I cannot recommend the Des Moines Half Marathon highly enough, if you’re in the area or looking to mark Iowa off of your 50 states list. It is well worth the 2 hour drive for me and I anticipate coming back every year. It’s really well organized and well supported, with great communication before and during the whole experience. For me, it is also a very PR friendly course thanks to the relative flatness and lack of crowding. Definitely check it out!
I drove out Saturday afternoon to pick up my packet at the Expo, which was quick and easy as usual. Tip: When you come off the freeway, there’s a paid parking lot you might be tempted to park in near HyVee hall but there’s usually free street parking so check the street before you pay! You need your bib number to get your packet and they have them all printed on a table if you forget your email. I had no wait to grab my bag of goodies:
I particularly the tiny packets of BioFreeze – convenient for a long run or race.
And my shirt:
I do like that we get a long sleeved tech shirt.
I like that this year’s shirt is a nice heather grey because I’ll be much more likely to wear it than last year’s baby blue. I will probably wear this more for casual wear than for running because zipper-tops irritate me when I run. There were a fair number of booths and exhibitors, but nothing I needed so I got out quickly. I got dinner and got settled in my hotel for the night without too much fuss and actually got a reasonable night of sleep.
My hotel was about half a mile from the start line, which wasn’t bad at all for a walk on a cold morning. It was in the 30s so I was very glad for my capris and long sleeve shirt and even more for my gloves! I joined a yoga warm up group they had at the starting line, which was fun, and mostly walked around to stay warm. One of my favorite things about Des Moines is the wide range of runners and walkers you meet on race day. There are all ages, all body types and all kinds of experience levels. It makes for a very friendly experience!
The only glitch I had at the beginning was the failure of my iPod shuffle to start playing. I’d charged it overnight but hadn’t actually tested it before I left the hotel. This is the second time it’s failed on me. Thankfully, I have some music on my phone but it isn’t my running playlist so it made for some interesting entertainment along the way.
I’m a little embarrassed to say that I really enjoyed the Imagination Movers, on the phone for Oliver in the car, as running music. It’s peppy!
The first two miles are a little crowded, so I just ran with the flow without worrying about my race intervals until we got a little dispersed. The half marathon and marathon courses split around mile two (very well marked, so don’t worry you’ll miss it!) and after that, you get several miles of flat, lovely looping course through a park. I seriously found myself reaching up to catch a falling leaf at one point. It was a ridiculously perfect fall day! For the first 8 miles or so, I felt like I was literally springing. Clearly my fueling and tapering strategy had worked well. I reminded myself over and over that I was interested in steady effort, not time and to hold back so I had something at the end. Even with “holding back”, miles 2-8 were all below my targeted race pace of 11:20/mile. I stuck with my 2 minute run/20 second walk intervals and keep my “effort not time” mantra going, especially when that darn 2:30 pace group started messing with my head.
I mostly kid – they were lovely. However, last year, I started ahead of them and when they caught me I just became so demoralized and gave up. This year, I intentionally started a ways back from them and so understandably, I was a little thrown when I caught them! And passed them! I had to keep reminding myself to ignore them. I don’t know their pacing strategy, so what they were doing nothing to do with what I was doing. I confess, I was a little relieved when I was once again behind them.
The loop through the park is populated with themed water stops and little musical acts, which is a lot of fun, as well as spectators at the entrance and exit. Also all along the course there are moving aid stations, with bicyclists packing first aid supplies, water, fuel, tissues, etc. This is a really well supported race! There were also a couple of Gu stops.
Every time I passed a place I remembered struggling last year, I told lupus to “suck it” and powered through. The bridge where I got crowded out and thrown off pace by the 2:30 group – nailed it! Every little hill that felt like a mountain last year – breezed up it! (Thanks for my hilly neighborhood!) It definitely got hard toward the end but I am so thrilled that I was able to stick with it. My knee ached, but nothing as sharp or severe as it had on my last two long runs. I still reminded myself not to push too hard because I didn’t know when it would flare up. My goal was a strong finish, not a time, so being conservative was important given my knee issues lately.
I love how happy I look in this on course photo!
As I entered the last mile, I was SO tired but knew I wanted to push at that point. I can do hard things for ten minutes, right? I could handle the knee pain for ten minutes if it got worse. My interval timer has a 9 second vibrating alert, so I started running through that vibrating alert so I’d have 2:09 run / 0:11 walk just to finish on a strong note. I moved my water bottle to my non-curb-side hand so I could collect high fives from the little kids along the road as we came back into downtown Des Moines and when I got to that 13 mile marker, I remembered seeing in the morning. I remembered giving up to walk last year when I hit that bridge because I was so demoralized about missing my time goal. Not this year! I didn’t feel like I had anything left to give, but I kept going because I knew that was my brain, not my body talking. My body rocks!
When this was the first thing I noticed approaching the starting corral in the morning, I took as an omen that I would not fall apart here like I did last year and I hung onto that good omen at the end of the race!
Crossing the finish line, I paused my Garmin and looked at my time for the FIRST time that morning. Yes, I’d managed to wear my Garmin and NEVER check my time for 13.1 miles. I’m not sure how I managed that, but I’m so glad I did. That really helped me keep my “effort not time” mantra going strong.
Official time: 2:31:02 – 1:46 improvement over my PR!
I didn’t spend much time in the finish area because the food line was massive (my only complaint with Des Moines – it moves SO slow!). Thankfully, water was available immediately after the finish and an angel with a basket full of Jimmy Johns sandwiches was wandering. I grabbed a sandwich and my water and eased my way back to my hotel where I had more snacks and Gatorade waiting. They have a ton of food and drinks, but I just had no interest waiting in a line.
I have a feeling this medal will end up being one of my favorites just because I enjoyed this race day so much.
One thing I noticed was that my time per mile on this race was EXACTLY what I’d targeted as my race pace in my training with my modified Hanson’s plan, which is really cool. I also realized last night as I was falling asleep that I’d targeted 11:20 because it would give me a little wiggle room to weave on the course and still get to sub-2:30. I got curious and looked at the record on my Garmin, knowing I’d gone over 13.1 due to weaving (I’m not a great strategist) and surprise, surprise – check out my half marathon PR on the Garmin:
2:28:31 – That is totally exciting to me!
I’m totally counting that as meeting my goal for a sub-2:30 half marathon this year. ☺ Yes, I’ll still work to get it on an official race time, but for now, I’m pleased.
This race was such a great experience. Not only is the race itself well organized and well supported, but I think my modified goals were key. Focusing on effort and celebrating what I CAN do rather than worrying about the objective measure of the clock kept my mind in the right place throughout the race. It also resulted in a shiny new PR, which is no coincidence I think. I also think that even though the Lincoln Half Marathon earlier this year didn’t go as well as I wanted, I learned a lot from that experience. When my legs were feeling tired at the end of this race, I remembered how much tougher the end of Lincoln was and knew I could do this too.
I’ll definitely be back to run this course again. It’s clearly a happy place for me. Next year, though, I’m thinking about the I-35 challenge (running Kansas City Saturday and Des Moines Sunday) . . .
This week’s Tuesdays on the Run topic is running inspiration and I have a feeling I’m going to use this race experience as inspiration for many future tough runs. Be sure to check out Patty, Erika and Marcia for the rest of the link up and other doses of inspiration!