If you’ve been reading my blog (you haven’t, no one does), you may have noticed a theme in my race recaps. I love pretty much every race I do, even when I suck. I loved the beauty of Big Sur and Duluth, I loved how the North Face Endurance Challenge (a fairly crummy race all things considered) had such a unique course considering how many times I’ve run downtown Kansas City and even Rock N Roll Las Vegas (the course that makes you run through the dark desert with nothing to see for 14 miles) has redeeming qualities (like being in Vegas)… but I’m sad to say that I really wasn’t all that thrilled with the Des Moines Marathon.
Don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t anything WRONG with the race. It was well run, offered plenty of parking, had a place to stay warm before the race, had plenty of well-stocked aid stations, offered a decent medal, gave away a pretty baller long sleeve pullover as the race tee and is in my absolutely favorite state. However, everything just stacked up to be mediocre and now with it 3 weeks in hindsight, I really just don’t love it. But, let me recap!
The race is sadly on a Sunday (man, I hate Sunday races… nothing like running a ton and then having to just go home so you can go to work the next day). The expo was tiny, but decent for the actual size of this race. The race merchandise was weak. I didn’t buy anything, but they did give you a solid race pullover for your race tee and I’ve worn in probably 5 times so far.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn on Merle Hay Road which is our typical haunt for Des Moines races (Dam to Dam, HyVee Tri..). It is the cheapest in the area and there is PLENTY of downtown parking, so getting a close hotel isn’t a priority here.
Free parking was a win and we headed towards the start. The day was actually a lot colder than expected. Apparently we are rookies and so didn’t even bother checking the weather until we arrived in Iowa. This meant a stop to buy long sleeved gear on Saturday. Whoops. And yes, we bought $100 in gear despite having received those long-sleeved pullovers because we believe that strongly in not wearing the race tee on the day of the race, haha.
The start was immediately adjacent to a YMCA. We cooped up in there to stay warm and use the restrooms. A nice touch, but the lines were insane. Not the race’s fault, there were dozens of port-o-potties out there in the cold.
The race started without much fanfare. Half and Full marathoners raced together for the first few miles until the split off. The race was tiny. Only 1586 marathoners (compared to 4900 half marathoners) so the split was welcome. Unfortunately those first few miles were really the most interesting of the whole race. Running through the downtown and seeing the buildings and the Capital were nice and then we spent the next 23 miles looking at people’s houses.
I’ve taken the liberty of annotating my own map to be more descriptive of the course:
Did you see the elevation chart? The half marathon is smooth and flat because you are running the last half of the course. The first half of the marathon is seriously hilly. Nothing crazy, but steep enough hills that if you aren’t careful, you are going to burn yourself out quickly. It also gives you the chance to check out some of the ritzier houses in the neighborhood.
You wind up and down and up and down and look at more and more houses.
Mile 12 brings you to Drake University. You get a thrilling 400 meters around the bright blue track that has a few straggling spectators in the stands. It gives you a slight change of pace. Especially exciting for me was that I did see Jeff Galloway here. I made it my goal to try and beat him (spoiler: I didn’t).
After the track, you get to go and look at more houses for another 5 miles. Perhaps this race is designed by the local real estate agency?
Coming up around 16/17, you head onto some nice trails and get to run through the woods. It is a nice peaceful trail and since the crowd was so thin, I got some nice time to myself. Some nice time to question why I didn’t bring my iPod.
The on-course entertainment is also the most unusual. They really had to dig deep to come up with these acts. There were some people early on playing drums on trash cans. Interesting and Stomp-like. So modern! Then on the trail there was a violinist. Classical music is the elixir for PRs, I hear. Towards the end there was a guy parked by the river (not a joke) with his van playing a small keyboard and seeing God Bless America. I can’t lie and say that the entertainment didn’t entertain me. In fact, it gave me more to think about in terms of the strange culture that is Des Moines. There were some actual bands thrown in the mix, so it wasn’t all atypical, but definitely a far cry from the entertainment of bigger races.
Finally I get into Waterworks Park. This gets a little interesting because there is about a mile stretch where you are running parallel to the runners who have just completed the lake loop. I saw Paul and our friend, Nick here. We also saw some of friends cheering us on! This was a good pick-me-up. We ran through the park and while you can definitely say there were a lot of spectators here, they were all just sitting in their lawn chairs staring at you while they waited for their own runner. Great. Not awkward at all.
Finally I start approaching mile 21/22. I was excited for this part of the course around Gray’s Lake because it follows a lot of the same course as the HyVee Tri. I try to pump myself up, only a few miles left! There is an announcer near Grey’s Lake and some loud music and this was probably the highlight of the on-course entertainment. And considering the highlight is the announcer insulting my Cyclones jacket is the highlight, I think that sums up the race nicely (I’m kidding: The Cyclone/Hawkeye rivalry is thickest here!)
I trudge on through a trail that takes me closer to the city. I assumed once I got downtown the area would pick up and the spectators would bring me in strong. Eh. With all the roads blocked, there aren’t many spectators and with the cold weather, I think that scared a lot of people inside. The spectators didn’t pick up enough to be motivational until the final .2. I got a high-five and kiss from Paul and then I sprinted like a coked out orangutan in hopes that everyone couldn’t tell that I just walk/jogged the last 26 miles.
I was the last one of my group to finish. My goal was to simply beat my Berlin time from 3 weeks prior and I managed to do that by 10 minutes. I grabbed a water and then surveyed the demolished food tents and just left. My friend who ran the 5k said the beer was long gone and most of the food was as well, so we just headed out. The start and finish are right next to each other so the car was very close (a nice perk of the smaller race). Downtown Des Moines has tons of nearby restaurants and bars, so we made our own after-party. And then, since it was Sunday, got in the car to drive home 3 hours and get ready for work on Monday. Le sigh.
So, like I said. I’m not thrilled with Des Moines. It is a nice little race that doesn’t have anything wrong, but just doesn’t have oomph to it. I’m not saying it needs to be gaudy and give you a dinner plate sized medal or throw colored powder at you, but I think the course is the problem. I can run through my own neighborhood any day of the week.. the thrill of racing is partially the chance to get to see things and run places you can’t just do on your own.
Course – D
Medal – B
Race Tee- A