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Race Report: 2014 Des Moines Marathon

Races fall into a number of different categories for me. There are some races that I plan for months in advance, and direct my training towards, some that come up along the way, and still others that I register for more out of nostalgia or the potential for an enjoyable experience with friends. The Des Moines Marathon certainly holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first marathon I ever ran back in 2009. I ran the race again last year as a part of my first double, and I registered for the race this year because the timing worked out well with my training and it was a great excuse to spend some time with friends and cheer them on as well.

I picked up my packet at the expo on Saturday with very little trouble, and the epicurean and I took the opportunity to go out to dinner at the same restaurant where we had our wedding dinner. The pasta was delicious as always, and we both left with full, happy bellies. I woke up the next morning around 5:00AM to have a light breakfast and get ready. The drive down was a nice opportunity to wake up and sip some water more slowly before getting to the start. I made my way to the starting line in plenty of time for the 8:00AM gun, and the morning could not have been more perfect. Temperatures were in the 40’s, the sun was out, and there was hardly any wind. In other words, the racing conditions were perfect!

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I had planned all along to take it easy and use the race as a solid training run. I logged 18 miles the day before, and my legs were feeling good. The gun went off, and the slow shuffle to the starting mat quickly gave way to a more brisk pace. I lined up behind but in sight of the 3:30 pacer, but hadn’t really given much thought to my own pace. I planned to run more by feel, and just enjoy the morning. After about 2 miles, I had caught up to the 3:30 pacer, and was moving really well and logging sub-8:00 miles. As I passed the pace group, I decided I might as well maintain my pace for as long as I could and see what my legs had in them. It’s amazing how the best-laid plans can become derailed by an aggressive internal competitive nature, isn’t it?

The miles just continued to tick off on the relatively flat course, minus a few small hills. My breathing was smooth, my stride was short, and my turn-over was right on target. Before I knew it, I was 10 miles in and still maintaining my sub-8:00 minute pace. I brought a bottle of Tailwind with me, so I was able to run through several of the aid stations, but I made sure to continue to drink, and supplement it with some Honey Stinger Chews as well. I was crossing the half-marathon point before I knew it, and I hit it at 1:42, which would have been a solid HM PR if I had crossed the finish line. I was still feeling really good, but wasn’t necessarily taking it easy anymore 🙂

Finishing strong!

Finishing strong!

The course dips down into a large, open park around mile 18, and we were a bit more exposed than we had been. This was when I felt the wind pushing back a bit more than it had been earlier in the race. I maintained my pace, but I could tell I was working a bit harder by the time I crossed the 20 mile mark. Around mile 21, the bathroom break I had been resisting since mile 1 was finally too much and I ducked into a porta-potty. The stop cost me about a minute, but it was certainly worth it for the comfort! My pace slowed by about 25 seconds over the last 5 miles, but I was still feeling really good and thought I might just have a chance at a new PR. I dug deep in the final mile, and pushed a little extra when I heard the 3:30 pacer coming up behind me. I managed to pull out the same sprint that I seem to have at the end of every race, and I crossed the finish line in 3:28:44. My easy day had turned into a marathon PR!

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I was all smiles, even if a small part of me wondered what the day would have brought if I hadn’t run so much the day before. I quickly found a bunch of friends that had finished up the half and the full, and we celebrated by heading straight for the beer (with some water and food along the way, of course). Everyone was in a great mood, and we made our way back near the finish line to cheer on other runners as they passed. The weather, the friends, and the race could not have been more perfect, and I was happy to add some more great memories to the Des Moines Marathon experience!

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Race Recap: Des Moines Marathon

So, where was I? Oh yes…I was drifting off to sleep after returning from a wonderful Indianapolis Marathon trip and PR. Normally, I would be looking forward to sleeping in on Sunday morning, eagerly anticipating our pancake Sunday ritual and a lazy morning. However, this weekend, thanks to some friendly encouragement (ok, it didn’t take much), I decided to run my first official “double”. It was only fitting that I returned to scene of my very first marathon 4 years earlier. When I lined up at the Des Moines Marathon in 2009, I truly had no idea how far I would come in such a short period of time. Many things have changed in my life over the last 4 years, mostly for the better, and throughout it all, running has been a consistent companion.

DSM- Marathon Map

I woke up around 5:30AM, and slipped on my running clothes, including my newly christened Marathon Maniacs singlet, and ate a small breakfast. It was a tad chilly, but 38 degrees feels a lot better when there is no rain coming down, so I didn’t mind one bit. I hopped in the car and pick up a friend who was running the half and graciously agreed to stick around until I was done, as well as cheer on many of our other mutual friends running that morning. We arrived in Des Moines with plenty of time to spare, and were able to park a few blocks from the start in a private lot, which was certainly convenient. We both wandered down to the start area on a bridge over the Des Moines river and soaked in the race atmosphere.

Photo Credit: DM Juice- Waiting on the Locust St. bridge.

Photo Credit: DM Juice- Waiting on the Locust St. bridge.

We probably only waited around for 15 or 20 minutes, so I didn’t mind being a bit chilly. Despite having run a marathon the previous day, my legs felt surprisingly strong and painless. I was a bit stiff, but no more so than I would normally feel prior to a long run. I guess the high mileage training over the past few months was starting to pay off!

The gun went off promptly at 8:00AM, and we slowly worked our way to the starting pad and began running. The full and half-marathons began together for the first 2.5 miles, so my friend and I were able to run together. I had lined up near the 3:45 pace group, thinking that I would attempt to hang with them as long as I could, and hopefully come in under 4 hours. As the routes split, I waved goodbye to my friend and promptly jumped into the Porta-potty quickly. Aside from finishing, I truly had no initial expectations for this race. I was unsure how my legs would respond after the previous day, and I wanted to have fun returning to the scene of the crime!

Photo Credit: DM Juice- The race total topped 10,000 this year for the first time!

Photo Credit: DM Juice- The race total topped 10,000 this year for the first time!

I caught up to the 3:45 pacer, and passed him after a mile or so. From that point on, I was on my own. I ran into several other Maniacs along the route and again soaked up the reciprocal energy that came with our common bond. I was hitting 8:20 miles through the first 10 miles and still feeling good so I just decided to continue running how I felt and see what happened. As usual, the crowd support along the route was fantastic, and the water stops were well-organized and announced well in advance. The race organizers have been putting this race on long enough to really know what they were doing and it showed.

At the half mark, i was still pulling down 8:20 miles, and my legs were feeling pretty good. I had forgotten how subtly hilly the course was, however, and they began to sneak up on me more and more. I fought the urge to look back and see if I could spot the 3:45 pacer, but I knew from my splits that I had banked a few minutes. I could have easily slowed down if I had wanted, but my legs were feeling good, and my endorphins were pumping!

Around mile 18, just as I was entering Waterworks Park, my legs reminded me that I had run a 3:30 marathon the day before. The park has a reputation for being a difficult stretch because it is fairly open and usually has less crowd support. However, I have always enjoyed the opportunity to silently reflect on my running at that point, and I took advantage of the next three miles to process how the weekend was unfolding. I pulled back to an 8:45/mile pace, but kept pushing forward and even received a wonderful pick-me-up from a couple of friends who rode into the park to cheer folks on!

Photo Credit: DM Juice- Definitely a beautiful course.

Photo Credit: DM Juice- Definitely a beautiful course.

i entered a loop around Gray’s Lake and could hear the 3:45 pace group not far behind me. At that point, I was committed to holding them off as long as I could but had already arrived at a place of happiness and contentment in a weekend of hard work. I remained consistent through those final miles, and my legs continued to hold up, although I was certainly ready to be done running for the weekend. As I entered the finish area, my friend was waiting to cheer me on and I pushed it hard through the finish line. I crossed the line in 3:42:53 and I was ecstatic! If it hadn’t been for the previous days’ race, I would have earned a PR in Des Moines as well.

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I picked up my medal, ripped off my timing chip, and collected my water and snacks in a process that has now become almost ritualistic. We claimed our free beer and relaxed for a bit, and then headed back to the car for the drive home. As I look back at my first marathon and draw comparisons, many things haven’t changed. However, my confidence in my ability, regardless of time, is in some ways the biggest accomplishment of all for me. In a simple, unassuming manner, I proved something to myself this weekend. Training will always be there, but these experiences will continue to be special no matter how many times I cross the finish line. I’ll always find something unique to remember, someone to connect with, and some way to grow as a runner. This weekend taught me to truly “embrace the race”.

A Quick Running Opportunity: Gray’s Lake

I’ve discussed the appeal of running in new locations before, and shared some of my wonderful running adventures. I’ve also mentioned the importance of mixing up your normal routes to re-energize and keep yourself mentally interested in your training. Yesterday, I combined the two for a “local” run that I’d yet to take advantage of for a training run. The beautiful epicurean was hoping on an afternoon flight and I thought I’d take advantage of being in Des Moines to throw in a quick training run in the city.

The Des Moines "skyline"

The Des Moines “skyline”

We end up making the 40 minute drive fairly regularly (although not as regularly as I thought I would when I moved to Iowa), but we are usually on a mission related to shopping or dining out. I’ve run numerous races in the Des Moines area as well, but I’ve never ventured down for a normal weekday run. My very first marathon was the 2010 Des Moines Marathon, and the course goes through Gray’s Lake. However, after 20 miles, I wasn’t exactly in a position to enjoy the scenery and view of downtown.

Simple scenery along the paved path.

Simple scenery along the paved path.

As we drove down, we were caught in a torrential downpour, complete with hail. The rain in Iowa over the past week has resulted in some serious flooding, so I wasn’t even sure Gray’s Lake would be open at this point, even if the rain stopped. Nonetheless, I remained optimistic and brought my running gear just in case. By the time we got to the airport, the rain had stopped, and I headed for the parking lot. The lake was fairly empty because it had just rained, so I pretty much had the lake to myself, which was great!

The swollen Des Moines River.

The swollen Des Moines River.

The full loop around the lake is a bit under 2 miles, so I decided to squeeze in a 10K before heading home for the night. Although it was rather gloomy, it was still a beautiful change of pace. The lake was relatively calm, and intense green hues filled my line of sight in every direction. The Des Moines River runs along the park area as well, and the most recent storms, combined with the earlier rain meant it was flowing quite vigorously, and was definitely more swollen than I had seen it in a few years. In all, it was just a very pleasant run and change of pace from my normal training routes. I really enjoyed being able to actually take in my surroundings, and appreciate the simple beauty of this park in the heart of Des Moines. Running around the lake itself brought a smile to this Minnesota boy as well!

Changing perspectives along the way.

Changing perspectives along the way.

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