Sunday, 18th October 2020:  I awake to run my ‘virtual’ IMT Des Moines Half Marathon… and it is snowing!  Although it was tempting to go back to sleep, I resisted the urge and completed a wintry 13.1 mile run.  And in a way, the weather seemed appropriate for a pandemic year in which all our everyday activities had been turned upside down!

Sunday, 17th October 2021:  I awake to run the 20th IMT Des Moines Half Marathon ‘in person’… and the weather couldn’t be more different this year!  We were treated to almost perfect conditions for our races: cool and sunny, with just a light breeze.  And this also seemed appropriate for a year in which we were once again able to run together in person – and to celebrate the 20th edition of the IMT Des Moines Marathon weekend.

As we assembled downtown before the start, there was undoubtedly a celebratory feel to the day!  Everyone seemed happy to participate once again in this community event – and to reconnect with running acquaintances whom we may not have seen since ‘before times.’  The pandemic is by no means over, but as we return to pre-pandemic activities, we can focus on the progress made.  For some runners, it was a day for running fast and setting PR’s; for many more, it was a day for running hard and enjoying the experience.  I heard a lot of chatter from people who felt that they had slowed down over the last year due to the lack of races and less structured training – yet they were content to run their best race and build on that for the future.  And then there were the first-time participants, who had only started running to keep healthy during the lockdown and now were challenging themselves with the new experience of running in an organized event.

My expectations for the race focused on the fact that this would be my 20th consecutive IMT Des Moines Half Marathon rather than on performance.  I had had a few training setbacks during the year, starting with a nasty fall on ice in January, and although I felt that I was finally starting to come out of my running slump, I needed to be realistic in my goals for the race.  And continuing my race ‘streak’ was an enjoyable and satisfying one to aim for!

As I lined up before the start of this year’s race, I thought back to the very first event in 2002.  It had been exciting to be part of an inaugural event, but little did I anticipate what I was getting myself into.  I certainly did not expect that the race would become something of an autumn ‘ritual’ for me.  That first race had started at 7 am, so it was dark when we took to the streets – and quite a few runners had forgotten that they would need sunglasses later when the sun came up!

As we set off this year, heading east on Court Avenue, I recalled those first miles from previous races.  The start has changed a few times, especially in the earlier years.  We have begun our trek through the city from a few different locations, and the route has headed out in various directions.  This stage of the race has its particular excitement; when runners are fresh, running feels effortless, and the challenge is to settle into a comfortable pace that we can sustain till the finish.

The middle miles of both the half marathon and marathon courses have seen fewer changes.  Being a Des Moines-area runner, I have covered the different parts of the course many times in training, yet I can particularly remember running certain sections as part of races past.  These miles have felt different depending on what sort of race I have been running.  When I was in good shape and had settled into a realistic pace, they felt comfortably hard; in years when I had been recovering from injury or had set out too fast, they felt UNcomfortably hard!  At various points along the way this year, I recalled having seen friends and supporters in previous years: along Grand Avenue, at different points in Waterworks Park and around Gray’s Lake, while climbing the George Washington Carver bridge, and at several locations on the final stretch along MLK….   Those memories made it feel like I had 20 years of support along the course!

I had not been sure how my race would transpire this year.  I knew I would finish one way or another, but I wasn’t sure how well I would pace myself.  I was a little concerned that the last few miles might be painful.  However, as I progressed along the course, I began to realize that although I had slowed somewhat since the early miles, I would be able to finish strongly.  It would be far from a PR, but it would be a race well-run.

And then, once again, the finish line beckoned!  I love the finish of the race in its current course configuration.  After the final turn onto Court Avenue, when the end is in sight, the finish line is not so far away that it takes forever to reach, but it is not so close that it takes you by surprise.  There is just the proper distance for a strong finishing kick.

I thought back to crossing the finish line in 2002 (on the road adjacent to the river that has since been converted to a bike trail).   At that time, we wore the timing chips on our shoes – and I vividly recalled that the foot which crossed the timing mat first was NOT the one with the chip (which must have added a fraction of a second to my time!).  This year, as I crossed the finish line, I felt the surprising satisfaction of completing race number 20 – and running more than 262 ‘official’ half marathon miles over those years.  And even though we each had our own goals, expectations, and experiences during the race, I also shared feelings of happiness and relief with my fellow runners—the reward for the race runs and the weeks of preparation beforehand.  More than anything, though, I felt very thankful and fortunate that I am still running and able to participate after all these years.  What are the odds of another 20?!?  Unlikely, I suppose – but I will give it a try until I do.

  • by Sheila Maddock

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