May 24, 2010

Race Report: Fargo Marathon

After a 5 minute walk that totally drenched my hair and face, I arrived at the Fargodome where the start and finish of the race were. It was like a huge stadium that was entirely covered, and when I headed into the main part of the “Dome”, I found that they still had vendors from the expo set up all over the field. Even cooler, I discovered that the race finish was inside the Dome, with bleachers on either side of the road, and with huge video screens all over the stadium so you could see people finish in close-up! When I got there, the winners of the 10K were just finishing up, and it was just really cool to see them up on the huge TVs and finishing in person there at the same time. This would be an awesome place to host something like the Olympic trials! I particularly enjoyed the near-photo finish of the 3rd and 4th place men – really exciting to see that both ways.

While I was impressed with the finish, I was disappointed that I didn’t see anyone I knew while walking around the Dome. I knew that there were about 30 Maniacs and Fifty Staters doing this race (when North Dakota only has two marathons a year, you don’t get much choice!), but the crowds were just too big for people I knew to stand out. Without anyone to talk to, I just hung out in the front lobby – close enough to the race that I could get out there quickly, but still inside where it was warm and dry.

Just before I was about to head out, I saw my friend Annette, so we headed to the start together. Both of us were very nervous about the possibility of thunderstorms – a few weeks ago, the Country Music Marathon was cancelled mid-race due to lightning, and it really screwed over everyone who was trying to use it for the state of Tennessee. We hoped that the same thing wouldn’t happen today – North Dakota is a tough state to get!

We got to the start just as the National Anthem was ending, and I wrestled with my Garmin for a while – the raindrops were making it really hard to get it to recognize selections on the touch bezel. I thought I had it going, but then as we moved forward to the start, I realized that it had turned off again, so I stepped to the side to try to fix it. As a result, I was the last person in my age group to cross the start line, and one of the last twelve in the entire race to start! I didn’t know those numbers until after the race, but it was definitely neat during the marathon to realize that anyone I could see in front of me was probably someone I had already “passed” via chip time.

The crowds were pretty good about cheering us on at the start, and we quickly headed into the neighborhoods, where there were plenty of supporters cheering us on and playing music out of their cars or giant boom boxes. All that support was a really nice way to start the race, so I was thrilled. I expected it to taper off after a bit, and was shocked when it basically ended up being that same awesome level of support throughout the whole race. Fantastic! I also loved the many people who made two separate signs: one that said “Far” and one that said “Go.” Then they would shift back and forth so it alternately said “Fargo” and “Go Far.” Very cute!

Around mile 3, I met up with Steph’s mom Mary, so I ran with her for the next few miles. It had been a long time since I had met up with Steph and Mary at a race, so it was nice to catch up and hear about the races they’d been doing.

Around mile 6, Mary veered off for the porta potties and I was back on my own again. At this point, we were running through the University of North Dakota (pretty campus!), and this being the first relay checkpoint, there were crowds of people cheering us on as we went through. It was also around here that the rain eased up and stopped, which made me thrilled. Now if only it would stay dry but not get too hot, I’d be in heaven!

As we approached mile 7, we ran through a little section of downtown that had old-fashioned storefronts and several live music groups. My favorite storefront was the movie theater that said “Fargo Marathoners are/Ironman 2” – what a cute way to display the movie and showtimes while still cheering on the runners! My favorite musical group was this group of bagpipers all dressed in Scottish kilts. Normally I hate bagpipes, but because there were other bands/sound systems set up just ahead and beyond it, we only had to listen to them briefly while still getting to enjoy the festive touch they lent to the event 🙂

From there, we took a left turn and headed alongside a pretty park – it was here that we saw the winning half marathoners making their return (they had started 30 minutes earlier than the full marathoners). I was pretty comfortable with my pace, but wishing I were further along in the race. Only 10 miles done so far, but it felt like I should be so much closer to the end! I guess I was spoiled by Brookings, where the miles flew by pretty quickly.

Around mile 11, I ran into my friend Marius, who’s going to be in Minneapolis with me when I finish. While I’ve spent a lot of marathons daydreaming about what it’s going to be like when I finish, this was the first time I had someone I could actually discuss it with and not brag, and it was so much fun. Marius is really excited about my finish; he’s from Minneapolis, and also knows the race directors very well, so he was giving me a lot of ideas for places to go after the race and other ways to make it special. I also broached the idea with him of asking them to play a special song for me when I finish, and he said he was sure they’d be glad to do that. So now the question is… which song do I request? I’ll prob do a separate post soliciting ideas and votes later this week 🙂

We hit the halfway point at 2:08, and noted that it was odd to see how thin the running crowd was where we were. Normally a time like that would be squarely in the middle of the pack, but there were so many fast runners that we definitely felt like we were at the back of the pack. It was a relief when we started seeing runners going in the opposite direction of the out-and-back and could see for ourselves that there were still people behind us. We hypothesized that Fargo is known as a very flat-and-fast course (and for once, I’d agree with that characterization) so it probably attracts a lot of faster runners looking to qualify for Boston.

Marius and I stayed together until mile 16 or so, and then he dropped back while I kept going. The sun had come out at this point and I was just feeling fantastic. After looking down at my watch, I realized that the reason he had dropped back was probably because I was really pushing the pace – I was doing about 9:30/mile. Now I started doing some calculations – if I could maintain a 10 minute pace (and also shave off an extra minute or so somewhere in there), I could probably finish in 4:15. Definitely far below my expectations of finishing in 4:30! I knew this was a flat course, but with how tired I was and how sick I felt, I was thrilled to be going so fast.

For the next few miles, I continued pushing the pace – though not intentionally. I was just running at what felt like a comfortable pace, but whenever I looked at my watch, it was great to see that I was running about 9:15/9:30 per mile at this point. I was passing plenty of runners at a pretty good clip, so much that I thought people around me might start to think I was a relay runner instead of a full marathoner! That’s a fun mistake for someone to make about me 🙂

At mile 18, I ran into my friend Morgan, so we ran together for a few miles, gossiping as we went. It was fun to have a girlfriend to run with, and Morgan and I have definitely gotten a lot closer after our many recent trips together. As we got to mile 21, Morgan was lagging just a bit behind me, and she decided to take it easy and drop back instead of pushing for a fast finish. I reminded her that if she stayed on that pace (instead of bumping it up like I was starting to do), she could still make 4:15 – a totally respectable time.

In the meantime, I started contemplating whether I could really push it and hit 4:12. I’m not sure why, but for some reason that number was much more appealing to me than 4:13 or 4:14. However, I knew I’d have to push it to get there. I was running a 9:15 pace at this point, but the question was whether I could keep it up through the end of the race or not. I hoped I could!

The day had turned a bit warmer at this point, but it still wasn’t at all what I’d classify as hot. While it had been in the 60s for most of the run, it was now probably in the lower 70s, which I consider a great temperature for a race. Hot enough to make you feel like you’re working for it and to make you sweat a little bit, but not so hot as to make it a miserable experience. A lot of the townspeople had put out sprinklers to cool down the runners, but I actually preferred to stay dry instead of running through them – it wasn’t that hot.

As we approached mile 23, I came upon the 4:15 group – great news for me. I had started 3 minutes after the gun, so finding the 4:15 group meant I was probably on pace for a 4:12 or 4:13. Now I decided to take it even one step further – could I finish with a time still at minute 4:10? I didn’t think there was any chance of breaking 4:10, but that’d be great if I could finish even in 4:10:59. That became my new goal, but it was going to be a really aggressive one to beat.

Fortunately, my legs were feeling great. I was a bit tired, yes, but overall I knew the soreness wasn’t concentrated in any particular set of muscles (huge surprise considering the race was pancake-flat and using the same muscles throughout!) and wouldn’t be that bad. I focused on keeping my form strong and looking good as I ran – not for vanity reasons, but because when I look good I’m usually running well. The streets were still lined with spectators, and I made it a point to start smiling big. This was my 49th state and nothing had gone wrong – I was going to finish and finish well!

By the last two miles, people were dropping like flies. Well, maybe not dropping, but it seemed that everyone was walking. The inner pacer in me wanted to tell them “come on, you can do it! Only two miles to go!” The inner competitor in me wanted to keep my mouth shut so I could pass them and beat them 🙂 The end result was a little bit of the two – I wasn’t necessarily yelling out encouragement for everyone within earshot (like I do when I’m officially pacing), but as I passed people who seemed to be struggling, I’d quietly tell them that they were doing a great job and were almost there.

When I hit the mile 25 marker, it was 3:59 on my watch, so I knew I had a decent shot at making it in 4:10. That meant I had 11:59 to run 1.2 miles – just under a 10 minute pace. At this point, I was running about 8:45, and I figured I’d probably pick it up in the last 0.1 as well when I was coming into the Fargodome. I could totally do this!

The last mile ended up seeming to go on forever, though. It’s always tough when you can see the big landmark at which you’re going to finish (in this case, the Fargodome), but then have to circle around it for a while. The course had us go right back to the start (at the Dome) but then circle around the building to enter and finish on the other side – which was about 1/3 mile. I didn’t care though – I was smiling big and running strong, and the crowds were picking up on that and cheering me on.

I didn’t see the 26 mile mark, which was a bit of a bummer, but when I saw mile 13 (for the half-marathoners), I knew I had it in the bag. I picked up the pace even further, and was rewarded for my efforts by a glorious downhill leading into the Dome. I was a little worried that it would be like my finish at the Akron Marathon (you run downhill into the stadium but then your legs feel exhausted for the flat stretch just before the finish). In this case, however, they had the perfect layout – just the right length of track between the end of the downhill and the finish line, while you were bolstered by the crowd. I sprinted it in that last bit, managing to pass one last person in the last few yards, and was totally thrilled! I raised my arms in a big V for victory, and I know the smile on my face was a great one. Hopefully that’ll turn out to be a great picture 🙂

Speaking of pictures, you know how there are photographers at the end of the race to take a picture of you proudly wearing your medal? I waited for about three groups to get their picture taken before it was my turn, but the woman who was standing behind me must have thought that you could only get your picture taken in a group (instead of realizing that the people ahead of us were groups of friends who all knew each other and ran together). As I was posing for my picture, she walked up, shook hands with me and introduced herself, and then took the picture with me. I wasn’t bothered by it though – I actually thought it was really funny! I considered for a moment getting another picture taken, solo, but decided to just stick with the funny picture-with-a-random-stranger instead. Why not 🙂

The only scare came when I checked my watch – 4:10:02. 02?! I know my goal was to make it in the 4:10 range, but there’s nothing more disappointing than being a few seconds away from getting to say you were one minute faster. After getting a bit of water and food, I browsed around the Dome and found a bank of laptops set up so you could check your time. Nervously, I waited in line and hoped that I had started my watch a few seconds early or stopped it a few seconds late – after all, a few seconds was all I needed to break 4:10 and really wow myself.

And then the results came up… 4:09:58!!!!! I couldn’t believe it. After next to no sleep, and in the rain, and while coming down with the flu, I had come back from the first half of the race and really pulled out a fantastic finish. That meant I did the second half in about 2:01 – a great half marathon time even if it weren’t preceded by another half marathon!

Overall, I’m totally thrilled by how I did. And the best part? That was my 49th state – nothing really more to worry about in terms of injuries or travel problems. I’m telling you, even if I break my foot (or something equally horrific) between now and Minneapolis, there is nothing that is going to stop me from breaking the world record on June 6th. I’ll do it on crutches if I have to!

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:09:58
Pace/mile: 9:32
Overall place: 868/1878
Gender place: 251/754
Age group place: 29/70


3 thoughts on “Race Report: Fargo Marathon”

  1. I don’t know where I got the impression that this race had hills … but if it’s really as flat as you say, then it bodes well for my (still tentative) performance in May. Sounds like you had a great time and I can see why you’d be inclined to run it again. I guess it’s dumb of me that the first thing that comes to mind is having inaccurate stats because of the indoor start … and then I realize I’ve never started a race indoors before, and perhaps THAT should be what’s noteworthy. Anyway, thanks for the recommendation!

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