Sunday, October 16, 2016

Race Report: 2016 Des Moines Marathon

On October 16, I ran the Des Moines Marathon in Iowa.  This was the third time I’ve run this race, but I’ve never gone into it expecting to run fast.  In 2003, I volunteered to lead the 3:30 pace group.  At the time, that was a pace I could run without working hard.  In 2013, I ran it the day after running the Kansas City Marathon.  I did both of those races with a pulled hamstring, so I wasn’t able to ran fast.  This year, I was running it one week after an all-out effort in the Chicago Marathon.  It was the first time this year that I raced on back to back weekends, and I didn’t know how much that would slow me down.  Accordingly, I went into this race without any ambitious goals.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve driven to Des Moines.  In addition to three Des Moines Marathons, I’ve also driven through Des Moines on my way to numerous races in Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas.  I’m not sure, but this may be the first time I’ve ever made this drive without encountering road construction on I-35.

I wanted to get to Des Moines in time for lunch, so I got on the road early.  I stayed at the downtown Embassy Suites, which is conveniently located for the race.  From there, I could walk to the expo, and it was only a few blocks from the starting line.  It was also just down the street from the state capitol.

After checking in, I walked to Court Avenue Brew House for pre-race pizza.  Then I went to the expo at the Iowa Events Center.

This race was the annual reunion for Marathon Maniacs.  After stopping at the hotel to drop off my race packet, I returned to the Iowa Events Center to attend the reunion meeting.  I was surprised how few people I recognized.  I knew dozens of friends who were doing this race, but I didn’t realize how many of them were doing the I-35 challenge, which consists of running the Kansas City Marathon on Saturday and the Des Moines Marathon on Sunday.  Runners who did the Kansas City Marathon in the morning didn’t arrive in Des Moines until dinner time.

After the meeting, I still had about 30 minutes before dinner started, so I decided to move my car.  I was parked on the street.  Meters are free on the weekends, but I wasn’t sure if I could leave my car where it was during the race.  To be on the safe side, I decided to move it to a parking ramp.

On my way to the parking ramp, I got into an accident.  The car on my right suddenly moved into my lane.  The other driver didn’t see me, and thought he could cross my lane to make a left turn.  Nobody was hurt, and neither car was damaged severely, but both cars had scrapes and dents.  I spent the next 15 minutes taking pictures and exchanging insurance info.

After walking back to the Iowa Events Center, I called my insurance company.  By the time I was ready to eat dinner, all of the runners I knew were seated at tables that were already full.

I started the dinner in a funk, which is a shame, because it was actually a pretty good dinner.  Most pasta dinners are buffets.  This one had table service.  The food was good, and there were several speakers.  I especially enjoyed hearing Jeff Galloway speak.

After dinner, my mood was better, but only because I didn’t have to deal with my car again until Monday.  I did my best to put it out of my mind.

The weather was on the warm side.  I’m sure that made some people unhappy, but I was fine with it.  The overnight low was 60, so I was comfortable wearing shorts before the race started.  I knew it would warm into the low 70s before I finished running, but I didn’t worry too much about that.  I usually hold up OK in warm temperatures, and I wasn’t going after an aggressive time goal.

The temperature didn’t concern me, but the humidity did.  When I went outside, there was a dense fog.  There was so much moisture in the air that it almost felt like light drizzle.

The starting line was a few blocks from the hotel.  It was right in front of the civic center.  All Marathon Maniacs got wristbands at the expo that gave us access to the lobby of the civic center.  We had our own private gear check and real bathrooms.  Because of the damp conditions, I appreciated waiting indoors until it was time to line up.

The streets were wet from overnight rain and heavy dew, so I paid close attention to my footing.  After starting fast in other recent races, I tried to do a better job of starting at an easy pace.  I wasn’t going to try to beat my times from Berlin and Chicago.  If anything, I might try to break four hours.

By the end of the first mile, I was already sweaty.  I didn’t feel at all hot, but the humidity was near 100 percent.  Other than that, I felt comfortable.  I reached the first mile marker in 8:50, which was just a hair slower than the pace I averaged in my last race.  That seemed reasonable.

There was a long gradual hill in the second mile.  My recollection was that the course was hilly, but I couldn’t remember where the hills were.  There wasn’t anything steep, just lots of long gradual hills.

I tried to maintain a consistent effort whether I was going uphill or downhill.  Most of my early mile times were in the 8:50s.  At four miles, the 3:45 pace group passed me.  I remembered seeing them lined up in the corral behind mine, so I knew they would be passing me early in the race.  I was on pace for something between 3:50 and 3:55, and I wasn’t inclined to pick up the pace.

The first half of the course had lots of turns.  There were sections where the course doubled back, so we sometimes saw faster or slower runners going in the opposite direction.

In general, there were aid stations every mile.  On the out-and-back sections, they were sometimes more frequent, as the same aid stations services runners going in both directions.  I wanted to stay hydrated, but there were so many aid stations I had to skip a few of them.

At six miles, I saw the lead runners coming back.  They were at 10 miles already, but they were still running in a large pack.  After another mile, I saw the first two women.

The farthest point of the out-and-back was at Drake University.  We ran a lap around the track before returning.  It felt good to run on the track.  I was tempted to run it fast but reminded myself that I still had 18 miles to go.  I resisted the temptation to do anything stupid.

Halfway around the track, I reach the eight mile mark.  That mile was 9:01.  It was the first mile to be slower than nine minutes.  I would have picked up my effort, but as we left the track, we started another long uphill section.

Somewhere between nine and ten miles, the 3:55 pace group passed me.  I was a bit surprised, because I thought I was still running ahead of that pace.  At first, I let them go.  Then I decided to lift my effort a little to keep pace with them.  At first, I was running about half a block behind them.  I used aid stations and downhill sections as opportunities to close the gap.  By 12 miles, I was running with them.

Just past 12 miles, we moved from city streets to a paved path through a large city park.  For several miles, we had fewer spectators but nice scenery.

As we entered the park, the course turned slightly downhill, making it easier to stay with the pace group.  They seemed to be running at the same pace, regardless of the terrain.  That meant I needed less effort to stay with them running downhill and more effort to stay with them running uphill.

As the path leveled out, I had to work a bit harder, but the effort didn’t seem unreasonable.  I reached the halfway mark in about 1:57.  I was on pace for 3:54.

For the next two miles I was telling myself this effort might be sustainable for the rest of the race.  I was having to work a bit, but I was past the halfway mark.

At 15 miles, the wheels started to come off.  Suddenly it took much more effort to stay with the pace group.  I decided to let them go and drift into a slower pace.  I was retreating into my comfort zone.

The next two miles were 9:40 and 9:50, but I still didn’t feel all that comfortable.  It was still taking an effort, and I was feeling soreness and stiffness in my legs.  At my current pace, I wouldn’t break four hours.  I gave up on that and tried to find a pace that was comfortable.  I never found it.

Around 17 miles, I saw a sign saying “Bacon 3 Miles.”  I was reminded of a race in Dallas that had signs promising jelly donuts in X miles.  They didn’t lie about the jelly donuts in Dallas, so I had every reason to believe there would be a bacon stop in a few miles.

At the next aid station, there was music on large speakers.  I don’t remember what song was playing as I arrived, but as I left, I heard them playing “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.  That’s one of my favorite songs, but it was the wrong music for this point in my race.  It made me feel anguished.

I started to notice a grain of sand in the front of my left shoe.  It worked its way around my big toe until it was on top.  Then I noticed more grains of sand.  There must have been a half dozen in the toe box of my left shoe.  I did my best to ignore them.

Late in a race, I often compare the remaining distance to a training run, to make the distance seem more manageable.  At 18 miles, that worked.  I just needed to do an 8.2 mile run.  It was the kind of run where you’re just logging miles and don’t care too much about your pace.

The next mile seemed to take forever.  In fact, I took just over 10 minutes.  With 8.2 miles to go, the distance seemed manageable.  With 7.2 miles to go, it seemed like a long way.

In the late miles, we crossed the Des Moines River several times.  We were flirting with the downtown area and sometimes got views of the state capitol.

After crossing one of the bridges, I saw an aid station.  There was a big sign saying “Bacon.”  I had already forgotten about the bacon sign I saw three miles earlier.  In addition to water and Gatorade, a few volunteers wearing gloves were handing out strips of bacon.  I chewed a strip of bacon and took some Gatorade to wash it down.  It wasn’t going to give me the energy to finish the race, but it was a welcome distraction.

At 21 miles, I had a different kind of distraction.  This one was unwelcome.  I felt a pain on the side of one foot.  Something got into my shoe.  The grains of sand in my toe box were merely irritating.  This really hurt.  I had to stop to do something about it.

I stopped and put my foot up on the curb.  I ran a finger between my shoe and sock until I found the culprit.  It was a small rock.  After removing the rock, I resumed running.  Even though I only stopped briefly, everything was stiff.  I had to work through it.

At 22 miles, I started to feel hot.  Earlier, I felt sweaty from the humidity, but this was the first time I actually felt hot.  The fog had burned off.  I didn’t notice at first, because it was cloudy.  The temperature was about 70 degrees by now.  Through the middle miles, there was often a cool breeze, but now I was finally feeling the conditions.

With three miles to go, we began a loop around the Iowa state capitol.  This wasn’t part of the course the other times I ran this race.  Anyone who likes running in capital cities would love this part of the course.

The first half of the loop was uphill, and it was tiring.  At 24 miles, we began a long downhill segment.  I was still looking at my watch every mile, but the time was no longer relevant.  I had long since given up on any time goal.  I just wanted to finish.

Running downhill helped me recover and keep moving, but I wasn’t able to run any faster.  Then, with one mile to go, the course turned uphill again.  Suddenly I was hot again.  It was only then that I realized I didn’t feel hot running downhill in the previous mile.

At the last aid station, I took a drink of water.  Instead of dropping the cup in the street, I carried it to a trash bin that was just ahead.  That was tiring.  After I disposed of the cup, I felt the difference.  I was so depleted that carrying an empty paper cup for less than half a block felt tiring.

As I made the final turn onto 3rd Street, I could see the 26 mile sign.  I couldn’t see the finish line yet, but I knew where it was.  I kept pushing and finished in 4:13:24.

In addition to our finisher medals, anyone who was a Marathon Maniac received a second medal.  If you wear them together, they’re held together by a magnet.  There was also an extra medal for anyone who went into the beer garden.

When it comes to post-race food and beverages, I’ve learned to skip the average fare and wait for the good stuff.  At this race, it was all good stuff.  Knowing I would be going to a post-race party, I only had chocolate milk and pizza.  I actually passed on things like BBQ sandwiches.

After getting cleaned up, I went to a post-race party at Buffalo Wild Wings.  The other runners trickled in a few at a time, but there must have been about 20 of us by the time I left.  I think every NFL game was on at least one TV screen.  For some reason, there was a lot of interest in the Seahawks game.

I’m still not completely sure why I crashed and burned so badly.  At the Berlin Marathon, I started way too fast and slowed down 15 minutes in the second half.  At the Chicago Marathon, I started quite a bit slower, but it was still too fast, and I slowed down by nine minutes in the second half.  In this race, I started at a pace that was slower than the average pace of my last two races, yet I slowed down by 19 minutes in the second half.

It’s possible that the humidity took a toll on me.  I’m affected more by humidity than by heat.  It’s also possible that I wasn’t sufficiently recovered from the Berlin and Chicago marathons.  This was the first time this year that I ran marathons on back to back weekends.  It was also my third marathon in 22 days.  I used to be able to do that without it affecting my performance.  I was in better shape then.  I’m in good enough shape to run marathons, but I’m probably not ready to be running this frequently.  I’ll get there, but I need to rebuild my fitness base.  I’m just not there yet.


  1. Humidity is the worst, and I know how hilly that course is. Was there still a loop around that big lake, or was that removed in favor of adding the loop around the capitol? In any case, congrats on finishing and seeing other Maniacs. One of these days I'll make it to a MM reunion.

    1. We ran by a lake. I'm not sure if we went all the way around. I didn't remember the course well enough to notice what else changed.