This spring I had a couple long runs of twenty miles and plenty of hours of coaching under my belt. I wasn’t registered for a full marathon until October. I really felt like I needed a target race to keep my spirits up and myself motivated. As our summer schedule was filling up rather quickly, I scoured the internet for a marathon that would fit into our schedule. I foundRun 4 Troops Marathonin Dubuque, Iowa, which was scheduled for June 24. It was a weekend when we didn’t have much going on, excited for my husband’s Ironman training picking up. So, he encouraged me to register. I hadn’t done a marathon in Iowa yet, so I was excited to get out of town and check it out.
The race would be completed along a crushed gravel trail, the Heritage Trail. And it was a point to point course. The trail looked very similar to the Glacial Drumlin Trail that I regularly run on in Cottage Grove. Nice, flat and scenic. There was the full marathon race. But the larger event was the relay, where two to a dozen team members could relay run the marathon distance. There were various exchange points and water stations throughout the course, where the runners would exchange and meet up and the full marathoners would continue onward. I had done Ragnar before and was excited to see how this was a different experience from a typical road race marathon. But I was doing the whole thing. Exciting stuff! The race honored and supported tri-state military families.
We left town on Friday afternoon and stayed at Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark. The host hotel was at the Hilton Garden Inn, just a few miles away. We stopped over and picked up my packet before dinner. There was no expo like the other larger marathons I’ve participated in. They confirmed that there were around 200 full marathon runners, like previous years.
We found a nice brew pub in downtown Dubuque and I enjoyed a few pieces of pepperoni and green olive pizza, and some beer battered fries and hydrated with water. It was a rare splurge, as I recently had lost some significant weight by tracking my diet and exercise. We headed back to the hotel and enjoyed the hotel’s waterpark for an hour. She had fun, but it was more appropriate for my older kids, had they been able to join us.
There would be a shuttle from the host hotel to the startline (26 miles away!) at 5:30 am the following morning. Since I didn’t want my husband to get up early and drive there, I asked our hotel concierge to drive me at 5:00 am. This was hours earlier than their services start, but they agreed to put me on the books.
My right calf and shin had been bugging me on and off for the last several weeks, so I tried to rest when I can, ice and roll it out. I used the stick a lot at the hotel and also slept in compression socks. They really helped alleviate the pain.
We put Baby Diva to bed around 8:45 and hid out in the dark and I actually fell asleep right away. I woke up at 2:45 am and my stomach was already getting nervous. I used the bathroom a few times and then finally decided to start getting ready around 3:45. I hid out in the bathroom and got myself ready while everyone else slept and then I headed to the lobby at 4:45 and ate my breakfast. There was no toaster, so I ate an untoasted English muffin with peanut butter that I packed and a Chobani yogurt.
I got in the shuttle right on time and we headed over to the host hotel. I got on their motor coach bus (one of a few) and we were off right on time. A man named Rich sat down next to me. He was from Michigan and a traveling marathoner. He told me of his international marathon race experiences and also recommended some good events in his area. The quiet bus quickly got noisy with marathoners and runner enthusiasts sharing training stories and race experiences. It’s always funny how runners can just connect. I noticed that the bus was pretty full of men, and not as many women. The buses were only for the full marathon runners, as the relay teams would provide their own transportation along the course. We quickly arrived at the trailhead and were dropped off. It was chillier than expected and I hadn’t packed a long sleeve. I got in the port-o-potty line – and then found a spot on the ground and enjoyed a few more spoonfuls of peanut butter and a packet of sports beans, downed with a bottle of water.
I visited the bathroom a few more times, including during the National Anthem (which I always seem to do). There was a mandatory meeting around 6:45 where we heard motivating stories and race day instructions. I put my drop bag on the back of a truck for post-race and then headed to the startline, where we were joined by a bagpiper.
The race started at 7:00 am and we were to head about a half mile out on the road, turn around and then run the remaining 25 miles on the Heritage Trail towards Dubuque. My first mile clocked in at 8:30 as I found my placement in the group. At mile two, I realized that my mile didn’t click in. And I soon realized that my new watch wasn’t set on the lap feature that tracks your pace for each mile. So I quickly started doing “runner brain” math in my head. My goal was between 9:00-9:30 miles, so I started adding ten minutes to each mile and subtracting one minute. That was the easiest my mind was going to work over the next 24 miles!
The race course was supposed to have minimal support, only listed with water and sports drink at the few exchange points. But there would also be emergency carts going back and forth down the trail with drinks (and a stretcher!). I saw the carts a few times. There were also plenty of extra water stations at the crossroads on the trail. I never felt like I needed water or wasn’t going to have any. I carried my handheld with me like I always do. I grabbed extra water and or sports drink at each water station. I believe that all of the water stations had blue Gatorade. The intersections and water stations were well supported. Many of the water stations only had a couple volunteers so you had to grab the water off of the table, but that was no biggie.
I had my plan to have energy gels at miles five, ten, fifteen and twenty. That’s what I did. I carried an extra with me, in case I needed an extra boost at the end. But I didn’t use it. My plan is always to use the gels before I feel that I need them. And this plan always works for me. This race, too.
The exchange points were nice. The trail was pretty quiet. So there was a lot of cheering from spectators and teams at the exchange points. I turned down my tunes at the exchange points to gain some momentum from the crowds. I was worried that I would feel isolated and like I was out on a training run during the rest of the race. But I typically always saw two to ten people in front of me.
There were a few pace groups – I believe 3:30, 4:00, 4:30 etc. I was trying to stay in front of or near the 4:00 pace group. My PR from a flat course in 2010 was 4:02, but my racent marathons have been 4:10-4:15. Considering I wasn’t officially training for this marathon and was injured, I was hoping for somewhere around the same.
The crushed gravel was awesome and never annoying. And just as expected, it was very similar to the Glacial Drumlin Trail. There were dozens (seriously!) of bridges that we crossed and extremely scenic views. The course was described at about 70-80% shaded with periods of open sun. And I agree with this description. The weather was a beautiful high of low-70s and partly sunny skies. It was gorgeous. I wore a tank, but still got a little warm, but no overheated. The shaded areas were welcome and the tree coverings were gorgeous. There were cattle roaming fields, streams, farms and beautiful countryside that we passed. I really enjoyed it. I thought I’d get annoyed without landmarks or turning. But that didn’t happen.
The relay runners started thirty minutes after the full marathoners. Several of the faster teams did catch up to us and pass us. Every time their runner would spring by, I kept reminding myself that I ran fifteen miles ruther or that I still had twelve miles to go. It was hard not to get deflated. Their bibs were a different color than ours – and easily identifiable.
I was passing and being passed by a guy consistently. Finally he told me that he was just going to stay with me and we could pace each other. He kept trying to talk to me, but I was getting uncomfortable and didn’t feel like talking. I was worried I was coming across as rude, but needed to focus on my breathing and my rhythm. From miles 10-14 he tried chatting, would stop at water stations or to use the bathroom, but would always catch up with me. It was his first marathon and he trained regularly on this trail. He was aiming for four hours.
I was consistently clocking around 9:00 min miles according to my runner brain calculations and the mile markers were spot on – thanks to a straight point to point race! I crossed the half marathon point in 1:59 and some change. I quickly knew that going sub four hours wasn’t going to be in reach and was starting to slow down a little as my hip flexers and my bottom muslces were starting to tighten up and “buckle”. My injury wasn’t bothering me too much – or maybe I was just getting used to dealing with it.
I was surprised to see my husband and Baby Diva a few times along the second half of the course. My leg wasn’t bothering me but the muscles in my bottom were starting to ache. At mile fourteen, I saw a water station and my handheld was finally empty. I stopped for the first and only time for a bout twenty seconds seconds to fill my water bottle up from the tap. And then I saw the four hour pace group pace me – with that guy I was running with earlier. I never did catch up with them.
I was feeling great and never hit the wall. I had moments where I had to find the right running song and rhythm to motivate me. But I never felt like quitting, like I couldn’t do it or like I needed to walk. The second half I was passed by a few people. But I also passed a lot of runners, especially other women. I passed several individual runners that had passed me very early on in the race.
The last couple of miles I really picked up the pace and put on some good tunes. I was in the zone. There was a woman that stopped and was sick alongside the trail and some other runners and myself flagged down an emergency team just around the corner. The last portion of the route was really shaded and cooler. My stomach was starting to bother me. I thought I drank too much Gatorade. But later my husband thought that maybe the variation of sun and shade caused my body to get confused about cooling itself down. I repeated “Take It All Back” three times and just got into my groove as I saw sunlight and the finish line straight ahead. I ended up crossing the finish line in 4:06 and some change.
I quickly reunited with my family and drank two ice cold bottles of water, had a carton of chocolate milk and ate two orange slices. And then I felt sick. My stomach turned and I felt dizzy while I stretched. I didn't feel good. I was also hobbling. A lot. After I stopped running, I immediately stiffened up. My body wasn't liking me very much. So I tried stretching some more and then I tried walking around a bit. I typically don’t each much – if anything – after a marathon right away. So I thought that maybe I ate too much too quickly. My husband found my drop bag for me and I sat down at a picnic table under a tent and gained my composure. After fifteen minutes or so I felt better. I waited in the long line for a slice of pizza and I was later able to enjoy a salad at Culver’s on the drive home.
I would highly recommend this race to anyone. It was flat, scenic, well organized and had great race support. It was an amazing marathon and would be fun to grab a few friends and do the relay. It was definitely worth the drive from Madison and the hotel stay. If we didn't have a child(ren) with me, I would suggest making it easy on yourself and staying at the host hotel. If you were doing an adults-only getaway, it would be fun to visit the casinos, do some of the museums and take time to enjoy the riverwalk. Unfortunately we were pressed for time. I went home and tried to take a nap while Baby Diva slept and hubby did his Ironman training in the afternoon. I figured I earned it.
Finish time: 4:06:25 Pace: 9:25 min/mile
Overall: 84/173 finishers
Age Group (30-39F): 11/20
Read more interesting posts at All Personal Health