Thursday, October 23, 2014

26.2 #2--My IMT Des Moines Marathon experience


When I started blogging about my  love of running (20 months ago), I was a seasoned half-marathoner (and quite content). If anyone would have asked me about any future plans of running a marathon, I would have laughed in their face. Fast forward to this past weekend and I can now say that I have run two (count 'em, TWO!) marathons. And, dare I say, I'm already entertaining the idea of doing another.....but, first, let's rewind to what happened a few days ago...

The IMT Des Moines Marathon took place on Sunday, October 19th...and I was one of the lucky participants.  A total of 1,583 runners crossed the finish line of the full marathon (there also was a 5K, half marathon and marathon relay).  This was the Marathon's 13th year, and close to 10,000 participants were registered  for the various events. The weather was optimal (in the high 40's/low 50's at race start), a clear sky and plenty of sunshine.

Barb and myself, about to embark on the IMT Des Moines Marathon...the second 26.2 for each of us

 I rode up with Barb (my running buddy) and her daughter, and planned to meet up with my husband and family later at the finish line. We arrived just after 7:00AM and had plenty of time to find a real (indoor) bathroom, and get our race gear ready and then find Doug, another friend who was running the full.

Fuel belt, long sleeves & gloves at the ready, let's get this 26.2 party started!

We found Doug and headed towards the start line. I needed to leave my drop bag, and had to run (literally) through a sea of people (not all runners) to get to the Bag Drop station. By the time I made it back, the crowd of runners lining up on the street was thick.  I couldn't find Barb or Doug anywhere, so I squeezed onto the street amongst the 4:10 pace group.  I knew I probably wouldn't be finishing with the pace group, but thought I could try to stay with them for the first couple miles until the half marathon and full marathon courses split off from each other.

I was decked out in a tank top with arm warmers, but had a long-sleeved tech shirt (for tossing) as a top layer. I had gloves (also for tossing) on my hands, because I knew it was gonna be chilly at the start of the race. The temps were predicted to be in the 60's by noon, so I opted for shorts instead of capris or tights.

The race started with us (those running the half and the full) heading due east, towards the beautiful Capital, which is quite a sight with the morning sun coming up behind its golden dome. I have run the half marathon four times, so I am very familiar with the first couple miles of this course.  We ran through various streets in downtown Des Moines, working our way onto west-bound Grand Avenue.  I was running just under a 9-minute pace, so I knew I needed to slow down a bit.  Normally, a 9-minute mile would be ideal (if I was doing 13.1 miles), but to run twice that distance would require a slower pace for myself.  I also was having a little bit of stiffness in my left hip area, so I really needed to take it easy.

Shortly after hitting Grand Avenue, the half marathon course splits off (heading south on Fleur, towards Waterworks Park), and the full marathon course continues going west on Grand for a couple miles. I must admit, the thought did cross my mind (ever-so-briefly) to veer off and do the half marathon instead.  I wasn't feeling nervous about running the entire 26.2 miles, but was concerned about my hip issue (already), as well as an area on the front of my left leg, just above the ankle. That was feeling strange, too. For a split second, I had doubts as to whether I'd be able to withstand this uneasiness for another 24 miles....but then quickly remembered that I did, indeed, train for this day.  And, this was only the second mile.  It usually takes anywhere from 3-5 miles for me to get in my groove. Duh.  So, onward!
This pic from Ultra Moms On A Mission says it all

It wasn't much longer when I ditched the gloves.  I had taken them off awhile back and, around mile three, decided to bid them a fond farewell.  It was just before the 4-mile mark that I noticed a porta-pot along the course. There were a couple runners waiting in line, but I had the feeling it was now or never. I pulled over, and within 10 seconds decided to forego the waiting and keep running.  A very short while later, just after the 4-mile aid station, there was a row of porta-pots, and no line..SCORE! As soon as I got back on the road, someone grabbed my shoulder and said, "There you are, we've been looking allover for you!"  It was Doug and Barb!  What timing!

The three of us hung together for the next several miles.  Just after the 4-mile mark, the course turned south into a very beautiful neighborhood.  This was where the numerous curves and hills began.  There had been a gradual incline between the third and fourth mile, but now we were embarking on what looked (and felt) like a roller coaster.  The hills weren't menacing, but they were pretty constant and the ever-twisting and turning road kept it a mystery as to what was around the next curve.  The trees were beautiful, though, and there were numerous historic houses with great architecture to keep my attention (periodically) away from the road.

Yes, that's a map of the course, and to the lower-right of my hand depicts the hilly neighborhood described above

I was still aware of that weird issue (?) just above my left ankle. It didn't really hurt, but felt tingly and kind of strained.  I also noticed a never-before ache on the inside of my left knee. Seriously, now where did that come from???  I noticed it only when we were climbing hills, but it felt fine on the downhills and flat terrain. Thankfully, the usual tight/stiff glutes were feeling pretty good.  It was just after the 7-mile mark when the course ventured back onto Grand, and we were on a straight-away going west. It wasn't much longer before the course turned and headed north.  I remembered this street from the Capital Pursuit 10-Miler a month prior. Meanwhile, I was trying to scan the crowd of runners for a gal I knew from my running page.  I had not met Marie in person, but she told me she was running the second leg of the marathon relay and would be in pink and black. Just after the 8-mile mark, the course had a short out-and-back loop, and as I was returning back to the main road, I heard my name and saw a gal with a pink top waving at me as she made her way towards the start of the loop. What a great feeling spotting someone in a crowd of runners!  

 The next several miles would take us to Drake Stadium, the host site of the Drake Relays.  This part of the course also was part of the Capital Pursuit 10-miler, and I remembered it as being a long stretch of straightness (with a few gentle inclines). The crowd support was incredible, especially along this boulevard.  I saw Barb's daughter along the road, and Cindy (a gal whom I'd met at some previous races) gave me a much appreciated cheer. By the time I made it to Drake Stadium (at the 12-mile mark), I had lost sight of Barb and Doug. A very nice feature of this race was getting to run a lap on the famous blue track inside the stadium and then seeing yourself on the Jumbo-tron!  (Ugh. Does my form always looks like that? or just at mile 12?)

Coming out of the stadium, we returned to the same street (that lead us in) as we headed towards the 13-mile mark.  I kept searching the oncoming runners, looking for Barb or Doug. I wasn't sure how far ahead of them I'd gotten, but I hadn't seen them while circling the track inside the stadium.  I was keeping steady with my pace (staying around a solid 10-minute pace) and was feeling great in regards to my energy.  I took GU gel at the start of the race, a Honey Stinger gel at the mile 6 aid station and had been drinking a few sips of water at every water stop. I had my usual oatmeal for breakfast, and had brought along a granola bar to eat before we lined up at the start line...but had forgotten it in the car (and didn't realize I'd forgotten it until I was already several miles into the race). OOPS.  With that in mind, I was careful to remember to "do the GU" a little earlier than usual (at 5-mile increments, rather than my usual 6-mile intervals) to stay ahead of the game. I also grabbed Gatorade at alternate aid stations. So far, so good.

As I was approaching the 14-mile mark, I noticed a string of signs along the of which said, "This race is for every girl who was picked last in gym."  So true.  I was one of those girls on many occasions.  If my gym teachers could see me now (LOL).

There was a gentle breeze at the start of the race, and it wasn't until I was back on the "long stretch of straightness" (mentioned a few paragraphs ago, but now headed due west) that I noticed the gentle breeze had changed to full-on wind. It was a warm wind, thankfully, but it was nothing subtle.

The course then turned, heading north for a short ways before looping around and then going south. We were meeting fellow runners (who were about five miles behind us, on their way to the stadium), and we had a nice downhill jaunt to relish for a couple miles. Someone shouted my name, I looked around and spotted Marie again!  She had finished her leg of the relay and was standing on the side of the road.

Just before the 16-mile mark, we entered Greenwood Park and had a beautiful trail to enjoy. There wasn't much for crowd support (except for the aid stations), but it was very scenic and tranquil.  I heard someone say,"There you are, Girl!" It was Barb!  I hadn't seen her (or Doug) since the ninth mile or so.  She said Doug was a ways behind her, and had needed to take a few walk breaks.  I felt like I was starting to slow down, but Barb was blazing along.  She stayed with me for a few minutes, then I walked through a water station and she pulled ahead.  I continued to see her up ahead of me for awhile, though.

At the 18-mile mark, we entered Waterworks Park. This was where the marathon course joined back up with the half marathon route, and the two sets of runners would finish the rest of their respective races together. I was finally back in familiar territory.  I gulped down another gel, and noticed my watch said I had been running for exactly three's that for a steady 10-minute pace!  I knew I probably wasn't going to be able to maintain that pace much longer, though.  I was still feeling strong enough to keep running (I hadn't walked at all yet, other than a token few steps through the water stations), but knew how strong the wind was feeling, and there wasn't much for protection from it.

As I was approaching the 19-mile mark, the 4:25 pace team passed me.  For a brief moment, I felt my spirits drop.  I had run the Quad Cities Marathon  last year (September 22, 2013) in 4:33:38, and was really hoping to beat that finish time.  It would be great to finish sub-4:30, and I would be totally pumped if I could finish in 4:20 (or better).  Seeing this group pass by made me realize that there was a lot of work yet to do if I had any hope of making any of those goals happen...and still another seven miles to the finish line.

I decided to give it a try, and picked up my pace to stay with the group.  They really weren't running much faster than I was after all, and I did notice a few of them walked briefly through the water station at mile 19.5.  I had forgotten all about my ankle thing hurting, but now I was noticing my left foot, the "bunion" area.  I had put plenty of moleskin on it, but it felt like the moleskin was pulling away from my skin. I usually get a blister there, and I could tell it was starting to sting a little bit.  My left hip was feeling strained as well. As much as I tried to stay with the group, by mile 20 it was obvious they were were pulling away from me.

The next two miles seemed to take forever (and several days). The pace group kept increasing their distance from me, but they were still well within my sight.  The menacing wind was relentless, though.  I honestly couldn't even determine what direction it was coming from, all I knew was the wind was not easing up and would be with me to the end.  I couldn't remember it ever taking so long to get out of Waterworks Park, then again, I had never run almost 22 miles prior to exiting the park in any of the four previous half marathons. #Truth.

Finally, I saw the familiar intersection that would take us out of this park and across Fleur Drive to Grays Lake Park. I also noticed a row of porta-pots right before the intersection.  I didn't really need to use the facilities, but I was craving a brief catch-my-breath pit stop. I gulped down my last remaining GU gel, grabbed a quick water and headed to the closest available porta-pot.

Less than 20 seconds later, I was back on the run and feeling somewhat renewed and recharged.  As I was heading into Grays Lake for the final four miles, I suddenly felt a calmness come over me. I was really tired at that point, my hip was still hurting (maybe even more than ever), the wind was in my face and I had to accept the reality that I would not finish as fast as I'd hoped.  And then, I thought, "So what? I'm still going to finish this marathon, dammit!  That's something less than 1% of the population will ever attempt...and I'm going to be finishing my second one in less than an hour."  I had made it 22 miles without walking, why not take a quick walk break and just enjoy the rest of this race?

So, I walked.  But after 10-15 seconds, I decided I wanted to run again. I ran to the next water station, at the 23-mile mark, and walked briefly as I drank some water. A group of runners passed me as I was throwing my empty cup, so I joined them.  I glanced at my watch.  Granted, I was not going to finish under 4:20, but there still was a chance I could make sub-4:30.  I wasn't trying to sprint, but I managed to stay with this group of people to the next aid station, and my watch said I'd done that last mile in eight minutes. What?!  No wonder I was feeling so light-headed.  I also noticed my teeth were chattering a little and my fingers were feeling kind of numb.  I walked for a couple minutes, and then ran to the 25-mile mark.  I grabbed a Gatorade, and walked a few more steps as I drank it.

I overheard a couple guys ahead of me.  One of them said," The Kenyons are probably already on a plane, headed back home by now." That made me laugh.  I tossed my cup, took a deep breath, and broke into a run.  I'm not a fast runner, by any means.  But I am always amazed how my body seems to know when the finish is near and it magically breaks into a fast (for me) pace.  I felt so alive in that final mile.  As I approached the final half-mile, it was almost as if the previous 25.7 miles had not happened.

Here she comes! (And she's bringing her husband along with her)

There's nothing like a husband photo-bombing you at the 26- mile mark!

I could hear the crowds cheering, and the finish line music was going strong.  Suddenly, I recognized my husband and son. The husband was jumping up and down, and came over to me in the street and ran with me briefly. A split second later, I heard Marie call my name (again), she was waving and cheering as well. I gave her a grateful smile and a high-5 as I passed her. Then, just up ahead, I spotted my youngest daughter.... capturing all of this on film.  I rounded the final corner. The finish line was just .2 miles ahead!
One final high-5 as I make my way to the finish line
Halfway across the bridge, I heard my name again. This time it was Jessica, my cousin. She had finished the half marathon earlier.  She was there with her family, waving and cheering for me, too.

I don't know if they announced my name. I don't know if anyone got my picture as I crossed the finish line with my hands in the air (I haven't seen it if they did).  I don't know who the guy was that congratulated me as he put the medal around my neck.  And, I don't know how I managed to not shed a single tear (dehydration?). I do know my official finish time was 4:33:31.....a PR, by a mere seven seconds.  But a PR, none-the-less.

WE did it! 

I thought this race course was great.  It provided a good mix of the urban, downtown setting along with residential neighborhoods, scenic trails through a couple of parks (and around a lake), and let's not forget that awesome lap around the blue track at Drake Stadium.  Despite the wind, the weather was beautiful. The course support was great, and the aid stations were fully stocked with water and Gatorade. And the race jacket is pretty sweet!

It's official, I'm an IMT DSM marathoner!

 As much as I was hoping to have a faster finish time, I'm quite content with how it all played out.  The IMT Des Moines Marathon course was definitely a lot tougher than the Quad Cities Marathon course last year. Though the hills weren't crazy or difficult, they were plentiful.  The wind also was a factor, especially during the final 7-8 miles (when most runners are starting to feel fatigued).  And, there is that little detail about the forgotten granola bar.  Even though I had my usual breakfast, it had been more than two hours since the last bite was swallowed. A little more food would have been beneficial prior to the start line. I seemed to have constant aches and pains throughout the race. None of these were debilitating, and certainly none of them required any medical attention...but it was challenging to not be preoccupied with them for 26.2 miles.

The fact that I was able to finish an entirely different marathon within seven seconds of the only other  marathon I've ever done is kind of cool.  And knowing that I was able to run it a wee bit faster (despite all the weird issues I was battling) makes me believe I definitely ran this one better. Do I want to do another? Absolutely! (just not any time in the near future)


  1. Great recap! Every time I see that picture of you and your husband, I crack up! Like you, if someone had told me I'd run a marathon, much less 2, I would have told them they were crazy. Yet here we are...considering #3!


    1. YES, crazy doesn't even come close to describing this journey. I'm glad you're along for the ride with me ;-)

  2. Great recap! It makes me both excited and nervous about my first 26.2. Congrats to you on your 2nd marathon finish and P.R. You have the best camera crew. Those photos are priceless.

    1. Thanks, Missy! I'm excited for you with your upcoming ;-) Best Wishes!!

  3. YEAH! I can't wait for my first 26.2! Congrats on your finish!

  4. What a great recap!!! And I LOVE the pic with your hubby!!!

  5. You are not only my running buddy but my friend and my inspiration. I'm so thankful for the passion and friendship we share. Here's to us and to many more miles together. Cheers!

    1. Absolutely, Barb! ;-) I often refer to you as my runner friend, but you definitely are much more. SO, we need to find us another 26.2 to conquer next year, huh!

  6. Love your recap and hearing about your family and friends cheering you along, especially at the finish! Great job and congrats on your PR finish!!!

  7. I re-read your blog and it made me tear up knowing I'm going to be tacking the same course this year as my first full. What an incredible feeling it must have been crossing that finish line! Loved your detailed description of the course - that was really insightful to me! Congrats again!

    1. Sheryl, this just brought tears to my eyes :-) I'm doing the 5K/half combo, so I will be there on YOUR big day....hope we can hook up before the start line so I can give you a big good luck hug :-)