In October of 2011, I did New Hampshire and Maine back-to-back. It was a miserable experience that left me unwilling to run at all for a good two months afterwards. Four long years went by before I summoned the strength to do another back-to-back in October 2015, Saturday Hartford/Sunday Rhode Island. That one wasn't bad. I won't say painless, but not terrible, and I was under four hours both days. The I-35 Challenge has been on my list for a long time. You do Kansas City on Saturday, and then drive three hours straight up I-35 to Des Moines and do it on Sunday. I wasn't sure right up until three weeks ago that it was even worth trying after my summer of plantar fasciitis, but once I got through Monument without any foot problems, I decided it was worth a shot and signed up.
It was almost a 12-hour drive to Kansas City, a place I went to once for work but never really visited. There was light frost on my car when I left Michigan, but temps got warmer and warmer the further south I went. Once I got to Kansas City, it was almost hot. Forecast for race day was mid-60's at the start line and low 80's at the finish, definitely a little on the warm side, but on the other hand, it would be nice to not be freezing at the start line. Kansas City is a big city, bigger and cooler than I had thought. And HILLIER. I knew the course was hilly, but I didn't realize quite how hilly until I drove part if it. There were some gentle rollers and some long, steep monsters. Oh well. The nice thing about back-to-backs is that no one expects you to do a fast time on either of them. I had plenty of excuses to go slow -- my foot, the high temps and humidity, the hills, the fact that I had to do another marathon the next day -- so I was set!
Race morning was warm. Even at 5:30 a.m. I was perfectly comfortable in shorts and a T-shirt. I drove from my airbnb rental downtown and saw streetwalking prostitutes -- not one, not two, but THREE -- for only the third time in my life. (Once in Tucson on 29th Street, once here in Michigan at Woodward and 7-mile, and now in Kansas City on Troost.) There was plenty of free parking by the start line, and the Crown Center mall was open with plenty of bathrooms and seating for runners to hang out. I did hang out there for a while, but then went back outside and wandered down to the start line since it was so warm.
I decided to stick with the 4:00 pace group and absolutely not allow myself to go any faster than 4:00 pace. That way if I still felt okay at the end, I could speed up at the finish and finish just under four hours, just in case I ever seriously decide to pursue 50 Sub-4. There were two pace leaders. I can't remember their real names, but they introduced themselves as Pacer Bad-Ass and Pacer Fuck Yeah. (Nope, not making that up.) One of them was pacing this race for the tenth year in a row. I would not have wanted to pace this one -- too many hills. But this guy knew the course really well and was able to tell us exactly what was coming up around every corner. There's hardly a flat spot in Kansas City; the hills were relentless, and we only got a break when they turned to rollers briefly. They were pretty steep hills, both up and down, which didn't really bode well for my legs the next day in Des Moines, but I felt pretty much okay all through Kansas City. Even though I ran it only 48 hours ago, I have already forgotten most of the details except for the following: lots of downtown including a downtown start and finish, lots of really beautiful neighborhoods, a great tour of the city with an absence of any ugly areas except for the last mile or so, a lot of time spent on the Paseo (a road that manages to look exactly like a big, beautiful park along its entire length), and tons of spectators (more than any recent race other than maybe Boston).
I was with the pace group almost the whole way but gradually pulled ahead of them at Mile 24 and stayed ahead of them all the way to the finish. I had never looked at my watch the whole time but assumed I would be under 4:00 since I had started behind the pace group and finished in front of them. So I was shocked to see that my time was 4:01:01. What happened?? I don't know. Pacers making a mistake is not something that I have any experience with. I still can't quite believe that that is what happened although I also can't come up with any other explanation. (I tried to look up the pacers' names in the results, but there was no listing for Pacer Bad Ass or Pacer Fuck Yeah. So I still don't know.) Oh well. I have plenty of over-4:00 finishes so I told myself I did not care and got out of there. I didn't feel great. My stomach was iffy, my throat was scratchy, and my legs were more sore than I would have liked. Supposedly there is great food at the finish line of this marathon but I never saw it; all I had was two cartons of chocolate milk. The medal is big and heavy with some seriously sharp edges. You could brain someone with this thing, no problem. Not that I wanted to, but if someone had attempted to mug me while I was getting gas, I'm pretty sure I could've stopped him with this medal.
It was a dreary, rainy drive up to Des Moines. My stomach definitely didn't feel so good, and my plantar fasciitis foot was in agony in the car although I had barely felt it in the race. My recovery food was white cheddar Cheezits and a Diet Coke. I also learned that eating ice kept me from getting the really bad stomach problems where I have to pull over and recline my seat. Good to know! One ice cube at a time all the way up to Des Moines, and when I got there, I felt okay.
I walked to the expo and picked up my shirt and then got sucked into a Marathon Maniacs meeting. I've been a Maniac since 2011 but never been to one of their reunion meetings. It was kind of fun. I ended up sitting next to a guy from Lake Orion, go figure! Two Michigan residents in the room of about 100 people and we randomly ended up sitting up next to each other. The Main Maniacs were there -- the founders, Marathon Maniacs 1, 2, and 3 (I'm #4295, for perspective, and new members right now have numbers in the 13,000's) -- and they were pretty funny. I have to say that in most places, if I say I ran a marathon yesterday and I'm running another one tomorrow, I get a lot of reactions, ranging from awe to disbelief to adulation. But here, there were lots of people who had also just run Kansas City and were also running Des Moines the next day. Nothing remarkable about that at all. So, in a weird way, these are my people, I guess.
After the Maniacs meeting, I went to my motel, where I finally showered off my Kansas City sweat, and then stuffed myself at the Perkins next door. It was raining and the forecast for race day was for warm temps and high humidity but no rain.
The race started at 8:00 a.m., which on the one hand was annoyingly late but on the other gave me another desperately needed hour of sleep. I woke up feeling like I wanted to stay in bed, not run another race. I took inventory of my body while getting dressed. My legs were sore but not terribly sore considering the hills. I had a little blister on my toe, some sports bra chafing, and a stuffy head, but all of those things were pretty minor (although all had potential to blow up into something major on the course; you never know). I headed downtown where, again, there was tons of free parking. One of the nicest things about this race was that the Maniacs had somehow commandeered the entire Civic Center, along with its inside bathrooms, for our use. That was so nice! (The day before, in a Porta Pottie in Kansas City, I had first ended up in one with no toilet paper -- thank goodness, I had my empty McDonalds coffee cup and a gum wrapper -- and then dropped my bandanna in a puddle of something on the floor -- bye bye, bandanna.) I hung out in the Civic Center with 100+ other Maniacs until five minutes to race time and then headed to the start line feeling cranky.
This is a nice marathon, and it's not the race organizers' fault that I was cranky from the moment I toed the line. It was 64 degrees with 100% humidity. I was damp and sticky the entire time, and so glad that no one else could hear the uncharitable thoughts running through my head. I decided to stick with a pace group again just to keep from going out too fast, but that was totally unnecessary as there was NO chance of me going out too fast, or fast at all. The race started out with several nasty hills. I was annoyed with the pace group leader for no reason other than that she had enough breath to chat on these hills whereas I was sucking wind immediately. Also, did she have to be so chipper and perky talking about her work with needy children and how they inspired her to run? I usually run with only one earbud in just in case I feel like talking to someone, but this time I quickly put in my other earbud so I didn't have to listen. It was clear from the start that this day would be about survival and pushing through suffering, and that there was not going to be a lot of enjoyment. I was annoyed with everyone from the pace group leader to the little kids holding out their hands for high-fives (like I'm going to leave my line and bend down for that? Do you know how hard it is to bend??) to the spectators holding signs saying things like "I worked hard to make this sign, the least you can do is SMILE!" (YOU smile after running a marathon yesterday and running another one today!) to the guy yelling, "You're almost there! Almost to Mile One, that is, ha ha!" (Sooooo not funny, dude, not ever! Oldest not-funny marathon joke there is!). I was uselessly wiping sweat off my face and arms every tenth of a mile or so, and hacking up phlegm about that often. My legs were tired, but I was also sleepy, like I wanted to be in bed sleeping. I entertained thoughts of quitting while at the same time knowing I would not do that; I was going home with that Iowa medal, damn it.
The first six or seven miles went through residential neighborhoods of really nice houses. The good people of Iowa were out in force to cheer on runners despite the gross, steamy weather. At Mile Seven or so we ran onto the Drake campus, and one of the two highlights of the race, a lap around their track, the Blue Oval. That soft, springy surface was paradise for my sore feet, but unfortunately it made me think about how I still had 18 miles of concrete and asphalt to go. Seeing myself on the Jumbo Tron was cool, but I couldn't help but notice that either the picture was distorted like a funhouse mirror or else I was really, really fat. Then we were off the track with nothing cool to look forward to for a long time.
We ran back through the residential neighborhood and then onto a multi-use path that ran alongside a river. It was pretty but I was dragging. The 4-hour pace group passed me at the halfway mark and I noticed with satisfaction that the formerly really big group was now down to only two people. No surprise; there were a lot of people besides me not having their best day today.
Miles 16-19 were around a lake. That was kind of cool, but I was suffering and slow jogging the whole time. Also, I was drinking like crazy. I drank at every aid station and was still thirsty all the time. I even drank lots of Gatorade, even though I knew I might pay the price later. (I never did, amazingly. My stomach was surprisingly okay.) We headed back towards downtown and I saw the capitol in the distance. I knew that running around the capitol was one of the last things we did, so in my mind I told myself I just needed to get there and then I would be almost done.
At Mile 24 we came around a corner and looked up a hill steep enough that I heard a few people around me say the F-word out loud. It was a good thing there was something cool at the top of that hill -- the capitol. I managed to jog up it and around it, powered mostly by the thought of being able to stop running soon. There was a nice downhill back to the finish, but by this point my legs were so beat-up and tired that downhill hurt almost as much as uphill. It all hurt, and really I just wanted to be done moving. We passed one guy being loaded into an ambulance at Mile 25, and I got a boost of energy from thinking at least my race was not as bad as his. (Yes, that's what I thought. Not "I hope he's okay," although, in hindsight, of course I hope he's okay. I am a terrible person.)
I finished in an unimpressive though not-horrible 4:13:33. Could've been worse. At least I could eat at the finish line, although the pizza and BBQ sliders were a little more than I could handle. The BEST food, and my new finish line favorite (well, besides chocolate milk) was the chicken noodle soup. It was so warm, bland, and salty that I felt miraculously restored to near-normalcy after drinking it. Note to all race directors: PLEASE! Warm chicken broth at the finish. It's cheap!
The saddest moment of the day: at the finish line, I saw a guy walking in front of me, in the same direction as I was heading, with a Cavalier on leash. I saw that perky white tail wagging and wanted to pet that Cavalier so bad. I followed the guy but my legs refused to allow me to catch up. He was walking quickly and I wanted to yell, "Wait! Please let me pet your Cavalier!" but he was already too far away. My legs would not do it and I had to admit defeat and watch the happy little Cavalier disappear into the distance.
I felt so bad all during Des Moines that I was planning on changing my Marathon Maniacs nickname to Christie "No More Back to Backs" Bane, but of course during the drive home, looking at my two medals, checking two more states off my list, I already started planning my next double. It's going to be Mississippi-Alabama, but I don't know if it will be the January MS/AL or the February MS/AL. Stay tuned for an update. In the meantime, here's a picture of my loot from the weekend. Two super-nice long-sleeved tech shirts, and the Kansas City one even has a hood!