“You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” — Steve Prefontaine
There’s as many reasons to run as the 12,000 people who showed up Saturday at the Fargodome for the 12th annual Fargo Marathon.
Many of them ran for a cause — there were hundreds and hundreds all running for charity and awareness — while others showed up to set personal bests. Some ran a new distance, pushing their personal limits to new boundaries, for the first time.
This one was personal for me. Just 5 weeks ago, I signed up — and told very few that I planned to run the full 26.2-mile distance in Fargo for the first time since 2011.
It was a race for redemption.
Last fall, days after turning 43, I ran a personal best at the St. George Marathon. Two more personal bests came earlier this year during long distance trail races.
But signing up for Fargo came down to one simple mission: erasing the memory of the Los Angeles Marathon, sandwiched between those two trail races, and my worst marathon experience.
Most runners often consider numbers, particularly the finish time, as the determining factor for success. That’s a big part of the equation for me, but my satisfaction also depends on the experience, or how a race feels in the moments (or hours) it takes to reach the finish.
Heading into Fargo, there were a few factors weighing in my favor: a really solid month of base mileage before the taper, success on the trails and no injuries during the winter or spring for the first time in 5 years. Still, with the LA debacle, I set realistic goals (an A goal and B goal based on finishing time) so I could track progress and determine training for New York City, now less than 6 months away.
There was one uncontrollable factor every runner faced: the heat.
In the week leading up to the race, the weather promised a warm start and a hot finish, especially for marathoners.
So I employed an ill-advised strategy — on purpose — that I’d never tried before. My plan was to put in as many miles before the temperature surged and hydrate frequently before hanging on for the march back to the dome. Even though the heat would make everyone suffer, I wanted as many miles behind me before fading.
The strategy could backfire since usually a negative split, running the second half faster than the first half, is usually the optimal strategy to running faster times. Still, I decided it was worth the experiment, especially since I tend to run relatively well in the heat.
My friend Rachel, a member of the Wild Hog Marathon committee in Grand Forks and one of the many runners down for the weekend’s events, snapped a few pictures along the course. (Runners looking for a great fall race should consider Wild Hog on Sept. 23-24, and use the discounts available through the Fargo Marathon virtual race bag or Inforum website.)
As I navigated the bike paths in Moorhead, a couple thoughts filled my mind.
Feeling strong through the most challenging part of the course, I told myself the course was flatter after mile 11 and the crowd support would be bigger in the neighborhoods ahead.
And a flashback to the 2011 Grandma’s Marathon renewed my strategy. It was there, at mile 9, that I wondered if my legs could sustain the pace. I went on to run my only negative split marathon, coming on the heels of 2 marathons in the previous month and just 12 seconds shy of my personal best at the time.
So I stuck with the plan.
Steve Prefontaine, perhaps the most quotable runner, once said:
“There is a breaking point in each race when you wonder if all the sacrifice is really worth it. You think ‘Why should I do this? I don’t have to run this hard.'”
I imagine Prefontaine, every time faced with the challenge of pushing his own limits, never backed off. The choice to take it easy, to coast, was never really a choice.
During Saturday’s marathon, there were times in which I really wanted more water stations. There were times when I wondered where all the other marathoners were on the course. Was I running that much slower than what my mile splits showed? Rather than expend mental energy thinking about it, I rationalized it by noting my distance was substantially longer than the mile markers along the course.
Just past the mile 24 marker, a motorist — waived through the intersection — accelerated and nearly hit me.
My focus, though, remained on avoiding cramps and making a final push to the Fargodome. Before the race, my hopes were set on running hard the last 2 miles and finish strong.
The Fargodome continues to be one of the great marathon finishing lines — a short trip down the ramp into the building allows runners to get a head of steam and make a final sprint in front of the screaming fans inside.
Personal stats from my phone showed that I had run nearly two-thirds of an extra mile and I did it at a faster pace than any previous marathon. The official chip time proved to be my fourth fastest marathon and strong enough for my highest finish ever. Just 15 minutes after crossing the finish line, the temperature reading was 75.
The time was more than 5 minutes faster than my B goal, and over 2 minutes faster than my A goal.
Sounds like a good start to a summer of running.