Sometimes, my quest to run a marathon in all 50 states takes me to interesting and exotic places and makes people very jealous of my life. Sometimes, it takes me to Fargo, North Dakota. If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that this country can really surprise you, and some of the places you’d think would be the most boring are some of the most interesting and fun. I’m very happy to report that Fargo is one of those places.
I got to Fargo around 8:30 pm on Friday night and was met by my friend Halbert, who was in Fargo to finish his quest to reach Titanium status in the Marathon Maniacs. For those of you who don’t know, the Marathon Maniacs is a group I belong to, and it was formed by people who wanted to run many marathons in a short amount of time. In order to join the club, you have to qualify by running 3 marathons in 90 days or 2 marathons in 16 days. If you do that, you may enter at Bronze level, and you’ll have 1 star. In order to reach the Titanium level, which is 10 stars, you must run a marathon in 30 states over 365 days or 52 marathons over the course of 365 days in whatever states you want. Halbert was choosing the 30 states option, and Fargo would be his last race. In addition to the fact that Titanium is a huge accomplishment, I am actually partially responsible for Halbert joining the Maniacs; my friend Maricar and I met him on the course at the ½ Sauer ½ Kraut Marathon last June and quickly convinced him to join the club. Therefore, I have
ruined his life and bank account changed his life and obviously needed to be there to celebrate his accomplishment!
We got some food at Granite City Brewing Company and the headed over to the North Dakota State University dorms. It’s very difficult (and expensive!) to find hotel rooms in Fargo the weekend of the race, but I happened to find out that NDSU opens its dorms to runners since school is out for the summer. For only $110 total, you get a room for two nights with your linens and towels supplied, and you can check in any time on Friday and out any time on Sunday. It’s definitely not fancy, but it’s cheap and it’s a 5 minute walk to the starting line! You’re crazy to do the marathon and stay anywhere else, honestly. It’s awesome.
The race started kind of late on Saturday – 8:15! Weather forecasts indicated that it would be in the mid-80s and probably storming for most of the day. We briefly debated the merits of doing the early start so as to avoid some of the heat, but most of the time you do miss some of the experience doing the race that way, since many of the spectators and volunteers aren’t out yet. So we decided to start with everyone else since it didn’t really matter how long it took us to finish.
From pretty much right off the bat, the energy of Fargo was apparent. The city loves this race. Even in the first few miles, there were people out cheering on their lawns and entertainment out for the runners. Halbert and I came across some adorable elderly people square dancing in a parking lot to something that sounded like polka music. All the runners clapped as they ran by. Me and Halbert? We jumped in and danced with them.
The other runners laughed and cheered when they saw us, but no one else jumped in. This was very smart on their part, because old people take their square dancing very seriously, and apparently Halbert and I are terrible square dancers. There’s a whole routine and everything that I could not figure out for the life of me, and bless the dancers’ hearts, they tried to help, but I’m a lost cause. Nonetheless, from that moment on, I knew it was going to be a fantastic day. I also had “Final Countdown” by Europe in my head, which I chose to repeat over and over in honor of Halbert’s Titanium finish. The only problem was that the only words I knew were “IT’S THE FINAL COUNTDOWNNNNNN!” and then the notes that come after it. So obviously, no one found that annoying.
We ran through the downtown area in some of the early miles, and I was really surprised by how cute it was. Something about it reminded me of an old western town, even though it didn’t really look that way. The half marathoners, who had started an hour earlier than us, were streaming by in the opposite direction, and I’ve got to say – this is the way all races should be run. There was no competition for water stops, no super crowded streets, no issues with bumping into walkers the entire race. Race directors, please take note. Anyway, a few miles later, we saw some of the early starters as they came back into town while we headed out, and look who I found? A member of Team T-Rex, of course!
It was warm, but we were running at a very easy pace for me, so I felt comfortable. It was clear that many other runners were having a difficult time, though. We saw our friend Jennifer, who was dressed as Magnum, P.I. (mustache and all) on and out and back when she was around mile 10 or so. She had been aiming for a race around 4:30, but was struggling with the heat, so she said she was going to wait for us to catch up. I didn’t really believe her, because we were pretty far behind and not going particularly fast, but sure enough, we saw her at Mile 14 and she was absolutely thrilled to see us – obviously.
As we headed back into town, we were able to take in all the sights of Fargo – including, but not limited to: painted statues of bison, polka bands accompanied by real Norwegian trolls, and more amazing spectators.
Don’t believe how awesome the spectators were? Let me paint you a picture. As we were running through one of the neighborhoods in downtown Fargo, a woman comes jogging up to us holding a can of beer and says “Do you want a sip? I’ll jog next to you so you don’t have to stop!” And I said “Can we have the whole thing?” because I’m selfish like that. And of course, she said yes, and Jennifer and I were granted our mid-course beer, since Halbert doesn’t drink it. Hooray!
An additional example of the amazing Fargo spectators would be the world’s creepiest/best family ever, who literally stalked the runners on the course. It was amazing. I am fairly confident we saw them 9 times. Every time we saw them, they recognized us (to be fair, we were hard to miss) and said “We’re watching you.” And seriously, I don’t know how they got to each spot so quickly. We weren’t moving at the fastest pace ever, but it was still impressive. It really did feel like they were watching us, and at one point, they were even sitting right next to a band that was playing “I’ll Be Watching You.” COME ON.
At mile 23, we came across Elvis, who had to have been even hotter than we were, since he was wearing a super aggressive black pantsuit. The man had a sign that said “Danny Elvis – An Intimate Musical Experience.” I shit you not. It was intimate.
We were walking most of the way by this point, running for a about a minute every few minutes or so. I was having so much fun I couldn’t have cared less. The absolute best part of the entire race, and possibly my life, occurred at mile 24 as we passed a water stop. They were playing music, and “The Cupid Shuffle” happened to come on as we were passing through. If you think we did anything other than stop in the middle of the road and immediately start doing the Cupid Shuffle, then you don’t know me at all. We danced throughout the whole song, much to the amusement of the volunteers and the disbelief of the first time marathoners around us, who were both shocked and angry that we had that much energy left at this point in the race. But come on, that song is catchy as hell, and it’s not like we were setting any speed records at that point. We were having so much fun that we forgot to take a picture of it. Sorry I’m not sorry.
At mile 25, Halbert was struggling but wanted to attempt a T-Rex, so we tried to document the occasion with a photo. Unfortunately, the T-Rex was not completed due to the super oppressive heat and humidity, but he gave it a good effort.
The finish was one of my favorites so far – we ran straight into the Fargo Dome (Fargodome?) and finished in the middle of the stadium. The three of us held hands crossing the finish line, and I was so proud of Halbert and his huge accomplishment. Around mile 26, he said that he’s always been one of those people who finished 98% of a task, but not the whole thing. Well, he finished this one in style and inspired a ton of people along the way. I couldn’t be prouder!
After the race, I really felt awesome. I felt like I hadn’t run at all, and I could have kept going for a long time! We finished the race in 5:40, which was significant to me because last year I ran a lot of marathons at that pace and finished in pain and exhausted. Lately, it’s been feeling like a walk in the park. I know my training is paying off, and that’s exciting! It’s nice to enjoy every second of a race again.
After the race, we continued the shenanigans and met up with a bunch of Maniacs at a local pizza place. It was literally ½ a mile from the dorms we were staying in, but Halbert and I still managed to get lost and ended up downtown, obviously. We made it eventually and had a blast rehashing the race and making plans for future events with everyone else.
After dinner, I wanted to try and find a small stuffed bison in honor of the time we spent at North Dakota State University, since their mascot is the bison. We ended up at Scheels, which is the sporting goods store that sponsors the Fargo Marathon. It is also the most amazing store I have ever set foot in. In addition to being literally the biggest sporting goods store I have ever seen, it also has a REAL FERRIS WHEEL inside. AND YOU CAN RIDE IT. If you’re wearing a marathon medal, you can apparently ride it for free. As if that wasn’t enough, they have a full café in there that makes their own fudge! EVEN SUGAR FREE FUDGE! It’s seriously amazing. I don’t know if every Scheels has such amazing luxuries, so I can’t speak for those, but you must visit the Fargo Scheels if you are ever in town. I promise, you will not be disappointed.
So basically, Fargo is amazing. The city is really cool and the spectators are amazing and supportive. The race is top notch. There was even plenty of food, including hot pizza, and beer left at the finish when we were done. The swag is great, and the medal is cool too! You really can’t go wrong doing this race. In fact, as much as I missed Amanda and Kate, I’m kind of glad they didn’t go this year because that means I get to go back next year and do it again! I can’t recommend this race enough. DO IT.