If you guessed there was running involved, you're on the right track (no pun intended). Yes, there was running, but also time with friends and family. And the fact that it was Dam-to-Dam (my absolute most favorite race), was a major factor.
Dam to Dam was my very first long distance event. I ran it for the first time in 2008 (you can read about that here) and have returned every year since. This year marked the 36th year of this race!
My husband has run this race four times with me (well, technically, we have never actually run the race side-by-side, but he has crossed the finish line and driven with me to get there). This was his first time back after a brief sabbatical.
|on the bus, headed to the start line|
Dam to Dam is a point-to-point race that starts at the Saylorville Dam in Johnston, IA and ends, 13.1 miles later, in downtown Des Moines. Participants are bused (via lots of school buses) to the start line. The race starts at 7:00AM, and the final bus departs downtown Des Moines (near the finish line) at 5:45AM...so everyone needs to arrive early. There a a few other satellite bus pick-ups, but the runners who choose to ride those buses need to arrange for their own transportation back to their vehicles after crossing the finish line.
|Huddling to keep warm and trying to figure out what to bring and what to leave in the drop bags|
My friend, Barb (who does most of the same races I do) rode up with us. We met our friend, Chuck, at the bus pick-up and the four of us rode together to the drop-off near the start line.
|Have tats, will run!|
The forecasted weather called for cool temps with partly sunny skies. WRONG! The temps were indeed cool (mid-50's), but there was no sunshine to be seen (or felt), but plenty of wind and it was lightly sprinkling on the bus ride over. It continued to sprinkle slightly after we got off the bus, but fortunately didn't last very long.
I debated about whether or not to wear my zip-up hoodie, and decided at the last minute to leave it in my drop bag. I had a tank (with arm sleeves) and shorts (with compression sleeves on my calves), so I knew I'd probably be alright once I got moving.
A really cool thing about this race is the view from the Saylorville Dam of the Des Moines city skyline off in the distance. Knowing you will be crossing the finish line amongst all those buildings is pretty exciting.
|The skyline is there...if you look really close, you can see the Principal Financial Tower directly above the pink headband|
Unfortunately, since we start on a dam (which is a narrow, two-lane road without much of a shoulder), the first couple miles are very crowded and somewhat slow-moving. A huge pet peeve of mine are people (especially runners who should know better) who do not follow the guidelines. I'm not a super fast runner, and since the race is chip-timed, there is nothing to lose in lining up in your actual pace group...unless there are numerous other runners lined up there who shouldn't be. I realize this happens at all races (not just races that start out on narrow roads atop a dam), but it still frustrates me (and probably other runners) to get stuck behind the "slower" peeps (who, moments earlier, rudely pushed their way past you so they could line up closer to the front).
The first couple miles did go a little slow, but I have to admit that does force me to be more aware of my surroundings and myself. By starting out at a more conservative pace, I am usually able sustain my energy much longer and more effectively for the entire race. (Glass half-full theory)
As I mentioned, there was some pretty strong wind, and even though it was a tail wind, it was a chilly, damp wind. It wasn't until the third mile that I felt warmed up, and by then we had a little bit of shelter from the surrounding trees along the route.I was glad to have left the hoodie behind; although it's warm, it is not tech fabric, so it definitely would have been a soggy "wet blanket" if I'd have needed to tie it around my waist for the remaining 11 miles.
So, onward! I have been experimenting with fuel. I have used gels forever, and never had any issues...until recently. Also recently, I've tried using energy beans...and those have not been great, either. I think I have not been using enough water (to "neutralize" them), so my plan was to use the beans for the first half of the race (and take in more water than usual), then use a gel at the halfway point (again, with extra water).
Around the third mile, the crowd of runners had finally started to spread out, and it wasn't such a hassle zig-zagging around others. We lost Pat (my husband) shortly after the start, but Chuck had wanted to stick with Barb and myself ,since this was his first half marathon. Side-bar: Chuck is a former University of Iowa quarterback (Rose Bowl 1986), who also did some time in the NFL, playing for the Detroit Lions. Barb has known him through some of her work-related contacts, and he has recently done a few other races with us. I have to admit it's kind of flattering to have a "real" athlete seeking out running advice from someone like me, and wanting the two of us to pace him. As much as we'd love another PR, this race is a challenging one to achieve that. It has a (mostly) downhill grade, but there are a couple big hills (and a few little ones) sprinkled throughout the second half of the course. Our goal was to run it easy (10-minute pace), and to have fun.
The sport beans seemed to be working their magic. My energy felt great (despite the short night of sleep and early morning wake up), and my tummy was happy. I made certain to grab water at every aid station and drank the entire cup, and had no problem catching up with Barb and Chuck each time I pulled over.
Ahh, all better. Back on the road, up ahead was the overpass that crosses over Interstate 80. This is always a fun part of the course, seeing all the vehicles coming from both directions and hearing them honk at us. I can't help but wonder what the drivers are thinking, seeing all of the runners at that early hour of the morning.
|Aren't I a vision of loveliness (NOT!), crossing I-80|
I knew what was coming up soon.....Memorial Hill. Just after crossing the 6-mile mark, you can see the hill up ahead. It doesn't look too menacing from a distance, but it's pretty long and somewhat steep. It also curves slightly to the southwest, so there's more there than what you can see.
|Approaching Memorial Hill|
This hill is very special. It's lined with flags, honoring fallen Iowa service men and women who have died while serving our country. Each flag represents a person who has lost their life in the 36 years Dam-to-Dam has been happening. I not only love the tribute this pays to our fallen Iowans, but I love the shift in focus it gives me for the duration of that hill. Instead of dwelling on the climb, I think of the people who are not climbing the hill with me...and say a prayer for them and their families.
|Aren't the flags beautiful?|
My hometown, Grinnell, has a group of musicians, Turlach Ur. They are a bagpipe and drumming group, who make several appearances in the area, showcasing their musical talents. Every year, they are near the top of Memorial Hill, piping and drumming. And, every year, it's always a treat to see their familiar faces. Many of the members are also runners, sacrificing their run to pay tribute to the cause.
|Love the bagpipes! (and the guys all gave me high-5's as I ran by)|
In the eight years I have run this race, last year was the first time I was able to actually run the entire hill without stopping. Sometimes the weather has been real hot, sometimes I have just let myself have a break, and sometimes I have just given up on my abilities. This time, the hill did not seem like much of a challenge. Granted, I did pause for a split second for a few pics, but I never felt winded, tired or worn out when I reached the top. I have been slowly recovering from piriformis issues (and glute/hamstring tendonitis), and I felt no pain whatsoever during the climb, so this was a substantial victory for me.
Having conquered the hill, we pressed on. Just after the 7-mile mark, we spotted Pat! He had been behind us, but must have caught up (and passed) us, probably during our brief potty-stop. He had not trained too consistently for this day (which had me a little concerned), but he knew enough about the course, so he was doing alright. He hung with us briefly before we slowly broke away.
Since I was feeling great, I decided to take a gel (instead of more beans) at the next water stop. I gulped down the gel, and drank two glasses of water. Back on the road, I caught back up with Barb and Chuck. The race had been going well. The temps were still pretty cool, but I was comfortable. The air was humid, but that also was manageable because of the lack of sunshine. We were keeping a good steady pace (just under 10-minutes), and all seemed to be going well.
It was a short while later, though, that I started to feel some discomfort under my left heel. I had done a 5-mile run two days prior, and felt great....until I returned home and took the dog out for a walk. My heel hurt as I walked that evening, and it hurt intermittently the following day. I have never had any foot issues, but suspected this was Plantar Fasciitis. I was not concerned because I only felt discomfort when I was standing on it, or walking. I had not felt anything while running on Thursday, or during the first 7-8 miles of this race.
But, like any twinge of discomfort, once I notice it...I keep noticing it. We kept on running, and I did my best to ignore the increasing pain. My energy felt fine, and nothing else hurt. I didn't tell Barb or Chuck because I was hoping it would go away, and I didn't want them to feel like they had to slow down for me.
We reached the 9-mile mark. As we were climbing a small hill, I heard a bunch of the runners muttering. "Oh no!" "I've never seen anything like that in person." "The poor guy!" I looked over, and saw who they were talking (in hushed voices) about. There was a guy standing on the side of the road, and he obviously was having some tummy issues...all down his legs. Ugh. I have never seen that happen in person, either. I don't know if he was waiting for someone to help him, or if he was in shock or disbelief. I don't know if he finished the race. All I know is that the ache in my heel was probably pretty minimal to what he must have been feeling.
By the time we got to the 10-mile mark, I was seriously having doubts about my ability to finish the race. The pain was not going away, so I tried focusing on stepping "down" on the mid-foot instead of "out" on the heel. That seemed to help some, but I could feel the pain spreading to my arch. This part of the course went along the Des Moines River, on a wooden bridge over a ravine. The path gets pretty narrow for a short ways, so it forces you to slow down a bit because there's limited room for passing people. I think slowing down (not so much by choice) actually helped as I concentrated on my foot strike.
A short ways later, a gal came up to me and asked me if I was Running On The Fly (my Facebook page)?
Flattered to be recognized, I gave her a smile and said, "Yes!" We chatted for a couple minutes about the race and the weather, and wished each other well. And that was just the distraction I needed. My heel still hurt, but the pins-and-needles from my arch had disappeared, allowing me to press on to finish the final two miles.
Barb and Chuck and I were still hanging together. I don't know how Barb was feeling, but Chuck said he was not able to go any faster...and that Barb and I should just take off and finish strong without him if we wanted to. Ummm...no. Not happening. We had come this far together, and we'd finish. I don't believe in leaving friends behind. A PR wasn't happening anyways, there would be nothing to gain by finishing the race alone.
We stuck together. At the 12-mile mark, Chuck told us we had just run the previous mile at 9:24 pace (I think). That was actually one of our faster miles, even with what felt like a constant gimp/limp motion on my part.
I don't quite know (or understand) how it happens, but it happens more often than not. Shortly after I pass the final mile marker (indicating there's only one mile remaining), my body kicks itself into high gear. I'm suddenly overcome with a surge of adrenaline. My brain shuts down and my legs take over. It happened again on Saturday morning....my aching heel suddenly didn't ache as much, and I was able to up my pace without really trying.
I noticed Barb and Chuck were still with me, so they were doing it as well. None of us were talking; we were on a mission to get to the finish line, and we were determined to get there as quickly as possible. I felt great, even that final hill en route to the final turn didn't bother me. We made it around the corner and had 400 feet remaining, then 200 feet. The people lining the street were cheering and clapping. A little girl even glanced at my race bib and shouted, "Go Kimberly!" I gave her a high-5. I couldn't hold back the smile, I felt so good!
And, just like that, we were across the finish line. I have crossed many finish lines in the past 10 years, but this one really made an impact. I always notice the crowds of people, and I always make an attempt to smile and make eye contact with as many people as possible (I refuse to be that "runner," the one who is so focused on the finish time that she doesn't relish the finish line experience or the people celebrating with her).
Barb and I high-5'd each other, and gave Chuck a well-deserved hug...he had just finished his first 13.1! He'd never run this far before, so this was a significant victory for him. I've said it before, even though I'm proud of all of my accomplishments in my running shoes.....I am even more proud to witness and celebrate the accomplishments of friends.
|My 8th Dam-to-Dam medal...this one says "Dam! I made it||!|
We were handed our medals, and grabbed some Gatorade. As we were working our way out of the finisher's area (to look for Pat), I remembered my aching foot. Funny how that kind of slipped my mind for those few final minutes en route to the finish line and the subsequent celebration. Ouch. Yes, indeed, my heel was sore!
Let's just say Chuck knows a lot of people. It took us more than a few minutes to get to the bag check. The sun never made an appearance, and the wind was still blowing. Other than the brief sprinkles before the race start, the rain never was a problem...but it was cold, really cold. I had forgotten how cold it actually was until we stopped running. I was eager to get my bag back and get re-aquainted with my pink hoodie.
A few minutes later, we found Pat. It turns out he finished about 10 minutes after us, and was able to run the entire race (except for the water stations). Another victory worthy of a celebration!
|WE did it!|
We found our bags, and took a few minutes (actually, several minutes) to get warmed up. Oh, did my sweatshirt feel good!
There were some friends I was hoping to find. It's amazing in the mass of 9000+ runners (and all of their friends and families) how you can actually find people. Mary and Kevin, also from Grinnell, found us (near the giant blown-up beer bottle). Both are rallying back from injury, and this was a big landmark achievement for them.
|Woot woot! So happy to see Mary and Kevin and give them a congratulatory hug!|
And, Tammie is a friend whom I've known through Facebook for awhile. She has the page Life-is-ALWAYS-better-in-running-shoes ....it was great to finally get to meet her in person!
|Meeting up with Tammie, another Iowan with a sincere love for running|
This race was great on so many different levels. It's an event that is very near and dear to my heart, not just because it was my first-ever distance race, but because the course is so unique. We start out running the highway through some of the Iowa countryside, cross a major interstate highway, celebrate and pay honor to some fallen military heroes, cruise through a few residential neighborhoods, run along the Des Moines River, and finish amongst the city buildings that we had admired from afar at the start line. The crowd support is incredible, for most of the route. And the post-party, though very crowded, is always top-notch.
Despite the final three miles (and the heel pain), I thoroughly enjoyed this event (again). Granted, we had a goal to stay on a 10-minute pace (though all of us can run much faster), but I never felt any fatigue. We did make that quick potty stop (and I stopped several times for photo ops), so our finish time does reflect a few "incidentals" that usually wouldn't be happening in a race. Even when my heel started really aching badly (around mile 10), I never really slowed my pace much. I felt strong the entire 13.1 miles. I finished the race feeling great, with probably more "in the tank" than necessary (which, as runners know, means I could have pushed a little harder), but I am happy with how everything played out. Thoroughly happy.
This race used to be a 20K (12.4 miles) until last year, when the officials decided to make it an official half marathon distance instead. Our finish time was 2:10:31, so that is actually a PR for me on this new 13.1 course! Given the fact that I ran that PR without really trying kind of leaves me wondering what I would have been capable of doing if I wasn't rallying back from some injuries (or dealing with a new one). Also, I have done so many 20K's/13.1's, that I really do not even train for them anymore. I'm thankful to have achieved my level of endurance, but I do kind of miss the good old days of actually "training" for this distance.
Hmmmm...maybe next year? There's no doubt I will be back to run this Dam race again! :-)
Do you have a favorite race that you've done every year? Do you "race" it, or just "run" it for fun?