Like many of the races on this adventure, my journey to South Dakota started with a visit to RunningInTheUSA.com. I noticed that the Brookings Marathon was having its 50th anniversary in 2019 and after registering for the 60th annual race in Atlantic City (I had not yet run it), I thought it would be fun to do another anniversary race. As I looked through their website I read that the first registration from each state would be refunded their registration fee making the race practically free (stupid processing fees). The travel time was going to be a little longer than our norm at about 15 hours, but since we were planning to drive to Texas (in hindsight we still should have flown to TX) it didn’t seem like a difficult task. When registration opened I signed up and was the first person from Ohio (and sixth overall). Just like that we would be heading to South Dakota in May!
Race: Brookings Marathon
Location: Brookings, SD
Date: May 11, 2019
After the Cowtown Marathon, my training had continued to go well. That was until it didn’t. I took the 10 days after Cowtown easy as I typically do and then ramped back up into training. My body must not have approved the memo of ramping up because it started to shut down. One Tuesday morning I went out for my run and I barely made it out of the parking lot before stinging pain ran up my leg. I stopped for a moment to gather myself and literally shake out my leg. I took another step and knew that I needed to head back home.
I spent the next week resting and icing, trying to let whatever was going on with my leg heal. I walked a little to keep loose and strengthen my legs without going too hard. I was hoping to run the Forget the PR 50k volunteer race but with the time off I knew it didn’t make sense to go from 5 miles one week to running a 50k the next. I ended up running 12 miles on the course as a volunteer and my body was feeling much better, but I still didn’t want to risk it. I kept the mileage low in the weeks leading up to the Brookings marathon, only getting up to 22 miles in a week. I knew my base fitness could get me through a good race and there was no reason to push too hard and not even be able to make it to the starting line. So I took it easier than a normal taper heading into race week.
After a half day of work, we hit the road around 2:20pm on Thursday before the Saturday race. The goal was to make it to Iowa City for the night in order to get more than half of the drive complete. The drive was smooth before hitting a little bit of traffic in Indianapolis. Kaela was on Google Maps planning out dinner plans and we came across an abundance of Qdobas in the area. Since we’ve never tried it, we thought why not. It was the largest burrito I have ever had from “fast-food” burrito shop. Loaded with rice, beans and veggies, it definitely hit the spot.
The clear sunny day make the drive quite peaceful and beautiful. The last time we drove this way for Run CRANDIC we didn’t have this kind of sunlight so it was nice to see what was around us during the drive. However, as the sun went down, so did my stamina of keeping my eyes open to drive. Kaela did her search of hotels as we approached Iowa City and we were having some difficulty finding a room, which seemed peculiar for the area due to the amount of hotels we remembered seeing just last year. We finally found a spot to call ours for the night just down the street from where we stayed last year. While talking with the lady at the front desk she mentioned that it was graduation weekend for Iowa State. Now it all makes sense!
8.5 hours of the drive down and now it was time to get some rest.
In the morning, I went out for my typical shake out run. I knew I wanted to get a good run in because of the amount of time in the car the day before and knowing that I still had a lot of time in the car to come. Since we stayed in the same area as our last stay in Iowa City, I was familiar with the area and where I wanted to run. I hit a little bit of my previous shake out route and added some of the end of the marathon course to add some short hills to stretch and somewhat test my legs. Everything felt really good and it kept me positive after the discomfort I had the weeks prior.
Back at the hotel I grabbed a waffle, some eggs and toasted my own bagels (hotel bagels are basically cardboard). The eggs were a mistake so they instantly found the trash can but the waffle with some decent syrup hit the spot. Kaela wasn’t feeling the typical hotel breakfast so we made our way to a grocery store that had a Starbucks to get her a sandwich. The grocery store was also needed as I forgot cranberry juice for my carb loading so we used the stop to take care of both.
It was a beautiful day driving through “America’s Heartland” with very few clouds in the sky and the sun shining brightly. We stayed on the highway through Cedar Rapids until Waterloo before heading west on a county road. The reduced speed limit slowed us down but it was a relaxing drive of just flat land on both sides of the road. Approaching Sioux City we were able to get off the county road and back to the interstate. Shortly outside of town the speed limit went up to 80 and Kaela was loving every moment of it.
We decided to spend a little time in Sioux Falls before heading up to Brookings for packet pickup and checking into the hotel. There were a handful of breweries that I wanted to try in Sioux Falls but since it was Friday many were not going to open until later in the afternoon which would push back the schedule a little bit. I did some research and came across Monks House of Ale Repute. It was a mix of a typical brew pub but they also made their own brews. They had some good looking food options and with their extensive tap lineup we would be able to try different local beers at a single spot. When we arrived it was empty; my guess is we were just after the normal lunch crowd and before the post work folks made their way in. Kaela got a Reuben and I opted for the veggie pizza. The beer and the food were pretty good and we were happy with the stop. We enjoyed a little bit of the sunshine sitting outside on the patio.
After lunch we headed to the only thing I knew about Sioux Falls, which was the Sioux Falls (makes sense right). It was really neat to see the falls just splitting the town. There were signs that explained a little bit of the history and due to some recent rain they had, the waters were flowing quite heavy. After taking a few pictures and soaking it all it (other than the mass of other tourists doing the same thing) we made our way back to the car, onto the highway and north to Brookings.
There was next to nothing to see along the route. Both sides of the road were just flat fields as far as you could see. And with the 80mph speed limits it didn’t take all that long to arrive to Brookings. Gauging time, we decided to head directly to the packet pickup before checking into the hotel. The pickup was at the Children’s Museum located in the heart of downtown. It was a quaint little downtown with a “retro” feel. Shops lined the streets with a few restaurants/bars mixed in as well. Brookings was mainly a college town being the home of South Dakota State University, so the business around reflected as such.
Packet pick up was a breeze. They were actually set up in a way I had not seen before. They looked up my bib number and then just grabbed out a drawstring bag that had my bib, t-shirt, pins and some marketing material all in it. I liked the simplicity rather than making me wander through an expo of sale racks before getting each piece of the race puzzle. We drove to our hotel to get checked in and decided on the dinner plans for the evening. After reading some menus and reviews we settled on Mama Mia. I called to place a takeout order and they let me know that they were running a bit behind so it would be about an hour until the food would be ready. Knowing the limited options in the small town I didn’t mind the wait as I’m sure it would be the same everywhere.
While waiting I went through my race pack and sorted through the items I needed and the local race flyers that I did not. We received a nice long sleeve pullover, you know the type with the thumb holes at the end of it the sleeve so it stays down. Super fancy! There was one item that seemed out of the ordinary. An envelope with my name and bib number was at the bottom of the bag. Upon opening I remembered it was one of the reasons I had signed up for the race in the first place. There was a check for the race registration amount, a refund for me being the first to register in Ohio. It seemed so long ago that I had registered that I almost forgot they had mentioned they would be providing it.
Mama Mias was just a 10 minute drive away and I needed to head to a local sports store to pick up some extra gels so I just left a little early to do so. When I realized I needed the extra gels, I also realized that I forgot my bib holder that I use to hold my gels as well. Kaela recommended I just buy a new one but I needed to make do; there was no need to spend money on something I definitely did not need two of. I stopped at Dunham Sports and circled the store trying to find a nutrition section that would hold gels and other race food. The only nutrition I found was some Gatorade and cliff bars. I gave the store a few laps without seeing an associate (not that I would have asked for help anyways), before heading towards the door. Just outside of the registers, as though it was an impulse buy, was a small rack of gels. They had two flavors and luckily one of them was tri-berry.
I made my way through downtown Brookings to pick up dinner. Mama Mias was a small place located in a strip mall type plaza. It didn’t look terribly busy but the servers seemed to be running around frantic. A couple was standing at the front waiting to pay their bill before leaving. They didn’t look all that impressed and when another couple walked in behind me they let them know that it wasn’t worth the wait. Since I had already placed my order I was already locked in. A friendly hostess greeted me and helped me get my order and out the door.
We used the table in our room as a dinner table. When I opened the food I realized that couple from the restaurant was correct about it not being “worth the wait.” My pasta and red sauce was 1/3 of a typical serving with little flavor. Kaela had a cream based risotto dish that was more appetizing but still not a large serving. I finished mine quickly, finished the rest of Kaela’s and also had a Honey Stinger waffle to try and make sure I was getting a decent dinner before the race.
The rest of the evening was spent just relaxing around the room and going over the course with Kaela. The course wrapped in and out of itself which seemed mind numbing for running but much easier for spectators to get to multiple viewing locations. Since I didn’t have my bib holder I was going to have to carry my gels. To make it a little easier on organization, Kaela would hand off my next “section of gels” anytime I would see her just to make sure I was taking in enough calories. We made a high level plan with a couple “maybe” points depending on how much Kaela wanted to walk the course.
Our room had a small kitchenette so it was nice to be able to make my bagels not only in the room but also in a toaster. I spent some time reviewing the course while I ate and listened to my pre-race playlist. We were able to get a late check out at the hotel so packing the car was one less thing I needed to handle before leaving the hotel for the race. The weather for the race was going to be cool at the start but was expected to warm up throughout so I decided on my tank with a light jacket to start.
The race start was just outside Pioneer Park and there was a race parking lot set up in a grass field at the park. We followed the line of the cars into the parking lot and I quickly noticed the cars seeming to sink into the soft ground. As Kaela was pulling in she said she could feel it and we decided not to risk getting stuck as the temperatures warmed up. We headed back to the main street and parked at the movie theatre down the street ¼ mile.
I got my shoes on and applied a generous coat of 2Toms and body glide to any area that I had a feeling may be a problem. I was wearing some newish short shorts and this was the first race that I would run in them. I wanted to make sure no surprises came up in the shower after the race. Walking to the park, I glanced over at a group of pacers and one of them looked familiar but I couldn’t be quite sure at the distance. I noticed the porta-potty line was long and I didn’t feel like waiting. Kaela found some real bathrooms with basically no line at all. She held my items and I dropped off the extra fluid I didn’t want to carry for the start of the race (TMI?).
Once I got my gear settled we started walking to the start just before they started the National Anthem. I used the time to say a quick prayer for me to focus on the task at hand but more importantly to enjoy the day. Kaela took my pre-race photo and made her walk to the first spot she would see me a little over a mile away. Heading into the corrals I confirmed my suspicion of the familiar pacer. Steve from Atlantic City was pacing the 4:20 group again. I made my way through the group and after a quick introduction he remembered me from New Jersey. My goal for the race was not a 4:20, especially with the training leading up to the race, but there I was.
The start was tight with the full, half and relay runners all starting at the same time. After a few turns on closed off roads, we were able to get a little bit of space. The sun quickly peeked out and the jacket had to come off. Kaela was on the corner at mile 1. I dropped off my jacket but decided to keep the gloves as a “just in case” the cool breeze didn’t stop. A couple turns later we made our way to a little community park. The running path was flooded from the amount of rain they had gotten recently so a makeshift wooden bridge was made before the actual bridge to cross the creek to keep our feet dry. Steve and I both joked about making it a trail run and wanted to run through the water.
I just soaked in my surroundings while catching up with Steve and his races. I also spent some time talking to those in the pace group since it was large. Similar to Atlantic City the pacers were working for both the half and full marathon runners. We got off the road and cut through South Dakota State on campus sidewalks. There was a fair amount of construction taking place so I was careful in watching my steps to make sure I didn’t tweak something so early in the race. My legs felt ok but definitely not 100%. I didn’t want a slight misstep to cause issues for the few more hours I still had in the race.
Shortly after mile 4 we hit some sidewalks passing by McCroy gardens which made for tight running. Luckily it only lasted ¾ mile before we were back on the road. We wrapped back towards and through downtown. Kaela was at mile 7 and after taking a few snapshots asked if I needed replacement gels yet. I was still good with my supply but I told her to be prepared for the next time she saw me. Steve and I started talking with a lady that was running the half marathon while her husband ran the full marathon. Brittany had asked me about running for cancer and I responded with a confused look. Then she said she saw it on Instagram and then it clicked. I was using the run as a fundraiser for Pelotonia and was asking folks in an Instagram post to donate $26.20 for the marathon distance. Side note, Brittany actually donated after the race to the cause, thanks Brittany!
Shortly after mile 8 we ran through a parking lot, onto a sidewalk and then out the other side to another road. We wrapped around a shopping center and then down a warehouse road. Heading into the turn, I could feel Steve backing off his pace as I was pushing it a little faster than his scheduled pace. I felt good and decided to try to hold on to it, so I pressed on. The course volunteers were guiding us to the sidewalk but with the heavy foot traffic a few runners joined me in staying on the road as long as we could. The wind was blowing pretty good but I kept the stride going and moving along.
We made a turn onto a disc golf course and I was able to see the distance that I had put on Steve and the group. We hit a relay exchange right away which caused some bunching on the sidewalk. I decided to blow by it in the grass and around people and was greeted to some fun rolling hills. Most of the runners in front of me took to walking the hill but I powered through to try and get as much separation as I could. The tight path was not conducive for the amount of runners in the section.
Once we made it out of the park we were back on neighborhood streets. There were a lot of back and forth roads in the race as you can clearly see in the course map. We snaked through parallel streets for the first half of the course. Around mile 10 Brittany caught up with me and we chatted a little bit about her running. The split for the races was just before mile 11 and I wished her luck as she made her way to the finish. Marathoners made a left turn and were introduced to a steep short climb, followed by a long slow climb up the road.
We continued the parallel pattern and made a left on a road with slight incline for as far as I could see. The runners thinned out a bit and with the quiet I took an assessment on my body. I was feeling good at the pace and my legs seemed to turn over relatively easily. Kaela was at mile 11 taking photos and cheering me in. She ran next to me for a little bit to hand off some new gels for the stash and to make sure I didn’t need anything else. The only thing I needed at that time was another porta-potty. I felt good that I was getting in plenty of fluids but I was not a fan of having the need to stop during the race. I passed by a relay exchange at a Church but was not able to locate any porta-potties within the crowd of runners and spectators.
Just before the halfway point in the course, we crossed 22nd Ave (for the 3rd time) before taking a trail next to railroad tracks that ran through town. There was an open porta-potty and I made a direct route to it. As I exited, a volunteer had asked how I was doing. “Much better now!” He didn’t know how to respond and I just laughed as I ran down the trail. We followed the railroad tracks on a bumpy dirt road that felt like hunting ground road at my local ultra, Playin’ Possum 50k. The wind was blowing up dirt so I tilted my head to have my glasses block as much as I could from getting in my eyes.
We made a turn as we approached the interstate on a walking path that ran alongside the interstate. It was a paved path that looked to be set up by 3M for their employees as we were running around a warehouse that was surrounded by fields. There were a handful of little rollers that, combined with the strong wind gusts, were sucking the life out of my legs. Following the trail to the right we made our way back to 22nd Ave. Heading south, we passed by a golf course. I said hello to a pair of guys on the tee box of a hole as they looked puzzled at why I was running and not “enjoying” the beautiful day.
At mile 15 we crossed 22nd Avenue (for the last time) and headed on a paved trail lined with trees. It was a peaceful section of the course but I started to feel my body breaking down. I was slowing down to try and conserve energy to make sure I made it through the last 10 miles. The wind came back full strength as we came out of the trees and made our way around soccer fields. Kaela was at the corner at mile 17. I started to walk as I approached and she handed off a waffle and some good vibes. I spent a little time walking and eating to get my head back in focus. At that moment, Steve passed me telling me to keep up with him but I felt like I needed the break.
This next section of the course was a series of loops and I used the first tight section around a block as a mini goal. I would run to a corner and then walk it out until the next corner. The volunteers on the course were very supportive and helpful at each water station I passed by. Shortly after mile 19 Alan caught up with me. Alan was running with Steve’s group and had fallen off earlier in the race but with my recent slowdown he had caught back up. It was his first marathon and he was starting to feel the breakdown as well. I told him that if he wanted to stick with me I would make sure he got to the finish. Kaela was at mile 20 to hand off my last set of gels for the race. The next time I would see her would be at the finish.
Alan and I chatted about anything that came to mind as we wrapped in and out of some neighborhood streets. The talking helped me try to block out the wind that didn’t want to break and seemed to blow in our face regardless of the direction we were running. He was a local runner so he helped prepare me for the last few sections of the race. Around mile 22, we entered a neighborhood that wrapped around to a bike trail that ran between and behind houses. Really big and beautiful houses! I was in the need for some real food as the gels were no longer cutting it. There was an aid station on the path and I asked if they had any real salty food and one of the ladies had a bag of almonds she didn’t mind sharing. She poured me a handful and I thanked her as I stuffed my mouth.
We took a walk break at mile 23.5 and made a deal with each other. When we hit mile 24 we would run the last 2.2 in to the finish. We knew we needed to stop putting it off and just finish this thing off already. When we hit the mile marker we picked up the pace and pushed through the discomfort. After a few turns I was familiar with the area and knew we were close by the park. However, I forgot about a few extra turns that actually put us going away from the finish before wrapping back through downtown. My mind was not a fan of this detour from the most direct route to the finish.
With less than a mile left, Alan said that he needed to take a break but wanted me to keep up and finish strong. I wanted to stay with him but with this short of a distance remaining, I wasn’t worried about him making it to the finish. I wished him luck and took off.
I spotted two people in front of me and I made it my mission to pass them before finishing. My pace picked up to mid 9’s and then to high 8’s as I passed by one runner with the other in my sights as I made the second to last turn. The last turn was into the finishers chute so I put it into overdrive and passed him just before the turn. With the finish line in site I opened up my stride and made sure there was no way to get caught in the last stretch.
The race had sent out an email a few weeks before the race to fill out this form if you wanted a personalized message to be announced when you crossed the finish. As I crossed the announcer said “Jonathan is on a journey to run a marathon or longer in all 50 states with the support of his wife Kaela and dog Bella” (something along those lines, I was tired and couldn’t remember what I wrote).
I was exhausted walking through the finishers area but felt accomplished I was close to my 4:30 goal. I grabbed some bagels and Powerade before taking a seat at a picnic bench. Nick’s Hamburgers had a food truck set up where runners would get two free burgers. There was a 30 minute wait so I placed my order and then made my way back to my lovely picnic table to rest my legs. Once our order was ready (not too bad for “fast food” burgers) we made the walk to the car to go clean up at the hotel, then hit the road and start the drive back to Ohio.
Side note on the return trip. We stopped in Iowa City to hit up our favorite brewery in the area that we found when I ran Iowa, Big Grove Brewery. As we were pulling up info on their events we found out that they were having a graduation party for all the graduates and their families. The place was packed but we were able to find a spot inside at bar. We found out that Iowa is cracking down on dogs inside so they said we had to move outside and the bartender was nice enough to move some tables around and find us a spot right in the corner. Kaela and I felt super old but it was still nice to sit out on the patio and enjoy some delicious beer and food (honestly if you are in the area this is a must stop).
Overall this race was definitely one to remember. I’ve never been in a race that wrapped in and out of itself so many times. The slight rollers and strong head wind made it a lot tougher of a race than it looked on paper. If you enjoy small town races with great volunteer support this is the race for you. The trip out was also a beautiful drive so if you have the time to make the drive in, it’s totally worth it.
Now it was time to get to some hill training as I prepared for a pair of races that were going to test my hiking abilities out in the Pacific Northwest!