The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

November 15, 2012

CONRAD: Taking in the beauty, misery of the marathon

By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer

CLINTON — Coming into my second marathon, I felt much better than the first. 

I knew what to expect and I knew with better conditions, weather and course, I was likely to improve significantly.

The IMT Des Moines Marathon is a great beautiful course with plenty of challenging hills in the first half and the weather was ideal, mostly in the 50s and 60s, but no matter how great the atmosphere is, the real test is getting through the last six or so miles.

Runners lined up to start the race in the heart of downtown in the cool early morning chill.  With seven years of running in my back pocket, unless the weather was below freezing, I wasn’t about to run in anything more than a tank top and shorts.

As the first couple miles weaved through downtown and into residential areas, shirts were flying as runners learned the hard way.

Despite the hills, the first half of the marathon was very beautiful. The course guided us through some of the wealthiest neighborhoods, winding along streets decorated with trees displaying the rich colors of fall.

I ran with an interesting mix of runners in the four hour pace group. Some young and old, some newbies and some experienced.

One lady was running her 49th marathon as a member of the 50 state marathon club and on her way to cover her final state of Hawaii soon. Another runner from Canada was on his 23rd. Several younger women were on their second and third marathons.

Every runner who understands the significance of the Drake University track for competitive running could appreciate the pivotal halfway mark as we took a lap around the blue path of glory. As we exited the track our faces were projected on the big screen.

The second half of the race took us along twisted trails through the woods, into Water Works Park, Gray’s Lake Park and eventually back into downtown for the finish.

Besides the scenic course and great weather, the spectators and entertainment along the way really made the race. No matter where you were along the course there were enthusiastic spectators with inspirational signs, words of encouragement and even treats. I high-fived eager kids and enjoyed music from local bands and musicians as I ran.

Besides the drinks and refreshments provided at the water stops, several people took it upon themselves to help out. Families handed out gummy bears and one man offered mimosas and other mixed drinks near mile 14. One boy even held out donuts on a stick for runners to grab for a quick snack, which I think may have been a joke.

I was on pace to finish in four hours or slightly under for the majority of the race, but once again near mile 18/19, my legs began to feel sluggish.  It is unreal to describe to anyone who has not experienced this feeling, but it is true, you literally hit a wall.  As I looked around everyone was sharing in the misery of pushing through those last few miles, many stopping to walk off and on, even though the pain of starting to run again was uncomfortable.  

The last mile is by far the longest mile ever run. You can tell yourself it is only a mile, but it feels like an eternity. As I finally crossed the finish line, I made an effort to flail my arms in the air and look as relieved as I felt as my picture was taken. After that, I discovered that walking felt possibly even worse than running. One of the photographers tried to direct me to the finishing photo area and I gave her a look of death. She laughed, coming to the realization that after running 26.2 miles, posing for a photo might be undesirable.

As I walked toward the water area, smells of Barbecue sliders and pizza wafted toward me, putting me on the verge of getting sick. Who on earth wants food like that right after finishing a marathon? That was my one and only complaint about the event, which is pretty darn good.

While I iced my bursting sore calves, I reflected on my frustration for slowing down the last few miles, but I couldn’t complain much as I was 31 minutes faster than my first marathon. For a few moments I contemplated switching to focus on half marathons, my favorite distance, and giving up on the pain, agony, long miles and stress of the marathon. About an hour or so later I had already changed my mind and was determined to take on another marathon next spring and break that four hour mark. I guess giving up is just not in my vocabulary.

Natalie Conrad is a staff writer for the Clinton Herald. She has been employed with the Herald since 2011.