POLK COUNTY, Iowa — The sense of accomplishment in Des Moines was only matched half a world away during the final Dam to Dam run in Polk County.
The race is a longtime tradition 39 years running, and thousands of Iowans have taken part–including those serving overseas who refused to miss the final race.
“It’s bittersweet. The support that the community has for this race is just outstanding.”
Spanning nearly four decades, Dam to Dam has tested thousands. One stretch of the path is more of a test than some would like.
“It’s a long gradual hill, and it’s coming between seven and eight miles. This hill can be a buster.”
The hill along Morningstar Drive has been called many unflattering names, but in 2011 it became Memorial Hill.
“Number one, we’ve always had a relationship with the national guard. The national guard is right next door to us at the start up at the dam,” said Tom Riley, Dam to Dam Course Chair.
That relationship inspired Memorial Hill, which has been lined with an American flag for every fallen Iowa solider since Dam to Dam started in 1980. There are currently 116 flags flying.
“Ever since we put up those flags, people are going, ‘you know what? That hill isn’t so bad when you think about the service men that have given their lives,'” Riley said.
It’s also a reminder of the men and women currently serving. Many soldiers form the Iowa National Guard are stationed at Camp Buering in Kuwait, but not even deployment would keep these Iowans from running the final Dam to Dam overseas.
“It’s really exciting to see 70-some soldiers come out, get up early in the morning, prepare themselves over the past couple weeks for this. And just really proud of them for gutting it out, and getting out here and doing the 13 miles,” said Command Sergeant Major Matthew Doty.
The Shadow Run finished about seven hours before the first runners in Iowa even started. Dam to Dam organizers made sure each runner got a shirt, medal, and their name printed in the final results book.
“The ability for them to train for it and compete knowing potentially this is the last Dam to Dam. Really special for them to not miss that and do it over here,” said Doty.
“If you lived in Iowa and you ran the race, you tend to come back for it. It’s the race you want to come back for,” said Riley.
Even for those who couldn’t make it back, Dam to Dam still sparked memories of home.