living-history-farms-off-road-race-2016-2sm Living History Farms in Urbandale, Iowa hosted its 38th annual off road race — which is a super-fun cross country meets obstacle course run. Bonus for me, the farm grounds are practically in my backyard! I’ve had several people tell me that THIS is the race that I had to do in Fall, and it did not disappoint.

Let’s start with the race FAQ:

Will it be cold? Probably!

Will I get wet? Probably!

Will I get dirty? Probably!

Do I need gloves? Yes!

Exactly how far is it? 7 miles


Cold and Cranky.

So, I was having another crabby morning on race day, and with the cold weather and thoughts of getting wet and muddy made me seriously contemplate NOT doing the race. An added element of fun to this race is anticipating what the weather might be — last year it snowed and the course was cut; other years it was moderate enough to wear shorts (and then there are those people who wear shorts no matter the temperature). I’m so glad that I didn’t back out — this was exactly the kind of fun race experience that I needed. And I will most DEFINITELY go back to do this one every year when possible. You should come visit me and do it, too.

Registration and Cost: Advertised as “the best cross country race,” Living History Farms Race cost $44 after fees, including a $5 discount for being a Capital Striders member. I think the race is capped at 7,000 participants. There are both individual and team registrations.

Expo and Packet Pick-up: Packet pick-up was the evening (which closed at 8pm) before at the visitor center at Living History Farms; there was also bib pick-up available the morning of the race. They posted the bib number lookup sheets inside, for those who hadn’t already checked out the race info page – pick-up lines were by number (I didn’t have any lines at 5pm!). Bibs were at one table and t-shirts were in a separate back room. There were a couple extra vendors set up in the hall on the way towards the exit, mostly handing out race discount flyers.

Free Swag: No finishers medals at this race (whomp, whomp), but I love the long-sleeve comfy t-shirt!


Weather: Winter came to Iowa! This, after temps hit nearly 80 degrees mid-week, so it was a little shocking. It was also windy — like, super windy. Plus, trying to remember what to wear in 30 degrees was something for which I wasn’t really prepared. I ended up wearing my long tights with a pair of cat shorts over them, and two long sleeves shirt over my dri-fit tank. Wool socks, wool buff and wool hat — and a pair of old running shoes that had already made their way through a previous mud run — rounded out my race day outfit.


I packed an extra change of clothes, a towel, and other clean-up necessities to basically plan for anything.

Parking & Transportation: The organizers said that parking would be limited, so we arrived about 40 minutes before the race. We didn’t have any problems parking near The Machine Shed (since the boyfriend was only dropping me off), and having the police directing traffic made for a speedy entrance into the grounds. There were plenty of runners crossing the intersection that parked across Hickman Road in the industrial/retail areas. The boyfriend left and came back to get me post-race and basically parked in the same location.

Course: This year, the course changed a bit (though I have no previous experience). Creeks, mud, trenches, hills, cornfields… the course had it all! There is a strong recommendation to not bring your phone or keys, and I did not bring either (though, it’s always fun trying to figure out logistics of post-race meetings – only, not really). For as many people expected to run this race, all the race logistics felt incredibly well organized. I should note that there are NO water or fuel stops along the course, which actually kind of surprised me, given that it would have been difficult on this course to carry along your own hydration. There is an ambulance at the halfway point though, should you need it.

There was a hilarious moment about 5 miles into the race where two routes diverged in the woods — with big arrows, one was marked “shorter and harder” and the other “longer and easier.” I was pretty sure it was a trap, and continued on the harder route with those around me (definitely not the path less traveled!).

This race made good on all its promises of being cold, wet, muddy and dirty.


Though I only saw one farm animal.

Start Line: There were plenty of Kybos — though lines were pretty long before the race. There was one big corral and kind of a guess to everyone’s pace, which… despite it being a fun run, I’m sure there were people competing for the top finisher prizes. I ended up finding a fellow runner who I met at the social run at Fleet Feet last week!

People watching at the start was great, as there were so many fun costumes!


Where’s Waldo?

Fans & Experience: So there were a few spectators and groundskeepers out cheering on the course, but VERY few (you heard more “cheers” from the car honks on the highway nearby). The fun was definitely all the participants. If the costumes weren’t enough, there were basically people out having a party. There was some tailgating going on pre-race, and some guy even offered me some brandy out on the course (he was double-fisting cans of Budweiser) — alcohol was prohibited per the race guidelines, but there were definitely people out having a good time.

I started off with a group of Power Rangers. Within a couple miles, there were a group of cyclists (running while wearing their bike helmets) and we watched a group of runners dressed as prisoners take off in the cornfields (cutting off a good portion of the course — trust me, it was absolutely hilarious watching it happen). I ran with a couple of local firefighters (one, running in a dress). I jumped into (and climbed out of) muddy trenches with a woman from Twin Cities who had done the race multiple times since high school.

Finish Line: YAY, I loved that the race had a completely separate “refreshments area” festival just beyond the finish line chute, which ended in the adorable old-timey historical city within the farm grounds. A post-race meal was included with entry fee, and thanks to Iowa Machine Shed Restaurant and the Iowa Beef Industry Council there was hot beef stew (with biscuits!) for every runner; there was also pumpkin bars and cider, hot coffee and chocolate milk. And yep, a shit-ton of doughnuts!

Naturally, this gluten-free runner cried herself to a two-hour nap because of all the wonderful fall comfort foods she could not have. I made my boyfriend run out to Granite City to grab me a burger though.


I did get some chocolate milk and coffee!

After Party: The Machine Shed Restaurant located just at the entrance of the farm was offering half priced tap beer or $3.00 margaritas during race weekend.

Random BS: I don’t know, but the guy yelling for everyone to get out of the visitor center before the race really rubbed me the wrong way. Like, I get it, it’s cold and everyone wanted shelter from the wind but… it was just a little much.

ETC: Both the Walnut Creek YMCA and the YMCA Healthy Living Center offered use of their showers following the race, should you be an out-of-towner.

Charity: Proceeds from the race supports Living History Farms and more — giving over $1.1 million over the last 13 years to the Living History Farms (a not-for-profit museum).

The race has also funded the Capital Striders endowment for scholarships to area senior cross country athletes; raised food/money for the Des Moines Area Religious Council Food Pantry and donated to area age-group track & swimming teams, the American Red Cross, the Boy Scouts of America, the M.D.A., and area Fire Departments. Proceeds from the race help sponsor area races, purchase equipment and racing supplies used at road races and middle school/ high school XC meets.

The Great: The course and experience were excellent — just the kind of cold, outdoor fun that I needed!
The Good: I love the challenge of testing my physical strength outside of just running.
The Bad: Walking around after the race, cold and wet and trying to find my boyfriend who wasn’t at the finish line as planned. ?
The Ugly: I mean… THIS could happen. You want to laugh… until it happens to you. But you’ll laugh anyways. ?

#435 Overall
#46 in my 35-39 age group

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  • Zebra Girl Runs

    This Florida girl is freezing looking at you and everyone at the line so bundled up! Looks sooooo COLD! Good for you getting out there in the mud and cold! Talk about determined!

    • Mel

      It might not seem like it, but if you’re dressed appropriately, it’s not that bad! Though that first freeze is always a bit of a shock. 😉