About a month ago I learned of the Triple D Adventure Race & Poker Run, a crazy run/bike/ski event in Dubuque, Iowa, along the Heritage Trail. Since I'm presently training for my first ultra in March, I knew the marathon would be a great training opportunity. Running participants had 3 options from which to choose: half marathon, full marathon or ultra marathon, while bikers would ride 100 kilometers (62 miles, to you & me). Due to lack of snow, the ski version of the event was cancelled.
If you think the "adventure" part of the name is simply an adjective for an outdoor event in January in Iowa, you'd be partially correct. Not only is it a winter event, but it's TOTALLY unsupported meaning no water stations, no course officials, no aid stations. I was aware of this little nugget, but the reality of this "adventure" failed to dawn on me until the pre-race meeting at 9 a.m. when I looked around and saw no other participants with water belts. Sure we all had our Camelbaks, but with an average capacity of 70 ounces, I needed my water belt and its additional 40 ounces of fluid.
My buddy and Ragnar captain Paul asked me how I would keep the bottles from freezing. Freezing?!!! Whaaat?!!! Sure it was only 7 degrees with a windchill that made it feel like -6, but freezing? So I opted to leave the water belt at the finish. Thankfully Paul also encouraged me to wear my Camelbak under my coat as that would surely freeze as well.
My gear included dressing in two layers of thin, dri-fit shirts with a thicker third shirt over top. I was planning to wear a vest so I didn't overheat, but there was no way it would fit over my Camelbak so a non-running coat that I'd had with me had to suffice. Additional gear included regular winter tights and a running skirt, a single pair of wool socks, gloves and mittens, hat, and neck gator. My Camelbak was water with 16 Nuun hydration tabs diluted the day before so no fizz as well as 4 packs of Sport Beans. I ate a PowerBar during the bus ride from Dubuque to the start in Dyersville.
Looks lonely, doesn't it? This was about 4 miles in along the Heritage Trail from
Dyersville to Dubuque. This was a flat, unprotected stretched that ran parallel with Hwy. 20.
The woman up ahead was running a beautifully easy pace and did not appear
phased by the snow pack & ice. I was chicken and began what would be
many, MANY miles of walking.
While on this unprotected stretch of trail, I tried to move my braids from my
shoulders only to discover they'd frozen. SOLID.
I'm pretty sure I wasn't mentally ready for this type of tundra.
Running just north of the small town of Farley, Iowa, the trail tunneled under
a road and then entered a more wooded area.
While the woods on the other side provided shelter from the wind, that same
shelter blocked the sun, leaving the trail quite ice covered. Ahead of me was
Tom, a lovely man from Nebraska who would be monumental in helping me finish.
Even with the grey gloom, the trail was still gorgeous!
It's hard to emphasize the pitch of this drop off and it was here that I first
starting thinking that I would not make it. Thoughts of calling my husband
quickly evaporated as there was no way to tell him where I was.
Over the past couple of weeks, I'd been battling a weird fatigue that left me
without ANY energy to run and somewhat "bonky" and dizzy when I tried.
As I began to experience flickers of those same feelings, I thought if I fainted,
I'd be laying out here for hours! But just then the first of the 100k bikers started
humming up the trail. "Humming" is the sound their massive tires made. I've done
winter bike rides before but had never seen tires the width of their behemoths.
I was very impressed (and relieved to know there were others around.)
It was during this lonely stretch that I began to glimpse a couple of bodies
up ahead. I wasn't gaining all that quickly, but I wasn't losing them either.
By mile 16 the Camelbak had run dry, but I was making solid ground on
the two runners up ahead. Eventually I caught up with them and was never
so grateful for human contact. The three of us hung together as we ticked off
the miles to the one marathon stop at Mile 22 in Durango. When I admitted
to Tom that I might bail and not finish, he scoffed and told me, "Well, we'll just
finish it together. Even if we have to walk." And walk we did...
In terms of difficulty, the marathon and ultra course deviated from the Heritage Trail
through cornfields and small woods. For marathoners, this was the final 2 miles
of the event. A.J., on the left, was doing the ultra and after checking in at the
marathon finish, had to backtrack those rough miles to the Heritage Trail and
continue to the ultra finish. She showed nothing but spunk and voiced no complaints!
A.J. and Tom climb one of the few hills.
Just knowing they were there helped ease the horrible pain in my feet and
assured me we would finish this thing.
And finish we did! Tom and I tied for DFL! (Dead Friggin' Last!)
I'm shocked I could smile after that! At 6:25:47 Garmin time, this was
my worst finish by well over an hour, but as my Grampa Kroymann
would tell me when trying to convince me to eat the crusts of my toast,
"it puts hair on your chest!" Even when running, character building still sucks!
But I was shown once again how even during dark moments, I'm never alone...
I honestly feel that Tom was heaven-sent as there was no way I could have
finished without him. My hope is to one day be such a support to another
runner, one who may find themselves overwhelmed and beaten, and pass on a
little of Tom's strength and spirit that certainly sustained me on this
cold January day...thank you my new friend.