A Running Adveture in Iowa - by Manny

Today, we have a guest blogger, Manny. He is a training partner of mine and a good friend. He was kind enough to share a recent adventure in Iowa. (the italicized green sections are written by me to offer some clarification)

I thought I would share a running experience from this past weekend (weekend of 11/23). Obviously, I’m no John D (a running friend), but I’m beginning to enjoy John’s travelogues and his “love of life” voice. I’m also reading Dean Karnazes’ “Ultra Marathon Man” (thank you, Lori), and it just seems like writing is something that endurance runners do to get it out of their system.

I traveled to Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Friday to make a business presentation – at least that was the business purpose. Actually, I went to run in Iowa. A colleague, Gary W., is in-house counsel at a major insurance company that is headquartered in Cedar Rapids. When I last visited Cedar Rapids, I met Gary and he just seemed like a great guy – an ultra marathoner (he is training for the Coastal Challenge 150 mile race in Costa Rica January), who is in great shape, is about my age (Gary is 53) and has a positive outlook on life that is infectious. When Chris L. ran the Las Vegas 50K race last year, Gary was also at that race. Gary’s office is adorned with at least 40 marathon ribbons.

My business presentation Friday went well, and Gary and I had picked our race for Saturday in advance. Gary said he had always wanted to run the Living History Farms race in Des Moines, and I blindly signed up for it in San Francisco the week before. But that evening around 5, we decided to take a 3.5 mile run in Cedar Rapids. It was a cold 25 degrees (the day had started out at 8 degrees). I had packed layers, long running pants, a hat and gloves and was ready. The company has an in-house fitness facility, with showers, so I changed out of my suit into my running gear, and off we went. It was cold, and Gary runs at an 8.5 minute mile pace. Having run the early morning runs with Tom and Lori, and getting comfortable with Tom’s sprints down the final stretch, I knew I could do 9 minute miles for 4 miles, so I tried to keep up. The terrain was beautiful rolling farmland, trees and a few hills, and the sun was just setting. The coldness just gets into you at the beginning, but after about a mile you get used to it, somewhat. At about mile 2 we went off road and started on a forest trail. You had to watch your footing, and it was still cold, and I had no idea where I was, and Gary was running way too fast. I kept my pace around 9 minute miles and tried to enjoy myself. Running in a forest is a trip – you see trees, you’re on a trail, there are shrubs and stuff and it’s just not like our San Francisco runs. The combination of cold temperature, wind, and the quiet solitude of the rustling of trees and approaching darkness just makes it seem like you are on another planet. It’s heart pumping and a little scary (I kept thinking “can my body really do this – well, yes”) . We exited the forest and started running back to the corporate headquarters building. Only one thing Gary forgot to tell me – there was a hill, and I mean a real hill – more than we generally do. It was like going up the hill to the Presidio on Arguello, but it kept going for about 4/10ths of a mile. Gary slowed but just kept going. I was not going to be outdone. I slowed and thought of Lori telling me to just keep going and that I was stronger than I was, and made it. We then kept running and finished after sunset. We were both laughing. It was exhilarating.

We showered and went to dinner and we were both famished. The cold weather running makes you real hungry. We had a great dinner and said goodnight. Gary went home. I went to the hotel bar for 2 hours (hey – its me). Hit on a few women, bought a few rounds, stuck to the vodka and went to bed (alone, thank you) at midnight.

Saturday morning started early, at 5:15. I woke up, got into the same layered running outfit and Gary picked me up at the hotel at 5:40. We picked up another colleague of his from the insurance company and started our 2 hour drive to Des Moines to run the Living History Farms trail run, a 7 mile run through various “living history” farms. For non-Iowans, “living history” farms is a large area of working farms from four periods, an Indian farm, the 1850 prairie farm, a farm from 100 years ago and from today. I can’t verify this, but Gary said it is the largest trail run in the United States, and with 7,500 runners it looked it.

The 2 hour car trip from Iowa City to Des Moines was an adventure in itself as it started snowing hard and the tractor trailer trucks in Iowa just kept barreling by creating a wake of snow as they passed. We saw a few overturned or otherwise disabled cars in the ditches on the side of the highway and slowed down – it was single file for a while. We didn’t know what the weather was going to be like in Des Moines and it was starting to look like a bad idea.

When we got to the race exit on the freeway, we had less than 50 minutes before race time, and the highway exit was blocked by the highway patrol. Too many people were trying to get to the race start and the State Police just stopped traffic at the highway exit. Gary made a “command decision” and we drove to the next exit and double backed on the north and parked the car on a side road off the freeway. We then ran to the starting line on the other side of the freeway. How did we do that? We ran through a culvert under the freeway – yes a culvert with freezing water up to our ankles. It was the craziest thing I had ever done. We just ran from the car through trails for 1 mile (thanks to my Garmin, I have everything documented) and made it to the registration area with 25 minutes to spare.

Our toes were freezing and we could barely feel our feet because of that culvert stunt. We joined the other 7,500 runners, most dressed in costume. It was windy and it was below 20 degrees, and yet there were at least a dozen people running bare chested, two men ran in diapers, and some women in bikinis. People were running in pajamas, and many in just shorts. These Iowans are crazy people.

I didn’t know what to expect about the race. The web site picture shows people jumping through mud entering a stream, and I just thought that it was a joke. Gary said the race was going to be wet, cold and muddy. What, I asked, did he mean? He just smiled. Well, we ran through trails and farms and crossed 9 streams. How did we cross them - by running through them, mostly on rocks, but they were slippery and you couldn’t avoid losing your footing sometime and getting a sneaker full of freezing water. We climbed hills through brush. How did we climb them – on all fours. The trails were marked, but sometimes barely, and you just had to walk and climb in areas. We ran through mud, and farmlands of hay and corn. The frozen terrain made for unstable running and you had to stay focused and run smart – no flat out sprints or you could twist an ankle easily. One of the stream crossings was on logs where you had to put one leg on one log and your other leg on another parallel log about 5 feet apart and just walk across – it was the scariest thing I had ever done – and did I mention it was 20 degrees. One thing about running in 20 degrees weather on a trail run – there are no water stations, and I never thought I needed one. There were a sufficient number of natural run/walk situations because of the terrain that it just felt right. You also don’t feel much in below freezing weather and your focus gets sharper, and so you run through the pain easily.

It took me 1 hour, 42 minutes to complete the 7 mile route, and I was pumped and exhilarated and amazed that I had done the craziest thing I had ever done. And then it started snowing! We met at the yogurt stand, picked up our bags and I scarfed down a huge doughnut. Gary then made another command decision and said we shouldn’t stand around and freeze up. So he, his colleague, Brent, and I started running back from the finish line through the snow to the car on the other side of the freeway. This time we got smart and found a tunnel without a culvert and ran through it. We just had to figure the return route back by instinct (which way was north west from where we were?), and we did. And it enabled us to beat the real traffic of hundreds of cars heading out of the race area – so “everything happens for a reason.” We drove back to Iowa City, smelling of manure and caked mud, and laughing all the way.

So, I figure I did about 9 miles on Saturday in one of the wildest races I will ever participate in. Writing this on the plane back to San Francisco, I feel a little achy and tight, but good, and I am still reliving the race and the people. Great “swag” from the race, including a long sleeve shirt, a “wool” blanket suitable for sleeping, a book on the Living Farms project, a pottery type bowl, and a nice medal.

Iowa is beautiful farm lands and the terrain is nothing like San Francisco, but the people are soooo friendly and “honest” in their emotions. It was great experience.

If that didn’t prepare me for the Sacramento marathon in 2 weeks (12/07/09), I don’t know what will.

Thank you Manny for sharing this wonderful adventure... The weekend of 12/7, Manny and some fellow runners will be in Sacramento conquering another 26.2 miles... wish them luck.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Manny, glad you enjoyed our climate and countryside. Iowa is an acquired taste, but it never ceases to inspire.

Tim Boyle
Cedar Rapids Area Convention & Visitors Bureau