Sunday, June 3, 2012

Best Dam Race

For 33 years, Iowa has sponsored the country's largest 20k: Dam to Dam.  It is a favorite race among many Iowa runners, and since this is the first year I participated, I would have to agree.

Before I get into the details of the race, let me tell you that I have gotten to be quite the pro at pre-race planning.  I mean, just check out the gear:

There is A LOT that goes into running: shoes with time chip, vaseline (that didn't seem to help, but I'll spare you those pictures, GU, ear buds, the backpack with number affixed for bag drop, the Garmin, blister-resistant socks, sports bra that actually holds the girls in place, "One Hot Mess" headband (that I couldn't find at first and was obsessively freaking out about), Immodium (that did the trick, thank God), earrings, bracelet that says "miles to go before i sleep," tank with bib attached, capris, long-sleeved top for pre-race, rubber hair tie, Spibelt, and I think that's it.

One thing I still haven't figured out, however, is how to properly eat prior to a race.  I have the hydrating part down (finally).  I was guzzling water - more so than usual - all week.  The day prior to the race, I ate a bagel for breakfast, Jimmy John's for lunch, and salad, pasta, and bread for dinner.  I just don't think the particular pasta I ate sat well with my stomach - or maybe it was just too meaty and not enough pasta-y.  I don't know.

But anyway, race day:

I woke up bright and early at 4:30 a.m. so that my two friends and I could head downtown and grab a bus.  Note to self: get there earlier next year so that we have more time at the actual start.

A school bus at 5:15 a.m. is quite dark.
The first thing we did when we got off the bus was drop off our bags.  We had to strip down to our race clothes and throw our string bags into designated (by bib numbers) garbage bags.

Then we headed to the porta-potties.  And stood in line for 25 minutes.  It was ridiculous, but we knew that it was a definite necessity prior to starting a 12.4-mile run.

After taking care of business, we started the half-mile trek to the start line.  

The race starts on the dam at Saylorville, and being absolutely surrounded by water (obviously) is a breathtaking view.  Plus, we could see downtown Des Moines (the finish line) from up north:

Looks kind of far, huh?
While we waited for the Star Spangled Banner to be sung and for the fast runners to take off, we took some requisite pre-race photos:

My training buddy, KW.
KW, me, Amber, and Alexson - I love this photo.
About ten minutes after the gun went off, we started running (we were back with the 11:00 pacers, and there were quite a few people in front of us).

Kiara took off, and Amber, Alexson, and I stuck together for about the first mile, and then Amber - training with the Jeff Galloway method - took her first walk segment.  Alexson and I continued to stick together, which was really, really nice.  I was a bit nervous at first because I know that Alexson doesn't take walk breaks (and I pretty much don't care: if I'm tired, I'll walk), but we kept it up.

The first 10k were through rural Iowa: we saw a lot of cornfields, soybean fields, and gravel roads (which many runners used for potty breaks).  It was an absolutely gorgeous, overcast day, and being in the midst of the prairie made me love my state even more.

Around mile six, I realized that this was the furthest I had run - ever - without taking a walk break.

(Okay, I took a 10-step walk break in order to GU and water since I couldn't figure out how to do all of that while running.  I timed it better for my second GU and was able to do so without breaking stride.)

And I was feeling GOOD!  Rarely do I feel amazing during a race, but I felt just fabulous during Dam to Dam - and I attribute so much of it to Alexson.  We were trekking right along, chatting, listening to music the whole way.

Then came mile seven.

As you can see from the first picture in the post and the elevation chart at the bottom, I was dreading mile seven:

It's really hard to snap photos while running, but this is a hill.
Actually, it wasn't that bad.  Alexson and I just kept on running, taking it one step at a time, offering encouragement the whole way.  It's hard to tell from the photo, but both sides of the hill were lined with American flags with the sentiment to "remember those who've served."  It was really, really neat and honestly gave me goosebumps.

Alexson and I passed loads upon loads of walkers and made it to the top of the hill and started winding through the city: the second 10k was all urban, looping through neighborhoods and downtown.

Around mile 8.5 or 9 (?), I was so surprised to see my good friend Cindi, her husband, and three of their children.  It was the exact boost of motivation that I needed: running 12.4 miles is hard work, and it was really nice to see a friendly, familiar, encouraging face on the course.

Shortly thereafter, Alexson and I ran into her husband, and that was another nice piece of encouragement before we hit the trail to wind alongside the Des Moines River.

This is when it got tough.  Around mile nine, Alexson started really hurting.  Around mile 10, I really started hurting and honestly wasn't sure that my legs could work any longer.  But, we kept telling ourselves that we really only had one mile left since the last mile was filled with live music, the Isiserettes, other fun entertainment, and throngs of people.

But still: it was really, really hard.

Finally, we reached the chute.  We saw the 400 meter mark and started taking longer, faster strides.  It felt so good to know that we had run over 12 miles and had not walked at all.

And then the 200-meter mark came.  And I had to stop.

I was literally choking back vomit and dry heaving into my hands.  There was nowhere to "let it out," as the chute was surrounded by spectators.

I thought I was going to puke into my hands - or, what I thought might be a better option, down my shirt.


This girl.

And honestly, I was too sick and too sore and too oblivious to my surroundings to care.  I had someone (who?!) cut off my timing chip while someone else (who?!) shoved a medal into my hand.  And then I found a trashcan.  And then some Powerade.

Alexson and I about ten minutes post-race - after we could motivate ourselves to stand back up and stretch.
It was an absolutely beautiful race, and I am so extremely proud of myself for finishing in 2:27.  That is by far the best "dam" race that I have ever had, but it is also by far the worst I have felt upon finishing.  Not only was I nearly throwing up, but my muscles just pretty much refused to work.  No amount of stretching, walking, stretching, sitting, stretching, or anything would help.

After trying everything (and eating a banana and drinking some chocolate milk), I met up with Amber, and we decided to just head home.

I am very, very proud of myself.  I pushed myself harder than I ever thought possible, and while I'm definitely a hot mess today, it was all totally worth it.

I can't wait for next year.


  1. EXCELLENT work, my friend. I love the pic when you saw your friend!

  2. You did amazing and I'm so so so so impressed with you and Alexson. I am definitely inspired by you both and am really looking up to you.

    I'm definitely doing this one again next year and I can't wait to PR at it. :)

  3. I'm so glad you and Amber wrote such good recaps! I truly think I black out during distance runs. I didn't even remember taking in any views :) Thank you so much for pushing right along with me! Next year, we'll go under 2:15! Or something.

  4. you are fantastic. isn't it SOOO fun! i was SORE afterwards! we need to share race schedules for the rest of the year!