Disclaimer: I received a race registration for the IMT Des Moines Marathon weekend as part of being a Bibrave Pro. Learn more about becoming a Bibrave Pro (ambassador), and check out Bibrave.com to review, find, and write race reviews.
When it comes to repeat racing, I'm guilty. The IMT Des Moines Marathon weekend has entertained me 14 different times (since 2008), and this year was especially significant.
It was significant because it had been two years since the last time I had run this race course (#Covid), but this year I also was seeking a bit of redemption for my less-than-ideal finish at the DAM to DSM 20K (back on August 28th)...oh, and did I mention I also was running the MercyOne 5-Mile Run the day prior?
So, how did that work for me?
Spoiler: Quite well!
First off, I need to mention this was the 20th year of the IMT Des Moines Marathon! I'm no stranger to this weekend of fun:
We (my main running buddy, Barb, and I) had a 6:15 departure, arriving in Des Moines about an hour later. We scored a great parking spot just across the Des Moines River, near Court Avenue. We had plenty of time to do some stretching, Theragun'ing and dynamic warm-ups before walking over to the start line.
We spotted several racing friends as we made our way onto the race course line-up. I immediately noticed the 2:00 pacer. I have never run a race with a designated pacer, so I thought why not? My average finish time is usually around 2:00-2:05, maybe the pacer could help me keep a consistent pace without the stress of doing it all on my own. He also mentioned that he'd have the group start off easy, and would be walking through the water stations (to allow everyone to stay hydrated without being rushed)...sounded great to me, so that became my spur-of-the-moment plan.
I'd had some oatmeal for breakfast, but I was already feeling hungry (after all, it had been a good 2+ hours at that point and I'd forgotten to bring an extra snack along). I'd originally planned on taking a gel around the 3-mile mark, and then another around the 8-mile mark...but decided it was best to take the first gel before the race began, and then take the other near the halfway point. Crisis (somewhat) averted.
We heard a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, then the crowd of racers started shifting towards the start line. The marathoners and half marathoners were off and running (at 8:00), while the 5K peeps would be taking off at 8:30.
The weather could not have been more perfect. Temps were in the low-40F's early on, and although that first mile was chilly, it wasn't long before I felt comfortable. In fact, I lost the gloves somewhere in the third mile.
Ironically, it was just about that time I heard my Garmin give a strange beep...the screen went blank....and that was the last of any stats via my wrist. Ugh. Now, let me remind you, I'm not a wrist-worshipper when I run or race. I have the Garmin along with me on race day (more for monitoring the elapsed time than anything else), but it's not my "crutch" to have it dictating how fast/slow I should/could be running. That said, It had been a long time since I'd run a half marathon without some kind of timing device (like, maybe ever?). I also didn't have any music with me either. This was going to be an interesting morning!
Anyways, the first 2-1/2 miles have everyone together, on a shared course, in downtown Des Moines. Just after the 2-1/2 mark is where they split off from each other; the full marathoners continue west, on Grand Avenue, while the half marathoners head south on Fleur Drive.
At the 3.69 mile mark (yes, I've checked it in previous years LOL), the 13.1 route turns west and begins the journey into Water Works Park. Historically, this segment is my least favorite of the course. It's a long ways in, followed by a 2-mile loop, and concludes with a long trek back out (nearly 5.5 total miles). It's scenic, with a lot of trees (most of which are in beautiful foliage), but for some reason it's always been the most challenging part of the race course for me. A nice feature of it, though, is seeing the elites, who are usually making their way towards the end of it as I'm approaching the 5-mile mark (which is roughly their 8-mile mark). Also, it's within the Water Works Park segment that the full marathon course (mile 18) reunites with the half marathon (mile 5).
Although I could still see the 2:00 pacer (and his group) a short ways ahead of me, I could tell they were slowly breaking away from me. I pulled out my second gel, but could not get the tab to rip open without stopping briefly (honestly, is there anything more frustrating?). I grabbed a cup of water, took a few sips and did a quick "rinse & wipe" of my hands and was back on my way in a matter of seconds.
By this time, I had crossed the halfway point, and was still feeling good. I had no idea of where I was, time-wise, though, so I was leery of pushing my pace for fear I'd overdo it and (potentially) crash and burn long before the finish line. I decided to just keep running strong and steady and save any "pushing-the-pace" for the final mile.
Making it out of Water Works Park always feels like a landmark victory for me! This year, the route had a tiny detour before we ran underneath Fleur (via an underpass) and arrived at Grays Lake Park. Grays Lake, itself, accounts for about two total miles. The loop around the lake features a nice walking bridge, which is well-utilized for many of the Des Moines races. Coming out of the lake area, the path then leads us up the one major hill of the 13.1 race, just after the 11-mile mark. This hill is about a 1/2-mile in distance, but seems longer because it curves around and you can't see just how much further it goes until you're finally back on MLK Parkway (heading due east).
By the time I'd made it around the curve, I could feel my calves starting to tense up, and my quads were feeling pretty trashed. I could see the 12-mile mark, well off in the distance, so I knew I had just under two miles remaining. I'd run the previous day's 5-mile race at a really good clip (finish time was 42:34), so I knew my legs were on borrowed mojo (LOL). So far, I had not needed any walk breaks through this race, and I knew if I'd start walking (for anything longer than a sip of water), it would be the beginning of the end. So I kept running.
When I finally made it past the 12-mile mark, I just let my legs go. Definitely not a sprint (ha!), but definitely no longer holding anything back. It's probably near the 12.75 mark (again, #noGarmin) when we turn north on 1st Avenue for the final stretch to the 13-mile mark. Ironically (?), just as I was passing that 13-mile mark, the Chariots of Fire theme song came on over the speakers.