At that point, it didn’t really phase me! I rounded the final turn and caught sight of the finish line, which brought a smile to my face, and crossing it was a welcome relief. I looked down at my Garmin as I picked up my medal, and was happy to see I had logged over 27 miles on the course. I wandered down to the post-race festivities, claimed my hard-earned 9AM beer, chatting with some friends, and then headed back to the car. When I arrived home around 10:30AM, I realized just how crazy it seemed that I had already run as far as I had, and the day was just beginning. Then it was time to shower, eat some breakfast, and get some yard work done!
Did you race this past weekend? How did your workouts go? What crazy running ideas have been floating around in your head lately? I’d be happy to push you into them, and maybe even join you!