Saturday was the 35th annual Dam to Dam race, and for the first time the event was lengthened to become a half-marathon. It has been a 20K race (12.4 miles) all these years, but after discussions with city officials it was decided to add the .7 miles and create a half-marathon.
Kara and I arrived downtown around 5:00 a.m. to catch the bus that would take us to the Saylorville Dam. We met up with Donna, who is training for her first Ironman race; Andy, who just completed his first Ironman; and Andy’s fiancée Megan, who was running her first half-marathon.
We boarded one of the many buses that were waiting and headed out. We wondered what the other three pickup points looked like since it appeared that every school bus in Des Moines was on Locust Street that morning. The ride was uneventful until a road closure had the bus driver confused on what to do. It was apparent that this wasn’t discussed before the drivers were sent to their locations. But we runners are always a helpful bunch. The whole bus directed him around the detour, and we made it to the drop-off point with time to stretch and prepare for the next 13.1 miles.
As we made our way onto the bridge and to our pace area (the area marked that, according to your average time per mile, is where you should start from) it felt as though we were salmon swimming up the river. There were approximately nine thousand runners on the bridge, all waiting anxiously for the starting gun. Kara and I were hoping that we could start and finish together, but in this sea of people that would prove to be challenging.
Suddenly the race was on. After the initial start and stops as the crowd swells at the starting line, we were off and in fine form. Kara and I were quite the team, passing other runners while watching out to see where our partner was. We were making good time and moving ahead, and it looked like I would make my goal of under 2 hours if we kept up this pace or close to it. The first three miles were awesome!
Then it happened. We moved off the road to pass some slower runners, and Kara stepped back on the road easily. I went to follow, but the crowd was closing the area. I had to sidestep to get back on the road and avoid a runner in the grass, when I felt a pain in my right calf. I have a tear in the inner muscle that is healing, but this pain said to me that trouble was brewing if I didn’t watch out. I hollered to Kara that the calf was acting up, and she instinctively slowed down. I pointed forward and told her to go on; I wasn’t about to let my injury spoil the great run she was having. After a quick nod, she continued on with her pace and I slowly watched her fade from view and into a wall of people.
The next ten miles were brutal. I would have moments where the pain was gone, and my pace quickened somewhat, only to have the pain return and slow me down again. I needed to cross that line; I did not want to be picked up and carted back; I did not want a DNF next to my name. I had to give up on the personal record dream and focus on just finishing the race.
Finally, and mercifully, I turned the final corner and could see the finish line 400 yards away. The calf was calm for a moment, so I took a chance and started to really pick up the pace. Any gas left in the tank was going to be gone when I hit the tape. It probably looked slow, but it felt like a dash. 400 yards became 200, then 100, then the finish line. As soon as I stopped the pain returned, as if to say “I gave you a break, but now I’m back!”
I met up with Kara and Donna, who both had really good runs and both finished in under 2 hours. I finished with 2:13:56, not too bad for thinking that every step could be my last one for the last ten miles. We rehydrated and stretched, and tried to enjoy the moment.
Another half marathon in the books. Another Dam to Dam completed. Another medal to go along with all the memories that were made, both good and not so good. It won’t take long to start dreaming of doing it again next year.
In fact, I already am.
Live healthy, be happy.