Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fargo Marathon Performance Review

Performance Review...
Scheels Fargo Marathon
May 21, 2011
Fargo, North Dakota
11th Marathon Completed

Official Time: 3:22:52
Avg Pace: 7:45
Avg HR: 166
Finish: Overall 153 out of 2,211 (top 7%), 40-44 Age Group 19 out of 199 (top 10%)
Weather: 63 degrees, 80% humidity, 10mph wind
Comments: Good run overall, 3rd fastest marathon to date ... a little disappointed with finish
Garmin Connect Link:

I went into the race thinking I could possibly PR, even though I'd just PR'd at Boston about 4 weeks prior. And at the end of the day I was close, but couldn't quite pull it off.  There were a lot of external factors that kept me from running my best race, but the bottom line is, I just didn't quite have enough that day.  I've seldom experienced such a dichotomy in a race event.  On one hand, the pre-race organization was top-notch and created a very relaxing environment for the runners.  However, the race and post-race finish area were, in my opinion, disasters.  But overall it was a good event that I would recommend and run again.

Race Weight, Nutrition, & Conditioning
My weight on race day was about 180 lbs.  This is a few pounds heavier than I like to be at the starting line, but not horrible.  I probably carbed up a little too much for this race.  I ate my typical carb load two days before the race on Thursday, including 1/2 box saltine crackers, foot-long turkey sub, and chicken salad ... among other carb snacks including two bananas.  I also ate the second half of the box of saltines, bananas, and chicken pasta on Friday night before the race.  I drank a total of 3 bottles of Gatorade the two days leading up to the race, and I'm glad I did based on the high temps and fluid I lost during the race.  But the additional carbs I consumed played a big factor in stomach issues at miles 23-26.

I used most of the two weeks after the Boston Marathon to get my legs healthy, running very little mileage and taking a few unscheduled days off.  I tried to maintain  my core strength, but wasn't as committed to it as I should have been.  When I did run however, my times were relatively fast and I felt really healthy.  As a result, I felt light and fast for the race, but I only had one run of 20 miles, which I completed the Saturday before the marathon.  Not ideal, but mostly for psychological reasons, I wanted to get a long run in before the race at Fargo.

Hmmm, PR today???
The pre-race amenities were fantastic.  After the shuttle bus from the hotel dropped me off at the front door of the Fargodome, I hung out in a cushioned chair near one of the arena suites for the 1-1/2 hours leading up to the race.  During this time I also got up and moved around to stay active, and got to meet fellow blogger Maia from Reasons to Run, and her husband Chris.  They seemed like great people.  The PA announcer did a great job of keeping everyone up to date on race time and last minute announcements.

I took my typical two ibuprofen two hours before the race, and a caffeine pill an hour prior.  I also ate my usual C2Max Power Bar for a few final carbs about a half-hour before the run. The only fluids I drank were to down the pills.  This was a good plan too as I didn't have to make any pee stops during the race.

Before approaching the starting line, I went through my stretching routine and then went outside and jogged about 1/4-1/2 mile to warm up a little and get my heart rate elevated.  The race was very non-congested and I was able to use the port-o-potty one last time, only standing in line behind one person.  Also, I was able to start near the front of the pack without any crowding.  I typically like to start in a group that's a faster pace than what I plan to run.  Runners will be flying by me in the first mile, but I would rather be able to run my pace with people passing me, than be in the back fighting the crowd to run my planned pace.

The Race
95 turns on this course with two long out & backs
The forecasted rain had missed us, but it was about 63 degrees, and really humid.  At least 80% or more.  I had worn a long-sleeve undershirt and ol' "victory-blue" for the top shirt.  About 1/2 mile into the run, I realized that I was going to have to lose the undershirt.  I felt like such an amateur not planning a little better, but I was hot!!!  So, at about .6 miles into the race, I began to disrobe.  I peeled off the top shirt which had my race number attached, and then removed the long-sleeved under shirt.  I looked like one of those TOOLS who run without a shirt for about 200 yards, but eventually I was able to get the blue shirt back on ... all with keeping my pace and stride for the first mile.  I dropped the undershirt at the 1 mile marker, but forgot to go back and get it later. This kinda bummed me out a a little, because it was my favorite undershirt.  But I felt a lot cooler ... shouldn't have worn two shirts to begin with!

After the shirt incident, the first thing that I noticed was my legs were a little sluggish and heavy.  I hadn't walked as much the previous two days to generate blood-flow as I should have and I felt it.  They just didn't have any "spring" or "bounce", and I immediately knew this would be a little bit of a grind, but I was hitting all of my pace times through the first few miles without much problem.
Pancake flat course
The course was pancake flat.  I mean literally!  There were only a couple of times that you ran over an overpass or something, other than that, you could see ahead of you for quite a ways.  There were however, 95 different turns on this course which made it a little tough to run the tangents consistently, but through the first 7 miles, I was surprisingly within a few steps of the mile marker when my Garmin lap tracker sounded.  This for some reason would really go down hill from there.  I began adding a few feet each mile at mile 8, and eventually ended up running 26.38 miles as opposed to 26.2.  This wasn't horrible, especially considering the course layout, but I really seemed to rack up the additional steps on the latter half of the race.  I think most of  this was from dodging half-marathoners who joined the race at mile 16.

At mile 8 I hit my marathon pace of 7:30.  I had taken the first 7 miles fairly slow as a "warm up", gradually increasing my pace.  And my heart rate was good in the high 140's to low 150's. But around mile 9 I really became aware of just how much I was sweating.  In warm weather runs, I use my the bill of my hat and my pants as a "barometer" for just how much fluid I'm losing.  If I can't see a dry spot on the front of my shorts when I look down, or if drops of sweat are beginning to drip from the bill of my saturated hat, I know it's hot.  This came into full effect at about mile 10.  My shorts were soaked and sweat was running off of the bill of my hat.  I was losing a lot of fluid, but it was never really an issue in cramping or anything.

Everything was going great during the first half of the race.  The course was a little muddy from recent flooding in the area and I slipped a couple of times and was constantly aware of my footing, but I didn't feel like it slowed me down or caused me to lose extra energy.  At the mile 13 turn-around to complete the "back" of one of the out & backs, you literally had to circle a traffic cone in the middle of the road, causing you to come almost  to a complete stop.  This should have been a wider turn to allow runners to keep their stride, but again, I didn't feel like it caused me to lose too much time.

At about mile 15 or 16 is when the mayhem ensued.  There were about 6,000 half-marathoners running that day and they all joined the course with the marathoners at this point.  At the pace I was running, I met up with the 10:30-11:00 pace half'ers.  They were EVERYWHERE, and all over the course ... frequently cutting in front of you to high five little kids, take pictures with signs, hug family members, completely ignore every race etiquette at water stops, and just in general bog things down.  I literally made contact with 5-6 runners, completely running into 3-4 of them.  Except for the not paying attention to other runners ... the race wasn't the fault of the half-marathoners. They were just running the race that was presented to them.  And no doubt, many of them were probably frustrated with having to be mixed in with the marathoners.  But let's face it, in a lot of races, many of the people running the 11, 12, & 13 minute miles in a half-marathon or 10K are quite possibly first-timers and not as concerned with how they finish.  Which is completely fine!  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that!  Everyone runs at a different pace and it's great when anyone is out running regardless of the time.  It's just that mixing in 3:00-3:20 marathoners with a much more casual crowd is quite a difference in not only pace, but also mindset.  I wanted to run the tangents to eliminate extra steps ... impossible.  It was imperative that I hit my last few water stops ... didn't happen.  And it was vital that I spend every ounce of energy focusing on the course, my pace, and the finish I had in mind with as few of distractions as possible ... all of the last 10 miles were nothing but a distraction.

There were a couple of points where a side lane had been marked off for the elite runners.  At these stretches, even non-elite runners like myself were able to jump over into the free lane and pass some of the half'ers.  But for most of the second half of the race, everyone was mixed in together, shoulder to shoulder.

At  about mile 18 I noticed that my heart rate was beginning to spike a little.  Not to a max level or anything, but a couple of times I looked down at a 7:15-7:20 pace and I was at about 184 bpm or so, which is a little high for me.  I think some of it was from bouncing in and out of groups of people and trying to avoid collisions with other runners.  Up until that point I had controlled my heart rate fairly well in the mid 160's ... but when I saw that, I knew I was beginning to tire a little.

But even with all of the course distractions, the real issues were self-inflicted and presented themselves at mile 22 ...stomach problems.  Specifically, I felt like I was gonna have diarrhea.  Now, I am TOTALLY OKAY with peeing myself during a race, but not #2 ... nope!  When this feeling happens during a run, I'm forced to do one of two things, find a place and go ... or slow down.  We were literally running through crowded residential neighborhoods and I just couldn't bring myself to poop on someones front lawn, so I slowed down ... way down ... to let my stomach settle a little.  At mile 23 I felt a little better and began to push it back up to marathon pace.  But I soon had that rumbling in my stomach again.   And for the first time, along with being frustrated and tired of fighting the crowds and realizing that a PR was most likely out of reach ... I walked a little, for about 15-30 seconds.  This would happen off and on for miles 23-25.

In most races, once I reach mile 25 I know I've got it!  And this one was no different.  It was still crowded of course, but it seems like at about 25.5 they split the marathoners and half'ers into two different corrals.  This allowed for a separated finish in the Fargodome.

Fargo finish line inside the Fargodome
Finish Area
Ah yes, the ol' Fargodome.  I know that the nice people of Fargo are really proud of the Fargodome.  I'm sure it's landmark.  And for such a small town it was a really nice arena.  But that's just it ... it's just your run-of-the-mill arena.  Why have the runners finish inside this "dome"?  It was crowded.  And it was a little weird finishing in-doors.  As you approached dome at about 26.1, you had to  make a really tight turn and then run down through a tunnel that took you inside the building.  A guy in front of me tripped and almost fell and twisted his ankle pretty bad because of some cracked concrete on the ramp going into the dome.  He literally limped to the finish. 

And speaking of the finish, once you crossed the finish line, you weren't greeted with a "nice job here's your medal."  Or a, "Hey, here's some water for you!"  No,  you literally stood in a shoulder to shoulder line for about 15-20 minutes waiting for the crowd to move.  TERRIBLE!!!  And even at that, if you wanted a medal, you had to hunt it down yourself.  The full marathon medals were sitting on a table and I had to ask a couple of different volunteers if they were for marathoners.  One lady literally asked me, "Did you run the marathon?"  I was tired and cranky and wanted to say, "Gee, I don't know, what does my friggin' bib say ... oh  yeah, it says FULL MARATHON!!!  Now give me my friggin' medal so I can go sit down somewhere!" But I didn't.  I'm not exaggerating when I say it was the worst possible situation.  There were people everywhere ... runners and non-runners ... and it was impossible to move.   I eventually got some food, water, and my gear check bag after climbing two flights of stairs and walking about 100 yards for it.  I was so disappointed with this situation.  Up until now, the race weekend had been really good.  I mean the course was designed VERY POORLY, but some courses are, that's just part of it.  But there were entirely too many people in this confined space.  It really almost ruined the entire experience.

All in all though, even though the course was not great, and the finish area was an un-thought-out, ill-prepared, undersized cluster ... I would still run this race again.  The people were great and I enjoyed my time in Fargo.  None of the problems are unfixable and I know they are already focusing on next year.  And as I've said before, in no way do I blame the course, the half-marathoners, or the humid conditions for my lack of PR'ing.  On this day, I just wasn't good enough ... maybe next time!
... be great today!


  1. I'd kill for that time! Haha! But I understand your disappointment. One less marathon off your list! How many are you up to?

  2. Fargodome! Too funny. Congrats on another spectacular time. I'm really impressed you can turn in such great times one month after another. Great job!

  3. That would be werid to have to finish inside.

    Congrats on knocking 1 more marathon off your list. It might not have been the best but its not the worst either I'm sure.

    You time looks stellar to me!

  4. Congratulations!!! I am constantly amazed at the times you marathoners put out! Unbelieveable!

  5. Awesome recap! I am learning so much from your experience and loving every second of it.

    Amazing splits!! Wow I am full of jealousy. Your splits are so consistant and I need to learn from you.

    Congrats again on a great race.

  6. Nice job Jim! I think they are still trying to work out the kinks- hopefully they will pull it together. The last few miles were much less crowded for me than what you experienced- I ran in the elite lane- I said to another guy "we're all elites now!"

  7. Awesome job Jim!

    I get the frustration even though the time rocks.

    YAY Fargo!

  8. Great race recap! You are do good at describing things, it feels like we are running the race along with you.

    That is frustrating having to mix with the half marathoners, that must have been complete chaos. And finishing inside the dome doesn't seem like a good idea either. That sounds like utter chaos too!

  9. Very good report sir, thanks and enjoyed reading it.
    Man, you can slay some saltines!
    It's hard to know how many clothes to have on sometimes. I always end up having too many on and it is frustrating having to strip down as you are trying to get in the groove.
    Great job to you, young man!
    Jessie Pants - blogger is still being weird...


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