So first up is a big thank you to my friend Kevin (and husband my my training buddy Kelly). He acted as chauffeur on Fargo marathon weekend and was gracious (most of the time) in our sometimes incessant running talk. Thanks, Kevin!
After stopping to pee more times than you want to know, we made it to Fargo, parked in the dorm parking lot, and walked over to check me in. The NDSU students were super friendly and they brought me to a room on the second floor, pretending to find my joking about doing stairs funny, as though they hadn't heard it all day long :) Then it was time to head over to the dome. One block away!
We had time before the 5K started (we had two friends running it, one looking to win, so we wanted to watch) and so we bought pasta tickets and headed up the stairs for food. This was possibly the least impressive part of the weekend - the pasta was pretty good but spicy! Who serves spicy pasta before a marathon? No sauceless options and small portions for people who are going to run a marathon tomorrow. I went back for seconds and carried it around while watching the 5K, but it sure looked like not many people were comfortable with asking for seconds - it wasn't really laid out in a seconds friendly way. There was lefse too, though, which was fabulous.
Heading back out into the heat was gross - it was 95 degrees in Fargo! 95. Ew, ew, ew, I was so glad we weren't running Friday. Stepping outside made my stomach not so interested in the bowl of hot pasta I was lugging about, but I made myself eat since I knew I was still hungry. After cheering for the 5K (Our friends did awesome! Way to rock the heat Amanda and Gary!), we checked out the expo. It was surprisingly very small and I didn't find much to be interesting. Except when I saw these. I don't think this was the particular company who was there but a quick google search for "Runner Medal Hanger" gets several hits. How have I not see these before? They're brilliant! I almost bought one but held out - rarely is buying something on impulse at an expo a good idea. There's a quote from Bingham's Marathoning for Mortals "I'm convinced that the only reason the big events have expos on race weekends is because organizers know that the participants will spend massive amount of money on stuff they don't need and won't use. How else do I explain my 17 pairs of cotton gloves?" So I resisted. I did buy a Runner Girl sticker to replace the one that has long since peeled off my water bottle, though. Besides, I have something to use as a medal hanger, I just have to move it from it's spot in the basement and into my sewing/computer/running room. After the expo, it was already time to head to bed. Or rather, time to head back to the dorm and start getting ready.
My room had two twin beds and there being just one of me, I used the second bed to spread everything out for tomorrow and make sure all was accounted for and ready. Including all those warm clothes that I knew I probably wouldn't need but figured I'd put in my bag just in case it rained and I was cold at the end. Then it was just time to put comfy pajamas on, read a little to relax (re-reading the race brochure as though the info was different from the website info that I'd already read 200 times . . .), set my alarms, and head to bed. I had realized the night before that I always use my watch for an alarm on race morning. My watch which is slowly dying and doesn't reliably sounds it's alarm . . . That could be a problem. And then I realized that hey, I have a cell phone! Lots of people use their phones as alarms so my phone must have an alarm, right? It does! So first I sent my watch alarm and then I set my phone alarm. I thought about having Kelly call me, as well, but decided against it. I slept quite well, waking up once when I swear I heard my door handle jiggle (and I did! The women the next door over confided in me after the race that she accidentally tried to get in my room) and once at 11:30 or so when there was a nice thunderstorm. I ended up waking up before my alarms went off so no need to be worried.
Race morning seemed nice. It was a little tough to tell from inside my room, but my window open felt nice. I took my time eating, getting dressed, packing my bag, and putting sunscreen on. When Kelly showed up, we walked on over to the start. Walked. I can't tell you how awesome it was to just take a little stroll on over! Though, I was shocked at how much FURTHER it was on the way back. Seriously. They added at least another block in the middle of things while we were running. At least. An engineering marvel to be sure. There's no other explanation.
Things weren't very crowded in the starting area. Kelly and I wandered over to the port-a-potties and walked right in, no line. We then debated about hats - I tend to always race with mine on and there was possible rain which makes a hat nice. But the wind! The monstrous flag strung between two construction cranes was straight out. Straight out! So we both decided that a hat would be more hassle than it was worth. I stuffed mine into my already stuffed bag (which is funny since most people had hardly anything in their bags) and after ditching my bags on the right truck, we wandered into the starting corrals (also not very crowded)and ran into Shane. Our pace group was alarmingly close to the front. Or rather, the place where our pace group SHOULD be since our pacer didn't seem to be there yet . . . A bit worrisome.
She eventually showed up and we sat through an intro speech. And another intro speech. And a speech from a guy running the marathon blindfolded to raise money for the degenerative eye disease he had. And a speech from the governor, complete with lame "I'm not a runner" jokes. And then the Canadian National Anthem. And the Star Spangled Banner. And then a prayer (and not a generic prayer, either). By that point, I was ready to just start running, to heck with waiting for the actual start. Finally then gun actually went off and on we went.
I have a general rule of keeping weaving around people to one half of the road so that I don't find myself zigzagging too much but that wasn't needed all that much since we were so close to the front. However, despite that, I have still yet to be able to find myself in the start video . . . I was a bit alarmed at the starting pace, though. It felt hard and fast. Your first mile shouldn't feel hard and fast it should feel easy and I was trying to decide what to do when I made myself calm down and wait two miles before deciding anything. Turns out that first mile was too fast for the pace we were supposed to be doing and once we got going, I felt fine, anyway.
My biggest beef with the race? Our pacer was TERRIBLE. She was all over the place. We should have been doing 7:49s for a 3:25 finish time. We started with a 7:41, 8:03, 7:40, 8:01, 7:36. This continued the whole race. She came in right on time, so her under/overs evened out but it was ridiculous and not the way to efficiently run. I eventually did my best to ignore her and just use her as a general guideline. So I'd find myself half a block back and not much later starting to pass her. Ugh. Do not become a pacer if you can't pace. This doesn't mean looking at your GPS watch from time to time only you forget to actually do so. This means actually being able to internally pace. For what it's worth, she also asked open ended questions instead of talking to the group.
The Fargo course involves tons of turning - sometimes every block. I actually really liked this (until the end) because I was always looking ahead at where the crowd went and lining up my tangents and it was a nice distraction. Of course, there would inevitably be some silly runner who didn't get tangents getting in my way, but I didn't let it bother me :)
The crowd support at Fargo is pretty awesome most of the way. Everyone is out on their lawn cheering and there's lots of signs and music. Bands, radios, Elvis impersonators (2), bag pipes, accordions, cowbells, kids on recorders . . . It was a fun atmosphere. My favorite signs were put out by Scheel's, I think. They gave you random facts like "Giraffes can lick their own eyes." Sadly, that's the only one I can remember but there were lots and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I also kept seeing people decked out in green and gold and was excited before getting closer and realizing that there were wearing NDSU gear and not Packer's gear. Bummer. Almost fooled me a couple of times, though.
After going through the first aid station, I realized I might have a bit of a problem when it came time to eat. My gel of choice is e-Gel and their packets are slightly larger than a 'normal' packet of gel, which means they take just a bit more time to get down. Not a big deal at a big marathon but Fargo's aid stations were considerably smaller than Grandma's (which is fine since there's less people). Happily, I noticed that lots of people were handing out bottled water and even more happily, at just the right place (twice!) I found some. So I took a bottle and took my time eating, drank some, ate some, drank some, poured some water over my head. It's even making me think that I want to carry my own water for Grandma's.
Fargo zig zags around upper Fargo for a while, heads straight south for a couple miles and then does even more zigging and zagging before heading back north. Including a brief (and aid stationless) bout in Minnesota. I was a bit bummed that they didn't make a bigger deal out of this. I sort of expected . . . I don't know what exactly but something. Instead, a lot of people didn't even notice when we crossed over, though the crowds were not as good in Moorhead. Zig-zagging in south Fargo was super complicated. Two way running traffic (on the way back, anyway. I didn't hit the leaders until no so far from the turnaround) most of the time but with some one way zigs . . . Yeah. Look at the map, it's crazy. By the time we got to southern Fargo and started the crazy zigging, I had already seen Kevin (and Amanda and Gary, the two 5ks who are rockstars) three times! The first two was general cheering but the 3rd one (mile 14.5ish?) Amanda ran along side me some, which was nice. Just checking in and seeing if I needed anything next time I saw them and letting me know I was still on pace, despite the pace group being a block in front of me. I stayed on pace through mile 19 when the wheels came off. Halfway through, there was a timing mat and a guy taking pictures. I decided to wave. Hm. Clearly heel striking there . . .
Somewhere down in south Fargo, I started heading into what the author of a blog I follow calls the hurt cave. Sort of a mix of zone out/embracing the pace/ignoring the pain status. Hard to describe but it involves a lot of staring ahead and only giving cursory notice to things around you. For the first 15 miles or so, I remember lots. After that, it starts getting rather fuzzy. I can't tell you what the mile markers looked like for sure. I see blue numbers in my head, but I'm seeing them both close to the ground and at eye level. I remember as the leader was coming at me, there were some motorcycles and a guy dressed up as Captain America riding in the back of a red pickup. I remember a guy on his lawn blaring the beginning of Eminem's Lose Yourself and being really bummed when half a block later, another band drowned it out. I remember a decent amount of my second gel ended up all over my hand but not really caring at the time and just dumping some of my water bottle over my hand to wash it off. I lost track of which mile I was at and was super bummed to come up on 18, thinking I had passed it already. Now, when you're good and truly in your pain cave, you're still cruising along and just able to push away the pain. I was on pace until mile 19 though I remember the point of breaking out of the cave being when I had to eat another gel and I couldn't quite get back in there where I needed to be.
I remember turning a corner somewhere and going by a drumming circle. Kelly tells me of an awesome sign that I missed right before it, though. I remember next to nothing about running through downtown (which is the picture here) except somewhere in there was a women in a red chair and a gray sweatshirt who started yelling, "You go, girl!" several times at me. That felt pretty cool. In here it took every ounce of concentration to not just take a quick walking break. Just a few steps, my body said, that's all. Don't ever believe you body when it whispers to you like that. I was convinced I had slowed to a crawl but knew that running forward was much faster than walking forward and I might not be getting a 3:25 (which, surprisingly didn't bother me at all) but I was going to keep going. Also surprising was that I wasn't even considering 3:30, 3:35, I wasn't really thinking of time at all beyond knowing I had to keep running.
Turned another corner and there was Gary running alongside me, asking how I was doing. I told him something like "Ungh" and he responded with the best words ever - "You're supposed to feel "ugh" at this point. I can't tell you how much that helped to keep me pushing through.
Shane caught me at mile 21.5ish. He had been running a similar pace as me for the first several miles before dropping back until now. He proceeded to beat me by 4 minutes so he was going a minute per mile faster than me at that point.
I didn't eat my third gel. I can't entirely tell you why but I think a lot of it was not wanting to spare any thought for something that wasn't moving forward. I felt like I was really picking the pace back up (I was some, but not nearly as much as I thought). When I hit three miles left, I looked at my watch (I hit the lap button every mile so I know my mile splits) and instead of seeing the lap time, for some reason my eyes caught the overall time, 3:06, and I realized if I just ran faster than 10 minute miles (this from 7:49s earlier!), I could still run a PR. Still, no real thought about that fact that that meant no Boston time. A bit later, I remembered the .2 but decided not to worry about it.
With two miles left, I couldn't think about it in terms of miles, even that close. It was still too far. So I thought about it in terms of minutes. I could be tough for 16 minutes (that I wasn't quite back to 8 minute miles wasn't important). Somewhere between miles I dropped that to being tough for 12 more minutes and then 8 more minutes when I hit the mile left. Maybe a half mile from the finish, the 3:35 pacer caught up with me. He was happy and supportive. I registered his presence mostly as a means to keep pushing. There was a girl next to me who was freaking out that he caught up. She wanted her BQ and was crying and freaking out that she couldn't possibly keep the pace to the finish. Even though we could SEE the dome. Even though freaking out was using way more energy then just running forward would use. I'll admit that part of my speeding up was to get away from her and it was here that I started thinking that every second counts (because of how Boston qualification is done now). I hope she got her time, though. She reminded me of me not so very long ago and I'm actually quite proud of how I stayed together when the wheels fell off. No drama, no freaking out, no fretting, just putting the head down and going. This one was really hard and even though I slowed way down, I came through with a 2 minute (almost to the second) PR and a BQ by 34 seconds for a 3:34.24.
If you go here, you can see me cross the finish line (and the 12 mile point) should you want to for some reason. Shane met me just after I crossed the finish and we got our medals and headed to the food tables. No thermal blankets! Now, I get that we finished inside but still, I needed one! We separated for a bit as I sat down on the end of the food table and then wandered toward the finish line thinking to watch Kelly finish. Only I only made to as far as a random chair in the middle of the floor. Then I sat down. Only that hurt so I tried laying on the floor. Which also hurt so I sat back up on the floor. And then I was stuck until Shane came across me again and helped me up. We wandered over to bag pickup and Shane got to witness my post hard marathon pain induced stumbling. After making sure I'd be okay, he headed back to the dorms and I waited for Kelly, whose knee pain made her ease way back so she could save her race for Grandma's. Then it was time for Kevin, Amanda, and Gary to witness my post hard marathon induced shivering and be amused at my attempts to put on pants on my own.So, I'm happy with my Fargo. It wasn't the time I was going for but it was a two minute PR and a Boston Qualifying time so it's tough to not be happy with that. It's sad that you can't be instantly excited with a BQ time, now, but I've been reading that people think that if you run your time, period, you should be fine for the initial registration. Who these people are and how they know these things I'm not sure but I'll go with it.
In any case, I recommend Fargo and would do it again, were I so inclined to do more road marathons. For now, it's time for Grandma's and then back to trails!