Monday, May 11, 2009

Fargo Marathon

The real question, though, for me at the Fargo Marathon was:
How FAST Will You Go?

Yet, I kept my promise ...

Coach Bill's pre-race instructions: The object of the race is to get through it without putting your body through too much trauma or getting hurt. Roger that, Coach.

But the voice in my head was saying: It's been 3 years since you've run a sub-3:50 marathon and Coach thinks you're in shape to run a 3:35-3:40. Hell, let's GO FOR IT!!

Well, the only way I could do both was to run a smart race. My plan was to shoot for a 3:45 early on and play things by ear on the second half. This was the first time I'd done no runs further than 16 miles in training and a small part of me was worried that I might turn into a pumpkin at mile 20. But if I could keep the party going strong till then, I could possibly pick up the pace and race only the last few miles hard, which would not take much out of me and should allow me to race well at the RnR Half Iron Tri in 3 weeks. Basically, it all boiled down to good self-management.

To help with that, I brought along my trusty camera and one 10oz Fuel Belt bottle (also 5 gels and 2 salt caps). Carrying the extra weight would help slow me down initially and there were a couple places along the course where aid stations looked to be over 2 miles apart, which is further than I'd like being someone who doesn't usually slow down going through aid stations and drink a lot, unless it's really hot. I also figured that fumbling with a camera and taking pictures would help distract me from obsessing about my pace every mile so I could run primarily by feel and stay in better tune with my body. Sorry, Garmin, you can't come, just my sports watch.

And, well, obviously, I must have needed a LOT of distracting as I took nearly 70 pictures while running! But fortunately (for you), only 20-25% were decent. Still, I have plenty to share and so this race report will be heavy on pictures :-)

For those who didn't know, last month (April) the Fargo community was busy sandbagging and saving homes from the floodwaters of Red River. The race organizers did an extraordinary job to come up with a new double loop course in time for the fifth running of the race and they even got it certified to be a Boston qualifier too. Some people may not have been thrilled that the course was largely out and back, and out and back again, but I was just ecstatic that the race had not been canceled altogether!

And that the thoughtful organizers still staged the start and finish of the race at the nice, big warm Fargodome, a popular site for concerts and various sporting events. Thus, any wimpy tropical birds like me who are not used to 35-40 deg weather would not die of hypothermia before or after the race. I got there about an hour before the 8am race start, hit one of the many restrooms and then checked out the finish line area which was indoors. Nice!

Soon it was time to don the TWO garbage bags I brought with me for short term warmth and get my butt to the start line which was just outside. The announcer mentioned 10,000 runners being there, ~1500 full marathoners, the rest half marathoners and a whole bunch of relay folks. It was definitely one of the bigger races I'd done in a while and the extra huddling warmth was appreciated as TWO national anthems were sung, one for Canada followed by the U.S. one. Then with a 3-2-1 countdown the wheelchair racers were off and 5 minutes later so was everyone else.

At mile 2 (below), I actually still had my garbage bags on and was sneaking my arm outside to take pictures. Swish-swish, click, swish-swish, click. The course was still pretty crowded and I resisted temptations to do much surging or weaving around past slower folks who hadn't lined up properly at the start (there were pace signs but no official corrals). Surely, the crowd will thin out soon, won't it?

We got to the first of four "major" elevation changes at mile 2.5 on the course. These were where the road dipped down maybe 30' and back up to go underneath another cross road, nothing to cause much quad or hammy anguish but some caution was needed: Get out of the way, wheelchair racer coming through!

Man, these wheelchair folks really got up some speed going down those dips, a good reason not to have one's headphones turned up too loud (I don't run with them in races but a lot of people were wearing them here). Unbelievably, though, the guy above was in one of those regular wheelchairs you might see at a hospital, not one of those special racing ones. I gave him a big cheer as I went by him and many others on the upslope.

Then at mile 3 we went through what appeared to be downtown Fargo (Broadway St) and I'd finally warmed enough to ditch my bag lady garb. The road was also nice and wide so I could begin slowly making up for a little time lost running the first couple congested miles at around a 9-minute pace (not that I was paying much attention ;-).

Coming up on mile 4, I spied the 3:45 pace group ahead and ran with them for a bit but then decided against it. The pace leader was doing a great job of telling everyone what their pace was, what turns were coming up, what to look out for, etc., but I was trying to stay relaxed and NOT think much about all that. So I ran on a bit ahead to get away from them.

But there was no getting away from the FANTASTIC spectators. Like Boston, it seemed like the entire town, young and old, were either running in the race, working the race as volunteers or cheering for us from the sidelines. By mile 5, I'd given out more high-fives than I've ever given out in a race. How could I turn down kids all bundled up in that cold holding out their little gloved and mittened hands?

Nearing the mile 6, I saw a familiar figure (photo below). Unmistakably, it was the Lipstick Lady! A fellow 50-stater (and Marathon Maniac, which I am not officially, although I qualify) who I've seen at many of my races. How she runs with all that long loose hair I have no idea but she got her nickname when Runner's World did a profile on her mentioning her odd habit of stopping at mile 26 to apply a fresh coat of lipstick to make sure she looked good for her finish line photos.

But can you believe I've actually been mistaken for her??? Wait a minute ... (her vs. me at the Maine Marathon last October where I saw her last) ...

OK, I guess if you don't know us well, the only way to tell us apart for sure is to see who stops at mile 26 and who doesn't :-)

First 10K in 52:51 (8:29 avg pace).
A bit under a 3:45 finish (3:42) but the pace is feeling super easy as it should. Close enough.

So now we're heading back to the Fargodome and my only regret thus far was that I wasn't fast enough to pull out my camera and take pictures of some other interesting things I saw, but I know I'll be back again and would have a second chance. Here we are at mile 8.5 going through downtown Fargo again. This time I notice a theater sign welcoming runners, Dr. Dick (Beardsley?) and 50-state marathoners. And how about a little self portrait like last time I was here?

Yep, not much change for me the last 5 miles. Will I ever start sweating?

At mile 11, we ran past a big park which was probably the most scenic part of the course, actually, being that most of it was through residential and commercial areas. This park was where the fewest and mellowest spectators were located so we got a little break from all the cheering and high-fiving.

But not for long. Just around corner we're back in another neighborhood and there are more people outside their homes clapping and cheering, including a very friendly Buffalo Wild Wings mascot. Have I mentioned how wonderful the community support was for this race???

The halfway point was, of course, back at the Fargodome. There was a well marked course split and several volunteers yelling which way to go if you were finishing the half marathon or going for your second lap of the marathon. I went LEFT with a few others while most others went right. If anyone missed the course split, they must have been deaf and blind ... or dyslexic.

13.1 miles in 1:50:51 (8:28 cumulative pace).
Still on target for a 3:42 finish and feeling fresh as a flower.

So back out we go for a second lap. This time the miles flew by much faster with much fewer people on the course and the wind at our backs most of the way. Before I knew it I was at the southern turnaround point again, mile 19.5, but this time I remembered to pull out my camera to capture some of the unusual spectators I saw last time I was here: a dog watching us from the roof(!), a terminator robot, Batman and Robin? No, an alien!

And a couple blocks later, some other nice things that helped keep runners' spirits high, even if you had to make a pit stop, which fortunately I did not.

A little closer look at those signs on the trees and a few more shots of the wonderful spectators because, really, the amount of grassroots support at this race was I.N.C.R.E.D.I.B.L.E. (again, this was only the 5th running and the community had been dealing with all that terrible flooding just recently, plus it was freaking COLD outside!).

20 miles in 2:47:56 (8:24 cumulative pace).
Whoops, now I'm on track for a 3:40 marathon!

But before dropping the hammer, I first had to get a shot of some of these signs at mile 21 that had been on my mind since ~mile 7.5. Still can't figure out that Fish Cough one. Anyone know what that means?

OK, now it's time to put the camera away and get down to business!

Back through downtown, past the park and at mile 25, finally, I caught up to the 3:40 pace group. There were only few folks in this group and just as I ran by them I heard the pace leader say: Go ahead and leave nothing out on the course -- Oh no!!

Now I had to summon what final kick I had left too and began flying past people. OK, some were half marathon walkers but still ... We went by the course split again and I made sure to go to the RIGHT this time. Then just after we made what I thought was the final turn towards the Fargodome and finish line, I made my move past this gal in green, who was also running strong. Only it wasn't the final turn!

Nope, there were a couple more that I'd forgotten about -- Darn it!! Now I'd have to do my best hold her off. I dared not look back to see where she was. We made the remaining turns and then went down a little ramp into the stadium and saw the finish line straight ahead.

I sprinted hard imagining she was right on my heels as I heard the announcer's voice and crowds echoing. Just before crossing the timing mat, though, a different young lady buzzed past me -- Where the heck did she come from?!?

Oh well, no regrets. I'd run a race that I was very happy with and one that I knew Coach would be happy with too.

Total race time 3:38:05 (8:20 avg pace), 4/60 F45-49.
Last 10K in 50:10 (8:04 avg pace).
Last 1.21875 mi in 9:18 according to my watch (a 7:38 pace!).

So now a total of 52 marathons completed, 42 states done, 8 left in my 50 states marathon quest. And, I have renewed hope that a new marathon PR next year or the following year, when I'm 49 or 50, might be possible for me yet (Fargo is the one and only standalone marathon I'm running this year).

Thanks for reading!


Karen said...

Great job!

Lisa Slow-n-Steady said...

Well done and thanks for sharing the photos!!

Sunshine said...

Oh fun!! We ran Fargo a couple of years ago.. and delighted in your report of the great Fargo community making it again in spite of the floods.
Loved your pictures. Thanks!

Fe-lady said...

Congrats! That's really impressive-especially taking all those pix along the way too!

WADDLER26.2 said...

Great race report and photos. What an awesome time!! I loved the finish line. Thanks for sharing.

DaveP said...

If you define a cough as a voluntary / involuntary action for the purpose of expelling something from the respiratory / upper digestive pathways by contracting the thorax, fish do cough. However, they don't use air, they use water and it works in their mouths and gills. So, it is not really a human cough, but the basic premise is there.

Or so it seems from the little web research I did.

Brittany M. said...

STELLAR RACE!! Way to go Shirley!! You ran that perfectly!

Runner Leana said...

Shirley, nice job on your race!! All of that work with Coach Bill is definitely paying off. You are so speedy and so inspirational. No doubt you are in for some fantastic racing this season!!!

By the way, I envy your ability to run without the Garmin. I think mine is permanently attached.

Calyx Meredith said...

How great that the Fargo community rallied after the flooding and showed so much support! Glad you had a super race and I love all of your pictures. Are you really not an official marathon maniac??

ShirleyPerly said...

Thanks everyone for your kind comments!

DaveP: About that fish cough, so are you saying is it like a golf clap, i.e. a little subdued voluntary or involuntary motion that is similar to what most humans do when they cheer?

Calyx: Yes, I'm not officially a Marathon Maniac. I qualify but now that I'm into tris, compared to most of them, I think I'm too mild to be considered a maniac :-)

Maddy said...


What an awesome race!


And without your Garmin! Wow! Like Leana, I believe mine is permanently attached.

Missy said...

Great report! Sounds like Fargo really put on a great event. I can NOT believe that woman and all her hair. I'd go nuts.

Nice work and I don't think legs should ever see 20+ miles..except on race day;)

P.O.M. said...

Wow wow wow!
Very inspiring :)

sharon said...

Great race Shirley. I KNEW you could do it. You'll be awesome at the 1/2 iron in a few weeks.

Rural Girl said...

Holy cats, Shirley. That is wonderful! I have been so behind on reading blogs. But, I am thrilled I didn't miss this post. Truly inspirational! Thanks.

aron said...

AWESOME report and great strategy too!! CONGRATS :)

I will be keeping this report in the back of my mind :)

Vickie said...

Shirley, great job! What a great report and pictorial too. I'm so glad you reached your goal and then some! That Lipstick Lady--I've seen her here and I think at Crim! Wild! And what a cool finish line! Makes it so much easier for spectators to not only see but keep warm and dry too.

Petraruns said...

I LOVE this report - I love the JOY that bursts out of it. I ENVY the strategy and the time. Girl you nailed this one. This is why we run..

RoadBunner said...

Holy speediness, Shirley! AWESOME job!!!

And you take such great on-the-go photos, too! I love the dog on the roof. So glad you got a photo of that!

Kelly said...

You are so awesome!! I can only hope to run as fast as you some day


RBR said...

I think this is now one of my favorite marathon reports of yours. I can hear how much fun you were having and how strong you felt the whole time.

Speaking of time... HOLY COW!! What an awesome time! Congrats!

Bruce Stewart (ブルース・スチュワート) said...

A great and successful race. The use of the garbage bags was certainly a good idea. I have a nice new pair of running shoes at home, but have still not tried them out. Maybe some day.

jen said...

Congratulations. You are amazing. You are the reason people run marathons. Rock on.

Jade Lady said...

Sounds like such a great race - who would have thunk ND was the happening marathon place? Love that portopotty sign....and all the rest of the pics..

thx for sharing.

Gotta Run said...

So am I right that you have 8 more marathons until the move to Hawaii??

Your post wins for the most pictures along the route. Love the dog on the roof. Funny! All of it was great!!!

Thanks for taking us along!

jeanne said...

congratulations! well done!!! imagine what would happen if you were really racing!?!?! you rock!
love the photos, too!

MarathonChris said...

Congrats on a great race! Love the race report.

Rainmaker said...

Hilarious about the elevation gains. When I was looking at UND in North Dakota, I realized the only hills around were highway overpasses.

Nicely done on the race - congrats! And great write-up!

Formulaic said...


1 - your coach knows what he is doing. A nice race with reduced run training. He even knew what you were capable of.

2- I can't wait to see how your season picks up. You are so gonna rock ALL the IM's.

Marathon Maritza said...

Holy mackeral, I can't run that fast and I'm NOT even taking are such an inspiration, Shirley! Great job on the race, great time, fabulous race report!

peter said...

Awesome negative split. You put us to shame, Shirley Perley. Great job!

Stef said...

Wonderful report Shirley as usual! I chuckled that you were "fresh as a flower" halfway through. Your joy at doing this sport really shines through.

Can't wait to meet you in November.

nylisa said...

What a fun race report! That was extremely impressive. Great job, congrats!!

Brent Buckner said...

Great stuff. Your impressive base endurance shows through - and you look so happy in your pix all the way along!

Sara Cox Landolt said...

Nice job on your race! I loved reading the report & seeing your pictures. Thanks for taking us along!

Susan said...

Shirley, you "bag lady," you're awesome! :) What a great report AND a great race. What support, too! I can see how it was a joy to run Fargo. You showed those coldies what a tropical bird is made of!

Anonymous said...


zbsports said...

What a great marathhon I enjoy browsing the picture and the story. So cool.