The best places
to stay, run and race
by Doug Rennie
of life and quality of running score high in Greater Des Moines, a hospitable heartland
haven of 500,000 plus.
Founded in 1843 as a military outpost on a triangle
of land at the fork of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers, Iowa's political, economic,
and cultural capital has evolved into a sophisticated city and is the corporate headquarters
for a dozen big-time businesses, including the Wall Street Journal. The city is also
the world's third-largest insurance center, after London and Hartford, Conn.
Moreover, Des Moines is the home of Drake University
and the fabled Drake Relays, one of track-and-field's oldest and most storied events.
The running community here is large and friendly, the race calendar full, and the
city blessed with more miles of scenic, accessible trails than you could run in a
For a copy of Intro: Greater Des Moines and assorted
other tourist goodies, contact the Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 451-2625;
||Racing Around Des Moines
For more information about these and other central Iowa races, contact Fitness Sports,
(515) 277-4785 or (800) 529-7684
Drake Relays road races (April).
Started out as the Drake Relays
Marathon in 1969, converted to an 8-K/half-marathon in '93. Holds claim as Iowa's
oldest major road event, though a mere fledgling compared to Drake's track races,
which date back to 1910.
Dam to Dam 20-K (June). Long-standing (since 1980) Iowa distance
classic had 8,500 finishers in '10, making it America's largest 20-K. Fast point-to-point
course starts north of the city at Saylorville Dam, courses through the countryside,
and finishes near downtown's Center Street Dam.
Midnight Madness (July).
Dead of night, midsummer 5- and
10-K lunacy in Ames (33 miles north of Des Moines), followed by one righteous party.
Pursuit 10-Mile (September). Loop
course with a 3-mile downhill at the end-which explains the 48:00 course record.
History Farms Races (November). USA
T&F On the Roads called this the "Largest Cross Country race in North America."
This 7-mile cross-country farm tour finishes on an 1890s main street and pulled in
8,000 runners last year. "Be prepared," says Steve Bobenhouse, "to
climb fences, wade through creeks, avoid cows and pigs, and claw your way to the
top of gullies with a couple of thousand runners of questionable judgment. Don't
wear anything you might want to keep." Great source of war stories.
Rooms for Runners
Downtown Des Moines is compact and bracketed by bike trails, so you can stay pretty
much anywhere and be a quick hop to a good run. I can already hear you paraphrasing
Abraham Lincoln: "Anywhere might be fine for you, but I need Somewhere."
So here are your hotel choices, all a warmup jog from two running gateways, Water
Works Park and the Des Moines River Trail (see "Trails-R-Us").
Best Sweat Bet. Four treadmills, two stairclimbers,
two bikes, and separate weight rooms for men and women, fill the fitness center at
the elegant and historic Savery Hotel and Spa, 401 Locust St., (515) 244-2151; www.savery.com.
It is adjacent to both the Polk County Convention Complex and Civic Center, and connected
to more than 5 miles of climate-controlled skywalks. Just two blocks from the Des
Moines River trails, the Savery also has a 20-lap-to-the-mile indoor jogging track,
a good warmup choice in bad weather. Hotel general manager/runner Randy Haynes can
map out or perhaps join you on a nice little run around the capital. Afterward, be
sure to scour out your sinus cavities in the hotel's eucalyptus room. All 224 of
Savery's newly furnished rooms have executive work desks with data ports. There's
also an in-house 24-hour business center.
Historic Heartland. Listed on the National Register
of Historic Places, the nicely restored, really cool 240-room Hotel Fort Des Moines,
10th and Walnut streets, (515) 243-1161, features a 60-foot-long pool and a top-floor
picture-window-enclosed workout room, complete with bike, stairclimber, and treadmill.
The hotel offers a business center, and deluxe rooms and suites are equipped with
data ports, work desks, and swivel chairs.
Des Moines Prime. The city's only AAA four-diamond
digs, the Des Moines Marriott is at the heart of downtown's business district at
700 Grand Avenue, (515) 245-5500; www.marriott.com/marriott/dsmia/. Rooms in the
415-unit high-rise have data ports, voice mail, and work desk, and there's an around-the-clock
business center. The fitness room has bikes, treadmills, a rower, and multistation
Roomin' on the River. Perched on the east bank of the
Des Moines River and smack beside the Saylorville-Des Moines River Trail (see "Trails-R-Us")
is the Embassy Suites on the River, 101 E. Locust St., (515) 244-1700; www.jqhhotels.com.
The Embassy serves up 234 spacious two-room suites that have such comforts of home
as microwaves and coffeemakers. Many look out over a lushly tropical eight-story
atrium. Two TVs, two phones, and a good-size dining/work table complete an attractive
package. The hotel offers a complimentary full breakfast, happy hour every afternoon,
and a fitness room with a stairclimber, treadmill, bike, and weight machines.
From the fringes of 12-block-square downtown Des Moines, trails-long, long trails-spin
off in all directions and snake their way through suburban parks, wooded corridors,
farmlands, wildlife-laden enclaves, and small towns.
The Saylorville-Des Moines River Trail, 23.7 flat miles
of asphalt, follows the river northward past prairies, ponds, and forests from Birdland
Park on the east edge of downtown to Big Creek State Park beach at the far end of
Saylorville Lake. Water and rest rooms are found at Birdland, 1.5 miles farther at
McHenry Park, and at the Bob Shetler Recreation Area at 6.2 miles. Another option
is to run from the downtown YMCA at 717 Grand Avenue to the S-DMR Trail and up to
Birdland Park, about 5 miles out and back.
In the heart of downtown, not far from the start of
the S-DMR Trail, is the 1.5-mile Bill Riley Bike Trail. It takes you to Water Works
Park, which features about 4 miles of paths and roads, and hooks up with the newly
paved Great Western Trail. The GW Trail follows an historic rail bed for 17 flat
miles-what else?-south to the town of Martendale, population 438. For a 10-miler,
run from the GW Trail trailhead to the town of Orilla and back. Take water if you
Seven miles northwest of Des Moines is the popular
Clive Greenbelt Trail, 10 miles (and growing) of scenic, thickly wooded miles. "It
was our first suburban bike and running trail and is still the best," says the
Capital Striders' Cal Murdock. By the
time you read this, the Clive Greenbelt should connect with the Raccoon River Valley
Trail. This route passes farms, timbered areas, and a bunch of small towns for 34
miles to tiny Yale, Iowa, two counties northwest of Des Moines.
The closest spot to hit the Clive Greenbelt from Des
Moines is the east trailhead near the Wal-Mart parking lot at 73rd Street, just south
of University Avenue. The next trailhead, at the 1400 block of 86th Street, has water
and rest rooms, and again at the Campbell Recreation Area, about 3.8 miles out. Each
May the Clive Running Festival's fast 5- and 10-K races are held mostly on the Greenbelt.
Call (515) 226-0860 for information.
Five miles northeast of downtown Des Moines puts you
on the paved 20-mile Chichaqua Valley Trail. This rail-trail crosses several stone
bridges as it follows the 1885-vintage Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska train route,
including a span with a scenic view across the Skunk River at 5 miles. The trailhead
is between 88th Street and 78th Avenue off of I-65.
For a nifty, no-brainer, 4.5-mile out-and-back run, start at the Hotel Fort Des Moines,
go south along Fleur Drive, head west for a loop of Gray's Lake, and back the same
way. Or add a few miles by heading west into adjacent Water Works Park and running
along the Raccoon River. Start from either the Marriott or Savery and figure about
5 miles for the basic route to the Raccoon and back.
"One special place to run in Des Moines is on
mile-long, sycamore-lined Polk Boulevard," says city runner Michael
Franke. Polk, which forms a "T" with 1.7-mile-long Kingman Boulevard,
is known for its stately pre-Depression era homes and summertime shade. Franke recommends
a 5.4-mile out-and-back run that covers both Polk and Kingman. Park at the Des Moines
Art Center, 4700 Grand Avenue, at the south end of Polk.
You can also head south a half mile or so from the
Art Center along 45th Street into Greenwood and Ashworth parks. From these parks
it's another 1.8 miles to a wooden bridge across the Raccoon River into trail-filled
Water Works Park.
Visitors in need of hill repeats can scoot up and down
an almost perfect incline for maintaining a more-or-less regular stride. The hill
runs along lovely and low-traffic Waterbury Avenue from 56th Street up to Polk Boulevard.
The shady 2.5-mile loop around Glendale Cemetery, 3
miles west of downtown off University Avenue, is a good run for a hot day. Add miles
along paths that run through the grounds. Both water and rest rooms are nearby.
The Waveland Park & Golf Course is at 49th and
University, not far from the cemetery. It features both rollers and quad-burners
and offers the city's best cross-country running-though access is sometimes restricted
when the golfers are out in big numbers.
Drop In and Say Hi
It's not just a flashy running specialty store boasting a multitiered Web site full
of running info. It's also a clubhouse, hangout, and a place to plan races and get
applications, for all of central Iowa and beyond. If it has anything to do with running
in Des Moines-or, for that matter, the state-Steve
Bobenhouse's Fitness Sports, 7230 University Avenue, (515) 277-4785; www.FitnessSports.com,
is likely in the middle of it.
The store is the ad hoc home base for the city's largest
running club, the Capital Striders, which you
can contact at www.capitalstriders.org.
The store and club join forces each year to sponsor a spring marathon training program
that runs from January through April as well as numerous of the area's most popular
Each Sunday groups of Striders run up to 10 miles,
starting from the 86th Street entrance of the Clive Greenbelt Trail. These outings
serve as a worthwhile excuse for the postrun chow down at Bruegger's bagel shop.
Tuesdays are all-levels interval sessions at the Roosevelt High School track,. Thursdays
find the Striders legging it across a 6-mile hilly course and feeding afterwards
at Zimm's, 3200 Ingersoll Avenue. Visitors are welcome.