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Blood, sweat & 26.2

6/30/2021

What pushes marathon runners and other endurance athletes past the finish line?

The first “marathon,’’ according to ancient Greek legend, was run circa 490 BC. A Greek courier named Pheidippides ran 25 miles from a battlefield in Marathon all the way to Athens. Upon arriving, the exhausted runner delivered his good news — the Greek army had crushed the Persians — but then came the bad news… Pheidippides dropped dead from fatigue. 

Whether this legend is true or not, its telling and retelling ultimately brought about a grueling endurance event, the marathon, that people continue running to this day. Somewhere along the line, the modern race distance became a standardized 26.2 miles, even further than the original, and achieving this mark takes courage, planning and dedication, no doubt. But what else goes into it? What makes these participants tick? 

In pursuit of an answer, CITYVIEW chased down a few of the fine folks who regularly pound the central Iowa pavement, grind out long distances, and endure triathlons and other endurance events. 

The first “marathon,’’ according to ancient Greek legend, was run circa 490 BC. A Greek courier named Pheidippides ran 25 miles from a battlefield in Marathon all the way to Athens. Upon arriving, the exhausted runner delivered his good news — the Greek army had crushed the Persians — but then came the bad news… Pheidippides dropped dead from fatigue. 

Whether this legend is true or not, its telling and retelling ultimately brought about a grueling endurance event, the marathon, that people continue running to this day. Somewhere along the line, the modern race distance became a standardized 26.2 miles, even further than the original, and achieving this mark takes courage, planning and dedication, no doubt. But what else goes into it? What makes these participants tick? 

In pursuit of an answer, CITYVIEW chased down a few of the fine folks who regularly pound the central Iowa pavement, grind out long distances, and endure triathlons and other endurance events. 

Watch out for potholes and don’t quit; Bruce Huckfeldt enjoys a challenge and is still getting stronger at 41

Bruce Huckfeldt plans to run one mile with an American flag and do 22 push-ups in each of Iowa’s 947 cities to raise awareness of veteran suicide. For more information and/or updates on this mission, visit www.road2gold.net. Photo submitted

While running in a local downtown event a few years ago called the Monument Mile, Bruce Huckfeldt figured he had a shot at posting a sub-five-minute mark (since the course partially ran downhill), something he had not done before.

“I was with a tight lead pack,” he remembers, “and stepped into a small pothole that I didn’t see.”

Huckfeldt immediately knew it was not good, but quitting wasn’t an option.

“I don’t have a quit button in my body,” he explains. 

Severely hobbled, Huckfeldt limped to the finish line clocking in at just over six minutes — slower than expected, but not bad for having fractured his foot in three places.

“For the next 188 days, all I could think of was getting back out there to run again,” he says. “I’ve never thought of quitting in nearly 90 races.”

Armed with a passion for pushing himself, Huckfeldt continues to get stronger, even as he turns 41 this summer. 

“If I sign up for 26.2 or a 50k, the only way to finish is both feet crossing the finish line,” he says, and finishing a difficult race makes the pain worth the suffering.

“The mind and body are a whole lot stronger than most believe,” he says. “You just have to jump out there and keep one foot in front of the other….When training is a chore, that’s when people fail or quit or don’t even go. When training is a lifestyle and part of the routine, then success is created.”

The choice is made before starting, says Huckfeldt, and dedicating yourself to the proper preparation is important. 

“I always find the biggest goal, then small goals to help me reach the bigger goals,” he says. “Of course we have setbacks, but each day is a new day to try again.”

When Huckfeldt isn’t racing, he is a father, husband and bartender — he has won multiple “Best Local Bartender” awards in CITYVIEW’s annual Best Of Des Moines poll — but he somehow finds time to train 2-3 hours per day and has competed in 90-plus total endurance events.

Most of the items on Huckfeldt’s bucket list for running have been accomplished. He has won endurance races, completed marathons and finished an ultra marathon, and he has also finished Ironman Des Moines. When he finishes his 100th race — something he plans on doing by the end of 2021 — it’ll be time to cash in his winnings. 

“I’d like to take my medals and trophies to Blank Children’s Hospital and give them to sick kids and hope for a few smiles,” he says.

Then it’s back to pounding the pavement. 

Eating extra tacos on the weekend without adding to his waistline is one perk for Huckfeldt’s abundant training, but raising money for charity also helps fuel his fire. Huckfeldt has helped raise more than $10,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project, and he is in currently doing a new mission: #Mission22. 

“My American Flag and I are preparing for a new journey that will take us to all 947 cities in Iowa,” he says. “I am planning to run one mile in each city and complete each run with 22 push-ups to raise awareness for veteran suicide.” 

For more information and/or updates on this mission, visit www.road2gold.net. 

At least one mile a day keeps Matt Millard pushing toward his long-distance targets

Matt Millard wasn’t a serious runner in high school or college, but he has run at least one mile every day for the last 2,000-plus days. Photo submitted

At least one mile a day — every single day — since November of 2015. That’s nearly six years, more than 2,000 straight days, and during that span, Altoona resident Matt Millard says he has averaged five miles per day. 

Millard wasn’t a serious runner in high school or college. For him, the bug took hold later in life. At first he signed up for doing shorter distances like 5K runs, but in 2015 he started ramping things up. 

“(Now) I am always training for something,” he says. “Last year when the pandemic took races away… I ran every mile of every street in Des Moines.” 

That’s 1,250 streets — more than 1,000 miles — roughly the distance from Des Moines to New Jersey.

“It was something that I could do outside all year and be safe,” he explains. 

Millard also ran every street in Altoona, Bondurant, Carlisle, Mitchellville, Runnells and Pleasant Hill. An app called CityStrides monitors and tracks his progress, and there is something about making progress toward a goal that gets Millard going. 

“I recently ran all of the streets in a much smaller town, Colfax, in three days,” he says. “I ran way more miles than I normally would have during the week because I had a goal of finishing in as few days as possible.” 

Getting to the goal he sets is commonplace for Millard, but sometimes it takes longer than expected. 

“I’ve had a DNF (Did Not Finish) that I learned a lot from,” he says. 

That was during the Booneville Backroads 50k in May of 2018. 

“I pushed myself so hard that I’m pretty sure I had heat exhaustion and ended up actually passing out on the course. I was at mile 28.5 of 31 miles and I couldn’t continue.”

Feeling heartsick and broken, Millard regrouped and came back the next year with renewed focus. He used what he’d learned about listening to his body and how it reacts to heat, and now, after finishing the 50k, Millard intends to push even harder and complete his first 100-miler event. 

“Finding out what my limits are is what keeps me coming back,” he explains. 

19 years of half marathons and counting for Sheila Maddock

Sheila Maddock plans to run her 20th straight half marathon at the 20th annual IMT Des Moines Marathon in 2021. Photo submitted

“I grew up in England,” says Sheila Maddock. “I always enjoyed running, but at school we didn’t have formal running sports. I didn’t take running seriously until I came here (to Iowa for work).” 

After arriving in the Hawkeye State, a colleague asked Maddock to compete at a corporate games event that was being held at Drake University. She enjoyed herself, which led to her later trying something a little more challenging, and then something a lot more challenging, until, before she knew it, she had a full-blown long-distance running habit.

“It’s kind of a way of life,” she says, adding that, “It’s a strange hobby because the best part is when you finish.”

Getting outside to appreciate the different seasons is one big draw. Challenging yourself while getting your body moving is another. But early morning runs are Maddock’s favorite. 

“Even if everything else goes wrong, at least I’ve got my run in,” she explains. 

At 65 years old, Maddock plans to tackle her 20th straight year of running the half marathon — 13.1 miles — at the IMT Des Moines Marathon event in October. She has finished plenty of full-length marathons and other endurance events, but Maddock’s annual half marathon at the IMT has become an autumn ritual.

“It becomes a little bit addictive,” she admits. Which is probably why, even though her pace has slowed some, and even though she isn’t chasing personal bests anymore, barring the unforeseen, Maddock will continue to push her body as far as it will go.

“Until I can’t,” she says. 

‘Pacer’ Tom Perri runs laps around stage 4 cancer

Tom Perri pacing at the IMT Des Moines Marathon.
Photo submitted

His times were slipping, and he didn’t know why. Training runs that used to be a piece of cake were increasingly becoming a challenge. Unexplained fatigue plagued him. After more than four decades of doing extreme endurance events, “Pacer” Tom Perri knew his body, and he knew something was wrong. 

Nowhere in the world will you find another running resume like his. Even at age 60, Perri runs 36 marathons a year. He has logged more than 114,000 miles while competing in more than 2,000 races. He has finished a marathon in all 50 states — four times. And he may be the only one in the world to have finished 500-plus sub-five-hour marathons and to have finished 500-plus sub-20-minute 5Ks. All together, Perri has completed 537 marathons. 

But after a medical exam in December 2018, Perri heard some bad news: stage 3 prostate cancer. Perri underwent surgery to remove his prostate the following April, but by July, it was more bad news: stage 4 prostate cancer — the cancer had spread to his bladder. 

“I’ve got the aggressive stuff,” he says, “that I’m just trying to stay alive with.”

But in spite of the fatigue, headaches, dizziness and other issues — not to mention multiple operations and treatments, Perri continues to run. Pacer Tom has notched 70-plus marathons since the diagnosis two years ago. 

“I never stopped, even after surgery,” he says. “You don’t want to mess with me, even with stage 4 cancer.” 

Perri lives in Minnesota, but he plans on tackling the IMT Des Moines Marathon again in October. 

“I’m the guy who has finished it the most,” he says, noting that he has completed the event 15 times in its 20-year history. 

“Stage 4 cancer is only a diagnosis,” he adds. “And cancer is just a two-syllable word. Cancer will not define me, and I will do my best to overcome it. I will continue to battle cancer and replace that two-syllable word with ‘runner.’ ” 

Find a way! 

In his 16 years of leading the IMT Des Moines Marathon, Chris Burch, the event’s director, has seen thousands of runners finish marathons. These runners come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, ages, backgrounds, abilities and skill levels, but almost all of them share one similar attribute. 

“In endurance sports,” says Burch, “people find their own way to tackle obstacles, both physically and mentally, to prepare them for and to propel them to the finish line on race day.” ♦

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UPCOMING LOCAL ENDURANCE EVENTS 

  • July 10: Lake Red Rock Balloon 5K/10K, Pella
  • July 10: Midnight Madness, 10K, 5K run, Ames 
  • July 10: Moonlight Chase, 4M run, Eldridge 
  • July 11: USA Triathlon Flatland Cup Triathlon, Des Moines 
  • July 25-31: RAGBRAI, 450-plus miles across Iowa
  • Aug. 28: EMC DAM to DSM 20K, Des Moines 
  • Aug. 28: Get Your Rear in Gear, 10K, 5K run, kids run, Des Moines 
  • Sept. 4: Booneville Backroads Ultra, 50K, 100K, 100M, Booneville
  • Sept 12: Great Ames Adventure Race, 21M adventure race, Ames
  • Sept 25: Wild Boar Challenge, 4M obstacle run, St. Charles 
  • Oct. 15-17: IMT Des Moines Marathon, 26.2M, 13.1M, 5K run, 26.2M relay, Des Moines 
  • Oct. 30: Equalizer Endurance Run at Gray’s Lake, Des Moines
  • Nov. 27: The Stuffed Turkey Endurance Races, 50K, 50M, 100M, Granger 

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IMT Des Moines Marathon details

Marathon runners from around the globe enjoy completing the IMT Des Moines Marathon’s 26.2 mile event. Photo courtesy of IMT Des Moines Marathon

The IMT Des Moines Marathon ranks in The BibRave 100 Top 20 Marathons, Best of the Decade: www.bibrave.com/thebibrave100/2020. 

“That means that our IMT Des Moines Marathon is a top-reviewed and a top-rated race across the United States from athletes who participated in the event,” says Chris Burch, director of the IMT Des Moines Marathon. 

The local endurance event takes place annually over the third weekend in October — Oct. 15-17 this year. 

“IMT Des Moines Marathon is a volunteer race committee,” adds Burch. “Not everyone on the committee is a marathoner, a runner or a walker, but what they all have in common is that they want to see Des Moines succeed, and their involvement in this event allows them pride and ownership in the success of events in Des Moines. And that’s what our athletes receive and experience from the minute of packet pickup.”

In a typical year, according to the IMT Des Moines Marathon’s website, the event has 7,500 athletes register for the various races. Entries for 2021, so far, are roughly on pace with previous typical years, according to Burch, and it’s not too late, you’re not too far behind, and you don’t need to stay on the sidelines in 2021. Starting your marathon training in July for an October event isn’t out of the question, but if you prefer, July can be an ideal time to begin working toward a half marathon or shorter distances or even a walk. 

“Rather than stay on the sidelines,” advises Burch, “pick a shorter event that you have plenty of time to train for. Then enjoy your experience this year and put the IMT Des Moines Marathon on your calendar for 2022, the third weekend in October.”

Other than the marathon, the event offers a half marathon, the Principal 5K Road Race, the Bankers Trust Marathon Relay, and the MercyOne 5-Mile Run & 1-Mile Walk. 

“There’s plenty of time to join us,” says Burch, “and you can find all the training resources on the IMT Des Moines website.” ♦

 

One Comment

  1. Doug Woolf says:

    Tom Perri. From cancer; to runner; to WINNER! Me too Tom! Fighting stage 4 cancer. This is my 50th year of running and walking. Thank you for the inspiration.

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