State 27: Iowa (2012 IMT Des Moines Marathon)

1. The Fires of Envy

Otter and I have shared many races together, which is why the athlete-tracking website Athlinks easily named us “Rivals.”  However, with all due respect to my running hetero-lifemate and his recent successes in the sport, we have never really been competitive.  I would run my race, he would run his, and our main targets were our own previous times.  We’d use our own accomplishments as personal benchmarks and we’d never puff our chests and brag about who was faster or whose legs could take the most pain.  If one of us ran a blazing time, we’d definitely share it, but not as an ego-boosting path to validation.  In fact, we were each “guilty” of these moments of celebration.  But as one would get faster, so would the other in neat, parallel lines.  Given how consistently we were training and improving, I never honestly felt like he was ever going to overtake me.

Until he had the audacity to run a marathon within 3 minutes of my PR.

I knew that weather conditions at the 2012 Chicago Marathon were going to be ideal well ahead of time and I did everything possible to not draw blood from my lips or palms as I cheered for the over 40,000 runners cruising through the Windy City.  Later that week, I would be completely blown away by how many people had run crazy fast times.  Envious though I was, I was having an awesome day.  At one point, I checked my phone to see how Otter’s progress was looking and was flabbergasted to see that he had maintained a steady pace in the mid 8s through 30k.  My PR, achieved at the Little Rock Marathon this year, was run at 8:22 per mile, which is exactly the pace he was commanding into the last 12k of the race.  That rapid son of a …

Sights set on Des Moines (In picture: Western Gateway Park)

As his detailed recap will show you, he felt in full control over the last stretch, even dialing it back a bit to prevent a sudden collapse.  But about an hour later, he had smashed his old PR by an unreasonable amount of time, leaving me both proud of a friend and flummoxed by how close he came to what I thought was a hard effort for me, a time hardly in danger of being challenged.

So with the IMT Des Moines Marathon just two weeks away, I set my sights on an aggressive PR.  If all the pieces came together on race day, I felt like I was in the right shape to pull it off.  There were many reasons to be confident, namely:

  • I had put in the highest-mileage taper of any marathon attempt ever.
  • The 10-day forecast had pegged the weather comfortably in the “awesome” category.
  • My legs were feeling great and I had logged some really fast tempo and interval runs.
  • I had transitioned successfully to the Saucony Kinvaras, which felt light and fast.

But there were also several reasons to be slightly wary, if not cautious:

  • I had put in the highest-mileage taper of any marathon attempt ever, which included a tough marathon three weeks before.
  • 10-day weather forecasts don’t know anything about anything ever.
  • I had transitioned to the Kinvaras but had never run farther than 12 miles in them.

At the starting line (Left to right: Me, Otter, Ryan)

So, really, there was no way of knowing what would happen.  Plus, I’ve learned throughout the years that the marathon experience is completely unpredictable.  Fortunately, the IMT Des Moines Marathon webpage was so full of information that I could try and mitigate some factors before the race even started.  Seriously, they put an impressive amount of detail into this site, including everything from average split times for course records and median finishing times, biographies of each individual pacer, and the names of each musician or band playing on-course.  So far, it wins the prize for attention to detail.

And why was I reading pacer bios?  Two reasons.  One, it turns out Andy, who paced the first half of my Little Rock Marathon PR in March, was also pacing this race but at a slower (4 hour) pace.  Two, I decided to join a pace group in hopes of facilitating a fast time.  But I’d have to confront my troublesome history with running in a pack.  Just a few examples:

  • 2010 Chicago Marathon: abandoned the group after 2 miles, bonked hard at mile 19.
  • 2011 Holiday Half Marathon: abandoned the group after 2 miles, PR’d by a few seconds
  • 2012 Little Rock Marathon: abandoned the group after 12 miles, PR’d by a few minutes
  • 2012 Grandma’s Marathon: abandoned the group after 2 miles, bonked hard at mile 19.

I’ve never managed to really stick with a group for longer than twelve miles.  I don’t know why exactly but I have some ideas.  Perhaps I prefer to run my own race and don’t like my speed being dictated by other people.  Maybe since I train by myself I prefer solitude out of habit.  Or maybe pacers tend to be too larger-than-life or boisterous to be with for almost four hours.  But this time I decided, stick with the 3:35 pace group.  If you just stick with them until the end, it’s a guaranteed PR.  Just hang in there and make it happen.

2. Race Weekend

Up until recently, a high school friend of mine had lived in Des Moines and knew the lay of the land very well.  In a recent get-together with him I asked for a post-race burger recommendation and he threw out a place called Zombie Burger without hesitation.  Upon perusing their zombie-themed menu for a few seconds, I instantly knew I had to share this with others.  Otter had already signed up for the trip and I extended the invitation to two close friends and zombiephiles, Ryan and Paul.  All it took for them was a quick perusal of the menu to join us, with Ryan even going so far as to sign up for the 5K race.  It was a big deal for him because, as he puts it, he “hadn’t participated in any official sports competitions since the Clinton years.”

After a raucous six hour drive from Chicago to Des Moines, which included many inappropriate and juvenile jokes, we made it to the Expo at Hy-Vee Hall.  Taking care of business quickly, we settled into our respective hotels, watched the (disappointing) Northwestern-Nebraska game and then went to the Raccoon River Brewing Company for dinner.  Though we were all in agreement that Des Moines wasn’t the most thrilling city, we had already managed to find a great spot for dinner and brews.

I met up with the 3:35 pace group about thirty minutes before race start.  Abby was the ringleader of the group and she was louder than life.  You could tell just by seeing her talk with people for a few minutes that she was that breed of loveable nutjob that is always surrounded by equally frenetic people.  Besides her banshee voice and the “3:35” rod, she stood out from other runners by wearing giraffe ears and tail.  She yelled her pacing strategy to the group as if at a pep rally; we’d be starting considerably slower than a 3:35 pace to warm up, then gradually dialing it up.  Given that my biggest problem is that I start too fast, I decided I could live with that.

2012 Des Moines Marathon Map - A true tour of the city

The race starts on Grand Avenue, heading east towards the Iowa State Capitol, a huge building with several towers surrounding a giant golden dome.  All 6,000 racers were bunched up, some in paced clumps, others running their own race.  We’d be running in the high 8s, warming up to our eventual average pace of 8:12.  In the meantime, Abby started regaling her pace group and everyone surrounding her with stories of her “shithead dogs” and the hell they’ve raised in her household.  I had established my area about twenty feet ahead of the pace group but made sure her stories kept me close to the group.

Just before mile 3, the half marathoners cut left and head into a park, where they run the majority of their race.  Marathoners veer right and enter the residential areas of Des Moines.  The shade was no longer courtesy of buildings, but of the thick canopy of autumn colors overhanging the street.  While most of Chicago’s trees are now brown and haggard, Des Moines was still in full blush.  The bright reds above us were a great distraction from the first climb of the race, which lasted about a mile.  Abby told us to take it easy on the uphill, assuring us we’d “kill this bitch” on the way down.  We hadn’t yet caught up with the 3:40 group, but that would happen around the 10k mark after plenty of hills.

Right at 10k, my watch died.  I had been wearing my MOTOACTV because my Garmin had kicked the bucket late that week.  I had failed to properly charge the ACTV so it spat out its last metric 52 minutes into the race.  From that point, I would have no idea of how fast I was running.  Curiously enough, it was also then that I decided to start pushing the pace a little.  I could still hear Abby and the 3:35 group just a ways behind me, so I’d always have a frame of reference.  But then I heard a different voice.

Why are you doing this?  You’re only eight miles in; you have no idea what is going to happen in the next 18 miles.  This is foolhardy!

Approaching the finish line

True, I thought.  But it had turned out to be a surprisingly cool day and I thought I could move a little faster.  Plus, we were still behind the actual 3:35 pace if we had done even miles from the beginning.  At mile 8.5, the course does a quick out-and-back through a small neighborhood loop.  Coming back from this detour, I saw the 3:30 group.  I pointed at them like they had stolen my wallet and yelled, “Watch out – I’m going to catch you guys!”  A few steps later, I thought, you wish.

But I kept up a solid pace through mile 10 on Kingman Boulevard, looking back every now and then to gauge how far away the 3:35 group was.  At the race’s northernmost point we were at Drake University.  I had locked in step with another runner who turned to me and asked, “Want to sprint the Blue Oval?”  I must have given him a crazy look because he smirked and asked again, “Want to sprint a lap around the Blue Oval?”  It turns out that the race includes a lap around Drake University’s track, which is pained light blue.  Once I realized this, I politely declined the offer, insisting that I felt great at the moment and didn’t want to jeopardize my performance.

Once back on Kingman Boulevard, I saw the 4:00 pace group go by on the other side of the road.  I yelled props to Andy, who responded in kind.  Just a few minutes later I crossed the half marathon mats, the clock on the course reading exactly 1:47:30, which if you do the math, means a 3:35 finish.  However, I had to speed up to reach that point and the black screen on my wrist wasn’t telling me my current pace.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t habitually look at it every ten minutes.

Two miles later we’d have another out-and-back segment.  Just after the turnaround, I saw the 3:35 group a few minutes behind me.  I flashed some devil horns and Abby replied with apoplectic shouts of encouragement.  Man I hope I don’t see them again, I thought.  At Grandma’s Marathon a few months ago, I had taken off from the 3:35 group only to have them catch me at mile 19.  The instant they passed me, it was like being kicked in the back of the knee.  It was as if they were dragging behind them a toxic fog of fatigue and I breathed it all in as soon as they left me behind.

But not this time, I thought.  This time I’d stay ahead.  Hopefully.

The race started out in the middle of a rising maze of steel and concrete.  A few miles later we’d be running through neighborhoods, surrounded by homes, yards and lawn signs.  By mile 16, the course further abandoned civilization by becoming a bike path through the woods.  Two miles later we would be running alongside streams and lakes, all signs of civilization limited to just cheery volunteers.  The area was called Water Works Park and it was the most beautiful part of the course.  But this scenic encounter with nature wasn’t distracting me enough from the fact that I was running faster than I ever had at the marathon distance.  Despite knowing the pitfalls of going too hard, I was relentless.  Nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, had passed me since I picked up the pace at the halfway point.  And that was worrying me.

Rocking the bling with a winning smile

It’s an odd thing about the marathon.  The great Haile Gebrselassie himself said that with the marathon, since the distance is so great, there are many opportunities for things to go wrong.  Because of this, it’s easy to doubt yourself.  A cynical fan around mile 7 had a homemade sign that read “Feeling good?  It won’t last.”  I remember seeing that and thinking, what a jackass.  But he’s right.  Feeling good at mile 18 won’t guarantee feeling good just two miles down the road.  But for the time being, I was cruising.  I had no idea what my pace was, nor how much distance I had put ahead of the pace group.  I decided to just enjoy it while it lasted.

And then at mile 20, I saw them ahead of me.  While I had threatened them earlier mostly in jest, I didn’t think I would actually catch up to them.  But there they were, the 3:30 pace group.  They had dwindled to about five guys, all practically coordinating footfalls, hoping that they’d keep it up for the last 10k.

“What did I tell you?” I asked the pacer, who was wearing a black beanie and didn’t seem at all tired.  “I told you I’d catch you.”

After exchanging a few quick pleasantries in quick, explosive breaths, it was time to make a decision.  I had read an article on racing tips that said to never let someone pace you if you had to catch up to them.  You ran faster than them, so why slow yourself down now?  Plus, I honestly felt like their pace was slow.  I felt relaxed and that drive to continue moving forward was lessened.  So this is what happened in my head and I left them behind.

I was only at mile 21 and that great unknown still lay before me.  We were still plodding along a bike path in between trees and small bodies of water.  It felt like aid stations were popping up every two minutes, so I skipped a few.  My feet were holding out remarkably well in shoes that had never gone past twelve miles, my stomach was far from cramping and my lungs had yet to close up.  So I kept my foot firmly on the gas, my upper body ticking ever so slightly left and right like a metronome, waiting for that inevitable moment where an invisible stack of bricks falls from the sky on my shoulders.

Zombie Burger Decor (1 of 2)

But the weather proved to be on my side.  Despite a forecasted hi of 79, I never felt warm.  There was a constant, cool breeze keeping my sweat evaporating and my skin cool.  Never during this race, even in the last parts, which were seldom free from the exposed sun, did I ever feel the necessity to hydrate.  Just before mile 23, the course crossed Gray’s Lake on a narrow bridge.  I still felt awesome so I continued to accelerate, passing more people in the process, wondering if I was ever going to bonk.  Even in my fast marathons, there comes a time where I feel like death, so surely it was just a matter of time.

Zombie Burger Decor (2 of 2)

That time came at mile 24, but nowhere near as dramatically as in previous efforts.  Right at that point we were on the outskirts of the park and were beginning to reenter flat, urban grays.  I kept up a solid pace, but could no longer keep the speed of the last 4 miles.  But I still had some magic left in me and forward I continued, the heart of the city drawing ever closer.  There were no spectators, no trees, no landmarks, just a boring stretch of road with cones dotting the middle.  It wasn’t until we turned left onto 3rd Street that I beheld the finish line in the distance.  Almost as if waiting for me to see it, huge crowds materialized out of nowhere.

I glanced behind me just to make sure I hadn’t let 3:30 creep up on me but found nobody.  So for the first time ever in a marathon, in my tenth attempt at the distance, I found an extra gear and started kicking towards the blue banner.  With a huge PR completely guaranteed save for a last-minute dinosaur attack, I broke into a smile just a few hundred feet from the finish line.  As is customary, I threw my arms in the air as I crossed, channeling Abby the pacer for one last hair-raising shriek to commemorate the best race of my life.

Since my watch was dead and I couldn’t find a clock at the finish line, I didn’t know my official time.  I was guessing 3:27.  Otter saw me cross and checked his watch to give a similar estimate.  But a few hours later I would check the official results to find that I had finished in 3:25:12.  I broke my PR by over fourteen minutes, running the second half in 1:38.  It was a great feeling being surprised by my own time, especially since I’m usually 100% focused on my watch while I run.  Maybe there’s something to just running on your own without a watch, feeling your way through each split without feeling pressured by numbers on a digital screen.  Either way, I was amped.  My decision to take off and abandon the pace group was worth it because it allowed me to completely destroy my tenth marathon.

3. Gorge Romero

After the race, I felt great.  No stitches, cramps or pains to report.  Sure, I was stiff and wanted to relax, but it wasn’t like most marathons where I’m a complete mess and want to die.  Ryan had long since finished his 5K and Otter had dropped down to the half marathon distance to keep a nagging knee issue from becoming a full-fledged injury.  So we were all pretty much ready to go.  A quick shower and a short drive later, we were at Zombie Burger, ready to face the culinary apocalypse.  I ate the Planet Terror, which included bacon, cheese, barbecue sauce, caramelized onions and ranch dressing.  Though it would be a heavy burger by a normal restaurant’s standards, it was a wedge salad in comparison to what my companions consumed.

Planet Terror and a Boulevard Wheat.  Beyond my burger you can see Otter’s messy splattered brains of a burger.

Let’s start with Paul (and if you think that by not posting a single picture of him from this trip is any indication of how close a friend he is, please observe this picture and be proven wrong – hint: he’s the one with the microphone).  He ordered the Trailer Trash Zombie Burger, which comes with cheese, a fried pickle, chicken fried bacon, cheese curds and ranch dressing (note, none of those were sides, they were all between the buns).  Ryan opted for the “They’re Coming to Get You Barbara” which substitutes grilled cheese sandwiches for buns in addition to everything I had in my burger.  Finally, Otter topped us all by ordering The Walking Ched, which substitutes breaded and deep fried macaroni for buns and includes regular macaroni as an ingredient on top of bacon, cheese and caramelized onions.  He tried eating it with hands but ended up digging his fingers into the “patties” and made a huge mess.  At one point, we compared it to a (deliciously) rotting corpse.

“Are you supposed to eat this with fork and knife?” he asked as the waitress looked down on him with a mixed look of pity and disgust.
“Most people do.”

And that’s the story of how I PR’d a marathon and then ate like an idiot.  If you’re thinking that four guys eating a heavy meal like that right before a six hour drive is a bad idea, you’d be correct.  But we made up for all toxicity by making enough crude jokes to easily bar us from holding public office.  Seriously, if any of us becomes mortal enemies with the other, we are all in huge trouble.

And on that note, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading.  It was a great trip full of good friends, good food and a race I won’t forget any time soon.  I’m happy I managed to log this fast time now because the next three races I have planned aren’t necessarily conducive to PRs.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.  For now, it’s time to relax, decompress, celebrate scratching off the Midwest on my 50-states goal and make sure I stay strong and structurally sound for the next one.  And lastly, Otter, that is what happens when you threaten my PR.  Onwards!

About Dan
Running a marathon in all 50 states because there's no better way to explore the world around you than on your own two feet, for as long as you can, until you hate yourself and everything around you. Then you stop, get a medal, and start over.

28 Responses to State 27: Iowa (2012 IMT Des Moines Marathon)

  1. Pingback: Race Schedule & Results « Dan's Marathon

  2. Nice job! Keep up the writing!

  3. Hell to the YES, Dan! Nice work! I knew you had it in you! Now that you’re on this side of 3:30… heck, this side of 3:25, I look forward to seeing you cut into that a bit more in the future! Enjoy the glory!

  4. Otter says:

    I’m going to run a 3:20 in New York now on my bionic knee. SAFA.

  5. lrekkerth says:

    SO Jealous of your PR! but that’s awesome, great job!!

  6. Amy says:

    Hooray!!! Congratulations on a fantastic time/PR and (I think) even more impressive…doing all that on feel alone. It has been fun to follow your posts over the last few months and see the times drop!

    Just a couple of weeks ago you commented that you looked forward to being faster than me someday…didn’t take you very long at all!

  7. glenn says:

    Nice! Congrats on the PR! This could be fun – a little competition between you and Otter. Meanwhile, I’ll be chillin’ with the grandmas bringing up the rear.

    Also – Gorge Romero is pretty much the best pun I’ve read this year.

    • Dan says:

      Ha! Glad you picked up on that — I was worried that people would think, what a dumbass, he misspelled “George.” Unsubscribe IMMEDIATELY.

  8. trexrunner says:

    SO unbelievably epic on every level. CONGRATULATIONS and thanks for putting Otter back in his place. I am so sad I didn’t go to Des Moines for about 500 reasons. The Biking Viking finished his 50 states there AND you guys got to eat at that burger place. I’m willing to bet I could have out-eaten any of you. Not sure why I’m bragging about that, but it is what it is.

    • Dan says:

      thanks for the props! And we might be able to have an eating duel in Tulsa — make sure you can cash that check, Rex.

      • trexrunner says:

        You’ll be so horrified when you see me eat in person. I briefly considered a career in competitive eating. I asked AJ about it recently…you can guess the response I got.

  9. Laura says:

    This post made me SO homesick. Even the part about the car ride home… Is that weird? But a huge congrats! I’m so impressed by all of you guys… Remember when Otter was rivals with ME?

  10. Dan, that’s awesome! Congratulations! I’ve also had a tough time with pace groups, and usually fall behind around mile 13. You conquered it, nice work!

  11. Andy says:

    Dude, awesome race! It always feels good to negative split, but I’ve never done it by almost 10 minutes, impressive. It was great to see you again.

  12. Pingback: Race Medals « Dan's Marathon

    • Dan says:

      You’re 2 for 2 at pacing my PR race, regardless of whether I’m in your group. I guess I need to follow your schedule from now on. By the way, where are your updates? Haven’t seen any new stuff from you in a while.

  13. MedalSlut says:

    Congrats on the PR and way to make Otter your bitch! I’m just in from Mexican, and I feel like I’m 9 months pregnant with nachos and fajitas, so the macaroni burger made me want to throw up. I can’t even begin to imagine post marathon pain combined with ultra-bloat combined with long drive home.

  14. Nice job! And state 27!!?!? That’s awesome, I’m so jealous!!

  15. Pingback: Day #209 — The Des Moines Half Marathon, or A View From the Back of the Pack (Des Moines, IA — 10/21/2012) | I Drank For Miles

  16. Mike says:

    Wow, you did some damage! Fantastic race, after just last week looking forward to breaking 3:39… I guess time flies when you’re kickin’ ass. Based solely on your time I would’ve guessed the zombies were chasing you DURING the race. I see you haven’t reached Nevada yet, but when you do you’ll have to chow down post-race at this place and report back (a customer supposedly had a heart attack there while eating their “triple bypass burger”):

    Can’t wait to see what you do for an encore (but no pressure)…

  17. Laszlo says:

    Congratulations!!! Great result and all captured in a great post! Keep it up! 🙂

  18. Russ says:

    Great update, Dan. Big fan of your recaps, and congrats on the PR!

  19. Pingback: End of Year Recap (2012) « Dan's Marathon

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  24. Pingback: The 17th Des Moines Marathon (I-35 Challenge) | Blisters, Cramps & Heaves

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