I ran Iowa's equivalent of San Francisco's Bay to Breakers yesterday. It is a 10K trail race at Living History Farms, a museum that shows what farm life was like during Iowa's past. It is a working farm (we ran through harvested corn and soybean fields), but the machinery and techniques that are used are from the Iowa's past. I talked with a friend yesterday that worked at the farm years ago, playing the part of a blacksmith (he was working there are part of a college course on history). It reminds me of a working historical farm in Fremont, CA called Ardenwood.
This race is billed as the largest cross country race in the country, and I can believe that it is. I have been telling people that between 3500 and 4000 people run the race and the race lived up to those expectations. As I was standing in the mass of people at the start, the announcer told the crowd that there are over 5000 people running the race today. I don't know exactly how they come up with that number. There were 4379 individual finishers (according to the results page) and there is also a team category. The team results do not have a total for the teams, so I can't add them into the total. There's also a 1 mile race that may have been included in the total. In any case, there were a lot of runners.
Along with all of the runner, there were a lot of crazies (which is why I compare it to the Bay to Breakers). OK, I know what you are thinking. How can you tell the difference between the runners and the crazies. Sometimes you can't. Some believe that all runners are crazy, but some people I saw were definitely over the top. I arrived early since the entry warns that if you arrive after 8 AM, expecting to wait in line a half hour before you are able to park. As I was walking to pick my number, a man dressed like a Native American. comes running by, And I mean 'dressed like a Native American'. The only piece of material on his body was a loincloth. No shirt, no shoes, nothing else. I can understand something like that in San Francisco where people actually run the Bay to Breakers without any clothing. But in Iowa? With the temperature in the mid 30's, I was wondering if he had any more of what he had taken that morning (a friend told me that he asked the Native American if he had any more of what he was on. "You mean some peyote?" he replied. It wouldn't have surprise me if it were true.)
Many other people were dressed in costume, although no one quite as crazy as the Native American. I saw quite a few runners dressed in suits and ties, one runner in a cow costume, and a number of teams dressed in costume (one of which was a number of young mean dressed in only running shorts and shoes. Close to what the Native American had on, but their feet were covered). Not the usual running crowd at all.
Besides the news about the number of runners, the announcer told the crowd that channel of the creek at one of the crossing ad been dug out earlier this year. This made the drop into the creek even steeper and the creek itself even deeper. I thought that this race could be even more interesting than I thought it would.
After we listened to the national anthem and a prayer (another indication I am in Iowa), the starting gun goes off and we start to run. OK, the people in the front are running. I am walking. And walking. And walking. It takes me a minute to cross the start line (not as much as the one Bay to Breakers race I ran, but still one of the longest times it has ever taken). The race proceeded through a pasture and on to a paved road that took us past some of the parking lots and to an underpass that takes us to the west side of the freeway (Actually freeway isn't really used in Iowa. It's called an interstate here). The race proceeded across the edge of a cornfield and then across the edge of a soybean field. Fortunately, there is enough room so that I can get on the edge of the road and pass people. Soon we come to our first creek. There are multiple ways to get across and I quickly make an evaluation of where I want to cross. I look at one spot and see people up to their thighs in water. Another spot has some rocks that can be used to get across. I choose the latter, even though it is a longer run and more crowded. I eventually get across and we soon come to another crossing. There were enough creek crossings (8 in all) that they have tended to run together in my mind. By the second or third crossing, there was no way to cross without stepping into the water. So I stepped into water and was immediately over my knees into the water. And that was just the half of the fun. The other half was getting up the hill on the other side of the creek after over a 1000 people have already climbed out and smoothed out the soil, making for a slippery mess. There were a couple of steep hills thrown in that were also tough climbs, but the creek banks were the worst.. Most of the hills (and a couple of the creek banks) had ropes that you could use to pull yourself up, but even that was difficult.
We finally crossed the last creek, another deep water crossing with probably the steepest climb out. I tried to help a woman beside me by pushing on her rear to lift her up. But she didn't make it out with my push, so I left her and crawled out (using my hands to pull myself up as I kept my weight as close to the ground as I could). Soon after the last creek, I passed the 5 mile mark. I was glad to see that since I am feeling very exhausted at this point. The running was easy now (we were running through a pasture), but I found it very difficult to push myself because of how tired I was feeling. The race soon passed the start line and continued on to a set of buildings that replicated an Iowa town in the late 1800's. At the end of the dirt road that ran between the buildings was the finish line. I pushed myself as much as I could and finally crossed the line. Done at last!
After I turned in the tag from my number, I walked over to get some water from a table that was manned by some Boy Scouts (or should that be 'boyed by some ....'). I noticed that a lot of people were walking around with doughnuts. Can't say that I have ever been to a race where the after race food was doughnuts. It seems so midwestern.
I picked up a cup of water and looked down the hill (a small hill, remember, this is Iowa) towards the runners approaching the finish line and I thought about all that I have been through. I ran this race a couple of times back in the 1980's but I didn't remember how tough the race is. I recall the creeks and the sections where we run through the wood, but I certainly didn't remember how deep the creeks were and the steepness of the creek banks.
Will I run this race again? Yes, of course. I am not only a runner, but a little crazy. I figure I can probably beat my time in two years when I am back in Iowa for Thanksgiving again. Just need to run a bit faster, take the creek crossings a bit smarter and be in better shape. Yea, easy to say right now. Lets see where things are at in two years.
Update: The Des Moines Register has an article
on the race along with a link to a photo gallery (hopefully, the link was be valid for a while).
Update 2: I see that a number of people have found their way here via the Living History Farms race site. Welcome! If you are at all interested in reading about one of our California races, a friend of mine wrote an entry
about a race called the Quad Dipsea
which is run a week after the Living History Farms 10K. If you ever make your way out to Northern California, bring your running gear and check out our trails. Pacific Coast Trail Races
runs a number of trail races with a variety of distances. They are a good source of low key trails races around the SF Bay Area.
Oh yea .... leave me a comment and tell me what you thought of the race, my blog entry, or whatever comes to mind.