Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fargo Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 4; 10th Edition
243.8 miles raced in 2009

Race: Fargo Marathon
Place: Fargo, ND
Miles from home: 1154 miles
Weather: 30-40s; cloudy; some rain, some windy conditions
Putting on a marathon is an exhausting, tiring and often thankless task. (I know this from personal experience and have learned vicariously through others.) And that is when everything goes right. So when late March precipitation in various forms flooded the Red River in Fargo to record heights, doubts about whether the Fargo Marathon would be even run immediately cropped up. Volunteers, townspeople and paid workers seemingly toiled endlessly to shore up dikes and make new walls to hold back the surging water. They weren't doing this to save the marathon but rather to save their homes and the town.

However, their efforts were just indicative of the sort of effort that the marathon committee itself was doing to save a race about to enter its 5th year. With Herculean planning at basically the 11th hour (OK, maybe 10:30 PM but close enough) the Fargo Marathon assured all its runners the race would go on, albeit slightly modified in nature.

Instead of heading over to Moorhead, MN across the surging Red River, the race would now stay completely in Fargo, making 2 laps of the same 13.1 course. To me, I loved this idea. I did not assume many would echo my sentiments. Why? Well, I have come to find that people will often complain about anything in a marathon. There is absolutely no pleasing everyone. Besides running many races, I have read about many races from various sources. I talk to many racers of all speeds to get their viewpoints on how a course looked and felt to those finishing under 3 hours to those bringing in the sag wagon.

Complaints and seemingly illogical whining are not limited to any one particular speed of runner but they are more focused on those who are ignorant of marathoning history. By this I mean those who have either just started running or haven't taken the time to learn how we got where we are now. Those who complain that there are not enough choices of fluids on the course or that the race did not cater to enough needs seem to be oblivious to the fact that even the Boston Marathon did not have official aid stations until the late 70s and early 80s was only after almost boycott by a previous year's winner until something was done about it. So, I never expect everyone to agree with me when I praise a race. (Ironically, the ediotr of Marathon and Beyond Magazine wrote a similar editorial piece about entitliement in Generation ME in this month's magazine). But praise the Fargo Marathon I will and quite often.

Race Expo

I had a busy day the day before the race. I am not even sure how I had a chance to sit down to sign books as I was running from radio interview to press conference to television interview and twice giving speeches to the assembled crowd. I nevertheless got to enjoy sharing a booth with a runner and coach I had met previously at the Illinois Marathon a few weeks ago named Gerard Pearlberg, or Coach GP to everyone on the planet.

GP's story is quite amazing even if you only look at how he has improved his marathon times. With a first marathon of 4:43 to his current PR of 2:34 (and a 3rd place finish at the Napa Valley Marathon), GP shows he knows how to improve his time and has coached many runners to do the same both online and through his book, Run Tall, Run Easy.

GP and I kept each other quite entertained with funny anecdotes and stories and soon had an entire language of inside jokes even if I could understand his British half the time (I kid, GP!) Well before the day was done I had sold out of my book and was taken advanced orders from those in attendance. Time in and time out, GP were dealing with some of the most pleasant people, be it runners or Fargo locals and were often saying "Well, you sure as hell couldn't get away with that in a big city!"

GP and I also spent some time with a friend of both of us - Bick Deardsley. (Complete inside joke. ask me someday). You might have heard of this runner as one of the greatest in the history of American marathoning or as he is better known - the author of the foreword to my book See Dane Run. :)

Even with the little time I spent at the booth, I got to meet some new friends and also finally greet face to face some of my readers from all over the country. I never tire of this sort of meeting and it is always great to spread my joy of running.

With the (rather exhausting) race expo day wrapped up, I grabbed my 3:10 pace group sign and headed over to my hotel. My 5th marathon in 4 weeks time lay ahead in just about 10 hours.

Race Day:

After my hot day debacle in the Kentucky Derby Marathon two weekends ago, I have been weather watching like I was a paid meteorologist. When I saw about a week ago that the weather looked a little on the cool side for race day in Fargo, I was ecstatic. As race day approached it kept getting cooler. When I woke up for the race it was 32 degree. Brr. But I will take cold over hot any day and as I moseyed over to the starting line toting my 3:10 pace group sign I was surprised how not cold it actually felt.

It was a little hard to give my usual pre-race instructions to those who were gathering around me as the PA was up a little too loud. A few runners mentioned there was just a little too much pre-race chatter. I told everyone who could hear me to just stay tight and over the miles I would give plenty of instructions, advice and bad jokes. The would be look back on the time of the loud announcer wistfully as the most pleasant part of their day. This got some good chuckles.

Soon we were afoot.

First 10k: 7:15, 7:04, 7:19, 7:12, 7:09, 7:12
Elapsed time: 44:37
Goal: 44:56
I told the runners assembled around me it is nearly impossible to take the first mile slow. Crowd excitement, revved engines and goals in the mind push you forward too fast far too often. So when we hit the first mile dead on, I was stoked. Then we went 11 seconds too fast on the 2nd mile. Whoops! A lot of that was because we were trying to get around many runners who simply were not where they should be.

I get a fair amount of page views every single day to this blog (whether I post or not). I am guessing a fair amount of you who read this are runners. I am again guessing that you have running friends. I IMPLORE you to forward this next little bit on to every runner you know.

Please, PLEASE, pleeeasssse - puh-leeeeeeeazzzze line up properly at the start of the race. In the year 2009, ANY race that has ANY amount of people that MAY POSSIBLY slow you down at the very beginning of the race so that it could take you a few seconds to get the the start WILL have chip-timing. As such, YOUR correct time will be accounted for. I promise. You ABSOLUTELY do not need to be at the front of the race line unless you plan to run the pace of the rest of the people at the front of the race line. I will NEVER understand the logic of pushing to the front only to get passed by hundreds and hundreds of runners almost immediately. It is self-defeating, disheartening to get passed by that many people, but most importantly, it is EXTREMELY dangerous and inordinately rude to those faster runners who have to run around you. This slowdown at the start causes gridlock, tripping, elbowing, swerving etc. I beg of you to know your pace and move to the appropriate start. And if for reasons I have not thought of, it is absolutely imperative that you be at the front of the pack when you don't run at that speed, I triple beg you to neither:

a. run three abreast
b. wear any sort of music-player that impedes your hearing in such a way that you do not hear runners trying to pass you.

My rant is now over but I truly mean every word of the above. I am absolutely certain that we wasted a fair amount of energy running around through, over and by, far too many runners who were simply out of place. I am in no way trying ot be rue to slower runners. This race is just as much yours as it is the fastest person in the race. However, you simply must no race etiqutte! But I digress.

As soon a we were able to get out to mile 3 and away from the masses, our pace settled down to exactly what it should have been. When we hit the 10k, I whipped a cellphone out of my pocket and called GP (who was announcing at the finishline) to tell him the 3:10 group was right on pace. Someone asked if I was calling my wife and I said: "My bald British male friend will get a kick out of that one!"

Halfway point: 7:16, 7:17, 7:15, 7:12, 7:14, 7:13, 7:19
Elapsed time: 1:34:30
Goal: 1:35:00

With my pack firmly in charge of the roads, we began to really settle into pace. Almost every mile was about as dead-on as possible and this was hard to do for a number of reasons. First, the course was so flat and easy that my runners were chomping at the bit. I would often sort of get swallowed up by the pack as runners would push by me, look back and see I was behind them and then readjust their pace. When we hit the mile right on they would shake their heads and laugh, knowing I was going to bring them to the promised land (Boston) if they just ran with me.

Second, the crowds were fantastic. For those who have only run in big city races or were running one of their first marathons, they had no idea how spectacular these crowds were as people lined almost every square inch of the real estate of the 13.1 mile loop. Part of this has to do with the fact that because of the two-loop nature of the course fans knew they would see not only the half-marathon runners but the marathoners twice in the exact same spot (and sometimes double that as we ran up and then back down a street a few miles later). The other fact had to do with the civic pride that Fargo had in its marathon. People were thanking runners for coming to run and we were thanking them right back for being out there. Remember, as great as low 40s is for running it can be pretty miserable for fans standing in one place. I was not the only one in my pack that was continual in my thanking of not only police for manning the streets but for volunteers and those cheering for us for hours on end.

I spoke to a volunteer afterward who told me a usual conversation around town that weekend was whether you were going to run them arathon, helped put on the marathon or cheer for the marathons. there seemed to be no other option for the townspeople. With a population of only around 90,000. I bet your that 1 in 9 people were lining the streets if not more. And they were cheering. I was asked by runners if I was going to hold my pace sign the whole way and I told them in my best Fragonian accent: "Yah, you betcha!" When the crowds roared for us as we went by, confirming that they would do that exact same thing, I know it made my pacees happy that I held onto that sign for the whole race.

As we neared the FargoDome to begin our second loop, I told those in my group that we now knew what lay ahead. No surprises and no reason to worry. I expected that my pack of 20 strong would be whittled in half when the half marathoners took their turn to finish in the warm and friendly confines of the FargoDome and readied myself for the second half.

To Mile 20: 7:21, 7:18, 7:15, 7:12, 7:11 7:12, 7:19
Elapsed time: 2:24:52
Goal: 2:24:40

Imagine my surprise when nearly every runner in my pack stayed with me as we began our second loop. I was so shocked and enthralled and excited. I began telling my runners some of my trade secrets for staying focused through these next seven miles (which you have to run with me for me to reveal.) I was doing everything I could to keep my runners focused and also continue to run my own race. Contrary to what many think, regardless of how fast you can run, a 3:10 marathon is never "easy". One is still traversing 26.2 miles and as a pacer the desire to pull your runners along with you can sap your strength.

On top of that, for whatever reason, my shoe was bothering me. My right ankle was being rubbed and I could tell there was going to be some chafing. In fact, I looked down at one point and saw that my white sock had a splotch of blood on it. One of my runners looked down at the same time to see what I was looking at and said "Nice sock, Schilling!" (For those not getting the reference, my sports-minded runner was making an allusion to the blood seeping from Curt Schilling's sock in the 2004 baseball playoffs where he famously pitched just hours after having surgery on his ankle and receiving a cadaver's tendon in the process.)

I told him I hope I get the playoff bonus that Curt got when we crossed the line in just a few miles.

To The Finish: 7:10, 7:18, 7:18, 7:17, 7:19, 7:27, (last .2: 1:21)Goal: 3:10:00
As the miles passed by my group stayed tight. When the wind would whip up they would heed my advice and use me as a shield (for the most part at least. Some runners, who baffle me to this day, use me as a pacer but like to stay right in front of me or slightly ahead to the side. No idea why but it would make my job a lot easier if I did not have to keep dodging them!) We lost a runner here and there as one fell back or surged ahead but we were a solid group of about 7 or 8 as the miles ticked by. Each mile brought us closer to our goal, a shared goal even though it meant so many different things to so many people.

With about a mile left, as always happens, those with the desire to get this darn race over with, pushed ahead. There goal was not to hit 3:10 right on the nose but rather break 3:10 or get as close as possible and not pass out at the end. The finish line and that time was often what they had been dreaming about for months and working hard for mile after mile on this day.

For about half a mile I was alone. I then came upon this sprite-like female who I had seen pass us miles before. I could tell she was struggling just a bit and a post-race analysis of her times proved this (she slowed considerable in the last 10k). With no one else around me to pace I slowed my step a bit and began to encourage her the best I could. She picked up the pace but then quickly fell back. I began to encourage her again and these same thing happened. Pick up, back off. I could tell that she was obviously going to qualify for Boston (being a young female she has a much slower time than a comparable man of that age) but I also knew she was hoping to break into the 3:10s. However, up ahead I saw another runner who had been right by my side for miles and miles. For about 10 steps I saw his pace slack and now I knew I had a new charge to get to finish line.

As we neared mile 26 I saw I had slowed by a good 15 seconds off the previous pace. I knew we were going to get a Boston qualifying time (3:10:59 or under), the question simply remained whether it would be under 3:10. Bill was this runner's name and I could see he wanted that BQ more than anything else in the world. My showing up by his side lit a fire under him and away he went. He left me in the dust over the next quarter of a mile and I smiled inside. As two more runners appeared by my sides who had been with me earlier but slowed a touch at the end, I now had two more reasons to run.

Around the outside of Fargodome, down the ramp and into the final 100 yards we ran. I thought I might have a chance of an exact 3:10 but at the time I did not care. With fans cheering from the stands and an carnival-like atmosphere all around us (the expo was still open for runners and spectators alike as we hurried down the chute) every runner felt like a rock star.

We sprinted across the finish and began high-fiving and hugging. I found Bill who was beside himself with glee and he just thanked me over and over again. The 3:10 sign which I had been holding for hours had broken in a stiff breeze at one point. I handed it to him and told him he deserved it.

I found out he ran a 3:09:52 and smiled at that. You can't get away from that number 52, can you? :) As for me, I was pretty close as pacer shooting for 3:10:00 as my chip time revealed I ran a 3:10:01. Not too shabby. I spent the next few minutes hugging and laughing with tons of runners who were so grateful for my assistance during the race. So many PRs and new goals were srt. As good as my memory is I think I may take a tape recorder next time to get all of their stories.
I quickly found the RD Mark Knutson and lavished praise on his course, the city of Fargo and all those involved. I implored him to keep the two-loop format, not only to encourage spectators to stay on the course longer but so that interactions amongst runners could continue. It is obvious the nearby city of Moorhead should be involved once the flood damage to the roads is solved but I truly believe that this two loop format is an absolute winner. Having run Mark's other marathon in Illinois (a first time event that was an extremely well-run event) I was not surprised that he and his committee pulled off another spectacular event. As I have told many, Fargo was originally on my schedule of 52 to run in 2006 but finances changed those plans when I was able to run a race much closer to home. since that time I have been eager to make it back to the land made famous by the Coen brothers. I had high expectations and I can honestly say I was not disappointed.

To all of those at the Fargo Marathon: "Uff Da!"

Next up: the Ogden Marathon in Utah on Saturday. While logic states I should in no way try to set a new PR in my 6th marathon in 5 weeks, that is what I will be shooting for nonetheless. Hope to be sharing that news with you in less than a week!


jason boll said...

This is a great Blog. I have enjoyed reading it since meeting you in Pittsburgh. It gets me excited to run! I haven't signed up yet, but i think i will see you in Titusville. At this point, i'm trying to get some others interested.
Hope you are well and good luck with the PR next week.

1L said...

Isn't Fargo great! I truly agree that the entire city gets involved in one way or another, and it is simply amazing!

I see that you didn't win the Pacer prize either for "the closest to the pin" - in 2007, I paced the 4:15 group to finish in 4:15:01 - only to just miss as well!

Nice pacing, Dane.

ShirleyPerly said...

Congrats on a well-paced marathon, Dane! I saw you and yelled as you went by me on the second lap as I was coming in towards the Fargodome finishing up my first lap.

I totally agree with many of the comments you made about this wonderful race. Sorry I missed meeting you (got into Fargo pretty late on Fri). Best of luck with your other races this year!

Melanie said...

Great recap Dane, so inspiring! You are a very interesting and insightful writer. I am often on the edge of my seat when I read your recaps and I find myself hanging onto your every word. It’s like I was right there with you while you were running the Fargo Marathon. Thank-you for sharing your life experiences with us, and keep the stories coming!