Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fargo Marathon 2007 Race Report

Warning: This is long and contains a significant amount of extraneous information. I can’t help it. I work for the government which means that I don’t know how to be concise (or answer questions directly). If you just want the raw facts, feel free to skim and skip ahead as necessary. If you enjoy race reports in novel form, hang on…

I completed four marathons (Seattle, Brookings, Montana and Mt. Rushmore) prior to Fargo, all of them between November of 2005 and October of 2006, so my marathoning career has been short but busy. I ran Seattle on sub-par training with the goal of simply surviving and was ecstatic to finish in 3:46:14. For Brookings, I dove into a Pfitz 18/55 plan and took nearly 17 minutes off of my time with a 3:29:40. I attempted, and ultimately failed, to better that time at Montana where I underestimated the toll a long downhill would take on me and then begin suffering from low blood sugar during the last 4 miles. I was going for a 3:25 and drunkenly stumbled to a 3:30:15, unable to even comprehend how close I was to a PR and push for it at the end. Mt. Rushmore came only three weeks later and was a scenic, enjoy myself kind of race where I didn’t push it at all, which was good given the hills and the fact I wasn’t fully recovered from Montana. I casually cruised in with a 3:47:46. Recent PRs in the 5K (20:16) and 10K (41:15) suggested I was capable of a marathon in the 3:13 to 3:17 range. Not willing to put so much trust in race predictors and not wanting to bite off too much, I settled on a goal pace of 3:20, which would be a PR of nearly 10 minutes and bring me within 10 minutes of the magical 3:10 BQ time.

The city of Fargo is probably best known for the 1996 movie of the same name despite the fact that only the opening scene actually takes place in Fargo (most of it takes place in Brainerd, MN) and none of the movie was filmed in or near Fargo. Regardless, it was a good movie and earned Francis McDormand a best actress Oscar for her role as Sheriff Marge Gunderson. But I digress….I decided on the Fargo marathon as my goal race because it’s billed as being flat and fast, has received good ratings on Marathon Guide, and could easily be tied in with a family vacation. My grandma and uncle live 100 miles away in Minnesota and my dad suggested we go visit them sometime this spring (he flew in from Oregon). I have officially reached the point of marathoning madness where family trips are carefully planned around marathons. Another factor that motivated me to register for Fargo was the fact that they have a Clydesdale division. At 6’3”, 210 lbs. I resemble a football player more than a marathoner and I’ve come to think that I’m relatively fast for my size but had never had the opportunity to test that theory by competing directly against other big guys. When I looked at the Clydesdale results from last year’s race, I realized that I was a contender for the crown and that sealed the deal.

As I mentioned, I used the Pfitz 18/55 plan for Brookings with good results. I used a 12/55 plan for Montana with not so good results, but I attribute that more to my own marathoning stupidity than to the plan itself. I was convinced that if I put in more miles and maybe dropped a few pounds (I weighed 220 when I ran Montana), I would be able to run a 3:20, or at least set a new PR. So, after Mt. Rushmore I began building my mileage to 60 mpw, nearly all of them slow, easy miles (8:30-9:00 per mile for me). In January, I started a Pfitz 18/70 plan and followed it almost precisely except for a few shifted workouts to make room for a local race and an extra rest day during taper to nurse a sore hip. I actually topped out at 72 miles and put in six runs of 20+ miles (the longest being 22). This was by far the most mileage I’ve ever put in as I averaged about 63 mpw for the year leading up to Fargo, including the three weeks of taper. More importantly, I felt stronger than ever for most of the training period. I knew I was ready for Fargo when I ran a tune-up 10K three weeks out and dropped my PR by almost a minute and a half to 41:15. I also dropped 10 lbs., fewer than I would have liked, but I discovered that it’s not as easy to lose weight while running 60+ mpw as one might think (i.e. the more I run, the more I eat).

So, by now you’re asking if I’m ever going to get to the point and talk about the race. Yes, I am. But not yet. I loaded up our Durango Thursday night so that we could leave first thing Friday morning (I suck to travel with and I know it, but damn it, if you’re not gonna make good time, what’s the point of going?). We decided to drive to Fargo for a couple of reasons. First, the cost of flying a family of four is prohibitive. Of course, so is paying $3.23 a gallon for gas but by the time the price hike began it was too late to change strategies. Second, it’s likely quicker for us to drive to Fargo than to fly there from Rapid City (our closest airport) once you factor in connections and layovers. Fargo is about an 8 hour drive from our house in western South Dakota, which is a long damn ways, especially with a 3 year old and 2 year old in the back seat. All I can say is, whoever invented portable DVD players is a saint and I would gladly die for them, or at least give them a kidney if they needed one. So, after dropping our two hounds off at the “doggie hotel” and ensuring we were well stocked with “The Wiggles” and “Go, Diego, Go!” DVDs, we were off.

Being the obsessive marathoner that I am, I had made reservations at the Candlewood Inn, just down the street from the start/finish line at the Fargo Dome, months ago. The Candlewood was doubly convenient because it’s also right next to the airport, so my dad could get there easily (his flight arrived a few hours before we did). My wife hates driving around in unfamiliar cities. I call it exploring….randomly wandering around a new city with no real idea of where you are or where you’re going is one of the best ways to get to know a place. She calls it being lost and insists we stop for directions. Tensions rise and arguments ensue. For the record, we ALWAYS end up reaching our destination eventually. In any case, the close location of our hotel alleviated many of these concerns.

Upon arriving in Fargo, we met up with my dad, checked into our room, and walked over to the Fargo Dome to pick up my race packet. It was a sultry 86 degrees and sunny, not exactly prime marathoning weather, but the forecast called for a cold front to move through that night, bringing much cooler temps. The expo was impressive, more so than I had expected it to be. The race shirt was nice too...a quarter zip, long sleeve technical shirt with the race logo on the breast. After checking out the expo, we returned to the hotel to relax a for awhile and then ventured out into Fargo (no, I did NOT get lost) to eat at Johnny Carino's (like Olive Garden but different name) and to hit up a grocery store for some instant oatmeal, bagels and a banana for breakfast. After that, it was back to the hotel where we crashed out at the extravagant hour of 9:00, which was actually 8:00 to us since we had lost an hour going from Mountain to Central time.

I was awoken at 11:30 by a blast furnace next to me, which turned out to be my son sporting a 104 degree temperature. If you follow the dailies, you know that he's had a fever off and on since Tuesday. Well, after a full day's respite, it returned but after a dose of ibuprofen he was soon asleep again and I found myself sprawled out on the floor instead....much cooler and less germy down there. I slept remarkably well, the best I've ever slept before a race and was actually awoken my my alarm at 5:15. I quickly got dressed, ate some oatmeal and a banana and started in on a blueberry bagel. With one bite left of the bagel I noticed some blue spots that most definitely not blueberries....great, nothing like a moldy bagel to fuel a marathon. I chugged at least three 20 oz. bottle of water too and then proceeded to nervously pace the halls of the hotel until it was time to head to the Fargo Dome for the start. My dad walked over with me (my wife and kids were still asleep) and as we left the hotel we walked outside into temps in the high 30s and a steady 15-20 mph breeze. Well, the cold front had definitely arrived....At the start line I hit the portapotties two more times....in a great move by the organizers, there were a ton of em and I never had to wait to use one. I met up with the 3:20 pace group, where I also met fellow forumite elisaj (sorry we didn't catch each other after the race, we needed to get movin to check out of our hotel and hit the road to my grandma's place). After hearing both the Canadian and American national anthems and a flyover the the life flight helicopter (hope I don't need THAT today...), we were off. This report is already gargantuan and I honestly don't remember much of the course....this was the most focused I've ever been on staying on pace and running loose. So, here are my splits and what I can remember from the course.

1 - 7:35, Took awhile to weave through the masses and get tucked in with the pace group but the pace feels amazingly easy. I have to pee again already...
2 - 7:38, Perfect
3 - 7:32, Just after the 2 mile marker I hit a portapottie and then quickened the pace to catch up with the pace group again
4 - 7:14, Finally catch the group and they're running fast....no wonder it took so long.
5 - 7:22, Still a little fast, the pacer tells us to take it easy, take gel #1
6 - 7:40, Better
7 - 7:35, Groovin
8 - 7:42, I am actually ahead of the group after the mile 7 water stop...apparently they are slowing to get back on pace. I decide to run alone for awhile.
9 - 7:41, Still ahead of the group
10 - 7:59, We are moving back north now so we have some headwind, decide I'm better off with the pack.
11 - 7:43, Back in the pack, gel #2 down the hatch. I also lose my very effective Geetah Straw at the water stop.
12 - 7:49, The packs moving a little slow, but I don't want to charge ahead again. I put my faith in the pacer.
13 - 7:46
13.1 - 1:40:18, 18 seconds too slow
14 - 7:31, Picking up the pace, somewhere here we turn a corner and a gust of wind strong enough to snap the pacers sign off the stick hits us, he runs back to get it.
15 - 7:30, Pacer is still retrieving sign
16+17 - 15:27, I miss the 16 mile marker....the pacer rejoins us and asks me how I'm feeling. I lie and say "good"....I'm actually starting to feel like I'm laboring more to maintain pace.
18 - 7:33, We're in Moorhead, MN now.
19 - 7:28, Not sure if I can keep this up, it really feels like I'm laboring.
20 - 7:38, Right on pace, we're back in Fargo. No wall at mile 20 that I saw, but I know that the fade is coming sometime soon.
21 - 7:37, Still waiting for fade...
22 - 7:36, Okay, maybe the fade is coming next mile...
23 - 7:25, I discover that it feels better if I push the pace more. Myself, the pacer and a few others break from the large pack that has remained relatively intact until now and push forward.
24 - 7:24, Apparently somebody forgot to put up The Wall.
25 - 7:22, Okay, I know I'm going to make it now. The pacer tells me and a few others to push forward while he drops back to catch the rest of the group. I look at the pink wrist band on my right arm that I am wearing in support of my mother, who recently underwent a double mastectomy to remove breast cancer that was discovered last month, and bear down for the final 1.2.
26.2 - 9:03, Back past the start line, around the Fargo Dome, down the service entrance and the world is suddenly pitch black as we enter the tunnel. All I can see ahead are red numbers ticking down the time. As I cross the mat I try to throw my arms up in triumph but it probably looks a lot less triumphant than I intended. I don't care. I'm done.

Gun Time - 3:19:15
Chip Time - 3:18:53

After finishing I was almost in disbelief of what happened. I had just set a new PR by almost 11 minutes and run a 1:26 negative split, my first ever in a marathon. I never hit the wall, I never faded and actually surged toward the finish. The 60-70 mile weeks in the frigid South Dakota winter had actually paid off. The weather on race day turned out to be nearly perfect. I was concerned about the north winds because the couse took us straight south first before a long northerly return straight into the wind. But, the course was very well sheltered for the most part and running in the pack certainly helped for the windy sections. I think one of the keys for me was running with the pace group.... I seriously doubt that I could have maintained pace running solo. During the last 10K, I tucked in with the pacer and a couple of other guys and gals (one of which ran a sub-3:20 in her marathon debut) and just hung on for the ride. And what a great one it was....

Before I finish, and believe me I'm finally almost there, I've got to give a big thanks to my X-Squad teammates for all of the support and to this forum in general for the great advice I've received. GO X-SQUAD!!!

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