Sunday, October 19, 2008

Des Moines Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 3; 18th Edition
369.2 miles raced in 2008
Race: Des Moines Half Marathon
Place: Des Moines, IA
Miles from home: 1063 miles
Weather: 40s-50s; sunny

I have very fond memories of the Des Moines Marathon. First and foremost, performance-wise, the Des Moines Marathon was a catalyst during my 52 marathons in 2006 which spurred me on to completely unforeseen results.

To set the stage, during Fiddy2, after nearly 4 months of having the same best time of the year, I was able to finally better the time by a few seconds in Albuquerque in early September. I then shocked myself by besting that time by three minutes and running a 3:10 at Erie for my first Boston qualifier of the year. Three marathons after that I not only ran my fastest time of the year but my fastest time ever to that point in Johnstown in 3:05. The next weekend had me running what I knew was going to be a difficult marathon in South Dakota where I placed third. After that, came Des Moines.

Walking around the expo the day before the race I noticed that there was a pace group booth. Speaking with Tara Thomas, the pace group organizer, I noticed that there was no 3:10 pacer listed. Upon finding out that the 3:10 guy had pulled up with an injury prior to the race, I pondered whether I should dare try and be a pacer for this time. Des Moines would be my 41st marathon of the year. I had only run 3:10 or better 7 times in my entire life. Most importantly, people really rely on pacers. I did not want to let these people down. But I weighed my options and knowing I had it in me, chose to be their pacer.

Well, fortune shined on me as I ran a 3:10:12 and was able to usher one young runner, Seth Thorson, to a Boston Qualifying time. Slowing down in the final yards, I let Seth pull ahead to enjoy the moment all by himself and I ran across the finish line solo (and with apparently a really ugly face).

I felt good about my effort. So good in fact that I changed my goal for the next week in Niagara Falls. Originally intending to just run a new PR, I decided to see what the day had in store for me and try to set a previously unthinkable goal of running my first sub-3 marathon ever. Well, everything worked out wonderfully that next weekend and a 2:59:48 was the end result.

Without a doubt, my effort in Des Moines was what gave me the confidence to do that.

Obviously when you do well at a race in terms of time performance, you tend to remember the race fondly. However, Des Moines could have been easily overshadowed by Niagara Falls because of such a personal landmark moment being established there. But that is assuredly not the case and I'd like to sing the praises of this race in two other ways: its course and its people.

First, the course is a very forgiving one that you can read all about in various other places in greater detail. It is far from "easy" but no one can really call it a difficult race whatsoever. Moreover, amongst a plethora of nice touches, this race includes running a lap along the famous Drake University track, home of the scintillating Drake Relays. Runners are treated to their smiling faces on the big screen of the stadium from a camera set at the entrance of the stadium Later a loop around both the WaterWorks Park and Gray's Lake areas add to the scenic beauty of the course. Grays Lake alone has this gorgeous boardwalk bridge that is lit in many different fashions at varying points of the year.

As for the people, well, to put it this way, if I have my druthers, I will be coming back to Des Moines every year that I am still running races. With friendly fans, a race staff that really wants nothing but each runner to have a fantastic time and a dedicated sponsor, it is hard to ask for more.

So when I was asked to run the 1:30 pace group for the Half Marathon I was more than happy to do so. Moreover, this presented me with a great opportunity to speak at the pasta dinner to tell others why I so very much love this town and its race. When the CEO of IMT, the title sponsor of this race, asked a trivia question and presented a $50 bill out of his own wallet to the person who correctly identified what "IMT" stood for, I realized I had very little convincing to do. Moreover, the CEO himself was running the 5k himself. Got to love that!

If you need any further proof, remember the chap I helped qualify for Boston two years ago? Well, his mother heard I was coming back to Des Moines and took the time to pen me the sweetest email. For her to see I was coming to town and go out of her way to be so kind in stating how she hoped our paths would cross really touched me.

I also had the pleasure of meeting a young gentleman after my speech who really touched me. After speaking with a few people who wanted to simply pass along words of congratulations or ask a brief question I noticed one young slight man, standing patiently by. He too passed along very complimentary words but also had a story to tell me. I wanted to take the time to share it with you. If you read nothing else in this recap, please read this.

Randy Sturm is his name and he had been afflicted with epileptic seizures since birth. Unfortunately, as his seizures could not be effectively controlled by medication, he was unable to do many things most of us take for granted. Sports were completely out of the question. So, as a twelve year old he opted to have brain surgery to put an end to the seizures. He knew that the surgery would effect his learning and speaking abilities but opted to do it nonetheless.

Well, the surgery was successful and now for nearly 20 years he has been both seizure-free. More importantly he has not only been able to be completely taken off of medication but he has also been able to participate in sports. While he openly admitted his speech pattern is a little slower than he would like and sometimes it takes a few seconds to formulate an idea, he could not be more happy with the result. His goal for the race? Well, his PR at the time is a 3:20 (which in and of itself is just amazing). He was using Des Moines as a springboard to a fall marathon next year which would be the 20th anniversary of his surgery. He was hoping to get his time down below 3:20 here in Des Moines to make a run at a Boston Qualifying time next year.

I will not keep you in suspense. Randy found me after the marathon and let me know he is on his way. Dropping nearly four minutes from his personal best, he ran a 3:16! I know whose progress I will be following for the years to come!

So, as you can see, it was a wonderful weekend even before the race started. Now all I had to do was settle down and go to bed.

Race Day:

After just making the pace team photo (and I mean "just") I got ready to take on the pacing duties. While a 1:30 half marathon is relatively easy for me, every pacing effort carries with it a great responsibility. Even more than that is the personal satisfaction you receive in helping people achieve goals. I knew that those shooting for 1:30 were obviously talented runners who would not need much encouragement. However, there always is a good story (if not more than one) waiting to erupt. Right before the start, the gentleman who picked me up at the airport tow years prior came up to say hello. John Urban was his name and he introduced me to a co-worker of his, Jenny, who would be shadowing me on race day. With a half PR was a 1:30:30 or so, she said she wanted very much to go under 1:30. I told her if she stuck with me we would make it happen together.

First 3 miles:

We knew that the first 3 miles were run along the same course of the Marathon before we split from those doing the full 26.2. A gorgeous backdrop awaited runners for the first half mile as we ran directly towards the Capitol Building.

We followed right behind the large pack hoping to run a 3:00 marathon in order to not get swept up in the excitement. A 6:39, 6:57, and 6:51 miles put those of running the half almost exactly on pace (a 1:30 half marathon equates to a 6:52 minute mile). Crowds lined the streets and cheered loudly not only for the 3:00 pace group (which included some great people who I had met the day prior) but our motley crew of 1:30 hopefuls as well. We soon bid the marathoner farewell as they started up a small hill and turned south towards Water Works Park.

Water Works Park:

This section of the course is not only extremely pretty but one of the most populated spectator portions of the course. With every cheer from the crowd I could feel my runners surge. I did my best to hold them back (and myself as well!) as we tried to hold on to the energy in our legs for the end. Along a roughly 5 mile loop, this is where a bulk of those of us in the front of the pack get to see the middle and back of the packers entering when we are exiting. I spent more energy than needed here cheering on all those coming at us but it was energy well-spent. I had it to spare and it was only fair as they were madly cheering for my group as well. Even with this cheering (or perhaps because of it - I feed off of crowds) we ran a 6:42, 6:45, 6:51, 6:47, 6:55, and 6:41 for the 5 miles in the park.

Gray's Lake:

This is the section where I picked up Seth two years ago and was hoping very much to bring everyone with me to the finish. I had a pack that had included around 9 or ten runners all day, even though who was in that pack changed often. Jenny was running great and I was excited. As mile 10 was run in a 6:45 and mile 11 in 6:55, all of a sudden the pack was down to 5. No! I thought I looked behind me and almost immediately Jenny had dropped about 10 yards back.

The Final Push:

I knew as much as I wanted Jenny to finish under 1:30 I had to keep my pace. In a little section that included a half block out-and-back right before the last mile, I could see that Jenny had not fallen that far back at all. With the mile 12 marker just ahead, I shouted out to her to keep it up! I was now down to just two runners who were beginning to pull me ahead a little faster than I wanted to. However, my desire to finish with runners around me did not override my duties as a pacer. With a little over 1.5 miles left, I told them I was going to fall back and try to get as many people right on time as possible.

As the finall straightaway gave way to one last turn, we joined a lot of 5k runners enjoying the beautiful day as well. Windy at times, the temperatures were low and the sunshine bright. I looked over my shoulder and saw Jenny was closing in. One guy was between her and I and I motioned for him to "come on!" With the finish line in sight, we crossed mile 13 in 7:00 exactly.

I looked over my shoulder one last time but lost Jenny. Mingling amongst the 5k runners I could not see her. So I ran step for step with this one final guy and crossed the finish line in 1:29:32, a little faster than I had meant to. The guy thanked me for cheering him on and I handed him the 1:30 pace group sign which I had carried the whole way. I then turned and fervently searched for Jenny.

At 1:29:44 Jenny crossed the line. For her efforts she got not only a brand new PR but a super sweaty hug from Dane. I guess she'll accept the yucky with the good. Go Jenny!

With my hotel less than a block away from the finish, I was able to shower quickly and get out amongst the runners. I then spent the rest of the day helping the announcer hand out awards to runners and enjoying what was yet another wonderful day in Iowa.

It helps Penn State ended a 12-year drought against Michigan by shellacking the Wolverines at home. :)


Yellow Scuba said...

Sounds like a really fun race weekend, Dane! Congrats to Jenny and your other pace group person for reaching their sub-1:30 goals! Huge congratulations and much admiration to Randy as well. He is an inspiration!

Kent said...

I was even more impressed with you in person than I was reading your blog for the last couple years, which is saying a lot. It was a pleasure at the Expo, and my daughter again thanks you for your Doritos and encouraging her XC running. It was great to talk to you.

Now if only you pulled #6052 prize tag for one of those prizes yesterday... :-)

Laura said...

Wow, you sound like an awesome pacer! Any chance you'll ever pace a slower group (like the 3:40, which is my necessary BQ time)? I'd have to put in a lot more training but it sounds like you could really help make it happen.