Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fargo Marathon Review

Race Review ...                                                       

Historic Fargo Theater

2011 Scheels Fargo Marathon
May 21, 2011  
Fargo, North Dakota
11th Marathon Completed
Overall Rating ... 3 out of 5 Bison
Spoiler Alert...
  • Fargo is one of the most beautiful towns, and by far the friendliest that I've ever visited
  • Good Expo with seamless packet pick-up
  • A ton of very helpful and friendly volunteers
  • North Dakota State University (NDSU) served as the perfect venue where we could warm-up in the Fargodome and then walk a few feet to the starting line without hassle
  • Fantastic crowd support
  • About 63 degrees during the race with approx 80% humidity, a little warm
  • A lot of the streets were muddy & slippery from recent flooding, and there were literally 95 different turns on the course ... tough to find a running rhythm but it wasn't an issue 
Finisher Medal...
First medal I've ever received with two Bible verses printed on it.  "Let us run with perserverance the race that is marked out for us" Herews 12:1 on the front.   And "I can do all things (through Christ who strengthens me). Phillippians 4:13 on the back. Pretty cool!
Fargo, North Dakota...
Fargo Train Station
I don't ever remember being in such a beautiful and friendly small town.  When I say small, keep in mind that Fargo has a population of about 105,000 residents.  But everyone I talked to and interacted with had a small-town "How ya doin'?" charm.  Heck, I was driving the course on Friday night and I pulled over at a stop sign to check the map, and all the sudden a local guy pulled up beside me with his window down and asked, "You need help findin' somethin'?"  Seriously ... there are people like that left in the world?  Well, apparently in Fargo, it's just a way of life!

It's incredibly easy to get around Fargo with clearly marked streets.  One thing that struck me about this "big" small town was many of the streets didn't have center lines or stop signs.  It seemed that everyone was simply on the honor system when it came to driving.

Downtown Fargo boasts many "mom & pop" bars & restaurants, as well as the historic Fargo Theater, which was built in 1925 and still has the original marquee in place.  The Amtrak Train Station was build by The Great Norther Railway in 1920.  Fargo is also the home of the beautiful North Dakota State University campus.  And seemingly every mid-town street is tree-lined just like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  It has an unbelievable "homey" feel and was a pleasure to visit.  I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Race Expo...
My best Jim Halpert face,
"Hmmm, Fargodome ehhhh?"
The race Expo was held on the floor of the Fargodome, the athletics arena for NDSU.  It is also where the marathon began and ended.  I arrived in the afternoon on Friday and was greeted by several volunteers pointing me in the right direction, rounding up my packet, and answering any last minute questions I had. 

Although the race was sponsored by Scheels Sporting Goods, there was also a Boston Marathon-sized Adidas store set up with a ton of Fargo Marathon gear for every race being held that weekend - 5K, 10K, Half-Marathon, and Marathon.  I bought an extra t-shirt (because I don't have enough race t-shirts already), and got the girls a couple of running shirts.  It seems like the more race Expos I attend, I see the same vendors over and over.  This one was no different.  It was big and easy to access, but nothing really new that I hadn't seen before.

Front doors at the Expo
The SWAG was moderate at best with an nice Adidas mini-backpack that also doubled as a gear-check bag, a half-zip long-sleeve pullover, race bib, laminated bag-tag and timing chip.  The pullover was pretty cool, although the color ... bright green ... is not really me.  But I'll probably wear it for pre-dawn runs as a safety vest.  Also the orange and blue bag can be used at the gym from time-to-time or as an airplane carry-on.  The pre-numbered bag-tag had to be attached to one of the loops of the Adidas bag.  I prefer stickers for this application, but it wasn't very practical with a fabric bag.

The bag was great on race day because it didn't fall apart like some of the flimsier plastic bags they often give you at these things.  It was a little small for all the gear I wanted to check, but all-in-all it was a nice "gift".  "Gift" being something we had already paid for in the $80 race fee a few months back.

That Bison stole my credit!

One thing that got a little weird was a little misunderstanding that just about went down between me and a stuffed Bison, the NDSU mascot.  Yeah, he was stuffed ... but he was staring a hole through me.  "Look man, I'm a Mizzou Tiger ... deal with it.  I don't mean to disrespect you in your own crib, but you gotta give me some room and back-up off me!"  Okay, that was all fake.  I'm an idiot.  But I swear his eyes were moving. (At this point, I fully admit that I was probably the only grown man taking pictures of HIMSELF with stuffed animals.  I like pictures in my posts ... sue me!)

Rainy Friday
I stayed at the beautiful and luxurious Red River Lodge right off of I-29.  I had no problem with the "hotel", but I don't think I could have got Michael to stay there ... she's 5 stars baby!  But it was clean and the staff was very courteous.

The hotel actually called me several months ago to offer me a race-day breakfast bag and shuttle service to the race, which I accepted.  I was a little disappointed to find out when I got there that all of the marathoners were made the same offer.  Gee ... I thought it was just for me.

On race day, a school bus doubling as a shuttle to the race start picked us up at 5:30am.  It was awesome.  Even though the Fargodome was only about 3 miles from the hotel, I just left my car parked all day and relied on them for transportation.  After the race, they were ready and waiting to take us back.  This made things a lot less stressful and it was a wonderful service!

It was raining all day Friday and I was a little worried the race was going to be soggy, but it was mostly dry all day on Saturday with only a few sprinkles.  But with the "higher" temps at race time, I think all the runners would have welcomed a few rain drops.

Race & Course
Beautiful tree-lined neighborhoods
Okay, this is where I might get a little testy - I'm still not really happy with the way the weekend ended.  I arrived at the Fargodome at about 5:45am.  It was a wonderful setup.  Runners could hangout in the the warmth and dryness of the arena until race time.  There were even padded chairs around some of the arena suites which were better than the typical concrete sidewalk I usually perch myself on until making my way to the starting line.

I had made plans to meet Chris and Maia of Reasons To Run.  They were of course really cool people.  We took the obligatory blogger pic and chatted a while before I headed off to stretch.  I actually ran into Maia after the race and I think she said she did well, but I was still pretty pissed about the race, so sorry Maia, I can't remember for sure.

Maia & me before the race,
Chris on cam
As the start of the race got closer, I dropped my gear bag in conveniently placed carts by the front door and headed to the starting line.  It was misting a little, but you could tell it was clearing up somewhat.  I think it was about 63 degrees at the start of the race, but it was incredibly humid.  I was wearing two shirts, which I usually do.  But during the first mile, I actually stripped down while running and took the undershirt off- ha, never broke stride baby!  I dropped it at the 1 mile marker and forgot to go back and get it later.  It was my favorite undershirt so I was kinda bummed ... oh well.

During the first few miles, I knew this was not going to be easy.  It was one of those days where my legs felt really heavy and sluggish.  Also, some of the streets were still covered with river mud from recent flooding, which made footing a little slippery at times.  I kept my planned race pace until mile 23, but it was really a grind.  I just never really ran free and easy today.

Seriously, 95 turns???
The course was not great.  It WAS flat as a pancake and took the runners through the beautiful parts of Fargo, including the picturesque tree-lined residential streets, but as mentioned before, this area had recently been hit by flooding, and apparently they had altered the course somewhat to accommodate the water-logged areas.  The result was 95 turns.  95!!!  You literally changed direction 95 times.  I'm serious ... look up the course on line and count them yourself.  It was incredibly tough to build any kind of momentum or get into a groove.  Also, there were two substantial out-and-backs, which most marathoners are not a fan of.  I've never designed a race course, but I've designed hundreds of long runs in my relatively small town and I honestly don't think there is ever a NEED for an out-and-back in a marathon course.  That being said, the course was not the issue.  I'm sure the coordinators were working with what they had available to them.

Cluster at post-race
At about mile 15 or 16, we were joined by the half-marathoners.  This happens in a lot of races, but usually not for the last 10 miles of the marathon.  To put it bluntly ... IT WAS A NIGHTMARE!!!  There were about 6,000 half'ers in the race who started a half-hour after the marathoners, and they were VERY congested.  It was impossible to run the tangents, which was preferable with so  many turns.  Many of them were walking, and all of them stopped in the middle of every waterstop.  There was NO WAY to maintain a pace without expending energy to maneuver around them or through.  I ran into 5 half-marathoners, was cut off by another 3 or 4, and had to skip 2 of the last few water stops.  I know everyone runs at a different pace, but during the last few miles of a marathon, focus is imperative.  Unfortunately, the complete focus was on avoiding them.  I feel in know way that it was the half-marathoners fault.  They were just running the race assigned to them.  Some could have been a little more courteous and aware of their surroundings, but that happens in every race.

After the race, I talked to literally 13 or 14 marathoners ... and they were PISSED!!! About 10 of them were vowing to write letters to the race coordinator complaining about the situation.  But it only got worse from there.

As you crossed the finish line, there was NO ONE WAITING to direct you to water, food, or medals.  Plus, as you can see by the photo, people were bunched together, not moving.  So with your legs aching, heart pounding, and your feet ready to take a load off ... you stood in line for about 15-20 minutes just waiting with thousands of other people - similar to the conditions typical to the start of a big race.  Shoulder to shoulder with nowhere to move.  In addition, I had to ask about 3 people where to pick-up my marathon medal until I found someone who pointed me in the direction I needed to go.
I ran a "disappointing" 3:22:52.  NOT disappointing because of the finishing time ... all-in-all, it's a good time for me, and although it's not Olympic speed or anything, I know I'm blessed to run as fast as I do - today I finished in the top 10% of my age group and I couldn't be happier! The disappointment was because I felt like I left time on the clock.  But understand, I WAS THE ONE WHO LEFT THE TIME ON THE CLOCK!!!  (More on that in my race performance review in a few days.)  The conditions were not great, but the reason I did not PR was because of me, and me alone.   It had nothing to do with the slippery streets, high and humid temps, or thousands of half-marathoners bottle-necking the course ... I will never use external excuses for my performance.  The bottom line is I was just not good enough to PR today.  But that's okay, I know I can't run "the race of my life" every time out. 

Great ... 6 more weeks
of another black toenail!
Somehow I also ended up with another black toenail after the race (ring finger toe).  I guess my sock must have been a little tight, although I didn't notice until after the race.  This was a little frustrating, because my previous black toenail on my middle toe had just recently regenerated a new nail.  (My toenails look really dirty in this photo, but I promise you that even though my toes are really ugly, they are hygienically sound!) 

Even though the end of the race, and post-race were the worst I have ever experienced ... all-in-all the weekend was awesome.  I would highly recommend this race to other runners for the total experience.  The gaffs at the end can be easily fixed ... but they really need to be addressed before next year.  Ginny from Happy Feet 26.2 commented the other day "Enjoy the moment! Any day you complete a marathon is an excellent day." ... and you know what, she's exactly right.  At the end of the day I completed my 11th marathon, and it feels pretty good to mark another state off of the list!
... be great today!


  1. So cool you got to meet Maia and Chris! Head up and onto #12, right? :)

  2. Ugh I hate when race set-up is frustrating like that. Still, your time was awesome! And I am supa-jealous of your neon green pullover. :) Congrats on #11!!

  3. bright green....yeah not my color either..but hey Michael could not loose you in a crowded place if you wear that!!!!
    congrats on #11 Jim! and the toes..well mine are not looking that great since my last half..and as long as I can run without pain I dont care how they look!!! ha ha!

  4. Ohhh I like the bright green. :) Good job on the race, even though it wasn't what you hoped it would be. I am still in awe of anyone who can run that fast that long!

  5. I feel your frustration. It does sound like you ran a good race despite trying conditions, though.

  6. Well done finishing and finding some apples in the midst of the poop!

  7. Congrats on another marathon. It would suck to have the half marathoners congest the streets that far into a race. I'm glad you liked Fargo overall, though.

  8. Good job finishing and checking another off the list. Do you have any for Vermont??

  9. Hi there - thank you for stopping by my blog and for the thoughtful comment regarding Bailey. I really appreciate it so much.

    Holy cow, you are speedy! That sounds pretty messed up - the end of the race I mean. In my last Half Ironman, during the half marathon portion, I totally left time on the clock.

    Have you checked Maine off your list yet? Let me know, I have done all 3 Maine marathons (at least right now there is only 3. I think. Last time I checked.) so I can give you the down-low on them if you want.

    I THINK that a lot of 50 staters do the Portland, ME one then the Manchester, NH one the next day (if you are into punishment) to get two nearby ones done.

  10. Based on your description of the congestion on the course, I wasn't expecting to see that finish time. Nice work sir. 95 turns is a bit ridiculous, especially when paired with an out-and-back. You'd think with all those turns they would have had to work to still have a turnaround.

    Remind me never to accept an invite for dessert at your grandmother's :)

  11. Way to represent for the Mizzou Tigers, at least.

    FWIW, I wish I could "leave time on the clock" the way you do.

  12. Amazing job at your race!
    95 turns? Crazy!

  13. Sorry u got a crap pie! I've been served that dish by a race or two! On the bright side, you now have a new work shirt in case you're up for a summer paving job!

    Can I please have your extra time for my legs? I needed it yesterday.

    Your toes gross me out! For repayment I'll be posting pics of the underside of my nail beds.

  14. Sounds like a great race - you did fantastic!

    That medal is so cool! and kind of surprising about the bible verses. I like it a lot!

    I love the driving honor system and small town feel. It sounds absolutely lovely.

    I'm not sure about your grandma's poop pies...

  15. Thans for the excellent race report. I was planning to run Fargo but I twisted my ankle while on a junk run last Tuesday. Cast and stick for 2 plus weeks! Thanks again for the report. I've linked 50 After 40 to my blog. Congrats on your time. Mike

  16. So, coming from Chris, who has run this 3 times before, he said this year, Fargo just got "too big for their britches". he said it's NEVER been like this before... I want to say more, but I'll write my own race report. Glad we got to meet up though!

  17. Great race report... sorry about the poop! Awesome time!

  18. Crazy about the race, 95 turns during the race is insane! Bummer about the crowding during the race, that makes it really difficult. And that is too bad about the finish line fiasco!

    All things considered, that is great that you still ran a 3:22:52!

  19. Yeah for your 11 th marathon. I can see why you were so upset with the half marathoners joining you. That is insane.
    Keep taking the pics. Love pics in posts too!

  20. I believe that this may be just another experience that challenges all runners. Like you said - cant run a PR every time. I think that you did outstanding considering the situation.

    Congrats on #11.

  21. - great summary of the event. Dead on about overlapping races and the chaos in the fargodome at the end. So much good about the race was wasted on the post-race. I know they will get that sorted next year and I would still recommend it.

  22. Great report, you hit it spot on. Beautiful city, great people but such a cluster at the end. Great race, nice job on the negative split!

  23. but when she cuts you a big ol' slice, suddenly you see she didn't fill the pie with apples ... she filled the pie with poop

    Great race report, you did a good job weighing the good with the bad.

    I never thought I'd see a medal with a bible verse on it!

  24. You've been posting some great times for your marathons lately, even if you feel like you left some out on the course for this one. It's incredibly frustrating to have the full/half join up, and I can't imagine it being like that for 10 miles!!! NOT a good idea.

  25. Congratulations on your 11th marathon! That is great! I am sorry that the race had issues and I hope they fix them before the next one.

  26. Well done and many congratulations on your 11th!
    Sorry about the frustration with the race we ran Vegas a few years ago, which had everyone run together for the FIRST 10, but I can imagine how it'd grind your gears for the LAST.
    PS. You could totally take the bison...

  27. The congestion at the end was a bit frustrating, but the race was great overall!! I'm glad you liked Fargo, its a great town, with lots of support for Marathon Day! I know several people on the race committee and they are already talking about changing the route next year to a permanent, easier to maneuver route. The flooding this year wasn't very cooperative in the entire race planning. I hope you come back and love the entire thing next year!

  28. I think you ran an excellent race considering all of the issues. You recently ran a SUPER race at Boston (a course that definitely beats the body up)

    I've heard others say, they don't use external excuses. I have a totally different opinion. First, humidity alone is a PR killer. Yes, some do PR on a humid day, but it still had an affect on their time. Then you add the insane half merge, the muddy conditions, and crazy number of turns, running a PR would be HARD. Did some PR, sure they did, but when you have been racing for a while, eventually most will get to a point where a PR is VERY hard to achieve, and will require the stars and moon to be in proper alignment to be able to run any better.

    I think you ran a super race. I don't look at the issues being excuses. I call it REALITY! If one is being real, those issues do have an effect. It's not an excuse, it's just reality. (I am a realist, a term many hate)

  29. Thank you for your comments about the race, we look forward to seeing you again in the near future! Congrats on the new medal as well, we're glad you enjoyed it.

    Thanks again!

    Matt L.

  30. Excellent recap. If it helps, the half marathoners (i.e. me and others I spoke to) weren't too keen on the marathoners joining up with us either. It was already congested, as you said, and to add marathoners (and speedy ones like yourself) to the mix made for a mess. And the post-race sucked. What a cluster. A few more signs and a few more people directing traffic (instead of the 20 they had handing out half medals when in reality only 2 were giving them out with the way the lines were set up) would have been much better.

    All that said, great job on your race. You did awesome!

  31. That Ginny is one smart girl...congratulations on another marathon in what appears to be a fantastic city! With all those turns (holy cow!!) you still pulled off a great time. And I actually really like that color, I think it'll look good on ya. :)


  32. I'm so proud of you, Daddy! =) You never cease to amaze me! =)

  33. That Ginny stole the words right out of my mouth. 3:22 is rock solid considering it was the same month as you PR.

    My favorite race Carlsbad does the EXACT same thing. Full starts an hour early and by the time it empties back with the halves, they are running VERY slowly. No judgment, but c'mon Race Director, how about separate lines.

  34. Some frustrations there maybe but overall a great run, well done! In my books that is a super time! I really like the medal. This looks like a great marathon to do.

  35. Impressive as always

    Are you a marathon manaic?

  36. Thanks for all these great race reports! I appreciate reading honest reviews (so I can choose my few marathons carefully, with some good insight).


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