Saturday, May 10, 2014

Fargo Marathon (North Dakota)

May 10, 2014
Marathon 47, State 41 (Age 45)
Fargo, North Dakota


Why go to Fargo everyone asks?  I supposed I asked myself the same question countless times before deciding to make this my 41st state destination marathon.  While a fairly large state, when it comes to North Dakota there are not many marathon choices.   Other than it being a Mother’s Day weekend, timing was perfect for a spring marathon.  

Those that know me know that I'm not a big fan of logging long running millage as part of my marathon training.  I am tho a believer of cross training and substituting longer runs with cycling of need be hours of cardio, however, 2014 weekends the first part of the year have been booked with other commitments which forced me to miss many of my weekend rides that I'm accustomed to fitting into my schedule.  When busy, the simplest workout is simply running.  While I logged only 2 long runs this time around, one about 10 miles seven weeks out and another 11 miles about 3 weeks out.   Knowing I was missing the miles on the bike I instead substituted my evening 4 mile runs with slightly longer 5-8 mile runs which would give me a weekly average of over 25 miles.   

Since I'm not running marathons for new PR's I have an unwritten goal each marathon of 4 hours.  This is just a random time I've chosen so I can say I broke 4 hours and typically doesn't cause too much suffering on race day and also an easy recovery.  Other than a few races either at elevation, very hilly, or just plain too hot I've managed to reach this target time every marathon.   Fargo is as flat as a pancake so if someone wanted to run a PR this would be a good course to do it.

It's been my experience that most marathons are on Sunday, only a few that I remember (Country Music Marathon in Nashville & Mississippi Blues) were on Saturday, however, a Saturday night on in a new city with 1,000's of runners usually makes for a fun after party on Saturday night!   The previous two Saturday races were with my good friend John which meant I had someone to go out with however I was flying solo for this adventure so what would unfold I wasn't exactly sure.  Another fantastic thing about a Saturday race compared to a Sunday race is that it doesn't entail a late hotel checkout and racing back to the hotel to clean up, pack, and catch a flight home.  At the same time logistics getting to town require some sleep deprivation in that I had to catch a 5:30 flight from Los Angeles on Friday morning to get to town, stop by expo, and get bearings straight.   This early flight required a 3:15 alarm to get to the airport on time which with a 2 hour time difference I think is equivalent of getting up the day before a marathon at 1:15 local time so come race morning I'm essentially tired before reaching the start line.

So off from LAX to Denver, not much of a layover so immediately board next flight to Fargo.  I've been successful at not over packing and fitting everything in a carry on size backpack.  My second flight was what they call a regional aircraft so while everyone else's carry-ons had to be checked at the gate I marched on and all my belongings fit easily in the very small overhead compartment.   The flight was par for the course except the guy that sat next to me on the plane had his desktop background set to a John Deer lawn mower, which is probably the last thing I would ever change mine to!  Fargo airport easily could be the smallest airport I've ever flown into, only 4 gates.    A welcome booth was set up with information for the race so received my directions to the expo, only a few blocks away, no need to for any highways or exit ramps!    Always chances are good when all the presets on the car rental are country channels there has got to be a good classic rock station signal nearby.    Of course even more of a bonus my Ford Fusion was equipped with an active Sirius XM radio subscription, too bad I discovered that on Sunday on was returning to the airport!

Downtown Fargo was a bit historic and with all the athletes in town was very vibrant. I parked and followed a trail of runners with their swag bags from the expo a few short blocks away to the convention center.   Very well organized expo and I learned there were quite a few races along with the marathon including a 5k Friday night and a 10k, 13.1, and a relay.  I think the marathon had the fewest number of runners at over 2000.   Runners received a long sleeve, later I realize it's a crappy 100% polyester fabric, and a fairly nice Under Armor tote bag.  Never a big fan of this brand they were one of the sponsors and had a great showing of their products at the official merchandise table.   As a bonus they heat pressed 3 letters of your choice on your bag, I opted for "26.2"!   It took about 30 minutes to have the letters glued on which was just enough time to walk around the rest of the expo.  This is when I realized I had forgotten to pack some electrolyte tablets which I've learned are ever so important for long endurance events such as a marathon, however, not a single vender had any.    


I hopped back in the car and noticed an old train depot that looked like an interesting place to check out.   While sitting in the car in the parking lot of the depot I looked up on Hammer Nutrition's website a contact number to see if they could direct me to a local distributor.   Crazy thing is while still sitting in the car in the parking lot of the depot the address I entered into the GPS was exactly the location where I was parked, that is, the old depot was converted to a bike shop and they had my precious Endurolytes!   They also had this cool sign in front of the store!


For the next part of my adventure was finding my hotel, only a short 4 miles from the downtown area.   One thing I learned for this race is that it’s such a big event for the community of Fargo that there are more people than hotels.   Even reserving a room 3 months out I think I was lucky to have any room at all so I should be thankful, but with the laws of supply and demand with scarcity prices are raised.   A typical night in downtown at a hotel such as Howard Johnsons is $76 however marathon weekend this same room goes for about $175.  When I found a room with about the only hotel with a vacancy and a rate of $73 I wasn’t sure what I was going to get, reviews online were not favorable but how bad could it be?  After all, free wi-fi and continental breakfast was included so why not give it a shot after all it was actually just me traveling.   Well no surprise the place was a dump, however, I give them credit they were doing modernization so decided to stick it out for the two nights, it’s not like there were any other choices at last minute!  For the purpose of my recap I won’t go into any of the conditions of the room or property, but pretty much I committed myself to spending absolutely as little time in this hotel as possible.


So a quick shower and off to find my pre-race grub.  The area just outside of downtown where my hotel was located was actually located in a nice area with all sorts of attractions for dinning and shopping.  What better than pasta the night before a marathon and how convenient the first restaurant I see was an Olive Garden.   I know the routine, walk past the long line of athletes waiting outside for a table and have a seat at the bar.   Always a great salad and some carbs to wash it down.  Still very early and while tired, trying to avoid going back to the hotel prematurely I decided to head back downtown to walk around, find the start line, and explore the area.   Delighted, as soon as I arrived downtown to see that the very large number of runners were just starting the 5k.   All shapes and sizes, great to see everyone exercising!    After my jaunt walking around downtown I stumbled upon a cute little coffee shop which looked like a great place to grab some wi-fi and sit down and relax before heading back to my dive for the night.  


Finally back to the room, checked weather, confirmed wakeup call and backup alarms were set, and headed to bed.   Little scary morning temperatures to be low 40’s but a relief to see showers weren’t till later Saturday afternoon.   Wake, do my morning routine, snag a bagel with peanut butter, some OJ, and a banana for a light breakfast and head the couple miles back again toward downtown finding a parking spot a block away from the finish line and just a few blocks away from the start line.   I knew the course was going to be entirely flat, but didn’t pay much attention to the route other than it started on a bridge.    Since I saw the 5k Friday night start and head over a bridge downtown, I just assumed that was the same bridge the marathon started, however, all the cheers and people were congregating one bridge farther, no problem, just have to walk a little further.   Ends up with only 5 minutes before the gun, I enter from the start of the race instead of going all the way to the rear and trying to make my way to the front, much simpler just to go in from the other side as well makes for a great starting position!  =)

I just happened to pick the right bridge, which was the marathon line, ends up the runners on the other side of the divider line were all running the half and had a slightly different course.   Included in the marathon line were also the 10k runners which I thought was a little strange, but so be it, and also the relay runners were in the mix as well.   No way to really tell who was running which event, other than bib colors may have been slightly different in color.   Starting at the front of the line the pace of the pack was fast, however I planned to stick to my game plan of following my heart rate as well as GPS to  stay on track of my 8-9 minute pace from start to finish.  

Since I was lined up in front of all the pace groups, one by one each of the faster groups passed me.   My goal again was to break 4 hours, so that means the 3:10 group, 3:15 group, and every group in 5 minute intervals began to pass me.   For a moment I followed the 3:40 group for a while then wondered why I was doing that, so settled back into my game plan and waited for the 3:45 group to go by.  Of course they like the rest surrounded me and then continued on.   What was weird is the next group of 3:50 never caught up with me.   Either I kept my pace or they slowed down or both, but I eventually crossed the line with no signs of them.   This meant the flat fast Fargo course was good to me and I ran one of my fastest marathons since 2011 at a time of 3:52:33.   

The course was great, starting downtown then mostly running in nice subdivisions throughout the community.  Eventually the 10k’s peeled off and went their own way, but later the half and full crossed paths again and I caught up with that whole group and slowly added them to what are known as “kills”, that is passing other runners.   While I got “killed” myself by a boat load of runners at the start of the race since I started up front so far, by mile 18-19, I became the “killer” and picked up each runner one by one all the way to the finish I don’t think anyone passed me beyond mile 18.  I did try something new in that I started my endurolyte tablets very early in the race starting at mile 4 and every two miles until I ran out about mile 20.   I felt good the last 6 miles of the race and have to believe this is somehow related vs. not starting intake until later in the race.

Like any race, having nice weather can make it or break an experience.  Ends up for me, Fargo was near ideal conditions.  There was a threat of rain on race day afternoon, but for the morning the skies were bright blue, later clouds did roll in and rain, but all morning was fantastic.   Apparently wind can be a big concern in the area where common it can blow 30 mph, however, there was a little wind race morning, the route which most meandered between housing subdivisions provided adequate shelter from the wind.  Also the course had so many changes of direction, if the wind was in your face it never was for very long.  

Actually something cool I learned after the race is that Fargo actually borders Minnesota, so there is a brief section of the course where you actually go over the bridge and run a couple miles through another state!   Also this was part of the torturous part of the route because just when you are about back to the finish line and can hear the music and cheering the course takes a turn and sends you across the river into the other state!   Not for long, soon you’re back in North Dakota and funneled back downtown on the main drag of Broadway street.   All in all the course was great, again flat and fast, but also great crowd participation throughout.  There were also many bands as well as dj’s cranking out music for both the runners and fans lined up along the route.  


The finish line was a happening place with a live band set up in the middle of the street.   A great finisher medal as well as a paper jacket which would have come in more handy had the weather became crummy.    From the finish line again back to my weekend strategy of avoiding my own hotel, I staked out a downtown hotel with easy access to shower and pool, so grabbed my change of clothes and got cleaned up and relaxed in the hot tub for a while enjoying the company of a couple Canadians that had driven south for the weekend for the half marathon.   


By this time I was feeling a little hungry so finally jumped in the car to head back out a few miles into the suburbs where I had a great lunch at a place called Granite City Food & Brewery.  After lunch right out the door stood a very nice Ramada Inn & convention center, so stopped into check out the place and burned another hour in their pool area enjoying my 2nd hot tub post marathon!   I’m starting to dig this not running to catch a flight after the race routine such as any typical Sunday race.   Next to the Ramada was a mall, so bought some more time and loosed up the legs a bit by doing a once walk around to check it out.   


By this time I was already thinking about eating again and for some reason a burrito was sounding good, however, after stopping in a local Mexican restaurant it wasn’t quite what I was looking for, so I decided to head back downtown.   There was supposed to be a post marathon party in the streets of Fargo, however, with the rain I wasn’t sure what would be going on.   I also did a search online for the best buffalo burgers in Fargo and all the reviews pointed to a place downtown called HoDo Restaurant.   Well, ends up HoDo was right dab in the middle of downtown next to the stage and I lucked out to find a seat at the bar, ordered my dinner as well as a frosty beverage.   Positioned well, I was able to meet several groups from all over and share our marathon stories.   


Too much excitement for one day so time to head out and go to bed.   When I returned to my (dive) hotel I could see that I had a message from my airline, they had notified me that my return flight was cancelled Sunday and to call to reschedule.   So much for hitting the hay, now I had to figure out a plan how I was going to get home.   The first representative suggested I stay a 2nd night and fly home Monday, I think not.  Finally they switched my travel completely off of United and over to Delta, which meant instead of flying home through Denver I get to fly home through Minneapolis.  No problem, still get home the same time, I accept and out in no time at all.


Sunday morning began the long adventure home, however, with no wake up call I could hardly believe I slept in till 10:30, but no worries, flight doesn’t leave till 3:30, just enough time to pack, stop by Qdoba for lunch and head to the airport.   A little different checking in when there are only 4 gates.   I found a table and sat down for an hour and enjoyed a Red Bull, then walked over to my gate, this is where I was greeted by a TSA agent for walking around with an open container.   After explaining there was no alcohol we both laughed and I was soon on my way toward home.
Last part of the adventure that I thought was a little funny, I actually logged my race time on exactly 1 hour to long, a friend pointed this out when I went to change it I figured out there was another MarathonGeek that I actually had met years ago in Portland and he finished Fargo Marathon exactly 60 seconds after me.   Since I didn’t realize this until a day later, it was funny I didn’t even know he was in town for the same race at the same time and nearly the same finish!   Small world!  


Fargo Marathon (North Dakota) 5/1014
Total Marathons
Total States