Ok, so where was I? Ah yes, I had just left Minburn, and was chugging along on my RAGBRAI journey.
I’m not looking too bedraggled yet, eh?
Intermission: By this point, three recurring discourses had already established themselves, and would stick with me throughout the day. Aside from the general well-wishes, these three general conversations were repeated more times than I was able to count. After the first few hours, it almost became comical and it was all I could do not to laugh out loud. Needless to say, it made the experience that much more enjoyable!
1. Cyclist- “How far are you running today?” / Me- “All the way to Des Moines!” / Cyclist- “Wow, that’s crazy, good luck!” — pretty darn positive, eh?
2. Cyclist- “Are you running all of RAGBRAI?” / Me- “No, just running today…working my way up to the full route.” / Cyclist- “Oh, ok.”
Commentary- these comments struck me as a bit strange, and I fought the urge to be jokingly offended. On many occasions, peoples’ reaction was one of almost disappointment, as if running 50 miles while they blissfully pedaled wasn’t enough. I guess I’m going to have to step up my game next year!
3. Cyclist- “Are you Richard?” or “Hey, I saw you on TV.” / Me- “No, I’m Adam, I’m from Ames.”/ Cyclist- “Ah, ok, good luck!”
Commentary- As it so happens, there were two men running all 406 miles of RAGBRAI this year. One of these men, Richard Kresser, was raising money to support a home for wounded veterans. He had done an excellent job getting the word out about his cause, and had appeared in the local news media quite a bit, so his name and face were out there for everyone. In terms of general features, we looked enough alike that folks easily mistook me for him.
At this point, I think it’s important that I comment a bit more on Richard Kresser’s amazing accomplishment. I had decided on my own that I wanted to run a leg of RAGBRAI to test my own personal endurance, and I was incredibly excited by the prospect. Capt. Kresser took it several steps further, trained incredibly hard for close to a year, and raised money for an incredibly important cause. When I decided to attempt this run, I stumbled across his blog, and eventually emailed him to let him know how impressed I was with his work, and to let him know that I’d keep an eye out for him on the course (I never ended up seeing him). We exchanged emails a few times, and I followed his training and adventure on Facebook and Twitter. Throughout all of this, I gained an enormous amount of respect for what he was doing and why he was doing it.
As a result, I found myself in a very interesting position when people began mistaking me for Richard. On the one hand, I was focusing on my run and trying to manage my pace, stride, and breathing so I could have very easily just ignored the comments. However, this just felt wrong to me. The last thing I wanted to do was inadvertently take credit from an honorable guy doing something incredible for an amazing cause. In the end, I knew I had to do my best to not only make sure people knew who I was, but also that they knew his story and how his run was going. There were definitely people that flew by too quickly for me to say anything. However, whenever possible, I chatted briefly with folks, and gave them the updates I had on his run (from Twitter) and shared his cause and how they could donate. It felt really good to be supporting him in this way, and in the process, my own running took on a very different feel.
Simple Iowa beauty along the route.
By the end of the days’ journey, I felt my own desire to run for something more than myself. I had a lot of time to think about a variety of things during the course of the day, and gained a deeper sense of meaning in the process. I haven’t flushed out my ideas completely, but the wheels are turning, so you can expect more on this topic in the future.
** Back to your regularly scheduled program **
After leaving Minburn, the next 8 miles flew by pretty quickly and I found myself entering Dallas Center.
Stop 2- Dallas Center: This was a much quicker stop, but I was beginning to feel myself getting a bit dehydrated, so I found a delicious mango raspberry smoothie to wash down my protein bar. The town was a bit smaller, and the crowds of riders weren’t as thick since a lot of folks didn’t stop. I was still maintaining around a 9:30 pace, and realized pretty clearly that I needed to slow down or I was going to be hurting! As it was, the rolling hills were beginning to embed themselves in my quads. I finished up my smoothie and hit the road.
A delicious and hydrating pick-me-up!
In between the towns along the course, folks love to set up their own carts and sell or give out all kinds of things in the middle of the country. You never quite know when you’ll stumble across a beautiful white farmhouse, next to an iconic red barn, and a family of five passing out free watermelon to passing riders. The quaintness and hospitality is uniquely Iowan in my opinion, and part of what makes RAGBRAI such a unique experience. Throughout the day, I was amazed by the generosity of others as they handed me watermelon, popsicles, and bottle after bottle of water. I repeatedly heard “you look like you need this” and it brought a smile to my face every time. The same was true of riders along the course, many of whom stopped to offer me water or snacks from their own supply. I couldn’t think of a more supportive or caring “crowd” experience.
Stop 3- Van Meter: I hit the 50K mark as I rolled into Van Meter, and knew I had to celebrate with pie! More than any other food along the course, RAGBRAI is forever connected with pie of all flavors. At almost every stop, you will find someone selling slices of pie baked fresh in a church basement or someone’s home, and it is some of the best pie you’ll ever taste. The amazingness that is pie inspires people to ride in the first place, as it did several NPR journalists this year. My giant slice of apple pie was the perfect reward for hitting a milestone in my run. By this time, my legs were definitely beginning to burn a bit, but I was feeling good overall, and my endurance was holding up. I made sure to drink some extra water, and I popped an s-cap as I headed back out of town for the next leg of my journey.
RAGBRAI + pie = delicious!
Longer conversations- Part of what made this run such an amazing experience was the people I met along the way. Aside from the three passing conversations I mentioned earlier, so many people were genuinely interested in what I was doing, why I was doing it, and me as a person. Folks slowed down and rode with me for as long as a mile, and I got to hear stories of previous RAGBRAIs, weight-loss journeys, international travel, and a host of other random information. It made the miles pass that much faster having someone there to talk to, and I was amazed by the generosity of spirt of folks.
Stop 4- The side of the road 🙂 : Beekman’s homemade ice cream. I would have stopped for this delicious treat even if it was 400 meters from the finish line. I already knew to expect delicious ice cream churned in front of me, but I didn’t expect it to be twice as good after running 40 miles. Maybe I did, but I doubt I was thinking clearly at this point in the day. The weather had been perfect all day with overcast skies, a light breeze, and no rain whatsoever. The sun had just come out when I arrived at the Beekman’s truck, and the timing couldn’t have been better. While waiting in line, I had a lovely conversation with two women from northern Iowa who loved trail running and ultra running, and we shared our bucket lists, and I got some great ideas for more local places to visit for some hill training. Apparently there are some secret locations in Iowa that aren’t completely flat. Who knew?
I bought my peach ice cream and wandered over to an inviting ditch. i wasn’t sure sitting down would be a good idea, but I decided to risk it, and I enjoyed my delicious cold treat and watched others file through. Part of the appeal of running was knowing I’d see so many cyclists pass by during the day, ranging from the more hardcore riders in the morning to casual (and hung-over) riders later in the day. RAGBRAI truly is a people-watching extravaganza.
After 40 miles, I earned this ice cream!
I finished up my ice cream, and “hopped” back on the road to knock out my last 10 miles. My pace had forcibly slowed by this point, but I was still averaging 10:00 minute miles for the most part. My legs were definitely feeling sore, however, so I had a feeling the last segment of my journey would take a bit more time. I focused on hydrating and putting one foot in front of the other, and just enjoying the experience.
What followed was a bit of a blur. There were probably not nearly as many hills in those last 10 miles as I seem to remember, but my foggy brain might as well have been back at Surf the Murph riding the elevation waves. I made better use of the hill-walking ultra strategy in this last leg than I had previously, as much out of necessity as desire. Despite my best efforts to hydrate properly, I was beginning to feel the effects of the heat and distance, and I couldn’t drink enough water no matter how hard I tried. I’m always surprised by how strange it feels to be simultaneously incredibly thirsty, and heavy with water sloshing around in my stomach.
Bridges, bikes, hills, people…I generally remember most of it 🙂
I stopped a few more times to fill up my water bottle and take in some more nutrition, but I was ready to be done running, so I pushed on. When I got to West Des Moines, I texted a friend that was planning to pick me up in Des Moines to let her know that I would be there in 90 minutes or so, but my brain was so foggy that the best description of my location I could come up with was “going left into town, at the top of a really big hill.” Needless to say, this wasn’t very helpful.
Around 5:00PM, my Garmin hit the 49 mile mark, so I knew I had to be close (the route was 49.6 miles) and I was looking enviously into the distance. I watched each tenth of a mile tick off, and when 49.6 came and went, and I then hit 50 miles, I started to get a bit concerned. Had I misread a map somewhere? How much further did I have to go? Luckily, I turned into Waterworks park as these thoughts were racing through my mind, and I saw the “Welcome to Des Moines” sign in the foreground, with hundreds of tents dotting the grassy landscape.
I hit 51 miles and came to a stop in front of a make-shift bus stop that was transporting riders downtown. I put my hands on my knees, stood up, took a drink of water, and got in line to take the bus to downtown Des Moines for my ride home. There was no finish line, no timing mat to cross, and no medal to place around my neck. Amidst the sea of riders, I’m not sure anyone even realized I had just run 51 miles, and nobody even asked. It didn’t matter though, and I didn’t care. I had met so many people in the past 10.5 hours, gathered so many wonderful memories and photos, and helped redefine what running meant to me. I’ll keep that medal around my neck for a long time to come.