In many ways, I feel like this entire year has been quite a whirlwind up until now. The seasons haven’t held true to form, the weather has been anything but normal (is there such a thing anymore?), my schedule has been less than rigid and regulated at work, and my training hasn’t quite had the rigor and organized discipline I’d like. I’ve been putting in plenty of miles, but my race goals have been a bit too distant, which has left me with time in between targets. However, I can always count on one race every year as a benchmark for my running progress. Dam to Dam, Iowa’s Distance Classic, was my very first race longer than a 10K, and marked the beginning of my addiction back in 2009. Since then, it has come to hold a special place in my heart, not only because it’s a wonderfully organized race, but because the tradition and proximity equate to a giant gathering of friends for a morning of running, celebrating, and “hydrating”.
Not to paint too pretty a picture, I should get the less than desirable aspects of this race out-of-the-way first. Namely, the time. The race starts at 7AM at the Saylorville Dam in Des Moines, which is only accessible for the race via busses that depart from downtown Des Moines between 5AM and 5:45AM. This was even more true this year due to flooding in the area, which limited traffic access. Now, this means meeting others at 4:15AM to carpool down to Des Moines, which in turn meant I was awake at 3AM. Well, my eyes were mostly open and I was moving, at least. I’ve probably mentioned before that I’m not a morning person, so this was a struggle. It’s a good thing I enjoy this race so much!
We were in Des Moines in time to hop on one of the first busses, which meant arriving at the dam/ start around 5:30AM. This left us with plenty of time to kill. Luckily, we are a pretty self-sufficient group, and were able to entertain ourselves. The weather varies widely this time of year, and we got extremely lucky this year. It was in the low 50s at the start, and the sun slowly emerged on the back of a light breeze. Thus, we passed the time comfortably before making our way up to the starting line. With 8,500 runners in all, the people watching alone is enough to pass the time!
This year, I was convinced (tricked? 🙂 ) by a friend to attempt an 8:00 min/mile pace for the 20K (12.4 mile) distance. My pace has been improving quite a bit as of late, but I had yet to attempt sustaining it for quite that long. I was hesitant, but agreed nonetheless, and another friend agreed to pace us during the race itself, which was really nice. We worked our way up, closer to the front of the pack, and as the palpable intensity of the crowd increased as we made our way closer, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was somehow an impostor of sorts. My energy was high, and my adrenaline was pumping, and we head out with the rest of the pack to make our way through the first mile.
Now, the first mile is a bit like squeezing pebbles through a salt shaker, so I was expecting a bit slower first mile. We hit the mile 1 marker around 8:20, which left us in great shape. Over the next 8 miles or so, the distance just seemed to tick away comfortably, and we maintained a sub-8:00 min pace throughout. I stopped to take water, took in some nutrition around miles 5 and 9, and still felt ok to chat with my two pacing friends. After the first few miles, my doubts about achieving our goal (for me, that is) vanished and I let the feel of the race take over. It’s a fairly flat course, but there are a few decent hills to give a runner pause. We tackled them boldly, and maintained our pace.
With about 5K remaining, I found myself about 50 yards ahead of my friends after a water stop, and I let my legs take over. Even after crossing the last bridge and making the final turn towards the finish, the consistency in my pace and breathing remained, and I had a bit left for a final kick at the end. I crossed the finish line in 1:37:11 with a 7:49/mile pace, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with my PR! I turned around to congratulate my friends, and they looked just as full of energy as I felt, and it was clear that handily accomplished our goal.
The snacks, beer, and celebrating with our large group of friends afterwards made for a perfect end to a beautiful morning. Once again, Dam to Dam served as a reminder to me of why I enjoy running so much. I have some of the most amazing friends, capable of so much, humble without question, and encouraging to a fault, and they continue to reinforce my love of running. Pinning on a bib and putting a medal around my neck at the end of the run is really just a bonus!