I was able to add another state to my overall “#50by50” goal of running a full marathon in all 50 states by age 50. As of today, Iowa has officially been crossed off of the list.
It has been a hard year for marathon running (and pretty much everything else, for that matter). I originally had 3 different marathons planned for 2020, with a few other possible marathons in consideration, but then COVID-19 struck.
As you can imagine, the global pandemic has put a bit of a dent in my original plan. The first 2020 marathon that I was signed up for run, which my kids bought me for Christmas, was scheduled for the spring… then it was postponed until the fall… and now they are allowing runners to transfer their registration to 2021, or run it “virtually”.
The other two marathons have been altogether canceled for 2020.
I was beginning to think that I would not be able to run any official marathons at all in 2020. But then I was contacted via Facebook Messenger by someone who was participating in the #5kMay2020 challenge. She had heard through the daily podcast, or maybe through the blog, that I was aiming to run a marathon in each state by age 50. She asked if I had run one in Iowa, yet. My answer was, “No.” She asked if I was interested in running in Iowa. My answer was a definite, “Yes!”
She said that the “Main 2 Main” marathon was running right through the town that her parents live in. She thought they would be willing to provide me with a place to stay if I was willing to sing in their church the next morning.
That put the plan in place.
For months I have been checking back at the website to make sure that the marathon was still going. It was, but with a few COVID-19 adjustments. They handed out face masks meant to be worn at the start line, and they were releasing runners 6 at a time every minute.
No problem. That was better than an outright cancellation.
So I drove out to St. Ansgar this weekend to run a marathon in Iowa.
I did not get a full night of sleep. This morning I woke up around 12:30am to substantial lightening and heavy rain. Yowsa! I hope that clears up before the race is set to start! I thought to myself.
I had trouble sleeping and spent most of the night watching the lightening and listening to the pounding rain.
Finally it was time to get dressed and leave for the race. Unfortunately, when we got there, it was still thundering and raining. The lightening forced the race director to move the 6:30am start time for the marathon to 7:00am. That was not ideal. I had already begun my warmup and nutrition plan.
Oh well. No problem.
At right around 7:00am a massive bolt of lightening stretched across the sky. An announcement was made that the marathon start time would be moved to 7:15am. The same thing happened at 7:15am, and we were told the race would start at 7:30am.
I am sure that there is nothing the race directors could have done. Obviously the weather was outside of their control. Still, the delayed start was not ideal for runners who were planning to be out on the road for more than 3 hours.
A full hour after the original start time, we were finally able to start the race. They lined up the runners who were aiming for a Boston Qualifying time first, and released them 6 at a time. There were roughly 30 runners who were attempting to qualify for Boston. I was not one of them. I qualified back in December 2019 at the Rehoboth Beach Marathon in Delaware. To be honest, I am hardly in marathon shape right now, but I wasn’t too concerned about that because I was just looking at this race as a “long training run”. I did not have a goal time in mind.
Still, I wanted to run strong. I was thinking that an average pace of anywhere from 7:30 per mile to 8:00 per mile would be a good long training run. I did not have any aspirations beyond that.
I was finally released from the start line, and I just began to run. It felt good. The weather was actually perfect. I had no idea whatsoever what my pace was. I had put my Garmin wristwatch in “cadence mode”. The only thing that I cared about was my steps per minute. I wanted to stay above 180 steps per minute.
Surprisingly, my first mile clicked over at 6:56. Woah… that’s probably a bit too fast… I thought. I didn’t really worry about it, though, because I was just running.
My second mile was 7:07. Then I had a 7:22, 7:13, 7:15, and a 7:10 mile. I was just having fun, and I was getting into a bit of a groove.
Unfortunately, I started to notice an obvious increase in temperature. Once I got about a quarter of the way through the run, all of the shade disappeared. It was just me and the hot pavement with the sun beaming overhead.
For about 7 miles I ran basically all alone on a gently rolling Iowa back road. Every mile felt a little hotter, and I was sweating a lot. I decided to focus on running a strong half, and then just slow down and finish the second half without dying.
My pace stayed generally the same through the first 13.1 miles. Coming into St. Ansgar, I saw the lead runner. He looked hot. He was working hard. I was glad that was not me!
I made it to the halfway point in right around 1 hour and 35 minutes. Not a bad run. Immediately upon hitting the turnaround, I switched gears. No more running hard… Now it was time for slower and smarter.
I really didn’t have anything to prove. Why get myself hurt?
I stopped at the water station at the turnaround and ate a banana and downed some water. Then I started to run again and immediately realized that I had been running with stones in my left shoe. I stopped again, took off my shoe, emptied the rocky contents, put it back on, and tied it up. Somehow my time was not too badly affected by all of this. I still ran a 7:32 thirteenth mile. But I had nothing but hot, Iowa back roads with the now blazing sun overhead to look forward to for the next 7 miles.
I gave myself permission to go slower and stop at every water station to be sure to keep water in me.
In retrospect, a Gu would have been really nice to have at the half. Oh well.
My next miles were 7:21, 7:35, 7:56, 8:00 and 8:08. I was definitely slowing down.
The heat was brutal. If the race would have started on time, I would have been done by now. Instead, I was grinding out miles with sopping, soaking wet sweaty clothes sticking to me. The run started to become fairly miserable, actually. But I kept a positive attitude and just kept plodding along.
I knew I would get to the end… eventually.
As I kept putting one foot in front of the other, I began to see runners off to the side of the road. The heat was becoming a major factor. Many runners were sidelined, either nursing an enflamed hamstring, or vomiting, or just trying to cool down.
One guy that I had run with for a short stretch was on the side of the road, unable to move because of an enflamed hamstring. “Are you okay?” I asked him. “Yeah, I’ll be okay.” He seemed confident, so I kept going. He did end up being okay. In fact, he caught up to me about a mile later. As we took a turn together heading down a fairly large hill, one of the race volunteers handed each of us a full water bottle. I was very thankful for the water bottle. The Dixie-Cups were no longer cutting it.
We ran down the hill together, then the guy that I was running with said that he was going to walk up the next hill so as not to bother his hamstring again. I told him I would walk with him, so I did. We walked up the hill and I downed the water bottle as we walked. When we started running again towards the top, my hamstring also started acting up.
There was a water stop at the top, completely with pickles. I ate a bunch of pickle slices and downed several Dixie-Cups of water, and began running again. By this time the guy that I was originally walking with was out of sight.
I was running again. Not fast, but good enough. I was now within 6 miles of being finished, so it was just a matter of constantly moving forward. I could do that…
With just over 4 miles to go, my hamstring acted up again. This time it was more severe. I had to stop and massage my leg quickly, then I began to walk as quickly as I could. I tried to run a bit, but it was a no go.
Oh well… This is what happens when you are not fully trained for a marathon.
I walked for a little ways. I had already accepted the fact that I may have to walk it in for 4 miles. Then I heard a voice calling from behind me.
“Don’t give up on me, Black Shirt.”
Haha… Who was that?!
The guy coming up from behind me was trying to motivate me to keep moving. “Just run with me. Don’t give up on me.”
I told him I would try.
I was actually able to move fairly well. Not great, but fairly well. It was REALLY hot, but I ran the next mile in 8 minutes and 33 seconds, and then another mile in 8 minutes and 43 seconds. I was just happy to be moving.
While I ran alongside of my encourager, we began to converse. He was a super nice guy, a student at the University of Iowa, and he was running great. The conversation helped to keep my mind off of my hamstring. The conversation quickly turned to spiritual things. He told me that he was Jewish. His mom was Jewish and his dad was Catholic. I told him that I am a full-time Musicianary, and that I travel around singing & speaking, and training students how to share their faith. I told him that I train students how to share their faith using the G.O.S.P.E.L. acrostic, which I had written on the back of my race shoes. He thought that was pretty cool, so I asked if I could share the gospel with him. I said I would love to get his feedback about what I train, especially since he comes from both a Jewish and Catholic perspective.
He said he was open-minded and that I am welcome to share with him. So… I walked him through the G.O.S.P.E.L., stopping along the way to make sure it made sense. This is basically what I shared:
G God created us to be with Him
O Our sins separate us from God
S Sins cannot be removed by good deeds
P Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again
E Everyone who trusts in Him alone has eternal life
L Life with Jesus starts now and lasts forever
He said that he had never heard that message because Jewish people aren’t really supposed to talk about Jesus. At one point he asked if I believed that the Messiah had already come. I said, “Yes! And I believe that He will come again.”
He disagreed with me, saying, “We believe that Elijah will come again.” I told him, “We believe that John the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come, and that he pointed to Jesus, the Messiah.”
We had a really great, respectful conversation. I explained how the New Testament gospels really answer a lot of the questions that he has about Jesus, and also that Isaiah, who was Jewish, wrote about the coming Messiah in ways that so clearly fit Jesus of Nazareth.
We also talked about Israel a lot. We had visited some of the same sites. That was fun to talk about.
Then I asked him if what I shared about the G.O.S.P.E.L. made sense, and he said it did. I asked him what would be keeping him from putting his faith in Jesus right then and there, on a hot country road in Iowa? He said that his bloodline is what would keep him from putting his faith in Jesus. He is Jewish by blood, and he keeps kosher, so it wouldn’t be right for him to turn away from that and to Jesus. I told him, “There is nothing wrong with keeping kosher. A lot of Jewish people have remained Jewish while putting their faith in Jesus alone for salvation.” He indicated that he had never heard that before. I clarified that those things don’t save you. Only Jesus can save us. Sins cannot be removed by our good deeds. Sins can only be removed by Jesus. But there is certainly nothing wrong with doing good deeds.
He seemed really interested in thinking about that more. I hope that he does. His name is Gabe (actually Gabriel, like the angel). Please join me in praying for him, that he would truly think about the things we were talking about, and that he would be moved to put his faith in Jesus alone for salvation.
In the end, the conversation really helped the last several miles of the marathon to fly by. I turned the final corner and ran across the finish line in roughly 3 hours and 26 minutes.
Another state added to the list. Thank you, Iowa, for a great (though quite miserably hot) race.