Saturday, October 22, 2011

Des Moines Marathon Performance Review

Home stretch of the Des Moines Marathon
2nd marathon completed in 24 hours
 Des Moines Marathon 
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Kansas City, MO
15th Marathon Completed
(back-to-back with Kansas City the previous day)

Official Time: 3:30:47
Avg Pace: 8:03
Splits: 6:35 Negative Split
First Half - 1:48:41, 8:18/mile
Second Half - 1:42:06, 7:48/mile
Avg HR: 157
Calories Burned: 3,774
Elevation Gain: 701 ft
Finish: 207/1498 Overall, 27/149 in 40-44 Age Group
Weather: Starting Line - 50 degrees, 65% humidity, 10mph wind ... Finish Line - 57 degrees
Pre-Race Meal: Papa John's Chicken & Pepperoni Pizza
Comments: Legs felt good but fairly low energy level for the second marathon in two days, at mile 20 started focusing on my family waiting for me at the finish, GREAT EXPERIENCE!!!
I woke up at about 4:00 AM on Sunday morning in Des Moines before the second of two marathons in two days.  I was a little worried that I would be a little stiff from the marathon in Kansas City the day before, but as soon as my legs hit the floor, I knew everything was good ... I felt great!!!  Absolutely no pain or stiffness.  However, I did notice right away that my energy level seemed to be a little lower than I had expected. Over the past few months, the biggest challenge in back-to-back runs had been my energy level on the second day, and today would prove to be the same.

The main goal of Sunday was simply to finish the race, but in the back of my mind I had a time of goal of 3:30.  But based on my energy level, I knew it might not happen.  So I set my mind on simply running as smooth and steady as I could.

Mile 26 ... 7:19/mile pace
The 52nd mile I had ran in 24 hours,
And my fastest of mile of either marathon
The weather forecast called for 8-10 mph winds, but when I stepped outside, it seemed quite a bit "breezier" than that.  And combined with the 50 degree overcast skies, it felt fairly chilly.  I am definitely a warm weather runner.  Any kind of chill in the air seems to hinder me quite a bit from warming up properly and a lot of times I struggle with stiff joints and sore muscles in the cooler temps. So I was looking forward to later in the day when the sun was supposed to peek through the clouds and warm things up.

I had been experimenting with CEP Recovery Sleeves over the last month after long runs and found them to be very helpful after long runs.  But I had never ran with them.  It probably wasn't smart to use a marathon as my first "guinea pig", but I figured that I could use the added warmth and decided to give them a try.  In a word, they were AMAZING!!!  Even though, in my opinion, they look a little silly, I really felt like gave me added support that I needed late in the race.  I probably won't make them a staple accessory for marathons, but it's good to know that I have them as an option.

As the race started, it seemed a little surreal to be running another marathon after I had just finished one less than 24 hours before.  And as the race wore on, I really fought it.  It was a constant struggle to maintain pace, and I had to focus like never before just to finish.

Michael, Madison, and Nate had driven to Des Moines to watch me finish and that was the single thing that drove me the last 4-5 miles of the race.  I just focused on them waiting for me at the finish line, and when I finally saw them standing there, it was was one of the most awesome things ever.

I can't begin to explain the relief, excitement, and sense of accomplishment that I felt as I crossed the finish line.  This day would cap one of the most memorable weekends I've ever had.  I met my time goal of 3:30 and I could not have been happier with how I had ran.  More importantly, I had my family there with to celebrate and it made the day perfect.  I felt like I had set a pretty big goal for myself, worked my butt off to achieve it, and finally made it happen.  Words can't explain how rewarding it felt.

Compared to Kansas City on Saturday, the course was pretty easy.  There were a few hills in the early stages of the race, but over all it was fairly flat - which I gladly welcomed after the hilly experience the day before.  Des Moines only features 701 ft of elevation incline, and the last 11 miles are all downhill and flat.  For me, the last half of the race was a little boring.  The course takes runners on a paved path beside Raccoon River and Gray's Lake, away from the streets of downtown.   It was very scenic, especially with leaves starting to change.  But in a marathon, I prefer busy city streets with people standing at every intersection to cheer you as you run by.  But I know a lot of runners prefer being surrounded by wilderness.

Marathon courses that aren't routed solely on city streets are very tough for me to run efficiently.  I just don't seem to run tangents very well around lakes, winding rivers, and through wilderness paths.  And accordingly for this race, I ran a total of 26.38 miles.  Almost a quarter mile more than necessary.  Not running the tangents well is not only a time killer, but also mentally tough during the last mile of a race.  When your Garmin reads 26.2 ... you're ready to be done!  Unfortunately in a race like this, there always seems to be some "spare change" at the end.

Pace & Splits
At no point in the Des Moines Marathon did I feel smooth and fluent while running.  The whole day was a grind.  Typically in a marathon, I really have to throttle myself down for the first 4-5 miles to make sure I don't go out to fast.  This wasn't a problem at Des Moines.

When the race started, I wasn't really experiencing any soreness yet, but my energy level just wasn't there.  As we made our way up Locust toward the Capital Building in the first mile, I really struggled to pound out an 8:30/mile pace.  And "pound out" is the best phrase I can use to describe what my feet were doing to the pavement.  I really tried to focus on form, and not so much pace, but I just didn't feel right.  I really thought at that point it was going to be a long day.

The next 2-3 miles were pretty much the same.  I kept hitting my splits of 8:25/mile or so, but I just didn't feel smooth.  As I passed shop windows along the downtown course, I tried to look at my reflection to evaluate form ... it wasn't good.  I really didn't think at that point I had any chance of hitting my goal of 3:30 for the race.  But I was really okay with it.  I just wanted to finish and get this thing over with.

The main hills on the course are from miles 4-8, and they weren't really that big of a deal for me on Sunday.  They didn't seem nearly as steep or long as the ones in Kansas City I had ran on Saturday, so I just tried to plug along and gradually ramp up my pace when possible.  I slowly began whittling away at my overall pace running these miles at about an 8:10/mile pace.  I really felt like I was beginning to get into more of  a groove, but my energy level was still really low.

RAWKFIST!!! USA ... USA ... USA!!!
I  had brought two Stinger Gels and a PowerBar with me for supplemental race fuel.  I used the first Gel at about mile 10, and the other at about mile 15.  I ate the PowerBar somewhere along the way - I think about mile 18 or 19.  I've never used a PowerBar in a race before, but it seemed to give my stomach something solid to work on instead of the sugary gels that can sometimes give me some stomach problems late in a race.

Miles 8-16 took runners on an out and back through a nice tree-lined neighborhood North of Interstate 235. We ran about 3 miles through the neighborhood streets, circled the cushioned track at Drake University Stadium, and then made our way back along the same route.  The crowd support along this portion of the race was fantastic.  Plus, it was here that I was met by the leaders of the marathon ... several Kenyans.  It was pretty cool to see them on the course, but also a little disheartening realizing that they had about a six mile lead on me at only about 10 miles into the race.

The out & back portion of the race is really where I began to battle my mental toughness and fatigue.  I had gradually began to ramp up my pace a little to about 7:55/mile average, but it was really taking its toll on my heart rate. I noticed that as I forced my pace a little, I started seeing some 160 bpm's on my monitor.  I didn't feel horrible - just A LOT different than the day before.  It seemed like I had to focus intently on every single step.  And there wasn't much energy left for joking and screwing around with passing runners and the marathon supporters.  I just kept my hat pulled down and looked straight ahead.

At about mile 18, I started realizing that if I pushed my pace to about 7:40-7:45/mile for the remainder of the race, I might have a chance at making my goal of 3:30.  One of the settings on my Garmin is average overall pace, so I always know pretty much where I'm at for a total in the race.  As I increased my speed each mile, I watched as the average overall pace started to melt away.  I knew that if I could push it for these last 6-8 miles, I would probably be close to my goal time.  So of course I pushed it!

Something I seem to be developing a tendency to do in marathons is to find something to use a stress ball.  When I start getting tired in a race, I'll grab a couple of gels that volunteers are handing out and squeeze them in either hand as I run.  It acts as some sort of nervous, tension reliever, but it really seems to have a psychological calming effect as I run.  I don't know - maybe I'm just crazy.

Miles 18-21 were really tough for me.  Starting at mile 18, runners made a loop around Waterworks Park.  As you entered the Park, you were met by runners who were returning from the loop around the facility.  It felt like another out & back, although they really only passed you for about a quarter mile.  However, I could see them up ahead in the distance for most of the loop.  And every time I looked up to see how much further I had to go, I got a little discouraged ... they were so far ahead of me.  I was, however, still pounding away at my pace.  Though really laboring, I was able to keep my pace around 7:50, and seconds were still coming off of my overall pace for the race.

At mile 23, my Garmin read an overall pace for the race of 8:03.  I knew that if I could take off a second per mile, I would be close to my goal time, depending on how much overage I had to make up due to not running the tangents very well.  I really started to empty the tank.  I was focusing on my family that was waiting for me, and how great it would feel to cross the finish line ... ESPECIALLY if I made my goal of 3:30.  I was able to squeeze out a 7:42 & 7:46 at miles 22 & 23, but I knew I had to give a little more in the last three miles if I wanted to make my goal.

At mile 24 I really began to run.  Even though it was the 50th  mile I had ran in two days, it seemed to feel more natural than all of the energy conservation miles I had logged over the past 24 hours.  Even though I was exhausted, my stride felt better than it had for the previous 50 miles.  And mile 24 came in at a 7:40/mile pace. Mile 25 was even faster at 7:34.  I was down to 8:01/mile for an over all pace, and I felt pretty good for the mile 26 push.

Michael, Madi, Nate, & me ... AND TWO MEDALS!!!
As I stepped foot onto Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway for mile 26, downtown Des Moines, IA came into full view.  I had driven this street dozens of times for business and Iowa Cubs baseball games, and I knew I only had one more mile, and one left turn until the finish line.  I began pouring out every ounce of energy I had left.  I was huffing and puffing and my heart rate was climbing to 180-185 bpm, and my good running form had faded away.  As I made the turn onto 3rd Street for the final .2 miles, I knew that my goal time of 3:30 was going to happen.  Mile 26 had been my fastest of the two marathons at 7:19/mile, and I began to throttle it down a little, look for my waiting family, and enjoy the experience!

About 100 yards from the finish line, I saw my family cheering and screaming for me!  My legs were pretty spent by this point, and I had absolutely no energy left.  But when I saw them, my face lit up like a Christmas tree, my heart was overcome with joy, and my right hand instinctively went victoriously in the air ... RAWKFIST!!!  I yelled to them, "I DID IT!!!  I DID IT!!!"  And as I crossed the finish line, I threw both hands in the air ... and finally stopped running.  My time, 3:30:47 ... 12 minutes faster than the marathon less than 24 hours before.

I can't imagine many more running weekends that will be better than my first back-to-back  marathons at Kansas City & Des Moines.  And the feeling I had when I crossed the finish line will be one that I'll never forget.  I had successfully met both of my time goals and felt strong and healthy upon completion.  But the most memorable thing about the whole event was seeing my family waiting for me at the finish line.  Having them there to share the reward of my hard work was indescribable.  I'm so thankful for them, and so thankful I had this opportunity to complete both races.
... be great today!


  1. Great post!

    I really enjoy reading your blog. If I never ran before in my life, your blog would make me want to get up and start running. I am truly an inspired follower.

    Now time for me to get off the computer and hit the streets! :)

  2. Jim, it looks like you picks some pretty tough marathons for back to back. Great job as always. I can't wait to hear what you next challenge is.

  3. Nothing short of amazing in my book! So impressed with your effort, not to mention two stellar times in two days. Way to go!

  4. What an amazing job and great inspiration you are! I especially like you mentioning your 'first' back to back marathon weekends - seriously, are you considering it again??!!

  5. Those hills in Des Moines look like the Rockies in my backyard :). Love it when elevation profiles exaggerate, sort of scares ya to start but then it's just a piece of cake :). I've run those hills with my gf who lives in Des Moines, very pretty route!

    Nicely done, sir!!!

  6. Love it!

    And that finisher picture with the support crew is the best I've ever seen! :)

  7. You look so happy in all of your pics! This is awesome! And negative splits. Back to!!

  8. Love the picture with your 2 medals.

    I can't imagine running 2 marathons in 2 days and finishing the 2nd one close to 10 minutes from your PR.

    Good job sir!!

  9. Two marathons in two days, both time goals met and a 3:30 finish! Pizza and good, hard training - that's the key!


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