Race recap: On our trip to the John Deere factory I picked up a sweet green Deere hat and joked that I might get a better sense of Iowa running if I wore it during the race…so I did! The elite field was absolutely stacked. For a race of less than 1,000 runners it’s insane to have 20+ elites with times this year under 1:10 (point of reference: the men’s and women’s Olympic qualifying standards are 1:05 and 1:15). Kristin’s quad was bugging her quite a bit before the week of the race (she didn’t run all week), and looking back on it, I pushed the pace too hard in the first few miles – the weather was just too perfect and we were surrounded by so many happy-go-lucky runners, including 80’s guy who had strapped a stereo to his sweet old-school blue football jersey and stopped every mile and did burpees (i.e. mile 2 he did 2 burpees and so on). Around mile 5 we met up with Vicki, a professor in Iowa, that we met during a race in Idaho and recommended this race. It was great to catch up for a bit as we ran together, but Vicki’s was flying so eventually we gave a wave and shouted good luck as she tore down the road (to her PR of 1:45!). At the half-way point Kristin’s quad was really acting up and she was struggling to keep a positive attitude, but after a gel and some water Kristin actually sped up rather than slowed down! As we weaved through the George Wyth state park we came to a few serene spots where it felt like the two of us were the only people running, which was pretty calming. In the last few miles there were some tighter spots and we were forced to run single file as the path was still open to runners/bikers on the opposite side. Nonetheless, Kristin and I still finished strong and found reason to smile as we crossed the finish line for our 37th state!
Highlight: A very enjoyable run in a wooded state park – not the typical city race we’re used to, but fun and we were happy with our 1:49 performance (John Deere hat and all). Congrats to Matt on his second best time ever of 1:17!
Day 1 (Friday):
Our trip to Strawberry Tree Café was the first epic fail we’ve had from an Urbanspoon recommendation (usually an awesome resource for finding great eats with local flare). Not only was the café located in a food cart in the middle of the Dubuque mall (that should have tipped us off), but the sandwiches were pre-prepared and not made with any sort of TLC – just the absolute basics of a ham and cheese croissant tossed in the fridge for about a week. The only saving grace was the homemade berry smoothie – that was fresh and quite tasty. Am I overreacting? Let’s just say we tossed half of the sandwich in the garbage and headed to Wendy’s and that was a giant upgrade.
Highlight: The funniest thing about the entire experience was that when I took a picture of Kristin to memorialize the ambience (or lack thereof) I was actually yelled at by a mall cop who screeched “no photos allowed in the mall.” I guess I can see why though – if the outside world saw the sad state of the mall, they surely would avoid it.
Putting our sour lunch experience behind us, we headed for a tour of the John Deere Engine Works factory to see a block of metal transformed step-by-step into a tractor engine. The tour was led by two retired plant employees and while very informative and an incredibly unique experience (we were actually taken through the plant on a trolley pulled by what else - a John Deere tractor), it was almost too comprehensive (~90 minutes). I would definitely recommend the tour for anyone – even those not interested in tractors – as the logistics of the plant were pretty amazing and you can actually see the pride the John Deere employees have over their plant. The biggest surprise to me was how impeccably clean the entire massive facility was, kudos John Deere.
Tip: Tours are free (limited space), but you have to make your reservation at least 48 hours ahead of time via phone (800-765-9588). Also, no cameras or phones are allowed anywhere inside the building.
Now that our trip was firmly back on a positive track we stopped into Beck’s Sports Brewery (on University) to sample their $1.99 craft beer pints. While the selection is somewhat limited, the beers (all named after Iowa colleges) were quite good. The Blackhawk Down, as we called it, was not nearly as dark as we expected and was very smooth and clean the whole way through – definitely our favorite. This is a great stop to try some local hooch on the cheap.
Highlight: The Waterloo police have an incredibly awesome (coat of arms) logo. Luckily we didn't get a "free ride" from them though.
To commemorate John Deere’s 175 year anniversary the town of Waterloo put on a pretty impressive tractor parade, which just happened to be about 100 yards away from packet pickup. The parade was pretty entertaining – we saw everything from new age combines to hundred year old restored tractors running like the day they came off the assembly line. Aside from ogling the tractors, there was again a huge sense of town pride about both John Deere and the farming community. Glad we caught the show.
For our pre-race dinner we headed up to Cedar Falls, a very cute little town about 15 minutes from Waterloo. Arriving a few minutes before our reservation we decided to walk around the downtown area and stumbled upon possibly the greatest cupcake shop in the Midwest – Scratch Cupcakery. OMG this place is amazing. Scratch only makes certain cupcakes on certain days of the week (check out the full list here) and we were lucky enough to arrive on a Friday and get our paws on the once-a-week peanut butter and jelly and the September only s’mores. It’s too hard to describe how good these cupcakes are, you really need to try them for yourself.
We dined at Montage, a pretty trendy and slightly upscale restaurant in downtown Cedar Falls. Kristin and I sampled the chicken kabobs (the chicken was actually grilled separately from the kabobs, which was a nice touch) and Matt enjoyed the beef brisket – all were very fresh and expertly prepared. The only recommendation is that the sauces tended to be a little thick, so you may want to ask for any dressings or sauces on the side. The pre-meal bread was also very good – the three of us managed to polish off two baskets before dinner! This is a great restaurant and I’d love to go back as the menu was full of great looking meal options.
We decided to walk off dinner (and all the bread) with a stop at Cup of Joe for a delicious latte. Impressively good coffee – better than Starbucks – and the staff was super nice and even let Kristin pick out her own to-go cup sleeve (they had about 5 “pretty” designs). The perfect cap to a great evening.
Day 2 (Saturday - Race Day):
Given that we are used to the crowds and traffic of a big city I think we were a little nervous by the lack of a line at Newton’s Breakfast Café on a Saturday morning – but the restaurant had great appeal and plenty of outdoor seating so we jumped right in and I’m glad we did! There was no argument that the orange juice was hand squeezed – it was a bit thick with pulp, but absolutely delicious and very fresh. The crème de la crème was the stuffed French toast. Savory French toast topped with several types of fresh berries + a slightly spicy, salty and perfectly grilled homemade sausage patty = Super Yum! Urbanspoon, you’ve earned your stripes back, this restaurant was awesome.
“If you build it, they will come.” The classic Field of Dreams movie site was actually pretty cool (and free). After driving in farm country for a little while and right when you start to wonder if this side trip is worthwhile, you suddenly come upon an impressive baseball field literally in the middle of miles of corn fields. No better way to take in the park then to walk to the outfield and enjoy the last of our Scratch cupcakes while watching some kids play baseball. A unique and fun stop.
We concluded our trip with a stop in downtown Galena, Illinois at the Galena Brewery for lunch and some local beers. The Black IPA (we got the last of it, sorry) was extremely well balanced and an excellent beer and the Belgian Trapist blueberry was also very good – just a hint of blueberry so it still had the traditional sweetness of a Trapist ale but wasn’t overpowered by the fruitiness of the blueberry. We paired our brews with the thinly sliced and very lean beef wrap and the vegetable pizza with balsamic dressing, and Matt went old school with a classic PB&J sandwich and some hot chicken wings. Cute town, good food, great beer.
Iowa Half Marathon Medals
September 8, 2012: Park to Park Half Marathon