Race Recap: Mazes, Dragons, and Return of the Legend

I envision this magical moment in the kingdom of Ida Grove where a woman suddenly awoke with a revelation…

Yes! I see the challenge. I understand the goal. There must be a way to achieve 1000 feet of elevation gain in a single loop at a trail race in Iowa. Ida Grove must be the location. This must happen!

And so…I see sleepless nights of hand drawn maps, course outlines, and endless days of Strava information of one weaving through the maze of Moorehead Pioneer Park.

Thus, after time of toiling, sweat, and blisters; like all good mythological beings the Mazathon and the Trail of the Dragon was born.

Pan would have been proud of this devilish delight…

Somewhere along US 59 highway between Des Moines, Iowa and Sioux City, Iowa is the sleepy town of Ida Grove. With a few thousand people, it is mostly noted for its unique architecture. The town is made up of castles.

“Oh tell me why. Do we build castles in the sky?” Photo Credit: Brandy Holey

This is no joke.

Someone with too much time and money decided to build facades of castles throughout the city. Factories? In the castle. Housing? In the castle. Dentist office? In the castle. Knights Inn? No, not in the castle, in fact there isn’t even a Knights Inn in Ida Grove.

Just to the west of this special, little community is a small, historic park. Old buildings, graves, and a strange wanna-be ski lift, litter the lush area. This is home to two of the newer trail races in the flyover world.

The Mazathon and the Trail of the Dragon.

Now, to add an element of confusion, the two races are ran at the same time and on the same trail (more or less). There is a delectable flavor of distances for you to choose from. Embracing her inner Baskin Robins, race director Susan Knop offers a fun filled day of the following:

  • 1/3 Mazathon (one loop)
  • 2/3 Mazathon (two scloopsP
  • Mazathon (three loops)
  • Trail of the Dragon 50K (three loops with out and back joy)
  • Trail of the Dragon 50M (five loops, out and backs, and extra sprinkles)

Originally, knowing of this event, I was going solely to support and crew “The Legend” on her ’50-mile-it-is-a-warm-up-for-the-next-50-mile-race-in-one-month-because-I-am-a-super-strong-runner-race’. However, as I began to look at my own training spreadsheet I noted that this day also called for 18 miles for myself.

The exact distance of the 2/3 Mazathon.

So, with some leftover change and plenty of room for poor choices, I paid the fee and signed up for the race. The concept would be simple; I would run my race two hours after seeing “The Legend” leave for her 50 mile. I would finish in a few hours, and then I would assist her as crew for her final two laps. My wife would be there the entire time, and this would be a flawless race for everyone.

After spending the evening in a hotel in Denison, Iowa that would have made Cheech blush*, my wife and I traveled to the start line of the race early Saturday morning. “The Legend” was wound for sound with her running buddy Angel. They were representing the entire state of Missouri on the 50 mile race.

There was no gun, no horn, no whistle, no lit cigarette, just a “Get going!” from the race director, and the runners were off. Myself? Pulling a High Lonesome, I jumped back into my car and went back to sleep for 90 minutes.

At 8:00 AM I began my adventure. The course was advertised as having a few climbs,

Just add hobbits. Photo Credit: Brandy Holey

plenty of elevation, and being very pretty. With “the mist”-like fog rolling around in the trees, our group also took off into the woods for a delight romp in the wilderness.

Usually, I have something tragic to say that would foreshadow impending doom during a race, but truthfully this course was so well marked with perfect weather that there really was no room for problems on this beautiful day. I flew down the root-wrapped hills, enjoyed some single track, and finally started to approach the meadows.

You run through meadows.

Meadows equals mowed grass.

Mowed grass in meadows is equivalent to Satan, himself.

Soaked shoes on a bank of grass that mimicked only turn four at Daytona greeted me, and slowly but surely my body started to give out. It started with a few needles of pain in my feet, a slight cramp in my hips, and eight…count them…eight miles into my race I was absolutely wrecked. This is unfortunate because the course was so beautiful. Winding, like a maze, through the woods you see everyone countless times (and they offer you salt because you look hurt countless times as well**), you climb a hill to a cemetery from the 1860’s, and you get to listen to manic runners from Omaha scream about clowns being up at the top of the hill.

After meeting the only aid station on course, I hobbled through the final miles of my first loop.

Selfie. Photo Credit: Brandy Holey

Like any other good looped race that involves my wife meeting me at the start/finish, she smiled, talked a little bit, then proceeded to kick me back out on my second loop. By five miles in my feet were starting to ache. They were starting to ache in a way that I had not really noticed before. I was moving at a staggering 25:00.00 minute per mile pace, and deep down I wanted to just be done.

I wanted to be done. I was terrified of The Hawk 50 coming up because of the pain, how slow I was moving, and how much I struggling to just complete 18 miles. I got upset about how I looked, how I was moving, how I wasn’t ‘growing’ like other runners, and how I was fearful of injury, stress fractures, pushing too hard, messing something up, letting others down, letting myself down…I was out in the woods and I was not having fun.

Yet, through the stillness of the August air, I heard it…it came sharp. It came swiftly. It came up right behind me, and nearly scared me to death.


Low and behold, in my darkest hour, here comes the knight to save the day. “The Legend” caught me on her third lap. To no surprise there was laughter, smiling, and all sorts of randomness that followed. I did not want to be alone, I wanted to be with someone, so I figured I would risk the injury and follow her out to the aid station.

Holy mother she was fast! The faster I moved, the harder I breathed, but also the better my body felt. My feet still hurt, but my body was feeling looser with each step I was taking at a quicker pace. We rolled into the aid station together, and I did the only thing I knew how to do…

Brandy, what do you need? Give me your bottles.

Knowing that my movement was a joke, Brandy had informed me that she was in first place female for the 50 mile. Reminiscing on the last time she was leading a race, I realized getting her out was more important than myself trying to ‘be fast’. After all, technically this was just a ‘training run’*** for me.

By the time “The Legend” left the station, in comes the second place female, Angel. Instead of taking off, it was talking to her, filling bottles, grabbing food, and seeing her off also.

Finally, being out of excuses to stay, I left for my final three miles.

They turned into a walk.

A painful walk.

A walk full of tears.

I’ve done pain. I’ve done stupid. I have never done stupid pain like my feet experienced towards the end of that 18 miles. It hurt to walk, it hurt to apply pressure, just unreal pain through all of the bottom of my feet. Both. Feet.

I hobbled through the finish line, ripped my shoes off, and just sat at the table near the start/finish. I suppose overall I felt fine, much better after the beer, but I could not get over the pain/fear of what had happened to my feet.

Sitting at the table I was able to take in the entire event, while trying to put my feet fears to rest. This race is incredibly relaxed. The race staff all knows one another, the local cross country teams help out, and along the main building is a list of sponsors that helped make this race happen.

While moving down the list of sponsors I saw it.

I saw my answer.

Everything is a lie.

I saw the reasoning for all my problems.

It was Lake Cunningham.
It was the Gravel Classic.
It was…GOATz.

That same, darn organization that has tried to kill me at “Kaci’s Training Course” and…A GRAVEL ROAD IN THE MIDDLE OF NOTHING…had been supporting this race also. It all made sense! The curse of GOATz found its way to me in Ida Grove, Iowa.

Laughing in a style that only my wife would understand, I danced in my head for finding my answer to all my problems. I ate another cheeseburger, and just like Free State, where legends were made, I began the wait for “The Legend” to return.

When she came in to start her final loop; I saw something very interesting in the makeup of the 50 mile women’s race. She was still in first place. However, Angel and the 3rd place runner came in ten minutes behind her. Meaning, in the ultra world, the women’s race was going to be close. Personally, remembering the race in April, I selfishly wanted her to win. She earned it. Deserved it. People needed to see what I saw; they needed to see how Hulk-strong this runner really was.

My wife and I waited

…and waited…

…and waved at a drunk wedding party…

…and waited…

…and fought off locals who were trying to eat the aid station food…

…and waited…

…and then…

“The Legend” finished her Trail of the Dragon 50 mile in under 13 hours. She placed first female, and fourth overall. Angel, the other runner from Kansas City, placed second female, and fifth overall.

Even though I felt beaten to pieces; seeing those two finish was so motivating. It gave me the ‘like Mike’ sensation of “I want to be like them when I grow up”. As for my award? I am proud to embrace the acknowledgement of receive my first DFL award.

Curious about my feet? I did some research, talked to the owner of the shoe store, went to my physical therapist, and then I also looked back at all my data from the miles I had logged.

450 miles on the same pair of shoes. My feet issue came from the fact that I had worn my shoes into nothing inside. Knowing this I switched out shoes, and wouldn’t you know it, I haven’t had any issues since.

If you are looking for a fun, challenging, chilled race you have to check out Ida Grove, Iowa. The race fees are low, the environment is great, and I have never seen a course so well marked in all the places I have visited.


It wasn’t necessarily my best race, but of man, I got to see a legend return and show no mercy on a course.

And it was epic.


*I now know what that smell was in Colorado…
**I made it to mile 6 before someone asked if I needed salt…new PR
***18 mile training run…I hate my life…

2 thoughts on “Race Recap: Mazes, Dragons, and Return of the Legend

  1. Loved your story…almost as much as I loved hanging out with you and your wife at the finsih station all day at this race!
    You captured perfectly this day and this race! Oh, and thanks for chasing the locals off my station!
    Thanks for coming and happy trails!


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