Joel and I ran the Des Moines half marathon again last weekend; our previous running of the DM 1/2 was a 1:40 finish in 2010.  We “ran” with a group of Jones County friends, and logged several of our training runs together this summer and fall.

Summer and Fall running can be problematic for Joel; he can lose 5-10 pounds of sweat during workouts with high heat and humidity, and when that settles, the pollen count rises and plays havoc on his airways.  Add to that a brisk sales season at work, and Joel was considering dropping out before he had even signed up.  I eventually persuaded him to pace me at a nice-and-easy 1:50, which I believed to be a commendable improvement from my 1:55 in May.

We had a fun and relaxing Saturday sans kids (thanks, Marshall family!) and enjoyed a nice meal with friends Saturday night.  My pre-race jitters failed to appear Sunday morning, likely because they knew my plans to run safe and conservative.  I wore no watch, turned off MapMyRun on my phone, and planned to just let Joel lead the way.

The first mile was fast, but felt good.  The second mile was fast, but still felt good.  The third mile opened an opportunity for Joel to use a porta-potty, so I promised to stay on the right side of the road and slow-up to allow him to find me easier.  He caught up before mile 4, and reported that it, too, was fast.

The crowd was energetic, the weather perfect, and the conversations comfortable.  The pace stayed fast, but eventually Joel stopped warning me and just asked intermittently how I felt.  We reminisced about other races and runs, Joel gave high-fives to every kid with outstretched hands, and we chuckled at clever posters:

Most boring parade ever…throw some candy already!

Run now, poop later.  Never trust a fart!

Are you crop dusting? Yeah-we thought so.

Humpty Dumpty had wall issues, too…

Somewhere around mile 8, the 1:45 pace group caught up to us.  I realized then why Joel had been so concerned about our speed – we were averaging 8:00 miles instead of the 8:20s I had planned.  I’m sure Joel thought I was ready to collapse at any minute…Instead, we decided to stick with the 1:45 group for two miles and then decide our course of action.

Mile ten approached and I confirmed that the pace still felt comfortable.  Joel had picked out a guy just a bit in front of us, wearing a gray cotton tshirt inside out.  I’m not sure if this really bugged him, but he turned to me and said, “I really can’t let that guy beat me; come on!”  We surged and placed a nice cushion between us.  The mile eleven marker was placed incorrectly, and I developed some reservation with pushing the pace any further.  I deep-down believed that Joel was wrong and we still had 2.5 miles left instead of the 1.5 his GPS watch calculated.

Eventually we hit mile twelve, still felt good, and Joel picked up the pace immensely.  He’s famous for running six-minute miles at the end of half-marathons, just for fun.  When I didn’t accelerate quite as quickly, he picked out another target runner for us to beat.  Neither of us caught him, but the camera did catch Joel in one of his many attempts to cheer me on – “Come on! Are you going to let that guy beat you?”  I think I might have to purchase that picture for Joel for Christmas!

We finished in 1:43, 7:55 per mile pace.  When I chided Joel about his cheering tactics at the end he responded, “That’s how you work.  That’s how you were raised as a runner, and that’s what you needed.”  I don’t think his statement meant to criticize the way my parents coached me as a young athlete, but Joel was definitely spot-on.

I remember a time during sophomore year of college when I felt like I was in a running slump; my times had been stagnant in the 20:00s, and I knew I would need to run a 19:15 to win conference.  Over fall break, Joel paced me on one of his hometown 5k routes.  We ran a 19:15 on the nose, and days later I won conference with a 19:16.

Thanks for pacing me, Joel; for the 19:16, the 1:43 and the countless miles in between.