Iowa | Country Roads and Midwest Hills

The Run CRANDIC was not my first choice when originally planning for Iowa. I wanted to run the highly rated Marathon to Marathon. However, 2017 was the last year that they were running the race so I had to start looking into other options. A quick trip to Running in the USA (I think I have a problem) and I was able to come across Run CRANDIC. After reading up a little bit of the race it was the inaugural year and thought why not get in at the start. So another registration submitted and I was going to be heading to Iowa for the first time.  

Race:  Run CRANDIC
Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Date: April 29, 2018
Finishing Time: 4:18:22

Why are you putting CRANDIC in all caps you ask? It actually stands for Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, which is the direction of the course. I have done a handful of point to point courses with my last race in Oklahoma being just that. We decided to stay in Iowa City as it would be easier to be by the finish for the trip home on Sunday. But I am getting a little bit ahead of myself, let’s take it from the top.  

I worked a half day on Thursday, before we got in the car and headed west. The route would take us across the heart of Indiana and Illinois, you know with all the beautiful views of nothing on both sides of the highway. One interesting point in the route was in Indianapolis. I have driven to and through Indianapolis many times but this was the first time I was having to take I-74 out of town. For some reason the GPS in our car made us get off the highway and take some side roads. I started to see all these things about racing not understanding why. Then it hit me, we were just a few miles from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I was originally upset with the detour but it was a pretty cool sight before heading back to the fields upon fields on I-74. We stopped for the night in Champaign (at another kick ass Drury Inn) before finishing the drive to Iowa City in the morning.  

We arrived in Iowa City around lunch time and the plan was to hit up a few breweries in the area before getting packet and heading to hotel for the evening. Our first stop was at ReUnion Brewing. They had an expansive food menu but I settled on a chicken sandwich as I shouldn’t be going to wild with my food choices just a few days before a race. Kaela and I both order our own flights and may have share a bit between us. Their beer was pretty good but the food was definitely a highlight of their brewpub. While we ate, Kaela checked out menus of other breweries to see what would be a good choice for the rest of the day. Many of the options weren’t yet open, so we decided to head to packet pickup and do some sight seeing before continuing the brew tour.  

Iowa City is basically a college town and the packet pickup was located at a gym on campus. With the race being a point to point, the first day of pickup was in Iowa City and then second was at the start in Cedar Rapids. Since this was two days prior to the race and it was a small race, there was no line and pickup went much faster than anticipated. We went to a local park and walked a lap to loosen up legs from basically sitting most of the day. It was nice to just get some fresh air and chat with Kaela. She always seems to know how to calm any bit of nerves I have before races.  

After we left the park we headed to Big Grove Brewery. The brewery was actually the spot for the after party for the race but since we would have to be driving back home after the race we wanted to make sure we had an opportunity to try it out. It was a super windy day so luckily we were able to sit right at the bar even with Bella. They brought her out a dog bowl for water and 2 flights for us. We really enjoyed all of their beer but they had a special sour that was so good we actually got a crowler to take back home. Highly recommend them if you are in the area.  

We spent the evening in the hotel, grabbing some pizza from Backpocket Brewing for dinner before calling it a night. The next morning we made a trip up to Cedar Rapids to check out a few more breweries and also spot out a little bit of the course. Like I stated earlier, the second day of packet pickup was happening in Cedar Rapids and they also were having a little bit of an expo set up. We arrived before the expo started so we decided to make it the end of our day trip and decided to start drinking (because that seems like a great idea). On the way to our first brewery we passed Iowa Running Company and it reminded me that I needed to pick up a few caffeine gels as I always seem to forget to pick those up before heading out of town.  

Making it to Iowa Brewing Company, we found out that most breweries do not allow dogs inside so we set up at a picnic table outside. There was a little bit of a breeze but the sun was coming out in full force to keep us comfortable. A few small flights of some pretty good beer we were on our way. I had realized on our walk that I may have drank a little much for a day before race so decided to keep it light at Clock House Brewing. We ordered a small appetizer with our flight to hold us over until lunch. Now for lunch I had read about this authentic Cuban restaurant that apparently had an amazing Cuban sandwich. Now me being skeptical about an authentic Cuban place in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I had to try. Let me just say, The Lost Cuban did not disappoint. They were on point with all aspects of the sandwich all the way down to delicious mustard and pickle. Not a typical pre-race food but sometimes you just have to roll with it.  

We made our way back to the expo, which wasn’t much of an expo as really just selling race gear. There were some local businesses but no real giveaways or anything that sparked our interest. It was held at a place that reminds me of North Market here in Columbus, with some local shops and food spots in this indoor market. We decided to head back to hotel a little early just to get off my feet and get prepped for the race. On the way back we drove some of the course just to get familiar with spots that Kaela would be able to see me. One thing that was consistent was that the course was pretty open and much hillier than I anticipated. I knew even while driving that these long hills were going to be a challenge but hey, what fun would it be if it was easy?  

Back at the hotel we were checking on some dinner options to get me pasta. Surprisingly there were very limited options of places that were Italian in nature other than your typical Olive Garden or Chilis that has pasta dishes. Scouting through on TripAdvisor I came across Monica’s which was described as “upscale Italian-American comfort food”. Now when looking over their menu I was slightly worried about the amount of different options and how could they make so many different types of foods in the same kitchen. This is a sample of their menu: burgers, panini’s, salads, crab cakes, jambalaya, pork schnitzel, chicken pot pie, meatloaf, fried calamari, black fettuccine with lobster, eggplant parm. I mean they literally hit the Italian-American on the nose! And once again after judging a book by its cover, I was completely surprised. I ordered basic spaghetti and Kaela ordered a brick oven baked ziti and both were fantastic!  

After pounding a ton of carbs, I went through the process of getting my clothes and gear ready for the race the next morning. Since it was a Sunday race I needed to make sure all of my items were packed and ready to leave after the race. One good thing was that the hotel allowed us to have a late check out so I was at least going to have the opportunity to shower before we hit the road for an 8 hour drive home. But I needed not to worry about that to much because I still had a marathon to run.  

Gear back packed Luggage packed Alarm set Goodnight   The hotel had a nice breakfast area, so in the morning I grabbed my typical set up and made my way down to the lobby. I ate breakfast and listened to my pre-race mix to mentally prepare myself for the day. After getting my gear together, we made our way back up to Cedar Rapids to the race start. The weather was much colder than I had anticipated, especially considering the great weather we had the previous two days. I was snuggled up with my lounge pants and a jacket.  

  On the drive my stomach was not feeling the best and it felt just a little more than pre-race jitters. Kaela found an easily accessible parking spot near the start and I ran out to find the closest restroom. I thought we had gotten there with plenty of time but it seemed that everyone else did also so bathroom lines were way too long. I went behind a building to pee and started to make my way back to the car when the stomach started grumbling some more. I noticed a construction area with a porta potty that was fenced off but had a small area where I could enter. Now I was hesitant when approaching knowing it was not a race porta potty and that I could be in for a surprise when opening the door. It had to be my lucky day! It was quite fresh, well as fresh as one can be. I took care of my business, while trying to calm my nerves about the “what if’s” running through my head if had to run this race with my stomach feeling the way it did.  

I made it back to the car about 10 minutes before the start, to change into race gear, apply nip guards and an additional layer of body glide. I ended up with my Chicago marathon short sleeve as it was going to warm up a little during the race, but I did start with my buff on my neck and my gloves to help with the cold at the start. I gave Kaela a kiss and made my way to my spot in the corral. My stomach was still being weird but I just tried to gather myself and know that no need to worry, just have to take it in stride. After the National anthem and a quick prayer it was time to get this party started  


The start was a little more crowded than expected with the small number of participants but I was able to find a good spot on the left side of the road. Kaela was just before our first turn and was able to capture a few shots. You can noticed how bundled up some people were, which looking back at it I wonder how much of it they left on the side of the road as it warmed up. After just a couple turns we were on our first straight away of the race. Most of the course was just a series of long straightaways, the first being about 4 miles long. We had some pretty good sustaining climbs that kept everyones pace in check as we tackled them.  

  Just two miles in I had already felt like I had to pee, again. Porta-potties seemed to be limited so I just found a wooded area on the side of the road to duck into really quick. Popping back out on the road, I think I surprised some people as they were focused on the road and then all of a sudden I was right in front of them. I fell back into my pace and actually slowly started to catch back up to the group of folks that I started with. Before I even realized it, I heard Kaela cheering from the side around 4.5 mile mark. Bella in tow she took a few shots and checked in on me. I was feeling great with the miles clicking away.  

  I made the turn on 76th street heading uphill to cross over Interstate 380. There was a school on the left and there was quite the turnout of people cheering us on as we passed through. The aid stations had also been on point in all aspects which was very much appreciated, one less thing to think about. Crossing over the interstate we made a short down hill before starting the longest straight away of the day, on County Road 60. We would be on this for the next 11.5 miles, but luckily it wasn’t as straight as the route in Oklahoma. Unfortunately though, it was much hillier than Oklahoma. A series of long climbs and ascents filled the time on the road. Every so often we would see someone pulled off on the side of the road cheering us on or even someone posted at the end of their driveway.  

The sun started to peak out and the wind was blowing pretty strong on a section of the course that had little to no coverage. I kept my focus and took every step forward with purpose. My pace was staying consistent and I was feeling great. Just before mile 10 Kaela was set up on the side of the road again with my gear in hand if I needed anything. She ran along side me with Bella which gave some other spectators a chuckle. I handed off my buff but kept my gloves because when the wind blew while in shaded sections it was still chilly.  

  Powering through some more hills, we arrived to a part of the course that actually had traffic open to coming at us which caused some dirt to be thrown up every so often from the side of the road, which wasn’t great to breath in. Shortly after mile 11, I yet again had the urge to have to pee. I knew I was not to far from the next aid station where I could relieve myself so held off from my side of the road method. I used the views around me to try and get my mind off it. We passed by multiple farms and nice “country houses” that gave us something to look at other than miles and miles of fields. Then all of a sudden I came across one of the best aid station I had ever seen during a race.  

A gentlemen had set up a table at the end of his drive way with massive bowls of Captain Crunch. And not only did he have Captain Crunch but he had multiple varieties of it. One bowl of Captain Crunch with Berries, one PB Captain Crunch, and one original Captain Crunch. He had them set out in individual plastic cups to take quickly or if you wanted to help yourself from the bowl. It was a little early in the race for me to give myself cotton mouth, but I thanked the guy for waking up early to serve a bunch of strangers that were blocking him from leaving for the morning.  

Arriving at the aid station about a mile or two later, I was surprised to see no porta potties. This seemed to an issue with many of the aid stations later in the race not having the option to go when needed. I tried to just hold it off but I noticed that my pace started slowing down a little bit and I know I really had to go. Luckily we were passing under interstate 380 and I used that cover to jump a guard rail and pee in the ditch. It was a nice feeling of relief but also (and maybe TMI) nice to see that it was an appropriate color for this point in the race.  

Back on the road my pace seemed much easier and I not only started passing people but doing it consistently. We stayed on country road until making our way to North Liberty. I started to see signs of civilization and knew that the long winding road of CR-60 was finally ending. We hopped up off the road onto the bike path/sidewalk around mile 17. With the increase of spectators, I was motivated to keep the pace up and power through. Kaela was taking some photos around 17.5 before we made our official turn off CR-60. I handed her my gloves as the temperatures were starting to get a little warmer with the sun shining brightly down on us.  

  As we made the turn, we joined up with the half marathoners that had started later than we did. This was an issue. This was really my only downside with the race, but the half marathons had a later start and we would meet them about their mile 5 mark. Joining up this late in the race can be a pain but would have been acceptable had we been on a road. However, we spent most of the race from this point on, on a normal size sidewalk or a wider bike path.  

Joining them on a side walk, I weaved in and out of folks trying to get to a clearance before we took a right on a wider bike path that would be our route for the next few miles. Even with the wider path, I was still having to make my way through the sea of people, most of which were 3 or 4 in a row blocking the entire path. I was pacing for a 4:10 marathon but had just passed the 2:45 half group which made me realize they had the timing all off and I was going to have to play this game for most of the remainder of the race. One positive to the half marathoners joining in was all the additional crowd support that came along with it. There were families posted up on both sides of the bike paths or in the parks that were connected cheering us on as we went through.  

Mile 18 ended up being my fastest mile of the race at 9 minutes flat, which I attribute to powering through people once we joined up. I spent time trying to keep my stride but by the time I arrived at mile 20, my legs felt pretty heavy. From the amount of people so close to me on the bike path and temperatures rising, I started to just feel uncomfortable. Around mile 21 Kaela was set up at an intersection and provided me with some salt tabs and a gel as my stomach started acting up a little bit. Right about at this point we had another long climb that just sucked the life out of me. I powered up it the best I could but I knew at this point that the last few miles were going to be tough.  

  Taking a right after the hill, we hit a neighborhood section of the course which took us from the wide bike path to a normal sidewalk, which was not ideal for as many runners they had on the course that point. With some short continuous hills many of us just ended up on the road running by cars that were stopped in traffic because of race road closures. We finally made it into Coralville which was nice as a familiar location since that is where our hotel was located. Kaela was at mile 24 cheering me on as I looked like I had been hit by a bus. The 4:20 marathon pacer caught up behind me and I told him that I would try to hang with him hopefully until the finish. Chatting with him a little bit, he told me that he had lost his entire group and he thinks its because he was pushing faster than the pace by about 5 minutes. Smartly, I just let him go knowing that he wasn’t going to help me maintain a pace if he was already that far off goal pace for his group.  

  We made our turn on the main street of Coralville and we were greeted by drivers passing by honking their horns and people sitting out on the patio’s of restaurants cheering us to the end. There was one bar that was passing out beer but it was a waitress running back and forth with solo cups to hand them out. Had she had one available as I passed by, I would have grabbed a cup to-go but I didn’t think it would be a good idea to stand around and wait for a beer with just over a mile left in the race.

As we crossed the street to head up the last (and possibly largest) climb of the day, I noticed Kaela sitting in traffic at the stop light trying to make her way to the finish. She yelled for me out the window to keep it up and initially I was trying to push it but my legs were not having the incline. I ended up walking the entire hill but at a brisk pace not to lose too much more time than already had. I had passed a few marathoners, half marathoners and even an older gentlemen that was walking the 5k (which is a really crappy way to end a 5k with this climb).  

Once at the top of the hill I put it in gear and told myself I was going to run the 1/2 mile to the finish. I was weaving in and out of people that were on my same level of exhaustion and with each pass tried to encourage them to join me in pushing to the finish, no one accepted the invitation. We passed by the baseball stadium and I yelled to the bullpen for them to toss me a ball but it was met with an awkward look back. We wrapped around a parking lot and then the edge of the football stadium. Knowing the finish was just on the other side I emptied the tank and pushed with all I had left.  


The finish chute was short and I had to stop almost instantly after crossing which was not good consider the Mach one speeds I was heading that final stretch (obviously a joke). The stadium was under construction so the originally planned finish on the field was not possible so they had to make do with what they had available. I did not see Kaela as I came in so I was guessing she didn’t make it out of the traffic in time to see me finish. Not having my phone I found a spot in the corner to wait and just hope we could spot one another. After about 15 minutes of standing on exhausted legs, I borrowed someone’s phone to call her and luckily she was just around the corner. She apologized for not getting a photo at the finish and I told her that she had gotten plenty throughout the race that the finish was not necessary, especially with the amount of people in that area. We made our way into the stadium to get a medal photo with the field as our backdrop. I hobbled my way back to the car telling Kaela a few war stories as we went back to hotel to clean up, then stopping to pick up lunch and a cupcake (of course) before making the drive back home.  

Overall this was a great experience for a first year race. They had sent out a feedback survey and I had given my two cents about the bike paths and the timing of the half marathoners, but I think they had more turn out than expected and just not prepared for those circumstances. They already have the course map out for 2019 and not only are they switching the route (heading from Iowa City to Cedar Rapids) They also fixed the route removing most, if not all, of the bike path sections. I highly recommend this race for anyone wanting to be challenged with some Midwest hills.   My next stop is going further than ever before and tackling the Kettle Moraine 100k in Wisconsin; this outta be fun!    


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