Friday, April 8, 2011

Blast From The Past: 2009 Fargo Half Marathon

The 2009 Fargo Marathon is really the story of how I became a runner. Just an overview of the race itself doesn't give the detail that I feel is required for an event that was so pivotal in my life, so I've included the back story as well.

It was the first week of September in 2008 and I was at work. Kristi, one of my coworkers has stopped by my desk and we were chatting when the subject of biking had come up. I told her that I wanted to do the headwaters 100, but an upcoming wedding would conflict with the event. Hearing about that she replied that she's always wanted to do RAGBRAI. (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa)  After doing some research on RAGBRAI I thought it sounded really neat. Erin, Kristi and I eventually decided that we'd sign up and do it the following summer. After making the decision to do a week long bike tour I thought I would need to get in shape so I started to make a plan to spend more time at the gym and to lose some weight.  Thinking I'd need some variety in my workouts I thought I'd try running.  I'd never been a runner before and didn't have much interest in it other then thinking it would be great cross training and help out my biking.  The first few runs were tough, but I got through them.  I started to think that if I was going to put in all this effort and be in great shape maybe I'd try running a marathon.  The Fargo Marathon seemed as good as any and the date would work for me, so I made it my goal to run the full marathon in May 2009.

At the time I didn't really comprehend the decision I'd made or have any idea how much work it would take.  I started to do some research on training plans and strategies and eventually came across a local training class starting in January designed to get you ready for Fargo put on by the Red River Runners.  Deciding the class was my best option I showed up early for the informational meeting that was held at the YMCA downtown.  As I waited I started to talk with a few of the people around me. One lady told me flat out that it would be a bad idea to run a marathon so soon after taking up the sport and suggested I try for the half marathon. I was disappointed to hear this and angry with her and decided I would prove her wrong. To this day whenever I see her I get a little fired up remembering our first exchange, but I keep it to myself. Fortunately I met another runner that day, Tom.  While my goal was to prepare for and survive running a marathon, Tom's goal was to improve on his half marathon time.  He acknowledged the difficulty of what I was trying to do, but was much more encouraging towards me. The meeting got started and the director of the Fargo Marathon came out and told us the mundane details of the class and gave us some idea of what to expect and soon thereafter the meeting was over.

When the training plan was sent out to us I realized just how far we'd be running each week.  The first week called for a 7 mile run, it would be the first time I'd ever run that far. I also found out that I would be out of town for work on the day of our first group run.  I was a bit discouraged but determined to get the miles in.  Luckily the hotel we were staying at had a workout area. I thought I'd break up the 7 miles into more manageable chunks, and planned to run half before going into the plant for the day, and half afterward.  I was feeling good after getting the first half of the miles in so I opted to do the entire 7 miles.  The rest of the day I was excited about what I had done, even though I was stiff and sore as I worked that day.

The second week of the class was an 8 mile run leaving from the downtown Y, before the group headed out the trainers introduced themselves and gave us a rough idea of their pace they would be running. One of the trainers, Cassie,  had brightly colored hair and listed her pace as one of the slowest so I thought I would try to keep up with her.  The route took us into Moorhead and around MSU and then through Concordia before looping by the river and returning to the Y.  I had kept up with the group fairly well, chatting with Cassie until we had reached MSU but then I needed to walk a bit and fell behind.  I could still see the group up ahead as we neared Concordia, but with the quick turns I had soon lost site of them.  Feeling a bit dejected I started to walk through the campus.  I didn't have any idea what the route was at this point and considered just going back to the Y and figuring I'd do better the following week. As I start to head west again I was surprised to hear some people running. I had thought I was well behind everyone in the group.  As I took a few steps in their direction and one of them shouted to ask if I'm with the training group.  I jogged over and told them that I was with the group and had fallen behind and didn't know the route. The guy who had asked if I'm with the group introduced himself as Rick said that I could join them and we headed off together. As we ran we started talking, mostly about the usual stuff like what kind of job do you have, family, stuff like that. After telling Rick a little about myself we realized that I had just left the company he works for.  He told me about some of his experiences running, and what I would be able to expect as the training went on. I appreciated that he slowed to walk with me when I had trouble keeping a running pace. Eventually it came up that he had run from Grand Forks before running the marathon the previous year. I was impressed that someone with his ability would stick with me despite my struggling near the end of the run.  He just said that people don't sign up for the class to run alone.

As the weeks passed I progressed more and more as a runner.  Rick was kind enough to stick with me and share his wisdom on running. I was a little concerned about running the full marathon, but he said I'd be able to do it. Just before the training plan called for my long run mileage to peak Fargo had some major issues with flooding. The group runs were canceled for about 3 weeks while the entire city helped sandbag.  I had hoped that sandbagging would help keep me in shape, but with 3 weeks of minimal running I had regressed to the point that it would be very difficult to build back up in time for the marathon.  I knew the right choice was to run the half marathon, but I still took a long time to actually make that decision. I desperately wanted to prove the lady I had first met at the informational session wrong, and while running a half marathon is a great accomplishment it wasn't what I had set out to do. Eventually I couldn't deny the reality of the situation any more and decided that I would run the half marathon.

The day of the event Rick invited me to meet up with him before the race started.  Each year he brings his camper to the Fargodome parking lot and chills out away from the crowd while waiting for the race to begin.  With this being my first big event it was great getting away from all the excitement for a while and focusing on what I was about to do. The flood that had derailed my plans for a full marathon had also derailed the marathon's planned route.  With water still high on marathon day the route was changed.  The full marathon course was changed to be 2 loops of the half marathon route. This worked out well for us as both races also started at the same time. Rick was well aware of my tendency to start races too fast and offered to run the first mile with me. Shortly after we had crossed the starting line I looked over to him and asked about our pace and he replied by asking me what I thought it was.  I said I thought it was a little slow and he laughed telling me that we were a bit on the fast side.  I had started the run in my gray hoody, but was able to leave it with Erin after the first mile. The weather was perfect to run in but a bit cold for spectators. As I ran I would chat with other runners around me and a few times got to run with people I had trained with before our paces forced us to separate. I passed Erin, Steph, her boyfriend Jake and my mom on the course a few times and exchanged a few brief words and water bottles before dashing off again.  I had chosen to carry my own water rather then rely on the aid stations because I didn't have much experience with aid stations and I could drink at my own pace without worrying about where the next aid station would be. There was an opportunity to see Rick again on the course near the end if I was having a really good day, the last mile of the loop was head to head against the first mile and since Rick was doing 2 loops we should pass each other. As I made the turn and started to run head to head with the full marathoners I started to look for him and was a little disappointed I couldn't find him.  I figured he was having a good day and I wasn't quite fast enough to reach this location in time, but a minute or so later we passed and he shared some encouraging words with me. Shortly after seeing Rick I saw Cassie with her bright red hair running towards me ready to give me a high five. The last little bit of the race flew by, I was in great shape for running the half having gotten my training mileage up to about 18 miles before deciding not to run the full marathon.  Running into the parking lot of the dome and around the north end of it I felt like I was giving it everything I had, but after the final turn where you run down the ramp and to the finish line I found a gear that I didn't know I had.  Crossing the finish line I was a bit overwhelmed by what I had accomplished.  I received my medal for finishing and walked over to grab some food while starting to look for my family.  With all the noise in the dome I didn't hear them shouting to me when I had finished.  Heading back to where I parked I grabbed my bag with fresh clothes and found everyone as I returned to the dome.  After showering and changing I talked with everyone as I waited for Rick to finish the marathon.  His goal was 4:00 and he crossed the finish line in 3:59:22. I greeted him as he finished and we talked for a while about how the event had gone. I had a lot of fun that day, but even more fun in the months leading up to the event.  I knew that this was the start and not the end of my running journey.

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