Tag Archives: Des Moines Marathon

Smarter training and racing result in satisfying marathon

12 Nov
I'm coming down the homestretch of the famous blue oval at Drake Stadium. Runners in the Des Moines Marathon can even watch themselves on the big screen at the track.

I’m coming down the homestretch of the famous blue oval at Drake Stadium. Runners in the Des Moines Marathon can even watch themselves on the big screen at the track.

Marathon No. 11 is in the books.

And I walked — or hobbled– away from it with two overriding lessons:

  1. Running a smart race can pay big dividends, and
  2. Don’t count your PRs until they are hatched achieved.

The Des Moines Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 20, provided some much-needed redemption from last year’s fiasco and also teased me about what might be possible.

It was a beautiful day for a race: 42 degrees at the start and blue skies. I had a solid year’s worth of racing and training under my belt. Everything was set up for a good run — if I just didn’t screw it up.


I had a grimace on my face as I crossed the finish line of the Des Moines Marathon in October 2013. I could have run the last two or three miles stronger, but I was happy that I was able to push as hard as I did.

I had a grimace on my face as I crossed the finish line of the Des Moines Marathon in October 2013. I could have run the last two or three miles stronger, but I was happy that I was able to push as hard as I did.

This year has been a good one for racing and training. I’ve hit my mileage goals, completed a 50-miler and remained relatively injury-free. I’ve done this by being smart with my approach. I’ve built a good base of training miles, and when the usual nagging injuries have flared, I’ve backed off for several days or a week or two.

This year, I tried to set a very realistic goal for Des Moines: finish better than last year.

I made a couple of crucial errors last year. First, I ran too many long runs too close to the race itself, not allowing adequate time for a taper. And during the race itself, I plowed through the early rolling hills at a too-aggressive pace. I paid for those two mistakes by running out of gas in the last 8 miles.

This year, I was determined not to repeat those mistakes.

In this 16-week training cycle, I did 5 runs of 16 to 22 miles, but none were closer than 4 weeks to the marathon date — although I did do one slower, 2-hour trail run the week before the race.

And as the gun sounded for the marathon, I was determined to run the first miles at slower-than-goal pace. The Des Moines Marathon features several rolling hills between miles 3.5 to 8, flattening out in the final 8 miles.

Since my primary goal was simply not to tank this year, I was very comfortable running at a controlled pace. I enjoyed the marathon sights, talked with a runner who ran the Eugene, Oregon, marathon earlier this year, and reveled in the lap around the historic blue oval at Drake Stadium.

As I reached miles 16, 17, 18, I realized I wasn’t going to blow up. So I started thinking about my secondary goals: setting a PR or setting a course PR.

I set my marathon PR in New Orleans — a nearly pancake flat course. For me, setting a PR in Des Moines would be a big accomplishment.

But my fastest splits were coming late in the race. I ran my fastest split at mile 12, but my next fastest splits came at miles 22, 20 and 16. I was still trying to hold back, but at mile 18-20, I thought I could maintain the pace for another 6-8 miles. I almost jumped for joy. I’m going to do it, I thought.

But I got a bit ahead of myself. I let myself go about 2 miles too soon. By mile 23, I realized my error.

My next goal was to set a course PR. This was my third running of the Des Moines Marathon — in addition to the two half marathons I’ve run there. In my opinion, the hills in the early miles don’t make it a great course to shoot for a personal PR.

But I could still set a course PR.

After the race, I pause to get congratulations from daughter Laura. Laura and my wife, Barb, shadowed me throughout the race, supplying me with my endurance drink, a home-made mix of maltodextrin.

After the race, I pause to get congratulations from daughter Laura. Laura and my wife, Barb, shadowed me throughout the race, supplying me with my endurance drink, a home-made mix of maltodextrin.

Aerobically, I was fine. It was my muscles that were rebelling. I took a few walk breaks in the last 3 miles, but I knew the average pace I needed to maintain for a course PR. If I could keep the average pace on my watch below the target, I’d be satisfied.

In the last mile, my IT band, left hamstring and quads were screaming. Several official race photos show the grimace on my face.

But I hated to lose my final goal. And with the finish line in sight, I made one final push — and salvaged my last goal. I finished 6 seconds faster than my fastest Des Moines Marathon. I hadn’t exactly shattered my course best, but, hey, a PR is a PR.

For several reasons, I was pleased with my efforts:

  • I put together a better training schedule — and then stuck to it.
  • I maintained my training through a sultry summer that had me questioning my efforts.
  • I ran a smarter race — and didn’t get caught up in the early euphoria.
  • And I had to gut out the last couple of miles in order to meet one of my key goals for the race.

Checking off four big boxes brings a smile of satisfaction to my face.

Now, one more race to go in 2013: the End of the World Marathon in Placencia, Belize. But this race is more about soaking up the atmosphere and having a good time than it is about setting PRs.

In the end, I’ll judge Placencia by the number of boat drinks consumed — on the course or off, I don’t really care.

1,000 miles run in 2013

16 Sep

Monthly mileage 2013Sunday’s long run pushed me over the 1,000-mile mark for 2013, which means this has been a good year for a couple of reasons.

First, it means I’ve been able log miles on a consistent basis, something I wondered about four years ago when a strange ache at the ischial tuberosity curtailed my efforts for nearly two years.

I still suffer the aches and pains of age and training, but I have learned to listen to my body. I can hear the whispers of the normal pain from training. But when the aches begin to scream, I am now smart enough to take some time off.

Several times this year, I have cut mileage when the aches increased their protests. But there’s only been one week where I recorded zero miles (two weeks after the ultra), and there have been only a handful of weeks when I have run fewer than 10 miles.

Second, I was able to tackle a new challenge — an ultramarathon — and that new challenge added a whole new level of fun to my training and racing efforts. I ran my ultra in early April, which is why my highest mileage months were in January and March. (A couple of trips in February and some aches led to fewer miles that month.)

My average run exceeded more than 10 miles in January and March. In the past year or two, I have pretty much confined my runs to Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday-Sunday. The roughly every-other-day schedule gives my body more time to rest, but it also forces some sort of cap on weekly mileage.

The ultra, the Potawatomi Trail 50, presented a major challenge. I’ve now completed 9 marathons, and I know I can tackle that distance. But I wasn’t sure about covering 50 miles on a trail in one session. That unknown distance increased my focus. The trails presented a whole new set of challenges themselves. And I enjoyed the physical effort and the mental challenge that the trail ultra posed.

I still have two marathons planned for the remainder of 2013.

In late October, I’ll run the Des Moines Marathon, which will be the fifth time for that race (third time for the marathon, twice in the half marathon). Last year, I stumbled to an awful finish in Des Moines. After a strong start this year, I had hoped to set a new PR there and gain a bit of redemption. But some unplanned rest at times throughout the summer means my training isn’t where it should be. So this year, I’ll keep telling myself “Run a smart race,” and my goal will be to beat last year’s disaster.

In December, I’ll run the End of the World Marathon in Placencia, Belize. It will be my first international marathon and my first trip to Belize. The goal there: Have fun and finish. A race in a tropical locale, accompanied by my wife and good friends — I can’t see any way I won’t reach my goals for this race.

And finally, my relative good health this year means I should meet my annual mileage goal and set me up for a new challenge in 2014.

Coming into 2013, my mileage goal was to exceed what I ran in 2012. In 2012, I was finally able to run a couple marathons — after a two-year hiatus — and I wanted to stay healthy enough to build on that in 2013. So far, so good.

And that has me thinking about 2014.

The Illinois ultramarathon was a ton of fun, but I’d like to take that a step further in 2014. I love Wyoming, and we’ve spent some time in the Bighorn Mountains in the north-central part of the state. And that makes the Bighorn Mountain 50 mile run attractive. Registration doesn’t open until January, so I’ve got plenty of time to plan and prepare.

I’m sure there will be additional challenges pop up between now and the end of the year, but with three-fourths of 2013 behind me, it’s been a good year.

Marathon training: Is it the heat and humidity or is it me?

12 Sep
The sun begins to break through the clouds on Mississippi River Road on a September Sunday morning. We've started on long runs before the sun comes up this summer to avoid as much of the heat as possible.

The sun begins to break through the clouds on Mississippi River Road on a September Sunday morning just north of Keokuk, Iowa. We’ve started our long runs before the sun comes up this summer to avoid as much of the heat as possible.

The heat and humidity of summer can’t end soon enough for me.

Training for a marathon during an Iowa summer is enough of a challenge, but it seems that this summer — and particularly the waning days of summer — has been especially taxing.

Usually, we can expect some relief in the temperatures and the humidity in September. But in the past couple of weeks, we’ve had some of our most extreme conditions.

On Sunday, the high temperature was 102 degrees fahrenheit. I avoided the worst of that by starting my long run before the sun came up. But I couldn’t avoid the humidity, which hit 86 percent during my run. That climatic combination proved debilitating. Weighing myself after completing the run, I found I had dropped 8.5 pounds. No wonder I felt sluggish.

I turned 50 earlier this year, and I keep anticipating the day when my age will negatively impact my training, despite my best efforts. I may have reached that point. Or it may just be the recent extreme weather.

According to “Galloway’s Book on Running” by Jeff Galloway, you should adjust your race pace by 20 percent for temperatures in the 80-85 degree range.

And what’s his suggestion for adjusting your goal pace above 85 degrees? “Forget it.”

If this was truly the case, there wouldn’t be a Badwater 135 ultramarathon, which runs through Death Valley every July. But you get the idea.

I did experience this phenomenon firsthand during the Country Music Marathon in April 2009. After an excellent training cycle in the winter and early spring, I felt I was ready for a PR effort in Nashville. But the CMM was hit with some of its highest race-day temperatures to date, and — not bright enough to adjust my pace — I struggled to the finish line in the 89 degree weather.

But the conditions have been even worse lately. At least the humidity was low during the CMM. During my current training phase, the humidity has routinely been in the 45-85 percent range. This has served to further impact my training and training times.

In Sunday’s especially high humidity, I was forced to alternate running and walking intervals by the end of my 18 miler. My legs were shot. I couldn’t muster the energy to keep pushing.

But humidity and heat are a nasty duo.

You should adjust your pace by 2 minutes per mile for temperatures between 80 and 85 degrees, according to a chart at the RunOnTexas web site. But when combined with humidity that is above 60 percent, you should add 3 minutes per mile to your pace.

Subconsciously, I know that the heat and humidity will negatively impact my training. But after a long summer, I was wondering if it was just me or my age or something else altogether.

It’s important to recognize that feeling sluggish on a sticky day doesn’t indicate a lack of fitness or a lapse in mental toughness—it’s your body’s physical response to a stressful environment, according to this article on RunnersWorld.com.

“As humidity increases, thermal strain and premature fatigue increase exponentially, and so running at your normal pace will feel very difficult,” said Dr. George Chiampas, medical director of the Chicago Marathon, in the RunnersWorld.com story.

My research on the impact of heat and humidity on training has helped me feel better about my recent training runs. But nowhere have I found an article that helps predict if the training struggles will be reflected in a decreased race performance.

I guess that’s a question I’ll answer for myself when I line up on Oct. 20 for the Des Moines Marathon.

♦ ♦ ♦

Have heat and humidity affected your training runs? Your races? Can you quantify how much the weather conditions have impacted your pace? Offer your thoughts in the comment box below.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Galloway and RunOnTexas items were both referenced in this article at Over40Runner.com.

Culinary excellence in NOLA

26 Feb

It should be no surprise that New Orleans does well when it comes to recognizing culinary excellence. If there are two things they do right in the Crescent City, it’s eat and drink.

A few days back, the James Beard Foundation announced the semifinalists for its 2013 awards. According to this story at Nola.com, 11 New Orleans restaurants, bars and chefs have made this cut.

Here is the complete list of 2013 James Beard Award semifinalists.

We visited two award nominees in our most recent trip to the Crescent City: Brigtsen’s, nominated for Outstanding Service; and Donald Link, nominated as Outstanding Chef at Herbsaint but also the man behind Cochon and Cochon Butcher.

One New Orleans restaurant was named a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant: Borgne. I’ll have to add this to my bucket list.

And Emeril Lagasse will receive this year’s humanitarian of the year award. We visited Emeril’s NOLA restaurant this trip (Tip: order the fried chicken! Sorry, mom, Emeril’s version just edges out your’s. ) And we’ve eaten at the eponymous Emeril’s in the past.

Interesting side notes:

  • San Francisco had 24 make the semifinalist cut. I knew I liked that town!
  • New York City had, by my count, 36 semifinalists. The best chef semifinalists are nominated by region, but NYC is a region of its own. Twenty NYC chefs made this category alone.
  • George Formaro, the man behind Centro, Django, South Union Bread and others in Des Moines, made the cut for Outstanding Restaurateur. Centro is our tried and true lunch-time stop after the Des Moines marathon every October.

Bon appetit!

Interesting year on the roads

31 Dec

All in all, 2012 was a good year for running.

I logged 1,174 miles in 2012, which was nearly a 40 percent increase from the 845 miles logged in 2011. Since I had set a goal of topping 1,000 miles at the beginning of the year, I was pleased.

As you might expect, my average run distance increased, jumping to nearly 7 miles from 5.3 miles. My overall average pace was a bit slower, which shouldn’t be too surprising since the run distance increased. But on the brighter side, the average pace for a run under 6 miles was a bit faster.

The last few miles were tough, but the feeling was sweet at the finish line of the Rock and Roll New Orleans Marathon.

The last few miles were tough, but the feeling was sweet at the finish line of the Rock and Roll New Orleans Marathon.

A nagging hamstring injury had kept me out of marathons for three years, but in 2011 and 2012, I learned how to manage the problem a bit better. This year, I rarely ran more than 4 times a week. And when the hamstring bothered me, I’d take extra time off, backing off for a week or two several different times throughout the year. If you are smart, when you get older, you realize that you can no longer just power through an injury. That’s been a tough lesson for me.

I was able to run three marathons in 2012. New Orleans in March was the highlight, setting a new PR. I ran my first trail marathon in September, although I should have stuck to the plan and made the run just another training day. And I ran the Des Moines marathon in October.

After a high in the spring, the fall was actually a downer. My times in the September and October races stunk, and I really had high hopes heading into Des Moines. But I learned a couple lessons: you can overtrain and you need to leave room for a taper.

I had been toying with the idea of an ultramarathon for my birthday in early 2013 — 50 miles on the 50th birthday had a nice ring to it. But that won’t happen. I needed to take some time off after the October race, and I haven’t ramped it up enough to make 50 miles in just a few weeks. But I may still log the 50 miles in my 50th year.

Despite the highs and lows, it’s been a blast. I’m thankful that I’m healthy enough to run. I love being outside, whether it’s 15 degrees or 90 degrees, whether it’s a sunny Sunday morning in May or a dark Tuesday night in December. I can watch the eagles along the Mississippi River and the turkeys in the nearby woods.

It’s fun to travel to races around the country, to see new places and to cut loose with family and friends. But there’s also a special satisfaction in lacing up the trainers, relieving some stress on the roads around Keokuk and simply reveling in the workout.

How were your workouts in 2012 and what do you have planned for 2013?

Low-key fun on Thanksgiving

23 Nov

After 10 months of pretty serious training, I was ready for a low-key event. The 33rd Annual Turkey Trot in Quincy, Ill., on Thanksgiving Day was just what the doctor ordered.

Laura, Barb, Kristi Stein and I all took part in the 33rd Annual Turkey Trot sponsored by the Quincy, Ill., YMCA. More than 2,000 people took part, which is a great turnout in a town of only 40,000.

Last year, DW Barb and I took part in the local Turkey Trot, which was sponsored by the women’s basketball team at the community college. This year, Barb checked if the trot was still scheduled and was told it was on.

Apparently, Barb thought a Turkey Trot wasn’t crazy enough on its own, so she felt compelled to order four very special turkey hats for her and I, plus our friend Kristi Stein and DD Laura.

Well, the week of the Turkey Trot, we found out that the local race wasn’t being held. But $50 of turkey hats is a powerful motivator, so Barb got busy and found the Quincy “race.” And it was a great find — other than the fact that we now had to drive 45 miles to trot.

The Quincy race was organized very well; 32 years’ experience will do that for a race, I guess. There were lots of walkers and lots of families, but everyone seemed to be having fun.

And there’s nothing like running a 10K with a turkey on your head to lighten the mood. We all got lots of compliments and our hats.

After the Des Moines marathon in mid-October, my training has been spotty. I’ve taken a few days off, and we took a week-long vacation to New York City. But the time off has been good for me. I was pretty serious about my training for 10 months. And after a disappointing finish in Des Moines, a few days off and a light-hearted approach has been welcome.

Turkey hat.

If the hat isn’t goofy enough, the look on this guy’s face tops it off.

Barb, Laura and Kristi hung together for the 5K, while I took off on my own for the 10K. All I wanted to do was have a nice run and enjoy the day.

The temperature was great, the course was good and the race was just a lot of fun. I did have one mishap when I stepped on a small branch and rolled my ankle pretty bad at about the 2-mile mark. But I’ve done this often enough, I’ve learned to just keep going, before the ankle has a chance to stiffen. (I really didn’t even feel any discomfort during the run, but as soon as I crossed the finish line and stopped moving, it stiffened up. I had to hobble to the car, but a day later, it feels pretty good.)

Des Moines really shook my confidence. With those results, I have doubted my training, and I knew my execution was worse. And even though the Turkey Trot was just for a good time, I felt good about my run.

In Des Moines, I had been aiming for an average of slightly less than 10-minute miles for the marathon. In Quincy, I was able to average about 8:30 miles.  Now, you can’t make a direct correlation between a 6-mile average and a 26-mile average, but I was still pleased with the run in Quincy.

I’ve been debating my next goal. In less than two months, I’ll turn 50. I’ve had a goal in the back of my mind for that milestone, but I just don’t know if I’ve been able to log enough miles lately to make that goal happen. But my confidence is on the upswing and the fun is returning to the training, so who knows?

If nothing else, I’ve learned that sometimes you need to blow off a little steam, so you can start to build your fire back up from the beginning.

What have you done to stoke your training fires? How do you lighten up your training?

If you want a really cool turkey hat for your next race, you can find them here.

Would it kill you to move over?

9 Oct

It may kill me if you don’t

This traffic sign near Fort Madison encourages motorists to “Share the road.”

Sunday’s run was a 20-miler, the last long run before the Des Moines Marathon on Oct. 21.

For my last few long runs, I’ve taken to running some different routes — running further away from town than I have in the past few years. I was getting bored with the same routes, so I decided to shake it up a bit. In early August, I ran from Fort Madison to Keokuk. This time I reversed the route, starting in Keokuk and finishing in Fort Madison.

The first 10 miles of the route was along the Mississippi River Road. The air was brisk, probably 40 degrees, but the sunshine made for a comfortable run. The leaves are at their most vibrant stage of the fall; another week or so, and they will be past their prime. The river was gorgeous, if a bit dark due to the freshening north wind.

The last 6 miles or so are along a gravel road just south of Fort Madison. You run next to the fields of corn and beans, and you can feel a real affinity for the country.

It’s the stretch between the opening miles and the closing miles that are problematic. For about 4 miles, you have to run along Highway 61. This four-lane stretch of highway is the least scenic — and the most harrowing. It’s not that I’ve really ever had problems along the highway, but the speeding traffic certainly keeps you on your toes, so to speak.

This portion of the highway has been a deadly stretch for bikers. Two bikers have been killed along here over the past few years, and another was killed just up the road. It was after this deadly string of accidents that the state of Iowa decided to add an extra bit of blacktop shoulder to the road. I don’t know that the state will admit that this is why they added the blacktop, but it was shortly after the third fatality that they added the extra shoulder.

I watched this barge head downriver during my run on Sunday morning.

Now there’s the four-lane highway, rumble strips on the side of the road to keep drivers on the main portion of the road and then the new blacktop shoulder. The blacktop shoulder is wide enough for a bike or two to get off the main portion of the highway, and there is still a few feet of gravel shoulder beyond this.

This is rural Iowa, so the traffic is not bumper to bumper by any means. And I was running on a late Sunday morning, which cuts down on the traffic, too. I didn’t meet any crazy or problem drivers, but there were plenty of drivers who I would call inconsiderate.

I’m 6 feet tall, nearly 200 pounds and wearing a BRIGHT green shirt. Anyone paying the least bit of attention would have a hard time not seeing me on this wide-open stretch of road. How do I know that you could see me, if you were paying attention? Because about half the drivers scooted over to give me a bit more room. Apparently they didn’t have any problem spotting me. As for the other half, they were just plain inconsiderate or they were asleep at the wheel. Either way, it ticks me off.

If you’re a runner/active person — or just a considerate person — you probably scoot over for runners, bikers or walkers. If you’re not doing this, please consider doing this simple gesture. If your loved one was walking, biking or running along a busy road, would you want the traffic to move over for them?

I’ve always likened buzzing a runner with your car to firing off a gun near someone’s head. Either way, you’re playing with a deadly object way too close to a person.

What if there’s a car in the other lane that prevents you from scooting over? You know, cars come with brakes; you can slow down a bit and then pull over. This may cost the motorist 5 or 10 seconds — and it may save someone’s life.

I see more and more diamond-shaped traffic signs that feature a picture of a bicycle and the words “Share the road.” This is great advice for all of us. The life you save could be that of a friend or loved one.

Check out the running route as logged on Endomondo:


No one outruns Father Time

2 Oct

The last few miles were tough, but the feeling was sweet at the finish line of the Rock and Roll New Orleans Marathon.

But then again, how do you know who is in the lead?

After a three-year hiatus from the marathon, my race season got off to a great start in 2012. My winter training sessions were productive, and in March, I set a new PR at the New Orleans marathon.

With those results in the bank, I was feeling good about the chance to PR again in a fall marathon. But the progress just didn’t seem to be there throughout the summer. The numbers in my training log haven’t led me to be optimistic.

I log all of my training runs. I record the distances, the pace, the temperature, my weight and more. I can analyze the results by my daily pace, my pace for distances over 6 miles and under 6 miles and my average pace for the month; I know what my training volume is by week and by month. Yeah, I’m a bit OCD, but it gives me something to do.

When I reviewed my summer training, I didn’t see the same sort of progress that I did over the winter. I thought this summer’s excessive heat might be to blame for the lack of progress. It’s hard to improve your pace when high temperatures add so much strain to even an easy run.

I don’t think I did myself any favors when in mid-September I turned what was supposed to be a 22-mile long run into a 26-mile effort in my hometown’s inaugural trail marathon. I didn’t record a very good time, but even that sucked my energy and made recovery more difficult than it should have been.

And last but probably not least, I have to wonder if I haven’t crossed that line where even the best of efforts won’t lead to new PRs.

No one outruns Father Time. As we age, we lose muscle mass, strength and function. The medical term for this is sarcopenia. According to Dr. William Roberts in a “Runner’s World” column, sarcopenia starts at age 40 and accelerates after age 75. The effects are greater for the inactive, but it also impacts the active, too.

Runners slow about 7 percent per decade in their 40s, 50s and 60s — and even more quickly after that, according to an article in “Running Times,” which was reporting on a study from World Masters Athletics.

I ran my first marathon at age 40, so with a fairly late start in life I was bound to see improvements at first. But at some point, the improvements have to fade.

The first question is: Have I reached that point?

And, if so, the next question is: If PRs are a thing of the past, where will I find my motivation?

For the past decade, my motivation has been partly fueled by the drive to improve my times. I’ll never win a race, but the beauty of running is you can compete with yourself. And if that is no longer possible, I’ll have to find other motivation.

I guess I’ll be closer to answering the first question when I run the Des Moines Marathon on Oct. 21. And I think I’ll let the second question roll around in the back of my mind a bit longer — and make sure I’ve definitively answered the other question first.

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