It seems the Fargo Marathon has upstaged itself.
With ideal racing weather — it was 47 degrees at the start and just an 8 mph breeze from the northeast — marathon morning promised perfect conditions for runners.
Lining up near the back of the marathon coral, runners appeared serious — but optimistic and energetic. Months of training had led to this one Saturday morning.
With ‘Eye of the Tiger’ ushering runners out of the Fargodome, we headed into the parking lot and spilled onto 19th Avenue North before taking a left onto University Drive. For the next several miles, we navigated through the peaceful neighborhoods of north Fargo under its stately canopy of trees, greeted by high fives from an Elvis at mile 5.
The miles continued to click by, and by mile 7 we made our way to the bike path along the Red River. To me, the key in Fargo is getting through the next 4 miles feeling strong — while the course is pretty flat, this stretch is deceptive as marathoners face several small inclines and declines. It’s hard to hold back here — it’s early enough in the race so legs feel fresh, but a too-aggressive approach will make the late miles that much more difficult.
After that, the miles through Moorhead brings Concordia College and Moorhead State (as I will always call it) into play, and great crowd support. Once back to the river, runners had one steep climb before making to it the Main Avenue bridge and mile 15.
The bike path to Lindenwood Park provides a quiet time for reflection, allowing runners to make those internal checks before navigating the historic stretches of south Fargo. While the weather proved to be excellent for the runners, it probably wasn’t ideal for spectators — but those who turned out gave runners a heroes welcome.
The downtown stretch on Broadway was sparse, but those who showed up cheered with smiles on their faces — exactly what runners need for that final push to the dome.
Personally, it was a tough race for me, with enough minor issues to make marathon No. 23 an internal battle. Still, it left me renewed and optimistic about the summer ahead.
As much as I love running marathons, the best part about Fargo for me is having a chance to hear other runners’ stories from the day. During the afternoon and evening, I met up with 4 different groups and their take-away was unanimous: this year’s race was fantastic.
Each course — the 10K, half marathon and marathon received rave reviews. The national anthems prior to the race were phenomenal. The volunteers were outstanding. The atmosphere inside the dome was the perfect cap to the weekend, and I don’t recall seeing so many happy runners after a race.
One of my favorite moments was watching a friend from Grand Forks cross the finish line to qualify for the Boston Marathon by more than 4 minutes.
It’s going to be a tough task for Fargo Marathon officials to top the 2017 version, but they’ll undoubtedly attempt to put on an even better race next year. Considering they’ve built a top-notch race from scratch, and refined it over the years, I wouldn’t put it past them.