2014 Fort Dodge Half Marathon

Executive Summary:

Race Priority:    C
Race Execution:   A-


  • Hammer bar 2 hours before the race.
  • 1 Roctane GU prior to the start of the race, 1/2 package at 4 miles and the remaining 1/2 package at 8 miles.
  • 8 oz of water in the 30 minutes before the start.  4 oz of water at 4 miles and 4 oz at 8 miles.


  • What went well:  This was a PR for me by over 3 minutes.  I was 7/105 overall and 2/17 in my age group at this event.
  • What could have gone better:  I feel like I should have had a little more speed in me late in the race.

Race Report Commentary:

As I reflected on my Triathlons from the past few years, the one thing that stood out was my lack of progression in running.  My primary focus has been improving my biking and swimming to improve my overall time, but during 2013 it was glaringly obvious that my running was beginning to be a drag on my overall times, relative to my closest competitors.  As I looked at 2014, I decided to cut back long course Triathlons for a year, and focus on improving my running.

The first step was to select a goal, so I signed up for Grandma’s marathon with the goal being to qualify for Boston in 2015.  The second step was to select a plan.  I chose to try Marathon Nation, with the focus on building speed first and then building endurance.  Overall the plan is 24 weeks long, with a half marathon planned at the halfway point, to see how I was progressing.  The plan requires a lot of focused speed work, such as weekly tempo, hill, and interval work.  Essentially it is structured around the training concepts of Jack Daniels, based on prescribed training paces calculated from Vdot tables (combination of VO2 Max / running economy).  Overall the plan has been working, with my Vdot increasing from 47 to 50, corresponding to around a minute decrease in my 5k time.

Now at the midpoint of my marathon plan, running a half marathon was a chance to see if the speed I was seeing at the shorter distances was translating into longer distances.  I signed up for the Hy-Vee Fort Dodge half marathon, as it is one of the earlier half marathons in Central Iowa, and I grew up in the Fort Dodge area and was familiar with the general course.

As always, I created a race plan, detailing my expected pacing.  One of the neat things about doing 5k run testing, is you can use the Vdot pacing calculators to help you create a general pacing plan (assuming you’ve done the required endurance training).  Marathon Nation suggests derating your Vdot by 1.5 for a realistic half marathon race plan.  Inputting 48.5 into the Vdot calculator, resulted in a predicted half marathon time of 1:33:58, for 7:10 per mile average.  Realizing that part of the course was on a gravel trail, and that they changed the course in 2014 to include a couple short but steeper hills, I modified my pacing for these areas.  Overall I ended up with a conservative target of 1:36, with a 7:20 per mile average.

The start of the course was at the Water Park in Fort Dodge.  With this being a point to point race, they have shuttles that will take you from the finish line (Kennedy Park) to the race start.  Since my dad lives in town, he simply dropped me off at the starting line at 8:30, with a 9:00 start time.  I warmed up a bit, drank some water, ate a GU pack and packed my warmup gear into a bag that was transported to the finish line.  It was 32 degrees at the start, with a 6 mph wind from the South.  I wore Tri shorts, a Tri shirt under a light nylon jacket, gloves, and compression socks (yep… looking geeky, but comfortable).  I also carried two 8 oz bottles of water with me in a fuel belt as I find it easier to drink out of a nozzle than a cup.

In general, my plan was to run around 7:10 for the first 5 miles.  I knew that part of the run would be on a gravel trail (slowing me down), but it’s also mostly downhill (speeding me up).  I also wanted to avoid starting too fast, so I tried to also keep my pacing above 7:00 per mile.  They sounded the horn a couple minutes after 9:00 am, and I was surprised how aggressively some of the people started. There was a lead pack that bolted away, and then a series of stragglers.  I stayed on target, and began passing people around mile marker 1.  I passed the lead woman and then another guy by mile 2.  Overall, miles 1 and 2 are very flat, through open areas (fields) and one small residential area.

In mile 3, you start the gravel trail.  I could see three people in front of me, stretching out from 1/10 to a 1/4 mile away.  I kept to my pacing targets, and watched my footing, as the gravel trail isn’t entirely level.  I also found all of the bridges to be frost covered and slippery, so I was a bit cautious.  Overall I was feeling really good running 7:00 to 7:10 (for reference my threshold pace is around 6:52).  I focused on staying relaxed and just getting into a rhythm.  At mile 4 it was clear that I was going to catch the guy in front of me, as he was beginning to fade a bit.  Shortly after passing him we went back to a concrete path.  I then pulled out a GU pack… and promptly dropped it (I don’t have a lot of feeling in my right hand).  I kept going… deciding to just eat half of my remaining GU packet and then and eat the remainder around mile 8.  I pulled out my water bottle and drank around 4 oz to get the GU down.  I was surprised how much this slowed me down, glancing down at my watch and falling to 7:24 mile for mile 5… basically a loss of focus.  Overall miles 3 to 5 are a nice section of the run, as you are running through wooded areas most of the time.

Mile 6 takes you from the downtown area to Loomis Park, along the Des Moines river.  Shortly after entering the park, you hit the first more significant hill.  It’s not terribly long, but is a little over 5% grade.  I noticed during this mile that I had gotten a bit closer to the two runners in front of me.  The closest “Mr Orange” (wearing an orange shirt) was less than a 1/10 mile in front of me and “Mr Green” (green shirt) was still over a 1/10 away.  In general, the park is a great place to run.  It did have one tricky spot, where a spring causes water to cross the road.  This was all frozen into about an 8′ long section of ice, which caused me to slow down to avoid a fall.  Fortunately they had a race volunteer on a bike there, warning us this was up ahead.  Once clear of the ice, the road through the park was easy and pretty.  As you exit the park and turn on to 7th street, you hit the most significant hill on the course.  It’s about 1/4 mile long, and on average is about 7.5% grade.  As you round the corner though, the grade is just under 13%, which slowed me down significantly.  That being said, I passed Mr Orange in the steep section and made progress on Mr Green.  My dad was waiting at the top of the hill, to shout some encouragement.  I expected this to be an 8:00 minute mile, but was able to run a 7:51.  My HR spiked up to 172, over my threshold, until I recovered (threshold around 168).  Mile 8 is a flat residential area winding back to 15th street going towards Kennedy park.  Mr Green made a left instead of a right and I yelled at him that he was going the wrong way.  He headed in the correct direction, but he lost some ground to me with the error (the course wasn’t well marked there).  Mr Green promptly picked up the pace and pulled away from me.  I had anticipated that I would slow with recovery, planning an 8:00 mile again, but managed to run 7:19.  Overall miles 6 to 8 through Loomis is pretty, and the hill on 7th is a challenge, but not a killer.

7th Street Hill, looking back at the river/Loomis Park.

7th Street Hill, looking back at the river/Loomis Park.

The rest of the course, miles 8 through 13.1 are relatively flat and exposed to the wind.  You run North along 15th street on a nice concrete path, then follow that path about a mile East, a mile North, and then a mile West back to 15th, and eventually North again to Kennedy Park.  I ate the rest of my GU packet at mile 8 and drank about 4 oz of water.  Shortly after we approached an aid station, where Mr Green grabbed water and walked a bit.  He saw me coming and starting running right before I got to him.  We passed Mr Red around mile 9… who I hadn’t even seen… who was walking and one of the guys who had bolted in the first mile.  I had expected to be around 7:20 at this point, with the intent on stepping back up to 7:10 miles at mile 11.  I was running  around the same pace as Mr Green at around 7:15 – 7:20 pacing.  He looked to be in my age group, so my intent was to hang with him and then pass with authority if I could.  As we approached the aid station around mile 10, I passed Mr Green.  My thought was if I passed him prior to the aid station… he may be more inclined to stop for water than if I was right behind him.  He did stop, and then I picked up the pace to get some additional distance.  I was feeling pretty good and ran mile 11 at 6:53.  It’s downhill and with the wind  (it had picked up to SW @ 16 mph).  Of course when I turned back West at mile 12 and fought the wind, and a crappy little hill just before the mile 12 marker, I slowed down to a 7:26 pace and felt poorly, with my HR running close to threshold.  I recovered a bit when I turned North again, but then my right knee started to implode with sharp stabbing pains.  I glanced back and was about 1/10 a mile ahead of Mr Green, and knew I couldn’t let up, and just ran through the knee issue.  I thought there was a chance I was near the lead of my age group, so I kept pushing.  I could see the time in the 1:34 range as I approached the finish, and kicked it a bit to finish under 1:35 (barely) at a 7:15 average pace.  The last few miles of the course are a bit lonely and exposed to the wind, but have no big hills or significant challenges.  The race director did a nice job of putting funny/motivational signs along with way to give you something to read, and they had an aid station at mile 12 to give you a little encouragement.

When I checked the timing tent (we wore chips) at the end, I was surprised with the 7th place overall and 2nd place age group position.  I had thought that I may be first in AG… but the winner in the 40 to 49 division finished 2nd overall and ran just under 1:16 (5:46/mile), so he was one of the lead pack people.  The 7th place also surprised me, because I had thought more people had got away in the lead pack (later realizing that I had passed 6 people after mile 1).  I was happy with beating my targets, but also disappointed that I didn’t have more left in me in the final couple of miles.  I suspect this is a lack of longer distance training, which is more prevalent during the second part of the marathon training program.  The other factor may simply be fatigue from running on different surfaces.  With the cold winter and my concern about falling after my accident, I’ve been almost exclusively on the treadmill since January.

Overall, I liked this race and would recommend it to others in the area.  There are some nice areas (trail, Loomis Park) and a couple of challenges (Loomis hill, 7th St. hill).  They had police at all the intersections, and the race directors were very nice and genuinely appreciative of the participants.  The proceeds from the race are also used to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  Besides the half marathon, they also have a 5k around the lake at Kennedy park.  Note that it is a cross country 5k route, on soft trails. Their website is here and Facebook site here.

Being the data geek I am… here’s my race plan versus actual:

Race plan and notes for each mile.

Race plan and notes for each mile.

My Training Peaks summary is here, and my Garmin Connect summary is here.  Interesting to note that the two sites show slightly different paces.  The TP site is using corrected elevation, which is more accurate than what is shown in the Garmin page.
Heading into the finish line, with my dorky compression socks.  This is what most of the hard trail is like… nice!

Heading into the finish line, with my dorky compression socks. This is what most of the hard trail is like… nice!


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