Everyone's got a DAM favorite race, am I right?
Myself? It is DAM to DSM. I first ran this epic race in 2008. It sucked me into the world of distance running, and I have not looked back. In fact, I've returned every year since.
This past weekend, I earned my 15th D2D medal. There's the saying "Always earned, never given," and those words rang true to me, this year, on the 2022 D2D race course.
As mentioned, I'm no stranger to this event. Formerly known as Dam to Dam, in 2019 a different racing company took the reigns and changed the race name to DAM to DSM, but kept pretty much the same historic route I'd grown to love. It's a point-to-point race course, so all participants are bussed out to the start line at the Saylorville Dam. The route takes us through several miles of Iowa countryside, before crossing Interstate 80 just before the halfway point. The route then goes through some residential neighborhoods, a few winding trails (which were new this year, due to road construction), and we cross the finish line in downtown Des Moines.
The race had a 7:00 start time, but we had to be there prior to 6:00 to catch one of the shuttle busses...which meant a 4:30 departure from my driveway. Barb and I arrived in downtown Des Moines around 5:30, giving us time to hit the porta-potties before getting in line for one of the busses. We arrived at the Saylorville Dam around 6:20.
Even though there were ample porta-potties near the Dam, the line was l-o-n-g. We decided to "brave the brush," and ducked into the woods. I emerged with several battle wounds from the wayward branches...lucky me (can you see the 2.5-inch gash on my right inner thigh in the pic below?).
The weather was feeling optimal! The route has a south/southeast direction, so the gentle SE wind would be perfect.
I remember the announcer, at my first D2D start line, pointing out the Principal Tower. This tower sits in downtown Des Moines, not too far from the finish line. It's always a fun novelty, spotting the tower at various times en route, and noticing its size change as you get closer to the finish line.
|Can you see the tower, at about 9:00?|
It takes a good 15-20 minutes to make your way across the dam itself to the DAM start line.
I didn't really have any aspirations for a PR (I knew the route was going to be altered, due to some recent construction), and this year they extended the distance from a 20K (12.4 miles) to half marathon. So yeah. Also, I can honestly say I had not specifically trained for any specific finish time. I'd had some long runs (the longest being 10 miles, about a month ago), and a half marathon at the end of April. That said, I was hopeful for a strong effort, but I was planning to enjoy the route with my phone at-the-ready (for picture-taking).Barb and I wished each other well, and we took off across the mat when our wave was released.
As mentioned, the first part of the route is along the Iowa countryside. We have the road(s) to ourselves, and there's plenty of trees, fields and scenic "openness" to enjoy. I'd had oatmeal several hours earlier, a granola bar just after the bus ride, and a couple of Cliff shot blocks before the start line. I waited until the 4-mile mark to eat a couple more of the shot blocks (and was planning on having more near the 8-mile mark). So far so good.
|just after the 4-mile mark...can you see the tower, on the far left, just above the tree line?|
So, onward! There were water stations every couple of miles, so I grabbed a cup each time one was available. As I was approaching the Interstate-80 overpass, I had the slightest sensation of needing a potty stop. Have you been there? Once that thought enters your mind, it becomes ALL that you can think about?
I didn't want to wait in a long porta-potty line (they were stationed at every water stop), so I tried scheming and scanning for a potential patch of trees or brush alongside the road. At this point of the route, though, there was a huge ditch on either side of the road, so it would make for a treacherous journey to veer off-course. Ugh.
It wasn't even a 1/4-mile later, I noticed a gravel path leading off road to some trees. And I spotted several runners emerging from the woods. I made a careful mental note to remember this detail for next year (LOL).
Now past the 7-mile mark, we have the hill. It isn't the only hill of the race course, but it is the longest and the steepest. This hill ushers us back into the city limits, where we have numerous residential neighborhoods, with numerous spectators cheering and clapping.
|trust me, this hill is much longer and steeper than it appears...|
I don't know if it was the potty break, or the big hill, or just general fatigue...but about halfway through the ninth mile, I could feel my energy starting to crash. I decided to take a short walk break while I ate a few more of the Cliff Blocks.
A nice pick-me-up was when an Instagram friend, Becca, called my name and introduced herself to me (I'd never met her in person, and didn't recognize her at first). Her and I leap-frogged a few times, before she got far enough ahead of me that I lost her. By then, the route had detoured onto McHenry Park Trail, a different path never before utilized for this event...and I was taking more walk breaks than I'd planned.
|in the 10th mile...can you see the tower (near 1:00)?|
By the time I passed the 10-mile mark, I knew (and accepted) that the remaining 5K had all the makings of a struggle bus ride. I just couldn't muster the energy to maintain a steady running pace, and the outsides of my knees were feeling strained (ITB?). It was easier to power walk with running intervals, as opposed to simply running at a slower pace.
When I reached the 11-mile mark, though, I felt a small return of my mojo. I actually was able to run most of the 12th mile, which felt really good.
|Almost to the 12-mile mark...can you see the tower now?|
The final mile had me sneaking in a few more quick walking intervals. Honestly, at that point, it didn't really matter, right? The route had us going under a bridge (which we'd soon be crossing, right before the finish line). We looped around, onto another bridge. We turned, making our way back to the final bridge, and were greeted by a group of drag queens. Oh, these "ladies" were amazing! They were so cheerful and entertaining...talk about a huge energy surge just when I needed it!
Soon thereafter, I made the final left turn, onto Locust Street, and the finish line was in sight. And, in a matter of seconds, I was done and had my 15th DAM medal in hand.
I'd barely crossed the timing mat, when a text came in from Barb, telling me where she was (she finished a good 20 minutes prior). I grabbed a Gatorade, and some snacks, and made way to her spot.
I felt like I was in a zombie-like state of existence. My fingers were all puffy (can you say dehydration?), my arms and legs were a gritty salty mess, my body was exhausted, and my mind was pretty loopy. But, I had crossed another DAM finish line and I was ecstatic to have run another DAM race.
This definitely was not my best performance, but it was my best effort given my circumstances. None the less, I'm always amazed at what my body can do, especially under adverse conditions, and I'm ever so grateful. Besides, this is my favorite race every year. All the extra effort getting to the finish line just enhanced the conquest! Glass.Half.Full.
And, Barb? She finished just over 2:01, and spanked a first-place AG!
|the Half Marathon text (on the right) goes down the center of the back of the shirt|
Speaking of the medal...do you remember the iconic Principal Tower that I kept spotting along the route? There's a likeness of it, in the "circle" along the top of the medal.
*Finally, all pre-race communication was top-notch. There were numerous posts on social media, as well as timely emails.
So, there you go. Despite the few things I wasn't pleased with, this event more than makes up for it with all the other nuances it offers. There's a reason (actually several) that keep me coming back, year after year.
Do you have a favorite race, that you do every year? Have you ever had a favorite race acquire a new sponsoring company...did things change for the better or worse?