Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Des Moines Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 7; 15th Edition 
320.1 miles run; 1.75 mile swam; 59 miles biked in 2012 races
Race: Des Moines Half Marathon
Place: Des Moines, IA
Miles from home: 1785 miles
Weather: 40-50s; sunny

The Des Moines Marathon will always hold a special place in my heart.

Back in 2006 when I ran 52 consecutive weekly marathons, the Des Moines Marathon was the 41st marathon. I was riding a high of marathons at the time I rolled into town. In my 36th marathon of the year I had run my first Boston Qualifying time of the year – something I didn’t think I had a chance to do given my task. In the 39th marathon, I had done one better by not only running another BQ but bettering my personal best by two minutes to 3:05. The weekend after that I had taken 3rd place overall in a marathon, placing for only the second time in my life at that point. Hitting Des Moines I had a touch of a swagger going on. This was before the word “swagger” got so annoying I almost hesitated typing it out.

At the Des Moines Marathon in 2006, I had an idea pop in my head that I would have laughed off just two months prior – to run a sub-3 hour marathon. However, at the race, I was approached by the pace group coordinator about potentially filling a hole in their pacers slot at 3:10. I now take pacing very seriously and it bothers me greatly when I see people who pace groups who obviously have no idea how to actually pace someone. Even then, having only paced a 3:20 group at the Frederick Marathon I still knew that those needing the help of a pace group leader do not need you to go crashing out of the gate too fast.  Therefore, I said I would pace the 3:10 group with the caveat that they tell those running with me what I was doing that year and I would do my best to keep them going as long as I could. 
While I had gone under 3:10 only 7 times in my marathon career, most of them had been done with rather precision pacing. If you read my first book, See Dane Run, you will see that I was fortunate enough to hit my goal as a pacer in Des Moines. I ended up hitting my time almost perfectly (3:10:12), slowing down at the very end to give the sole runner who was with me his moment in the sun alone. It’s not the pacer’s job to celebrate like a buffoon when they do what they were supposed to do. The attention is not meant for them.

I came back to Des Moines in 2008 and this time paced the 1:30 half marathon group.  An odd day that had virtually all the runners either start sprinting at the last mile, or fall way behind, I finished nearly alone in a time of 1:29:32. I did end up catching one runner who was failing (not unlike what I had done in the marathon in 2006) and was able to push him on. I got a little carried away which is why I finished a full 28 seconds fast.

When I got to Des Moines this weekend to work with the Iowa Beef Council, I couldn’t believe it had been four years since I had been in the DSM. This time I would again be running the half marathon but for the first time would simply be running for myself. 

Super nice guy, Bill.
Speaking at the expo and various engagements around the city about the power of protein, I found I was hardly alone in using lean beef as the fuel for my engine. I would not say that the word is getting out as much as the word has been out and more people are becoming vocal about it.

I could spend the next paragraphs simply listing all of the friends who were running at this race and would still invariably miss a few. Suffice it to say, being back in Des Moines was a reunion of sorts with many who would be chasing major goals. Me, I was simply trying to continue firing some life back into my legs. Des Moines is without a doubt the right half marathon course to do just that.

Race Morning:

Last weekend in Wichita at the Prairie Fire Half Marathon I started off fair before succumbing to malaise in the middle of the race. Savaging a decent time with a nice kick at the end had not really left me feeling like I was making much progress in the way of getting back into running shape. Here in Des Moines I felt I would fare better. First, the temperatures were a little cooler and would remain so for the majority of the race. Even bright sunshine, which would later make it difficult for some of the many marathoners, wouldn’t wreak too much havoc for us doing 13.1. In addition, while the marathon course does have a few challenging hills, the half marathon course has virtually none. Just one or two bumps here and there exist primarily to give your legs a chance to use different muscles before firing off on flatness. The only question which remained would be how a weekend of standing on concrete at an expo shaking hands, talking and getting excited about hearing all the fantastic stories would take its toll on my legs.  Running the race would be the only way to answer that question.

First Seven Miles: 6:39, 6:31, 6:36, 6:35, 6:41, 6:45, 6:36

I started out running the half-marathon with a fellow attorney I had met six years before in Des Moines.  He was hoping to set a new PR and said he wanted to run around 1:30-1:31.  I said that might very well be what I was running so he could join me if he’d like.  After about half of a mile of chatting, while I felt I was holding back, he mentioned we were going out a touch too hot for his tastes.  I decided it would be best to run our separate races so we didn’t mess up his chance of getting that personal best. 

See the Capitol?
The course had us all turning in front the absolutely splendid Iowa State Capitol building and putting the sun at our backs.  I quickly picked up the pace which felt quite relaxed and easy. I would not have been surprised at all if the first mile was run in around seven minutes.  When I saw it was well below that time I thought, I thought that perhaps today might be a decent day after all.
The next two miles were more of the same, with me beginning to pass runners here and there. The entire time I was moving up, I never felt like I was pressing. Right around the third mile was where the two races split and if you were not already happy as a half marathoner to be running less miles, seeing the hill the marathoners had to climb which we skirted around solidified that feeling. Here I realized I was right around the pace I ran at the Fox Valley Half a month ago (just 15 total seconds off after 3 miles). The difference was this day I felt great and didn’t have to nearly shut down my race after 3 miles.  At Fox Valley I had to basically start jogging for seven miles before inexplicably running some of the fastest miles I ever have had in a race. (Seriously, still cannot understand how all of that happened.)

The downtown urban area filled with throngs of people in a crevice between the taller buildings in Des Moines created a wonderful wall of sound and high-fives. While the crowd would thin, we were heading out to the portions of the Des Moines Half which have become quite well-known. By mile five we were entering Water Works Park, which would soon have its serene beauty interrupted by the sounds of thousands of running shoes.  I decided I would take the slower pace I was currently running until mile seven and then re-evaluate what I had left in me from that point onward. I was feeling a little bit of tightness in my calf muscles that I would have ignored just a few months ago. However, given a weird strain I had in them in July, I am much more cautious. I don’t like being this cautious but I do not like not being able to run even more.
Water Works Beauty

A few of us were running together, some pushing the pace and then falling back as others would pop up to the front. Just like last week in Wichita there was one female runner with all of us hairy grunting guys, further pointing out how much more beautiful the female form is than the male. As a couple of guys began to run in lockstep with me, we were all commenting on how beautiful the day was and how good we felt.  Then the two leaders of the half, having already circumvented the park, came sprinting back at us. “Well, that just killed how good I felt,” one of the guys chuckled. I looked at my watch and said “I am guessing those guys are going to run a 1:04.” The guy to my right said, “I hate them” and we all laughed. (The winner would break the course record by running a blistering 1:03:18.)

When I hit the 7th mile, having both pushed myself hard and wanting to listen my calf muscles, I decided to follow my plan to back off for the next three miles and see what was left in the tank.

The Relaxation: 6:52, 6:56, 6:53
Fall colors

Approaching the 8th mile is one of my favorite parts of this half-marathon.  The loop around Water Works Park is a little over two miles. As such, when you rejoin the portion of the course where runners are going both directions, if you are running a decent clip you will get to see thousands of runners going the opposite direction. I always try to pick out a few faces I might know but this is usually a futile effort.  There are just too many heads and bodies with faces covered in sunglasses or under the bill of a hat.  Invariably it is friends who are able to spot me, the guy who sort of looks like VP candidate Paul Ryan (but as was pointed out, actually have run under three hours for a marathon.)  No less than half of a dozen of my running buddies yelled to me, many who I heard in time to spot their face in the crowd.  Some, alas, were just yells who I had to wave a hand at and say “Hi there!” to the back of their head.

While I had planned on slowing down, which I did, I did not expect it to take this much effort to run the times I ran here. The course spits runners out of Water Works Park, across the highway and into Gray’s Lake Park for another two-mile loop and I was feeling the strain. My favorite part of this loop is a concrete footbridge with railings containing different colored swatches of glass.  When the sun hits them just the right way, those crossing the bridge have their feet covered in colors from both sides. Traversing Gray’s Lake is a treat when you are surrounded by so much greenery just two miles from the heart of downtown Des Moines.
Cat and Mouse

Throughout this section I was playing cat and mouse with a runner. I have never been a strong uphill runner.  Or perhaps more accurately and descriptively, I prefer to not push the uphills knowing that once it gets flat or downhill, I will usually crush the guy who just overexerted himself.  Even in small bumps in the road this holds true. On the loop around Gray’s Lake there are one or two small raises of probably no more than 10 feet but each time we hit one of them, the chap behind me would draw even or pass.  When we leveled out or hit a small downhill, he would soon be behind me again. Regardless, as we hit the halfway portion of this loop, we were passing the stray runner here and there who bit off a bit more than they could chew.  Feeling a little tired I thought perhaps I would stretch this 3 mile “relaxation” period into four and then make the last two hurt.

Pushing the final 5K: 6:47, 6:17, 7:30, :44

We completed our loop by knocking out the 11th mile of the course which led to a small uphill rise out of the park and onto a small pedestrian path. I was pleased that I had felt like I had taken it easy and the time for that mile had shown I actually sped up.  Throughout the day, as the marathoners shared portions of this course with us, we would see markers for their race as well on the path.  What was nice about this was they were placed about .2 of a mile in front of our markers. As such, you were not only getting feedback about your pace on every mile, but every .8 of a mile.  Furthermore, in something I have only seen in a select few races (Quad Cities comes to mind) the mile markers had long tethered balloons tied to them so you could see them about 90 seconds of running away.  So, in actuality, you were getting feedback about each mile or half of a mile.  Little touches like this are things many runners, new to the sport, won’t realize are pretty special.  But they are the small things that make me repeat a race when there are so many options out there.

When we hit the 12th mile, I knew the marker was a little askew.  I knew I had been picking up the pace a touch and knew I definitely did not run a 6:17.  Then I remembered the only thing I did not particularly care for on this course – the small .1 of a mile out and back that half marathoners have to do to get their course synched up with the marathoners on the way to the finish.  There really is not much to complain about it other than even though it puts you at the proper distance, it almost feels like you are running extra.  As I told so many runners this past weekend, mental aspects of running, real or perceived, can make a difference in your overall race. Coming out of this tiny out and back it was nothing but a straight long shot down MLK Parkway before you turned on 3rd street to head home.  The last two blocks are jammed back with spectators and cheering throngs.
Me in back. Pre-jump.

I could see I was nestled right into the middle of a minute meaning that no amount of speeding up would get me to the next lower time and easing off would not saddle me with the next higher time. As I approached the finish, I saw three large men walking together in a line.  When I say large, I do not mean in girth (while they were not exactly svelte) but rather just big guys.  They were wearing matching Thing 1, Thing 2 and Thing 3 costumes and were doing a cross-legged walk.  I am all for people having fun (these guys were doing the 5K, I think) but you also have to be aware of your surroundings.  Right as I was about to pass them and finish my race, one of the fellas went down, either by design or accident and the other two clowningly joined him. 

My vertical leap is not high on a good day and it is even less after running 13.09 miles.  Unfortunately, I hadto employ it a little bit as well as a little bit of a sidestep right at the end.  I don’t think I said anything that was going through my mind but I think my eyes sure as heck did.

In the end, I nailed a solid 1:28:28, good enough for 77th place overall.
I quickly grabbed a shower and then came back down to the finish to spend the next three plus hours shaking hands and cheering on runners finishing all of the races.  I was ecstatic to see my friend Lauriel get another PR and make up for missing a BQ (by 31 seconds) in Omaha by sliding in under the time she needed with just a few seconds to spare. I also made sure to replenish with some good old chocolate milk as well before heading off to get some steak.

With a slew of races to choose in the fall it is hard to know which ones to do.  I can tell you right now that you cannot go wrong by running in Des Moines. From meeting running legends who frequent the expo, to taking a stroll through famed Drake University with your face on the Jumbotron during the middle of the race, to the warm feeling of competing in a race which is large enough to know what it is doing but small enough to not overwhelm you (I parked 3 blocks away from the start just 30 minutes before the race started) this is a runner’s race.

I guarantee it won’t be four years until I return to this race.  Didn’t hurt the whooping that Penn State put on the Hawkeyes either.


Kent said...

It was good to see you again, Dane, and I am glad you had a really great day in Des Moines to run. It did get slightly more warm around noon out on the course. If giving back by pacing wasn't so rewarding, I would definitely run Des Moines just for myself.

Skelton Adventures 2 said...

While not mentioned by name, I feel special knowing that I am one of the faces that you DID get to see in the 8 mile area...as I was just entering the park! :) And good to see you later in the day as well.

Unknown said...

Thank you for posting and sharing this. I am looking forward to running this marathon in 2014. I have decided I want to all 50 states (wished I thought of that before signing up for my 2nd full in Missouri next month, as it is the same day as this one and I'd rather go to Iowa instead of running one I've already ran) By the end of this year, I'll have ran 5 full marathons in 3 states and 2 countries.