Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Drake Relays....13.1 miles of fun, challenges and lessons learned (again)

Most people who follow running have heard of the Drake Relays, which happen every year at the end of April in Des Moines, Iowa. This attracts athletes at the high school, collegiate and elite levels, and (usually) features a sold-out stadium for all of the events.

It also features events for us "common folk," such as a 5K, 10K, and a half marathon. This was my third year taking part in the running festivities; I ran the 10K in 2013 and ran the half marathon both in 2014 and this past weekend.

In an attempt to cautiously rally back from some annoying aches and pains, I had my mind set on doing "just" the 10K.  That was before I re-evaluated my training plan and the schedule I'm trying to swing in these next three months in preparation for my first ultra, the Christmas in July (50K).  Keep in mind, I'm also doing Grandma's Marathon a mere four weeks prior (in June)...but that race's mileage fits nicely into the training I need for the Ultra, and the four weeks between the two races will allow a (near) perfect taper. In order to stay on track, I needed 13-15 miles this weekend. It made more sense to switch my registration from the 10K to the half marathon and run the 13.1 miles all together, rather than run the 6.2 miles and then run the remaining 7-9 miles upon returning home (a couple hours later). Problem solved.

I was especially looking forward to this race because my friend, Karen, was going to be there. She is from the Chicago area, but was in town attending the RRCA National Convention. Yippee! As we all know, when two runners (from different towns) wind up in the same place (for whatever reason), it's inevitable they will run together. Karen (from Trading In My Heels) and I have known each other for a couple years through social media, but have never had the opportunity to meet face to face.

The weather was in the upper 30's when we left town, and was supposed to reach the mid-60's but not until around noon. Originally, I had planned to wear shorts, a singlet and a long-sleeved top (to take off and tie around my waist when I heated up), but opted to go with capri leggings instead. I also had a pair of gloves to keep my hands warm for the first few miles, and compression calf sleeves.

I do a lot of my training runs and races with a local friend, Barb. We usually carpool together (and occasionally with other local runners) to out-of-town races. We arrived around 6:45AM in Des Moines, and Karen found us a few minutes later. The half marathon started at 7:30AM, so we had plenty of time to talk, get better acquainted, relax and do some pre-race fueling and warming up.

Ready for the start line
Barb has been on a mission to achieve a sub-2-hour half marathon finish time, and she has come very close on several occasions. Eager to give it another attempt, she decided to line up in a faster pace group than  Karen and myself. I, however, had no intention to run this race very aggressively, nor did Karen. We agreed to treat it as a training run, and try to run it very conservatively.

Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. This race starts out with the first three miles or so going downhill, and upon passing the first mile marker Karen told me we were around an 8:20 pace. Oops. It really didn't seem  that fast. We tried to run the second mile a little slower...and that one showed us around a 9:00 pace....not speedy fast, but definitely faster than either of us wanted. One thing I struggle with is slowing my pace. I am not a sprinter (by any means), but I have long legs and it's a natural instinct to take long strides, resulting in a faster-than-desired pace at the start of a long run or race. Throw in a few downhill miles and that can be a recipe for disaster.

By the third mile, I was already shedding the gloves and top layer. It felt pretty chilly at the start of the race, and I anticipated just keeping the top shirt, so I pinned my race bib to that. Big mistake. Fortunately, it only took a few seconds to unpin the bib and re-pin it to the singlet underneath. But I was already wishing I'd just worn the shorts instead of the capri's.

The first four miles took us from the Drake University campus to downtown Des Moines. We had completely lost Barb, but we were ahead of the 2:15 pace group. The course took us down to the Des Moines River, and we turned to go east along the river for a mile or so before heading towards the Capital Grounds. Iowa has a beautiful state capital, but (like most state capitals) it's situated high atop a rather steep hill....and we were about to run a loop around it.

Picture #1 of us with the Capital

As we were almost halfway up the hill, we spotted a group of spectators. They were dressed in very vivid colors, holding signs, and cheering on the runners. We asked one of them if they would take our picture with the Capital in the background. That was our first official stop (not including the water stations and my quick unpin/re-pin bib episode). We made it up the hill, around the Capital, and back down the other side without much effort. We decided to attempt a selfie on the other side of the Capital (without the sun behind us, shadowing our faces). Official stop #2.

Picture #2 with the Capital

We were really having a fun time talking, laughing, comparing running strategies and chatting about mutual frustrations and accomplishments. Before we knew it, we were approaching the 10K-split timing mat. I grabbed a gel and a water from the aid station. We were right next to Principal Park, the stadium where the Iowa Cubs play, so we decided to take another picture. Official stop #3.

In front of the Iowa Cubs sign
A short while later, near the seven-mile mark, I needed to use the porta pot. Official stop #4. Back on the trail, this time heading west towards Grays Lake Park, we spotted the group of spectators who had taken our picture near the Capital! Jokingly, Karen asked if they'd take our picture again. By this time, My glutes were feeling a little strained. Around mile eight, Karen needed a porta pot break, so that gave me a few minutes to stretch out some my muscle tightness. Official stop #5.

We made it around the lake, and out of the park, onto Martin Luther King, Jr Parkway. Having run this race last year, I knew what was up ahead. As we approached the nine-mile mark, we decided to walk for a few minutes. My glutes we really feeling achy and angry. I spotted a guy wearing a shirt that looked like it said Grandma's Marathon, so I gave him a big "Woot woot! Go Grandma's!" As I passed him, I noticed his shirt actually said Grandpa's Half Marathon. Oops. No wonder he gave me a strange look.

We turned onto Grand, heading west, with a nice hill just up ahead. Karen asked if this was the famous Bulldog Hill that people in her conference seminars had warned her about. Actually, this was the hill leading to the famous Bulldog Hill (which would appear around mile 11). This hill was several city blocks in length, and although it was a pretty gradual incline, it still was a challenge to climb. We decided to walk for a few steps, and someone asked us if we were going to continue walking...and I told him "until we see a photographer."  Geez, we're not stupid!

It wasn't long, and we turned the corner, and there it was up ahead...Bulldog Hill. UGH!  I love a good challenge, and Bulldog Hill is a true battle of you vs. gravity. It's not super long (3-4 city blocks), but it is steep!  It goes through a residential neighborhood, so there are people along the curb as well as on their porches. Karen and I started climbing, still running. I can't remember how far we made it...maybe 2/3 of the way? Although we were focused on the task at hand, we also were laughing as we encouraged each other (and there may have been a few choice adjectives spoken under breath) as we worked our way north. We decided to run as far as the stop sign up ahead, then we'd walk.

As we were approaching the stop sign, some spectators on the side of the road were cheering us on, and I noticed a guy who was wearing a Boston Marathon jacket (I've seen a few of those on social media recently), so I said,"Hey! A Boston marathoner! Can I shake your hand?" Promptly, Karen asked him, "Can you take our picture?" (Seriously,I am not making that up!)  He laughed, but immediately came over and got our picture by the Bulldog Hill sign. Official stop #6.

 We did it!  We conquered Bulldog Hill (notice the others who are walking?)

 After finishing that hill, the rest of the race was pretty easy, but we were tired! Thankfully, we had a good downhill stretch for a few blocks. As luck would have it, we spotted our picture-taking crew again towards the end of the race! And, again, we asked if they'd take our picture.

It wasn't much longer and we were headed into the stadium, and finished on the famous blue oval. A friend of Karen's (from the RRCA conference) was waiting to get out picture as we crossed the finish line, but didn't get our pic at the precise moment.....so what do we do?  We immediately turned around, back-tracked, and crossed the finish line a second time. Yes, we did. It was much easier the second time, and felt even more victorious.

It's a good thing we're not divas....
We grabbed some water, took a few more pictures (because we had not taken enough yet), and looked for Barb. Suddenly, we heard some commotion behind us, and guess who we found? Our photo crew!  This time, however, we had someone get our picture WITH them.  It had been so much fun seeing them along the course, they felt like friends.

Karen, myself, and our "crew." Bruce is the gal behind us, this was her second half marathon.
 A few minutes later we found Barb. It turns out she finished almost 30 minutes ahead of us....and not only had a major PR, but she claimed her sub-2-hour finish time. Can you say 1:56?  Yowza!

I was so excited to hear Barb had claimed her sub-2-hour finish!

 This was one of the funnest races I've done. True, Karen and I both ran our slowest 13.1 ever (official finish time was 2:23:27...yes, I'm keeping it real and admitting that), but we had a lot of fun in doing so. We both agreed, prior to race day, that we were going to run this race for fun and run it together. Both of us are training for an ultra (actually, the same ultra), and a race of that distance demands more of a commitment to time (than speed) in training.  Also, this course is not a "fast and flat" event, especially with those two major hills in the last two miles.

I did feel some fatigue during the final miles, and Karen noticed our labored breathing (around mile 7) and thought it was a probably sign of early dehydration. We stopped at every water station, but I tend to grab a single cup and take a couple of short sips (and dump & toss the remainder) and I should be drinking the entire contents. Also, having done so many half marathons/20K's (this was my 23rd), I find myself kind of not respecting the distance as much as I used to. I should be carb-loading more (like I used to do when I took these races more seriously) and I definitely need to be more aware of my hydration in the days prior as well as on the course. Another factor (at least for me) was the fact that our high school's prom was the night before...so my sleep was not exactly sound or restful. My husband volunteered at the after-hour party at the school, so I heard him come home after his shift at 2:30, then I woke up (again) when our son came home about an hour later.

Hy-Vee is the major corporate sponsor of the Road Races, and since our son is an employe there, I received the additional red race shirt at the expo! Sweet! The blue shirt is the race shirt the half marathoners received.
Am I disappointed with my finish time? Not at all. I had so much fun running with Karen, I am completely fine with everything. It was a beautiful day. The event was well-attended and had awesome crowd support. And Barb got her PR! I have said it before, but I believe running should be fun, more fun than serious. Not every event needs to be an "all-out race" or a quest for a PR. Some times, the spirit of the run is enough.

How about you?  Do you treat each race as an opportunity to PR? Have you ever done a real "race" as a training run? Have you ever been "one of those people" who stopped and took pics along the way?


  1. I had the best time running with you and I'm so happy for Barb!! Can't wait to see both of you in July for more running and laughing!!

    1. agreed! July is gonna rock! Thanks for coming to Iowa :-)

  2. Looks like fun!!! Sometimes races aren't always about the finish lines.

    1. This race definitely was not about finishing fast.....but it was, indeed, a fun time. You're up, next, FrIeNd! We need to do some miles and smiles together!

  3. WTG on the upcoming ultra! I'd like to do one someday.
    It sounds like a great race!
    I don't race a ton, so I definitely like to try to beat my time each race, but I also am realistic about if that is actually possible. Racing isn't all about time, always! :) For me it is about pushing myself to my own limits at that time...
    So nice meeting you!

    1. Thanks!! The more "racing: I do, the more I try to relax about it. I have had some decent finish times, so I'm ready to coast for awhile and enjoy the scenery :-)

  4. Great job to you both!!!! I wish I had done what I had planned to do last Sunday and treat my half as a training run because I ended up disappointed. My next 'race' is Grandma's, but it's all about fun that day so as long as I finish before they close the course I'll be happy! <3

    1. Yes, Grandma's will be all about the fun for me as well. I'm not afraid of 26.2 miles,but I have not been able to train properly to "race" it. I have to take things easy as my body rallies back, and I'm good with that. I'd rather run for fun than race in pain :-)