I have done the DM full twice and the half 3 times.
It is a good easy course, but gets kind of boring towards the end. For your first one, go try Chicago, or if you are ready early enough try Grandmas.
Des Moines is a nice marathon and one of my personal favorites. As some of the others have mentioned there are others out there that are great too, but that is a typical responses from people who complete any marathon. Read the reviews on www.marathonguide.com - it is hard to find any that are reviewed harshly.
My 2 cents is a lot of which one to do depends on your personality. As BrianHos mentioned above he suggest finding a group to train with and he didn't like the last few miles of the DSM run (as that is the part through Waterworks Park and can get a little lonely). Me on the other hand don't like group runs and rather enjoyed the section through Waterworks Park. Some runners are social runners, others run for the solitude.
As a note they have changed the DSM course and spend much less miles in the park than they used to.
Some people have mentioned some of the destination races - ie. Chicago. While exciting and fun running with 40k other people there is a great deal of logistical challenges and energy just to make it to the start line. While there are other marathons that are way low key and you have no hassle. I have experienced both extremes having run Chicago twice and the North Central Trail Marathon in Baltimore. Chicago is what it is an incredible and exciting experience. The NCTM had 300 runners, I parked within 50 yards of the start line and saw about 100 spectators the entire 26.2 miles. Beautiful race and really enjoyed it.
What type of runner are you and what are you looking for from the experience? Of the all marathon's I have run I prefer the mid sized races which DSM certainly falls in that category. It is also a great way to experience your first. There is plenty of crowd support and encouragement, but it isn't a hassle getting to the race, and you won't break the bank doing it. When it is all said and done running Chicago will cost you over a $1k. You can do DSM for 1/4th that.
There are other runners, who like to run solo...most of the time;but there will be times when the value of running with others out weights going solo. I do IronMan distance tri's and marathons and have found that MOST of the time I enjoy being solo(except my GPS to keep me company) however; I do find friends to be valuable...especially when I am tired etc.
It really comes down to money. I have done marathons around several states and I will tell you that you can't go wrong by choosing Grandma's, Twin Cities or Chicago.
The question that you need to ask is if you want to drive and spend $$ on hotel and such for the event.
If you want to just run a marathon w/ little financial cost, Des Moines is for you. The course is forgiving and the event comes cheap as far as marathons go. Especially if you register early.
It really comes down to what you want out of the event. If you want to run 26.2 and don't care about all of the "extras" that a race event can bring, Des Moines is for you. If you want a grand experience with a lot of bells and whistles to go along w/ it, the others would be more appropriate. (Des Moines offers bells and whistles also)
When it is all over 26.2 is 26.2 regardless of where you did it. Do it somewhere where you can share it (post race :wink:)with others that you are close to. Des Moines gives me that opportunity and you should choose a place that allows you the same thing.
Best of Luck!
Here are my estimates.
Entrance Fee $125
Hotel $400-$700. To do Chicago you really need to stay Downtown. During race weekend they require 2 night minimum stays. Most places will run you 200-350/night. You may be able to save a little by staying out in the sticks. But good luck getting to the start line on race morning. There is a reason NY starts at 11:00 am. Chicago starts at 8:00.
I live in Omaha. - Flight to Chicago = $150 -200. Doing a destination Marathon you don't want to travel by yourself. Plane tickets for wife and I. $300-400.
With food, entertainment, transportation for 2 people for 3 days - 2 nights you are looking at easily $200. If you complete a marathon and are in a great city like Chicago, you really should treat yourself to a good meal. Mostly like well north of the $200, but an area to cut cost.
Don't see how you can do it with out dropping more than a $1k.
I am training for my 1st marathon that takes place in a month - Big Sur in San Francisco. I have trained for 14 weeks (out of 18 weeks) and I would advise going virtually alcohol free. You will want to crush beers after from what I hear, but give your body a chance.
Just my take.