Sitting in my chair one evening in May, I was reading my favorite magazine, RunnersWorld, casually looking for another marathon to tackle. In a moment that I will always claim as one of fine clarity and one that caused my wife to roll “stupid” and “idiot” into a sentence that immediately turned that “man switch” in me to the “ignore” position, I noticed ads for the Kansas City and Des Moines marathons on the same page. Well, coincidentally or on purpose, one was scheduled for October 20th and the other on October 21st. It wasn’t the same as looking into my Mary’s eyes for the first time on the dance floor back in 1980 but nevertheless my next passion of another kind (and much shorter duration I might add!) had landed literally in my lap. You see I was reading sitting up to avoid the uncomfortable “where do I put the magazine on my ever expanding gut” feeling so much more common since passing the age of 40!
I am not a fast runner. So, I don’t enter any race with the expectation to finish anywhere other than the middle of the pack. So, my long range running goal has been simply to stay healthy enough to run one marathon in each state before the age of 65. Until April of 2007, I had never run two marathons in 6 months let alone two in two days. In November of 2006, I slogged and limped through mud and water in an off road trail marathon in Indiana while dealing with Achilles tendonitis. With some active recovery on treadmills and elliptical machines in January and February, I ran the Nashville marathon on my 45th birthday, April 28, 2007.
I now had 5 marathons in 5 states and was looking for more. Grabbing a map, I quickly learned that the road from my house in Michigan to Kansas City goes through Des Moines. If I was going to do Kansas City, I would be forced to drive through Des Moines on the way home. Even more perfect, the two cities are only 200 miles apart. I could easily run in Kansas City on Saturday and make it to the registration desk in Des Moines before it closed that same day. This would allow plenty of time to put my feet up and eat all kinds of good stuff before an early morning start on Sunday. Plans were falling into place.
Next, I got up the courage to present my idea to my running buddies, Jim Carpenter, Dean Bott and Kevin Krause. Some good facial expressions followed but if they were more skeptical than that they all hid it very well. Dean and Jim are marathon veterans having qualified for the Boston Marathon in the past. Kevin is also a veteran of several marathons and a high school cross country coach. Therefore, each was much more qualified than I was as to the physical and mental requirements of what I was planning to do. Remarkably, nobody slapped me upside the head. Even better, Kevin got into the idea. So, I had at least one partner. I was “good to go” or as Mr. T and the A Team would say, “I love it when a plan comes together”. (Have I mentioned I am over 40??)
I paid my entry fees in June and Kevin paid his in July. We were now financially committed which was a big deal. We are both “relatively” conservation with our funds and each of us would rather crawl through the marathon than forfeit our money by not showing up.
Slowly, over a few weeks, we gradually convinced Dean to go. He was in for the training all along and finally decided he just as well go on the trip too. Jim never did come over to our way of thinking although he did participate in the short to mid-range training runs. Being the oldest of the group, he had more thoughts of self preservation than us other three “kids”.
I mapped out a 12 week training plan as I operate better with a checklist I can count off one day at a time. It actually started for me in Timber Lake, South Dakota where we were visiting family and attending a wedding. It was also where I first met that wonderful lady in 1980 who now graciously washes my running clothes while muttering, “You big, dumb idiot.” Life is good when you can feel such love and even better when you have time to spend back where it all started.
Back in Michigan, each week saw four days of running that totaled 25-40 miles in all, one or two bike rides equaling a weekly total of 50-60 miles and two to three weight lifting sessions at about an hour each. Luckily, I had company for at least 80% of these workouts. Running buddies Jim, Dean and Kevin were devoted to the cause and biking friends Jeremy and Andy joined in on the two wheel rides. I have no idea how people get ready for any running event without a support group. If my luck continues, I may never have to find out. Even better, each member of this group is better at running and/or biking than I am so I am forced to push myself to keep up and this makes me so much better than the slug I am when training solo.
For the first time, I added weight training to my marathon preparation. The day after running hills of the Nashville marathon, my quads were aching for relief and Kansas City’s hills would surely do the same. I also knew the double marathon challenge would require extra work. So, after my May “revelation” and well before the start of my 12 week plan, I began hitting the gym for 2-3 hours a week. One hour was dedicated just to squats, leg presses, calf presses, leg curls and leg extensions. The rest was upper body and abdominal work designed to keep everything together on the second marathon. My wife kept wondering where my six-pack was to which I would simply reply, “It’s in the cooler”. The “cooler” is my term for the inner-tube of flesh circling my waste. I did get in better condition but the ripped look is for those people able to push away from the cakes at work, ice cream at home and junk food on the road. I also had to remind her about the proverb involving the book and its cover.
August through October is a great time to train in Michigan. What summer heat we do have is beginning to decline and the fall colors make for great outdoor scenery. At different times, work meetings around the state allowed for time to explore trails along the shores of three of the great lakes (Michigan, Superior, and Huron). One lake run was at sunrise, two were near sunset so this made each an even more special event. Unable to see the opposite shore, it was as if the sun was literally going into or out of the water. Feeling alive as you enjoy the great outdoors is one of the many benefits of running and Michigan’s scenery snaps one to life on a regular basis.
Finally, on Thursday, October 18th, we loaded up the SUV with running gear for all types of weather, healthy food, junk food, water, Gatorade and even a few beers. Errands and last minute work details were wrapped up prior to a 1 pm departure. From my house the route to Kansas City is quite simple, south to Chicago then west to Des Moines then south again into Missouri.
After 9 hours, we saw a sign for the Mid Iowa Hotel that looked good. The sign was by far the best part of the entire facility. I think if you looked up the word “dive” in the dictionary it would have a picture of our room. Shag carpet from the 70s, paneling from the 80s and pillows that were probably new in the 50s gave me the feeling of a deer camp or calving shed. It did have three beds and a price tag of $47 plus tax. Now, had it been $67, I might have complained or ask for a refund. At $47, we looked at each other and just had to laugh. It was just one night and we were tired of driving. The joke would be on us again the next day when just 5 miles down the road, we passed 3 or 4 hotels of much better quality!
Friday the 19th, we rolled into Kansas City in the early afternoon. Checked into the Hyatt Regency (far from a dive) and proceeded to go to the registration expo to collect our race numbers. We followed this with a nap at the hotel and it started to feel like the vacation we had started on the day before.
Supper that evening was a small family reunion for me. We met my Uncle John and Aunt Delonne Anderson as well as their son Shawn and his wife Shawna. I had not seen John in several years. I had babysat Shawn when he was quite young and probably had only seen him once in the last 25 plus years. So, we had a good 4 hour visit over some Italian food and a walk around the downtown area called the Plaza in Kansas City. It was a great family visit that was too short and quite long overdue.
Our hotel was at the start line making it easy to roll out of bed, eat some breakfast, avoid the long porta-potty lines and stroll to the starting coral 20 minutes before the 7 am start. There were about 6,000 people crowded together to run the half marathon or the full marathon. I always enjoy standing at the start and just listening to the excited chatter around me. Old timers and first timers all chomping at the bit ignoring the announcer who is rattling off what he thinks is important information. The only thing that quiets such a crowd is the first few notes of the national anthem which this time was actually at dawn’s early light. It was a beautiful morning with temperatures near 60 degrees, no wind and a cloudless sky.
My goal for Kansas City was somewhere above 4 hours and 30 minutes. Dean and Kevin would surely be under four hours so we split at the start. I fell in behind a pace group carrying a 4 hours and 20 minute sign deciding I would try and stay with them as long as possible. Nervous about how fast to go out, I repeatedly had to remind myself to stay slow and steady in order to save something for Des Moines.
The marathon route took us allover the city and surrounding neighborhoods. Police blocked the intersections and residents lined the streets. It was a V.I.P. welcome to our city tour for thousands of sweaty participants. I was impressed with how clean the city was and how supportive the crowds were. There were several bands, some solo players and cheering spectators seemingly most of the way. There were fountains for making a wish, trees to shade the sun and hills to make you pray they would end everywhere. Fountains and trees are nice to look at but hills require physical effort to go over and that takes its toll over time.
I managed to stay under an average of 10 minutes a mile while occasionally chatting with the members of the pace group through the first 21 miles. After that I got tired and went over the 10 minute mark for the last 5 miles. I finished in 4 hours 25 minutes and 50 seconds which was faster than my previous three marathons. A good effort but I had no idea how my legs would respond the next day.
Kansas City had 1,074 marathon finishers (most people do the half marathon). Of this 377 were females and 697 were males. The average finishing time was 4 hours 21 minutes. I placed 627th overall which garnered me the same medal as the 4th place finisher! Of the 726 men that started the race (29 did not finish), I crossed the line 461st. There were 75 men in my 40-45 age division and 21 of them were behind me at the end. Average results at best but again I had to remind myself that I was just half way through the weekend. Another 26.2 mile city tour was less than 24 hours away.
I waddled back to the Hyatt for the first part of the recovery plan. I had read that a 20 minute ice bath after a marathon would get the lactic acid out of my legs to allow a quicker recovery. The plan was that whoever finished first would draw a bath, shower and then fill the tub for the next person. Dean and Kevin had both finished under four hours so they had the tub iced and ready. They quickly informed me that they had bailed on the idea because it was too cold. Focused on my goal since May, I eased my aching lower body into the cold but shallow depths of the tub. Well, I took it for maybe 10 minutes until there was shrinkage to the point of disappearance! The hot shower felt really good and body parts started to thaw back into place.
Back on the road, we headed north for Des Moines before 1 pm. After Nashville in April, I had a shot glass of beer at the finish line party that tasted good and settled the upset stomach I always have at the end of a marathon. I had also talked to an ultra marathon runner who suggested using beer in a moderate amount during recovery. So, with Kevin driving, Dean and I cracked open a nice cold beer. Well, I about passed out when we stopped at Wendy’s for lunch less than an hour later. Light headed and nauseated, all I could get down was some ice cream and Sprite. I would say a moderate amount of beer for me after a marathon must be about a Dixie cup in size. The lesson learned was perhaps to eat food first and maybe have the beer later.
Somewhat recovered in the back seat during the remainder of the drive to Des Moines, we arrived at the downtown Marriott (far from a dive as well) with plenty of time to spare. Once again, we picked up our race numbers at the pre-race expo. Dean and Kevin made the decision at that point to run the half marathon the next day. I stayed the course and tried to think of nothing less than doing a full marathon the next day. We did run into a man from Montana who recognized our KC shirts as he was also attempting a second marathon the next day. I was not alone in my craziness after all.
I had a whole duffel bag of healthy food like bagels, apples, oranges, Slimfast (for protein and carbs) and Gatorade. Still somewhat nauseated, I looked at the bag and absolutely nothing looked good to me. So, we punted and ordered Pappa John’s pizza with a few sodas for delivery to the room. It wasn’t the well planned eating strategy I had mapped out a week earlier but it tasted damn good at the time. Also, there would be no walking around in search of food and entertainment as it was lights out at 10 pm.
Des Moines started their marathon an hour later than the day before which was 9 am in the Eastern time zone where we live. So, we were up early with nowhere to go. I was able to eat a couple oranges, a can of Slimfast and an energy bar. Soon enough, we were back in another throng of several thousand at the start.
Before the gun, I spotted the 4 hour 30 minute pace group and got as far ahead of them in the crowd as I could. This time my goal was to keep them somewhere behind me as long as possible. We started off toward the Iowa state capitol on another beautiful day. The three of us ran together for the first two miles until the half marathon went left and I took a deep breath and headed right on the marathon route.
The Des Moines city tour was another good look at a very nice city. The crowds were smaller than the day before but enthusiastic none the less. The first 10 miles had a few hills. After that, the route became much flatter the rest of the way. We even did a lap around the track at the Drake University stadium with a brief appearance on the big screen on the football scoreboard.
At the 16 mile mark we left the city. The route followed a paved walking and biking trail through a system of parks and woods on the outskirts of town. An occasional look at the skyline off in the distance left me wondering how in the heck I would make it back. I took some energy gel around mile 17 and seemed to get a bit of a spurt of renewed life for a few miles. It also helped that I had not heard from the 4:30 pace group all day until mile 18. The leader of that pack was chatting with those around him by announcing that they were on pace with his group and that they should “keep up the good work”. Well, that was an added boost as I didn’t want them anywhere near me and I tried to put them out of earshot. It worked until about mile 22 when they went by me. Watching that 4:30 sign stretch out ahead mentally took any wind I had left from my sagging sails.
I shuffled through the next two miles to the final water stop at mile 24. They were apologizing profusely for being out of cups especially since we were just a week removed from the Chicago marathon disaster. Luckily, they had a large pitcher of water. It worked well for me as I tipped it up getting some in my mouth and more on my body. Although the temperature was just slightly over 70 degrees it felt good.
I was now facing the city and each stride drew it slowly closer. Seemingly forever, I headed in wondering when I would ever see the finish line. Like a cruel joke, I would not see the line until turning the last corner very near the end. One step you had nothing but lonely pavement in front then after a left hand turn, there it was like an oasis in the desert. A large throng of people, music and the best finishing banner I had ever seen. I stepped across the line at 4 hours 45 minutes flat.
I had now run 52.4 miles for the weekend. Mission accomplished. I collected my medal or “participation ribbon” as they are called at our house and began the short waddle to the hotel. However, I did take the time to grab one very small cup of beer before going on my way. It tasted fabulous but there would be no more. Unlike my younger days, I now knew when to push back and look for some ice cold water.
Looking at the numbers, Des Moines had 1429 marathon finishers of which 568 where females and 860 were males. The average finishing time was 4 hours and 35 minutes. I finished 930 overall and 113th of 133 in my age division. I was 654th out of the 840 men. Nothing special to brag about but standing upright at the end was good enough for me.
I caught up to Dean and Kevin at the hotel. They had been waiting awhile. Both had finished their 13.1 mile day in less than 2 hours which is a great feat on a regular day let alone one that followed a marathon run the day before. There would be no ice bath of any kind this time. A hot shower and slow dressing into dry clothes would be all that preceded the departure for home. Thankfully, Dean and Kevin would drive 8 of the 10 hours home that night. I had the last shift back in Michigan and we arrived home at 1 am.
I did make it to work on time on Monday and somewhat surprisingly could walk relatively well. As good as it was to finish both marathons in a 30 hour period it was almost as good a feeling to be able to move on the third day. The running, biking and weight training had made for a successful combination of preparation. Now, don’t get me wrong, I certainly was a little stiff and sore but the test for me has always been the ability to go up and down stairs without quad and calf muscles screaming after a marathon. This test was passed better than ever before. Thus, it was very satisfying to take a crazy idea turn it into a workable plan then survive the physical and mental difficulties involved with the actual training and eventually the marathons themselves.
Body intact, marriage still going and work responsibilities managed, the most asked question I get is, “What’s next?” First, there will be lots of rest and no runs longer than 10 miles for a month or two. After that, it is too early to tell. There is talk of a marathon up Pike’s Peak in Colorado or an event called Grandma’s Marathon in Minnesota. My latest issue of RunnersWorld is on the floor by my favorite recliner. Soon, I will open it up to read the articles and scan the ads waiting to see which of the 43 remaining states speaks to me next. Then I will wait for the right moment to ask Mary, “What do you think about…………?” I can feel the love already. Kidding aside, she is still my biggest fan and best friend. Life is good.