Marathon Route #21: Fargo Marathon- Fargo, ND

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Target Races – for most runners I know, this is how they train and race.  They choose a race based on destination or a gathering of friends or notoriety and popularity and they base their training around performing well at that race.  In a year of running 50 marathon routes, you would think I would just be grateful to finish and find my body still in working order. Instead ego slowly creeps in, willing myself stronger or faster, reaching for the endorphin rush of improvement and PR glory (cue crowds cheering, doing the wave, and creating a continuous row of high fives for the final marathon mile). So it was with the Fargo Marathon.  A notoriously flat and fast course with traditionally temperate running climes and low altitude with terrific hometown support and pacers deep in the time field. I felt this was a confluence of ideal conditions that would lead to my first sub 5 hour marathon.  All of my physical and mental planning had been geared towards planting my flag at this race. As I have learned many times, plans do not survive the enemy.

Race Review

This is one of the best run marathons I have attended.  City support for all the races are at an all time high.  You may know that I try to volunteer at local races in each town I visit. There were so many races in this event I figured they would need the help. Nope. When I went to volunteer, they said they were all set!!!  I have NEVER been told that.  These Race Directors do an amazing job getting local businesses and organizations to rally volunteers and represent during the races and the expo.  I did end up volunteering at the Fargo 5K Hero Run and learned a lot about getting 10,000 runner’s across a finish line, but the pure numbers and passion are hard to compete against. The Expo was also incredibly well done.  There were many vendors providing a great deal of information, product and running opportunities.  Two sponsors dominated and enhanced the Expo experience – Blue Cross and Blue Shield ND and the partnership of Scheels and Under Armour. Both had immense areas filled with well wishing volunteers, creative opportunities to interact, and wonderful ways to mark the occasion with photos, creative designs and swag, and social networking contests. However is was the depth of vendors, whether they were promoting other races, products, or services that really made the expo a must.

On race day, the races now start and finish in the Fargodome.  Especially if you are a marathoner, this is a great start because you get the “Professional Sports” treatment with all the half marathoners cheering you on in the stands and runners streaming by the start line on the JumboTron screens.  I will say, there were really long lines for the interior bathrooms that made us wish there were some portapotties outside.  They also didn’t open the floor of the arena as early as stated in the event schedule which had some runners in a slight tizzy on the few stairways that gave access to the start line.  It was a thrill to start inside and run up the docking bays, feeling almost like a home team running out of the locker rooms and onto the field.   Most of the beginning of the course is fairly boring, running through suburban neighborhoods, but volunteers are aplenty and many neighbors line the streets to cheer you on.  Another fun addition to the course is live bands all around the city.  Everything from and Elvis Impersonator to a big 12 piece brass band and everything in between kept a constant soundtrack around the course.

For me, the scenic highlights of the course started around mile 7 as the race starts to wend it’s way along the Red River starting around Trefoil Park, passing Mickleson Field and heading across the bridge into Minnesota. The trails along the river are beautiful, nicely paved and well shaded which was a boon this year with unseasonable warm temperatures. Another favorite portion of the race for me started around 11.5 as we raced up and back to the Minnesota State University Moorhead. There’s a wonderful mile where you get to see many of the runners who are ahead of you as you head out to circle around the wonderfully shaded campus and then you get to see the runners who are behind you.  I love the support and camaraderie of all the runners cheering each other on, waving and cheering friends and teammates as they were nearing the the half way point. On this strip I was able to connect with friends from former races I didn’t even know were in town. Then it was back to trails along the river for a few miles after the half.

It is at this point that my memories of the rest of the route gets a little sketchy.  I started the race confidently on pace for my PR.  I don’t think I was going too fast, but I did feel fatigued within the first hour.  I chalked it up to the heat and doubled my fluid intake at the support stations.  I pushed through the second hour and I was still on my pace mark and feeling strong, except for my lower right back.  That area was sore and aggravated to the touch. I started stretching a little bit each mile.  Still feeling strong I headed into the third hour, at which point I REALLY had to use a port a pottie.  No big surprise, I had doubled up fluids.  So I stop, wait and line, enter the stall only to have no flow.  Only then did I realize I WAS PASSING A KIDNEY STONE.  The pain from my back had migrated to my hip area and I really hadn’t thought about it.  So I went back on the course. I switched to one minute walking, one minute running. I kept waiting for the mule kick to the groin that usually accompanies these things.  Whether it was the size of the stone or the fact that body has learned to shut down certain pain receptors when I’m running, I never got that sharper twist to the gut I was expecting. Just ACHING. Eventually I switched to one minute walking, 30 seconds running.

I got to talk to a lovely young lady around mile 22 who was struggling a little bit and she was running her first marathon.  She had twisted her ankle and it had been getting worse and worse but she was still moving forward. I could only commiserate and congratulate her. She asked me what do you focus on when the plan goes sideways.  I said you focus on the goal.  The goal is to finish the marathon, so you break down whatever is left of your tattered plan into little baby sized bites and swallow it a step at a time.  I also told her that for most people, lifetime running is the over all goal so you need to step out if you feel you will do irreversible damage.  Otherwise, running is right, left; right left.  I said I also focused on other people I knew, people who were missing a leg or half a lung or were recovering from the ravages of cancer.  If they can finish, surely I can? Little did I know that a young man I ran with earlier in the race had lost his father five weeks before the race.  He was there, running, learning all he could, testing himself with this huge burden. You would never have known it to watch him run. Sometimes you need to continue to spite those very reasons.

I do remember running through downtown and getting ice, a popsicle, and a full bottle of icy cold water but otherwise most of the end of the race is a blur.  I crossed the finish line back in the stadium, thanked the runners who had helped me focus during the tough miles and got some painkillers out of my car before my natural high wore off.  As much as I like the Fargodome, climbing up the stairs to get out was not fun with my ailment or after running the marathon.

Lessons Learned:

First Aid Accessability

I have moved my personal first aid kit to an easily accessible spot in my car so if I need to send somebody for medication, it is easy to find and access.  The best pain killers they had at the medical stations and even at the finish were ibuprofen and aspirin.As much as I hate my painkillers, they do lessen the pain.

Hot Weather Gear

It was hot, much hotter than in previous years and the clothes I was wearing really absorbed my sweat and weighed on me during the marathon.  I need to reassess my wardrobe for these hotter months to make sure I have clothes of light, wicking material.

Physical Review:

It was tough running under the duress, but I was able to finish under six hours at 5:44:58.  This was the second stone in about ten months, but they continue to be small and pass easily, within 7 hours in this case.  I was able to rest over the next couple days and head out and explore North Dakota, because friends had made fun that Fargo was more like an extension of Minnesota.  This was a highlight state for me because it was the last state I needed to visit for lifetime travels of the US.  I can now say I have been to all 50 states and that I saved the best for last and have the T-Shirt to prove it.  Later this week I will run in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Black Hills before getting to Nebraska and run in Scottsbluff.  Thank you for joining me on my journey. I look forward to reading your comments and questions and hopefully seeing you soon.