Marathon Route #26: Run4Troops Marathon – Dubuque, IA

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The Black Flag – The last thing a slow runner, any runner, wants to see during a race. “Extreme and Dangerous Conditions”, the Black Flag usually also denotes the cessation of the race as it did at the 2016 Vermont City Marathon (though not at 2016 Grandma’s Marathon, held a week earlier). This year, the majority of Black Flags and those mentioned above have been flown for excessive heat. After 103 degree temperatures the week before when I unofficially ran the route of the Prairie Fire Marathon in Wichita, Kansas, I was not looking forward to running in such oppressive temperatures again. What would have been more frustrating would have been running for 4-6 hours only to be told that the race would not count due to cancellation. I brought these concerns to the Race Director of the Run4Troops Marathon in Dubuque, Iowa and she did not let me down.

Race Review

I want to start off by giving Race Director, Connie Hodge and her entire team a standing ovation for a job well done. She was at packet pickup the day before the race, enthusiastically greeting and conversing with runners and relay team captains and took the time to listen to my concerns about the heat and the possibility that the race could be cancelled. She reassured me that her team was already looking at additional ways of supporting the runners and ensuring a safe and enjoyable race. As a self proclaimed “military style” marathon, their website talks us about being prepared as runners since they would be providing limited support. However, her team went from 6 water stations noted on the course map to over 16 water stations on the trail. What an amazing show of support by local volunteers mustering to help. Not only was there additional water – it was COLD! Only at one of the water stations did I get “tepid” water. Many stations also had ice despite the heat. Truly, this was an amazing feat not really duplicated at other summer races I ran. This was also, by far, the best reception I have ever received from volunteers after crossing the the finish line. As a back of the pack runner, sometimes I consider it lucky at smaller races for somebody to even acknowledge my accomplishment. As soon as I crossed, multiple volunteers converged on me, removing my timing bracelet and placing a medal around my neck, placing ice bags on my head and neck, covering my shoulders with ice soaked towels, offering me cold water or electrolytes. I have never felt so appreciated and cared for as I did that day.

The course itself is a little on the boring side. You are essentially running a local trail from Dyersville to Dubuque in Iowa with exactly the sort of scenery you would expect to see – cornfields and forest. There are buses to get to the start line and from the finish line back to your car. You start at the Trailhead of the Heritage Trail in Dyersville.  You run along a paved road for a loop of a little over .75 of a mile before getting on the trail and heading down to Dubuque. After that you have a slight uphill climb for about 3 to 4 miles, this is also where you are most exposed to the sun as you run along lush corn fields. It is nice on a hot day to get those out of the way early in the day.Most of the rest of the race is set at a slight down hill where the only struggle appears at street crossings where the trail might sharply crest to meet the road and then drop back down to its previous level. There are some scenic little bridges that span the cricks and creeks and left over ruins from the days when the trains passed by with more local fare, but for the most part, this is a trail which invites introspection as you monitor your body and how it handles the heat of the day and the humidity that streams off of the trees. Although this is a trail, this is mostly like running on narrow, well packed, dirt road. Even when there is gravels, it is light, little stones that are comfortable to run on.

Lessons Learned

Earphones Block Out Sounds That Aren’t Only Dangerous to You:

About 8 miles in I came across a young lady who seemed to be really struggling.  What I first noticed was that her breathing was ragged and erratic, something I wouldn’t have noticed if I had had my earphones in. She was also weaving a bit and looked physically distressed, but otherwise looked kitted and physically prepared as a runner.  Turns out she had run the race twice before and approached the heat a little over confidently for the day’s heat.  She had a Camelback on but hadn’t really been drinking from it and hadn’t been taking advantage of the cold water at the rest stops.  I was glad that we started talking because when I started my walk cycle, she asked if she could join me.  I offered her cold water from my belt to pour on her head, and talked about fueling at the water stations. I’d like to think I saved her from a really bad afternoon after I heard her unspoken call for help.

Sweat Is The Same As Rain To My Shorts

I use BodyGlide for chaffing. I sweat throughout most races, but I feel like I have found the right balance for most races. On days like this, I sweat twice as much and I pour water on my head and neck to cool myself off. That liquid makes its way down to my shorts and washes away my lubrication.  I need to bring my own petroleum jelly on hot days like I do in the rain.  Even with support, I can’t count on even the medical stops to have lube – by the time I got to the medical tent they were out.  Another important tool in the utility belt.

Physical Review

Feeling pretty strong after trudging through two weeks of massive heat.  I had already taken the precaution of changing up my summer map by dodging north and south through the Midwest races, so I was looking forward to some cooler temperatures in Minnesota the next week.  The ice baths that I recently started doing were good for my muscles and joints and had the added benefit of cooling my system down and improving my circulation. My finishing time of 6:06:13 was only a little disappointing.  Once again, I felt strong in miles 20-24, but my pace didn’t match the positivity of my outlook. I was feeling my oats around mile 22 and passed a number of people slowing down at that point, but those final two miles were dense with a jungle like heat.  I feel like many of the lessons from the previous week got me through this course and I look forward to finishing such a race faster in the future.  Thanks again for following these posts, intrepid reader.  Next week I will writing about my greatest challenge of the year both mentally and physically.  I hope you’ll join me.  In the meantime, I always welcome your comments and questions.