All of my life, I had been training for this 20k road race, the Dam to Dam in the Des Moines metro. For sure, I had been training in earnest for months leading up to June 3, 2006. But running the race is much, much different than training for it.
Friday afternoon, I got together with Mike Z, a guy I went to church with, who was running in this race, as well. He drove to Des Moines and we shared a hotel room to split the cost. The closer we got to Des Moines, the more apprehensive I became. This was going to be running in a pack, something which I had never done. I think Mike had run a few races, but nothing this large, either. So, we talked strategy almost the entire way.
We got to downtown Des Moines and checked into our hotel. Check in for the race was easy, and I soaked in the moment. What a geek...the race tee, race numbers and all the ephemera that goes along with the packet. We took it back to the room and stowed it, but grabbed the "tik-tok," the minute-by-minute of how race day would work and started searching for dinner.
Carbing up is a good rule for the night before, so you have enough energy for race day. We were staying in/near the Court Avenue District and as we rounded the corner to head to the restaurants, we ran into the "Girls Gone Wild" bus. Yes. That bus. I have no idea why they were there...ok, I know why they were there...but I didn't know where they were going to be and didn't care. I had a race to prepare for!
We immediately thought Spaghetti Works would be the place to go, but we found it was closed because of a plumbing issue. After that, I have no clue where we ate dinner, because I was focused on the tik-tok and making sure I was game-planning backward from the start of the race to make sure I had everything in it's place.
After dinner and a few beers, we headed back to the hotel room to get everything for the next morning, race day. You put the clothes you want to wear and all the belongings you need following the race into a bag and will place that into a numbered bin, then write the bin number on the number you wear. I had brought some energy gel packets, but since I read there was going to be Gatorade on the course, I decide against carrying them, as my running shorts had no pockets. Bag packed, it was time for a little reading and settling into bed.
I went to bed a little earlier than usual and took a little more melatonin than usual, but it was still difficult to sleep. I was truly excited for this race. I hadn't been to the starting line, but tried to envision it. I hadn't been on the course but envisioned pacing my breath and my cadence so as not to get out ahead of myself. And then the alarm went off. Race day was here!
We used the bathroom for the last time, it's important to get that done! We got packed up and brought our bags to the bus and got on. We were two of 30 or 40 on the bus, and there was little chit chat and some nervous laughter associated with those conversations. Everyone seemed to be in the same position; this wasn't just a leisurely run on your own. This was a race and there will be thousands of runners. You were a drop in a stream of humanity.
The ride out to Saylorville Dam was just enough time to drink a couple of bottles of water to pre-hydrate. Lots of kaibos at the race site, thank goodness, and it was nice to recognize that old friends were finding one another amongst the throng. The camaraderie was comforting to my nerves, because I was starting to recognize that I fit in with this crowd. They had a medical tent with a scale, so I weighed myself, for the heck of it. 225. Ok. That's fine. I wished good luck to Mike and, being a faster runner, he headed forward.
It was 64 degrees at the start with light winds and low humidity. They called runners to the start line and asked them to group together according to their pace, with the elite runners at the front, so I found the 9:00 mile mark and settled in with my group. They do these staggered starts to make sure people can run effectively and not have to shove their way to a front or get in the way of much faster runners staged behind them.
Soon, we were on the dam, and I looked out and saw the skyline of Des Moines. My God! That's along way from here! How am I gonna make it! I'm going to humiliate myself! And before I could recognize it, they had started our group. I was in the middle of our pack, and that meant standing for at least 30 seconds before I was even walking forward. Then a trot. Then a jog. Then a run.
My first time running in a pack was a quick recognition of those with my size, my pace and my cadence. Not easy to do among a large group, but I slowly started finding "targets" and picking them off. We were basically running through the park to get to a county road, then start heading toward town. Occasionally, I was able to get a glimpse of the skyline, and it wasn't getting closer. I hadn't really though out how long it would take to make this run, so I started doing the math and got lost in numbers while I picked up pace.
It wasn't long before the runners had stretched out into a ribbon instead of clumps. And that's when I experienced something I never thought I would. I felt a mist on my legs and looked down at teh runner in front of me who was PEEING DOWN THEIR LEGS! And I got the splash...so I yelled, "Someone's back here! Check next time!" "Oh! Sorry!" Truly disgusting. There were enough places in the country for poeple to run out into the weeds along the side of the road and take care of business; women and men, both. Thank goodness it didn't get any worse!
I'd grab some water as I was going along and have a sip at each water station. I was used to running with little water, so it didn't bother me. However, I was still looking for the Gatorade stations for a little energy...and then I found the first one had been completely depleted. I was so upset! I chucked my gels just because I thought it would be there! Getting angry, my pace picked up and I really blew past a bunch of people. They must have thought that I thought we were near the end of the race, though the kilometers and miles were clearly marked. Maybe I had made a mistake.
We got into the city and started running through some really nice neighborhoods. Families were out cheering on the runners and there were theme parties, blaring stereos and even bands! Kids were handing out water for runners, and I kept hoping someone would have some Gatorade...nope. I'm going to skip to near the end, because it was just pacing at this point. Having run longer distances, I was comfortable with what I was doing, but this was a much more hilly track than I had ever run before.
As we get into city center, you're on trails and not roads, packing people together. Two kilometers away from the end, people started their kicks. I was worried that I would have issues catching anyone and might get left behind, so it was time to start looking for targets again. Near the end, they started marking miles and kilometers, so, at one mile, I hit the gas.
Soon into my kick, I recognized that my joints felt all extended. As if someone had pulled my ankles, knees and hips to their stretching point, and they just stayed there. I had to adjust my gait, because I needed to make sure I was landing on the bottoms of my feet and not the sides or anything else. I started picking people off quickly and finding additional targets in the distance. Lungs burning, arms pumping, legs flailing, I turned up the pace some more and found the last people I would pass. Lisa, Scott, Jim and Jen were there names. I had never met them, but would see their names in the finishing order.
And as I ran through the finish line, I ran through pallets of full bottles of Gatorade. Seriously!?!? Where the hell were these when I needed them? I circled back after finishing and grabbed four of them and walked off the adrenaline. You need to stay standing up and stretch your carriage out in order to get maximum oxygen in to replenish. In the Nollen Plaza, they had a medical tent for injuries, masseuses for muscle aches and pains, and chiropractors for resetting your joints and spine. And there was a scale, so I stepped on. 212. I had lost one pound per mile of running that day.
I found Mike at the designated meet up, and we walked to the plaza, and the reflecting pool was full. Everyone's shoes were off and their feet were cooling back to normal. I looked over and saw a beer stand and a hot dog stand. I left my shoes and socks there and walked over with Mike and we each grabbed three Coors Light's and two hot dogs. About two bites in, I knew I wouldn't be interested in the rest, so I traded the remaining hot dog to Mike for his extra beer. He had to drive, after all.
We grabbed our bags from the tote and walked back to the car. After running a half marathon, it is exasperating. What's the point? But as we loaded in, I knew this was going to be a great ride home full of stories, and it was.
I got up the next morning for a little run to stretch out, and did about five miles. And then I stopped. I don't know why, but I stopped running, even jogging. But now, I'm looking for what I left of the streets of Des Moines and what I left on the trails and streets of Cedar Rapids. And I know I'm going to find it on the hills of Davenport, as I run the Bix7 this summer. See you on the course!
1732 305 M35 Douglas Wagner, 38, Cedar Rapids, IA 2:14:10 10:48
3530 total finishers
351 finishers among Men 35‐39