Friday, June 20, 2014

(Half) Marathon to Marathon race report

This race had been on my wish list for a loooong time. The Marathon to Marathon has a lot going for it: the name (duh), the location in Iowa (a new state for me), and the sweet, small-town feel of everything from the race website to the events around the race.

So when I realized that this year's race was to be held the weekend after IRCE, I couldn't resist... even though it was only a few days before our trip to Peru. 

I mean, sure, an eight-hour drive isn't "close", but since I was going to be Chicago anyway, it was too good a chance to pass up. 

I picked up my car at O'Hare (dear Hertz, I ADORE Gold Canopy service!) and drove... and drove... and drove. It really did take just over eight hours, though I did make a few pit stops along the way. 

Arrived in the very cute town of Storm Lake, Iowa right around 5:00. I stayed at the Sail Inn Motel, right on the lake front, in a great room (#54) on the top floor at the end of the row, which meant I had a great view and extra privacy. 

Decided to walk the mile to the high school to pick up my packet -- too many hours sitting in a car! -- and liked the feel of the town. Cute houses, nice sidewalks, big old trees. Pickup was straightforward; was given a bag with my number, a tech tee, and a lot of detailed info. There were a lot of Maniacs there, but I didn't spot any Fanatics. 

Normally the event weekend includes a Friday night spaghetti dinner at the high school, but due to construction at the school, the dinner had been cancelled. 

Instead I walked back toward the lake along the main drag, stopping at The Boathouse for dinner before walking back via the lakeshore and trying for an early night. 

Race morning I was torn: do I walk the mile to the start, or drive? I decided to be lazy and drive, largely because I couldn't make a decision about which jacket to wear, so wanted to be able to ditch it at the last minute. 

Got to the high school about 20 minutes before the start, and just sat in the car for most of it. I had read the detailed and helpful race info, knew which bus I needed to get on (B, actually), and the plans for the finish. With about 10 minutes to go I headed over to the start area so I could cheer on the marathoners. I was just in time to hear the tail end of the race director's speech:

"We've had reports of serious storms in the area, and baseball-sized hail elsewhere in the state. Stopping the race for bad weather is entirely my decision. This is Iowa. So if a bus pulls up behind you and tells you to get on...  GET ON."


At precisely 6:00 a.m. the marathoners were released, along with bus A (carrying relay runners for leg 2 and 3). We cheered them on their way, then got on our bus to take us to the halfway point, where we would start at 7:00. 

The morning was pretty blustery, so the RD and the drivers decided to let us stay on the bus till about 6:50. (The drivers also needed to drop off relay runners for legs 3 and 4.)

Nice touch: the RD arrived and set up start line flags, so we weren't just starting from a spraypainted line on a country road. He also brought along a celebrity starter, a local businesswoman who had sponsored the race for years. Very classy. 

We started promptly at 7, running into a strong wind. Not fun. But after a few miles we had turned and had a tailwind to scoot us along. 

The sky was dark purple, and it took me a while to realize they were storm clouds and not pre-dawn skies. The setting was essentially flat, with acres of farmland and the occasional farmhouse, barn, or silo stretching away in all directions. 

It was super quiet, too: with only about 110 runners in the half, I was alone a lot of the time. 

I started passing the time by trying to guess when the first marathoner would catch up to me. Apparently I can't do that sort of math in my head. I blame the one hour "head start". But suffice it to say that I was surprised the the first marathoner didn't overtake me until somewhere after mile 8. 

I felt a little stiff at first, and worried about my ankles. But once I warmed up a little, the running felt good and I settled into an easy pace, and forced myself to stick to the 3:1 intervals I had decided to run. After all, I was in "taper mode" for Peru. The only two goals for the race were to finish in a new state and not get hurt. 

At on point I heard a frantic ringing of a bell coming from a farmhouse to my right. I wondered if it was a "twister's comin'! Get in the storm cellar!" sort of bell... but then decided it was a "you go, lone runner on a lonely road!" sort of bell. But don't think for a SECOND that I wasn't desperately scanning the skies. 

With just about a mile and a half left to go, we turned back into the wind, which was strong enough to make me drop to a walk -- I felt like I was being blown backwards with every stride. But then I saw the Marathon sign, which was pretty awesome. 

I finished in around 2:17, faster than I expected to have been. As I crossed the line the announcer called out someone else's name -- especially sad because a while later a woman from Spokane finished and he really fussed over her for coming all that way. I was handed a medal, directed to snacks and cold drinks, and then I went back on the course to cheer for incoming runners. 

Another race highlight: the local churches and fire department hold a post-race breakfast and lunch. Runners are given a token for their choice, since the lunch hadn't yet started (and was pulled pork sandwiches), I chose to have breakfast: a custom omelet, pancakes, and hash browns (skipped the bacon and sausage). The locals came out for breakfast, too; I chatted with a lady wearing a Marathon to Marathon t-shirt over her blouse. She asked how the race was, then told me she wasn't a runner, though she *had* walked to breakfast because she lives 2 blocks away and figured she wouldn't be able to park any closer, what with the roads being closed for the race.

After breakfast I went outside to cheer some more. I knew a bus would be heading back at 10:30, and when I felt the first raindrops I was determined to be on it. I caught a glimpse of yellow out of the corner of my eye and scurried off to get on the bus. I sat next to a woman named Caroline who had just BQed, and who works at Naperville Running Company. As we chatted and the bus started the 40-minute drive back to Storm Lake, it started raining. Crazy torrential rain. I just kept thinking of the runners still out on the course, and hoping rain didn't turn to lightning and thunder. 

I read later on FB that the RD kept the race going because there were no lightning strikes. Still, that was crazy rain!

I really liked this race for all of the homey touches, the handsome medal, the breakfast, the abundant info. 

I stayed in Storm Lake that night, working in my motel room and watching the storm -- which did turn into a huge lightning storm during the night. I kept entertaining little fantasies about owning a cottage there, walking along the lake in the evenings, and running the race every year. 

Next up: Peru!!!

That's state #25!!!

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