This was my second marathon in 2 weeks. My wife was also running her second marathon in a row, so she agreed to go slow with me (she finished our first marathon 33 minutes before me). We decided to try a run/walk (ala Galloway) method, running at an easy jog for 5 minutes and walking for 1 minute.
The packet pickup the day before worked for us, but this race offered pickup on the morning of the marathon which is a nice option for those who have to work Saturdays (like I normally have to but this race is only 20 miles from our home). There was no expo, which I don't care about one way or the other. In your pre-race stuff you get the usual free samples and literature as well as a long sleeve cotton t-shirt, a pair of Fox River Mills socks, and a beef summer sausage(?). I don't recommend that you eat the summer sausage before going to bed on the pre-race night like I did! The pasta dinner was very good, and the price is way too low ($6 adults, $3 children). Cotton for the t-shirt is fine with me even though a lot of runners complain if they don't get a technical t--I don't wear most of these shirts for running anyway so cotton is more comfortable for weekend-wear. It is a universal shirt for all runners: 5k, 10k, half, and full marathon. I'm considering crossing off the shorter distances with a Sharpie but I probably won't.
On the morning of the marathon, we showed up at the high school where you could wait inside and use the bathrooms. There was an early shuttle and a late shuttle to the start line. We took the later bus and it was pretty full by the time it left. When you get to the start location, you are able to wait inside the Music Man Square, which basically pays homage to Mason City's ties to the Meredith Willson play/movie "The Music Man". There are restroom facilities in this warm waiting area as well. They then called for all runners to head to the start line outside.
At this point I should point out that the weather couldn't have been much worse. We had sustained winds of 30-40 mph and gusts of 50-65 mph. We were cold for the few minutes before the start so it sure was nice not having to be outside longer ahead of time. This is the only marathon I've ever seen where a girl sang the national anthem then took off her coat and jumped into the front of the pack to run (she won the overall female trophy).
It was VERY hard to walk after only 5 minutes, but we stuck with our plan even though it meant falling behind the pack early. The first 4 miles take you by the Rock Glen neighborhood, the Stockman House (a Frank Lloyd Wright design), East Park, and a very nice bike trail that I had never seen before even though I've lived in the area most of my life. The bike trail ends at NIACC (North Iowa Area Community College) and then the fun began. We turned west into the wind and got our first taste of what the next 6 miles would feel like.
After about a half mile the course turned north onto a gravel road with a few bigger rolling hills. The wind was coming out of the WNW so it was not quite a quartering headwind at this point so it was tough but tolerable. We passed a guy who said he should just draft us the rest of the way. After mile 8, we turned west. It is hard to describe how tough the next 3 miles were going into a 40 mph wind with 65 mph gusts. My wife actually got knocked off of the road and into the shoulder several times. Thanks to my more substantial abdominal girth, I was able to keep my footing but I had to lean forward and to the right the entire 3 miles.
After what seemed like 3 hours, we turned South on a gravel road heading back to town. This part of the course was sheltered so we didn't really get the tailwind but just not having the headwind was beautiful. A couple miles later we saw the city limits sign and let out a little cheer.
A mile later we turned into the Lime Creek Nature Center. The first couple miles were on a horse trail ("watch out for the poop," said my wife several times). It was a neat place to run, but not really designed for runners. We were crossing a bridge when we heard a tree fall down about 20 yards to our right. I told the volunteer at the next turn to watch out for falling trees. Then we hit a loop that was more like a wilderness trail at spots--jumping over roots and rocks (which they had spray painted white to make them more visible) and fallen tree branches and going up and down a little more erratically. I was glad when the loop was done as the earlier wind had taken a lot out of me. We were only at mile 17 and I was already having a hard time--I was down to only being able to run for 3-4 minutes at a time. The drafting dude from earlier was still on his pace and he passed us. We got to the bridge that we had crossed earlier and a tree had fallen on it. As my wife tried to climb through the branches, I went around the bridge through the creek bed--I told my wife she was getting her trail marathon that she'd always talked about running. Five minutes later, it started to snow--sideways, blowing, cold, wet snow.
We got out of Lime Creek alive and I was glad to see pavement again. We're almost there, only 7 miles to go! We took another bike trail I never knew about that runs along a river. If it wasn't for the cold wind and the snow, this part would be really cool also. Mile 20 finds you in East Park and shortly after that I am down to running for a minute or two at a time. My wife isn't happy with me and now we are running straight into the wind for another mile and a half.
We are about to leave the road and enter another bike trail when we almost get hit by a car. The volunteer who we thought was blocking traffic apologizes very sincerely, and I kind of feel sorry for him as I'm sure he really felt bad about it. I'm down to walking a couple minutes for every one minute of running and a mile later we're running by the hospital emergency room entrance--it's tempting but I decide not to fake a heart attack and instead I choose to keep moving. We turn the corner and the road is blocked by a train. Did I mention that my wife's not happy with me? The volunteer tells us where to go to get back on course. We go on our detour and eventually get to where we need to be. My wife is telling me to run more. I can't. She keeps telling me that she is not going to let me make her finish in over 5 hours. I'm looking at my watch and even in my current mental state I know we can walk it in and still be (barely) under 5 hours. My wife disagrees. We get to the last aid station--less than 2 miles to go.
"Run, we'll never make it in under 5 hours!" she's yelling. I'm trying, but it's not happening. I do what I can to keep shuffling along now that we're heading in to the wind again. We turn a corner then we pass mile 26 and we turn another corner. The wind's at our back and we're running. I tell my wife I have to walk again--she says go ahead--I keep running. I can see the finish, I can see my kids. they run out and grab our hands. I'm still running. I hear the announcer say our bib numbers then our names "and they've got a couple extra runners coming in with them". We cross the finish line at 4:52 even and I finally realize just how bad my left foot hurts. When I take my shoe off later I'll find a half dozen little rocks that were along for the ride.
We head inside for our medals--the wind had destroyed the table that they had set up outside for handing out medals so they've moved that part into the school. This is a small town event and a fundraiser for the school, so the medals are not the big heavy specialized deals like a big marathon has. It is the same medal for the 5k, 10k, Half, and full marathon, but the back is engraved "Marathon Finisher". Our bag is waiting for us and the volunteers offer food, drink, towels and a warm shower--nice touch, but I'm close to home so we head home after watching the awards ceremony. The overall winner ran a 3:06. Yes, the weather was that bad. I've never felt like I earned something quite so much as this medal.
To summarize, this is a very nice marathon course as long as you are running for the challenge or the joy of running and do not need a bunch of adoring fans. There were only about 6 spectators the entire course (a couple pairs of them cheered for us in several locations) and they were absolutely great. The volunteers were awesome and the aid stations were set up roughly every 2 miles with Powerade and water. Gu was offered at 2 or 3 spots along the way. The course itself overall was good. There was a good balance of uphills and downhills. Our run would have gone much different if the weather had cooperated, but this is not the fault of the marathon itself. We're thinking about doing the 50 states so we may not be back next year, but I will definitely run it again someday.