Signing up for a July marathon in Iowa is a fairly stupid idea, and I wasn’t 100% sure I was going through with this thing until I boarded my plane. I did it, though, and rounded out a year of Boston Qualifying marathons—one each month since August 2016.
The University of Okajobi Marathon is a unique event. Mainly, because there isn’t actually a University of Okajobi. The name was coined by a local outdoor store and has stuck. And thus, I was able to participate in the 40th anniversary homecoming festivities.
This race is run through a series of small towns in northwest Iowa. It’s really off the beaten path. So much so that I flew from Saint Louis to Omaha, Nebraska and then drove three and a half hours northeast to get there. (In the race’s defense, I could have flown into Souix Falls, but this isn’t a Southwest stop and due to my indecisiveness on even running this race, I wanted a flight with free cancellation.)
My drive through Western Iowa was pleasant, though. There is a whole lot of farmland and some cows thrown in for good measure. I was only in the state for 24 hours, but I feel that I can now say that I’ve ‘seen Iowa.’ I picked up my race packet at The Three Sons sporting goods store—quite possibly the most adorable outdoors store I have ever set foot into. I then drove 25 minutes to Spencer, Iowa to check into what has to be the nicest Days Inn I have ever stayed in. (I had a jacuzzi tub. I didn’t even know that was a thing at this hotel.) As an added bonus, I stumbled upon what might just be the only Indian restaurant in the state for lunch.
Things got interesting at about 7:30 PM when I went to check on the charge in my watch and one of the straps completely snapped off. I knew that this was going to be a small marathon with no electronic timing displays, and I also knew that I would be fighting hard to get in under 3:40. Not being able to track my pace really worried me. Fortunately a quick trip to—once again—the nicest Walmart I’ve ever seen for some Gorilla Glue did the trick.
It was 65 degrees with 89% humidity at 4:30 AM when I woke up and drove to Aronlds Park and 66 when the race began. The start/ finish line was located outside of a local amusement park, so parking wasn’t an issue. The marathon began right next to Lake Okojobi, which provided a lovely respite before we got started. At 5:55, all fifty seven participants lined up to get ready to go. (This was a VERY small race.)
When I was contemplating running this marathon, I scoured the internet for information because, frankly, there wasn’t any. I found the course map and a handful of reviews, and that was about it. I will therefore try to be detailed in my write- up.
First off, I want to mention that this race is not flat. For some reason, I thought that running a race around a lake in Iowa would include few hills. The course rolled the entire time. The hills weren’t unmanageable, but some were fairly steep and they got very taxing during the last six miles of the race. The marathon is essentially a large loop around the lakes. The first six miles consist of an out and back section that runs along the lake for a mile and then heads into a residential area. We then headed back towards the start/ finish in order to start our large circle of the lakes. I assumed that we’d spend most of the race on trails that hugged the lake. This was not the case. Most of the race was run on state highways or running paths that overlooked farmers’ fields—not the water. There was shade in places but also large stretches along the highway where the sun was punishing. The temperatures continued to rise throughout the morning, reaching the high 70’s by the time I finished. The humidity decreased slightly, but it was a factor throughout. I kept dumping water on myself to try and keep cool, and I ended up running the race in soaking wet shorts as they were never able to dry out.
This small marathon was part of a multi- event morning, and we shared a course with a triathlon, half marathon, and a 10K. All of the course markings were spray painted on the road and at times got very confusing. (Because it was such a small race, there weren’t always volunteers stationed at turns telling us where to go.) At one point I followed the runner ahead of me and ended up taking a detour that added about a tenth of a mile to my race. This wouldn’t have been a huge deal, but I was very concerned about finishing under 3:40.
I felt like this entire run was a race against the clock. I decided to go as fast as I could for as long as I could because I knew that the temperature was going to continue to climb. I was able to run the first half with splits ranging from 7:40- 8:00. I slowed down after that (and had to walk up a number of hills) but managed to squeak out a 3:37 finish.
While I feel that I am complaining a good deal about this marathon, I feel guilty saying bad things because everyone involved with the event was SO DAMNED NICE. Everyone was friendly. Everyone was helpful. Some were trying to be helpful but really, really weren’t. (Such as the adorable old man who was pouring individual glasses of water for runners as he saw them coming to his aid station.)
My lasting impression of Iowa will be this: there is a lot of farmland, some cows, and a good deal of July sun. But mostly I’ll just remember how nice everyone that I met in this state was.
** Race Highlights: The race officials and volunteers were all so nice.
** The Downside: This course was HARD. Maybe the most difficult one that I’ve run. It was hot, hilly, and there were very few people running near me.
Sub 4:00 State #19, BQ State #17
Finish Time: 3:37:35
Overall Place Within My Gender: 3/20
Favorite Race Day Song: I really didn’t have one.
Total Training Miles: 4075
Shoe Total: 13