Saturday, May 31, 2014

Med City Marathon Recap

Marathon morning came abruptly at 4:45 AM. With the time change, this felt like 5:45, and I actually sprang out of bed to get ready. Despite feeling blah-ish (technical term) the prior few days about running another marathon, I had a change of heart race morning. I was ready to go.

Michael and I wanted to be at the shuttle pick-up about as early as possible, since we didn't know how crowded the parking would be or how fast the shuttles would run. It turned out there was no reason to worry. We got the second spot in the closest parking garage and got on the second shuttle. We waited about ten minutes before departing for the eight mile journey to Byron and the start line.

Assembling all the shuttles ahead of time was brilliant! Though I do feel bad for the drivers at the end of the line.
The drive wasn't long at all, and we walked right up to the packet pick-up table. We had plenty of time to use the bathroom and eat some of the pre-race food provided. This was our third race as Maniacs but our first pre-race picture. I can't find it was posted anywhere (is there a Maniac secret to this? Fill me in!), but we both felt like cool kids being in the group. The announcers were from a radio station (I'm pretty sure), so they did great at working the crowd and made a big deal of the group photo.

We had a great time chatting in the starting chute. One woman recognized the Fargo jacket I had been wearing pre-race and came to tell us she was using Med City as her second race to qualify. Awesome! I love how people are excited to join. Another guy came to ask how to qualify, and we were able to give him the good news that he already had, which seemed to make his day.

I can't recommend the Marathon Maniacs enough. As a relatively shy person, wearing a yellow jersey to races removes all the awkwardness of meeting people. We snapped our own photo (made easier because we could ask a Half Fanatic!) and were off.


The first eight miles of the race took us from Byron back to Rochester. Quite a few people came out to cheer at this point, which was a nice surprise. The rolling hills, however, were not. We need to learn to not ask locals about hills - they said there were none-, since we have none in Michigan. Flat to pretty much anyone else is mountains to us. 

Despite this, we kept up a sub-12 pace, and the miles seemed to be flying by. The farmland was super scenic, especially in the early morning light.

When we hit Rochester, we were directed onto a series of multi-use paths throughout the city. I'm so jealous of the city's residents. I love the rail trail by my aparyment, but it can get very tiring to see the same stuff every run. I doubt people in Rochester ever get bored, they have so many choices!

Aid stations were spaced every two miles, and just as we were about through the first one in Rochester proper, one of the volunteers mumbled something about donuts. We whipped right back around. After futilely hoping the last two marathons, our donut prayers were finally answered.

And the answer was delicious.
We spent the majority of the race on these paths. Once again, I was a bad blogger and didn't take a ton of pictures. The race was super pretty throughout, but there were no major sites to capture. Just imagine the below picture for about 12 miles, and it's a good approximation of that part of the course.

This was also the point at which we picked up a man we called our BFF. Our BFF wasn't very socially perceptive and would suck us into conversation during our walk breaks and not pick up cues we wanted to start running again. You know, subtle things, like, We're going to start running now. He told us about everything under the sun. At one point he even booked it to catch up with us to tell us a race name he had just remembered.

He seemed like a lonely old guy, and I feel bad for poking fun at him, but it was frustrating that he wouldn't let us stick to our own race plan. We managed to get away from him on a twisty forest path and didn't see him until the finish. At which point we watched him take an empty box and cram it full of food. Got to give him props for that.

Miles 8 through 20
The course did get extremely lonely after the half split off at mile 12. This is also where the heat started to really affect us and slow our pace. The second 13.1 had almost no shade, and I felt like my head was baking in the sun. We had put on sunscreen, and I somehow didn't burn, so I think it was really more a combination of prolonged exposure and increasing dehydration. I'm really surprised (but pleased) neither of us ended up with heat exhaustion.

This was most likely due to the race taking awesome precautions for the heat. Every aid station starting at mile 10 had ice. I noted EMTs specifically posted at all aid stations beginning at mile 14. There were also a few EMTs on bikes and some in a cart to patrol the less accessible parts of the course between stations. The aid volunteers did a great job making sure we got everything we needed and encouraged us to take more. No side-eye for two cups of water here. At some points I was even juggling five cups of fluid.

The last six miles of the marathon were absolutely diabolical. At the 20 mile mark, the 20 milers got to finish. Crossing a line at this point with a 10K to go was pretty demoralizing. To add insult to injury, the course quickly took us within a stone's throw of our finish line before leading us away for a final loop. We were treated to nice views of downtown Rochester at this point, at least.

If I had to guess, this part of the course had the least amount of shade (none), and we were both struggling. Around mile 22 my foot started to ache with what I assumed was a cramp. I tried to stretch it, but it was in such a weird spot, I couldn't turn my foot enough in my shoe to get at it. I managed to get close to relief once, but my quad had no strength to hold the position I needed for more than a second. (I realized after the race it was actually tendonitis, but my magical chiropractor nipped it in the bud, and it now feels 100%!)

I was close to tears at one point and probably would've started just yelling like a caveman as I ran if I had been alone. Instead I just whined to Michael every few steps about how much it hurt. Somehow, this did not help at all.

If it wasn't already obvious, there was a lot of walking involved at this point. We were both so overheated that keeping our heart rates down was essential to remaining somewhat comfortable. This is when we met The Bitch. She was an older, unassuming woman who came trotting up behind us and yelled PICK UP THE PACE, MANIACS! 

I thought this was incredibly rude to say - it definitely was not in an encouraging manner-, especially at mile 24 of a marathon on a very hot day. You have no idea how the other person is feeling, so to belittle them is just about the worst thing to do. Who knows why they are walking? We assumed this would be a one-off comment and tried to ignore her, but after one or two more screeches went unanswered, she pulled up beside us to ask DON'T YOU KNOW HOW TO TALK?

I responded that we were feeling tired. Apparently that was not okay, because EVERYONE'S TIRED. YOU NEED TO HAVE FUN. 

We were blown away by how rude she was, and, if I had any energy to spare, I would've had a few choice words for her. It helped that some finishers cheering us from a spot of shade scoffed and shook their heads at her. I'm glad someone else was just as stunned.

Michael and I did our best to forget about it when Mile 25 finally came up on us.


The torture was not yet over. We once again went within sight of the finish line before having to jog around the Mayo Clinic to come at the line from the other direction. I swear this measured extra long, but we finally crossed! The same announcer was there and told the crowd about us running Fargo two weeks prior. I loved how the race really embraced Maniacs, even though there weren't that many of us. 

Finish Time: 5:55:33

The food at the finish was sponsored by Costco, so we had tons of options to choose from. Chowing down on apples and caramel was definitely a nice treat. They were in the process of condensing the finish chute, so we did have to ask other runners where bag pick-up was, but we managed in the end. They also still had women's small shirts left, even that late. I was pleased as punch to not get a bag to wear.

We did have to ask where the parking garage was. We knew it was close but not which way to go. I guess we looked in pretty bad shape, because the beer tent people we asked basically asked if we needed to go to the med tent. We were fine, just a bit turned around!

Overall, I loved this race! I'm so glad we picked it for Minnesota. If it had been 20 degrees cooler, the course would have been even more amazing, but the organizers did a great job adapting to the heat. People couldn't believe we did something that wasn't Grandma's, but I loved the whole experience.

Even if my hair didn't.

You Must Be Running Grandma's! - Minnesota Recap

After the song and dance two weeks ago that resulted from trying to explain to people why I wanted to go to North Dakota, I expected our trip to Minnesota to be met with a little less surprise. Unfortunately, this was not the case. When I started telling runners I would be going to Minnesota for a marathon, everyone to a person immediately responded, "Great! I've heard Grandma's is a great race!"


I was then forced to explain I would be running the Med City Marathon in a city called Rochester. I then had to explain this was a small race where the Mayo Clinic is.
That poor stick man is probably trying to run away to Grandma's.
Despite the odd comments, I was pumped for this trip. I would get to see a whole new state! Our day started bright and early Saturday for the 9 hour drive to Rochester. I was dreading the first half of the drive, as it pretty much matched the route I've taken countless times to see extended family in Illinois. I've just seen that route so much it makes me want to puke. Plus the Indiana-Illinois stretch sucks major butt.
These signs haunt my dreams.
We planned our first stop at a breakfast spot in Elgin, IL, called the Baker Hill Pancake House. We were ravenous at this point, so we got a little nervous when the parking lot was full and piles of people were waiting outside. 

Fortunately, since we were just two instead of a large group, we only waited a few minutes. We ordered two eggs a piece but each received four. This ended up being a good thing, since we polished them off. At one point Michael thought I hadn't gotten my hash browns because I had inhaled them so fast. Classic.

We finished off the last of the bad driving, though it seemed to drag on forever. No wonder I thought the drive to the Wisconsin Dells was painful when I was a kid. It was just as painful as an adult.

Our next planned stop was the Henry Vilas Zoo in downtown Madison. I asked my friend, who grew up near Madison, about the zoo, and she gave it a thumbs up, though she admitted she hadn't been since she was little.

I was so excited to see another cute, small zoo, but unfortunately the Vilas Zoo did not live up to my expectations. It was packed with people, without the space or infrastructure to support them. Both Michael and I felt so bad for the animals. All the indoor enclosures were crowded with yelling people and painfully loud. I think I would go insane if forced to live there. We didn't even get to see the red pandas, because they were in the even more crowded Children's Zoo, and neither of us were brave enough to try.

The capybara was done.
We did get to take a great picture that shows off my t-rex arms. 


We probably spent less than an hour at the zoo. There weren't very many animals, and I really don't like being in crowded spaces. I've yet to find a good way to describe this, but it feels like a claustrophobia with people. (But not agoraphobia...I don't mind being in public.)

After dodging traffic to get back to our car, we took off for the final leg of the drive. Thankfully, post-Madison Wisconsin and Minnesota were clear sailing. Minnesota even had a 70 mph speed limit like a civilized state. The drive was extremely scenic, with bluffs and farmland highlighting the way. There were also tons of hills, and we started to doubt the race organizers' claim that the course was mostly flat.

Finally, after many long hours of car time, we made it to Rochester. Our hotel was right on the edge of town, called the Red Carpet Inn. While not super luxurious, we did get three nights for $150 on a holiday weekend. We did get a little nervous when some people living in the apartments across the parking lot were grilling by the hotel, but everything was fine.

Michael and I popped across town to get some Panera bagels for the next morning and to grab dinner at Whistle Binkies Olde World Pub. This was a charming bar, though our waitress definitely gave us a strange look for not ordering drinks and just getting some food. I didn't care because I was too busy shoveling the best stew I've ever had into my face.

With that, it was time for bed. You can read about the actual marathon here.


After grinding out the marathon in hot hot hot weather, we collected ourselves and headed back to the hotel. I proceeded to take the best shower ever followed by an epic three hour nap in air conditioning. I felt amazing and ready to destroy some more food when I woke up. 

Michael and I drove back to downtown Rochester for dinner at the Canadian Honker. I have to give this restaurant props for somehow making Canadian geese cute. Normally I have a hate/fear relationship with them. They congregate all over the place at MSU along the river. I have been hissed at so many times when out running that I will now change my route if I see any.

I decided to treat myself to margarita. It was super delicious, but I can't handle my liquor at all and was still amazingly dehydrated, so I hadn't had much of it when the food came out. Our waitress got really worried the bar had made it wrong and I just didn't want to complain, so I had to sheepishly explain that it wasn't the drink, it was me. Lesson learned.

The next stop obviously had to be ice cream. Michael wanted to stop at a froyo chain, but I convinced him to try a Mom and Pop place called Flapdoodles. Not only was their homemade ice cream delicious (salted caramel, what up!), their whole ambiance was so fun. They really embraced the "flapdoodle" theme, putting up zany quotes on walls and on the tables.

Their signature dish, the Flapdoodle, was a bowl of ice cream with the cone on type.

Yummy, yummy flapdoodle.
After stuffing ourselves, Michael and I had hoped to relax with some hockey back at the hotel. Of course, NBC Sports Network was one of the few channels we didn't get. We ended up watching the end of Shrek 2 instead. I forgot how great that movie is. It probably is really weird, but the climax of Shrek 2 is one of my favorite movie endings.

The next day, Memorial Day, was the one I was most looking forward to. Our first stop was the beach at Hok-Si-La Park in Lake City. The 45 minute drive through the country was beautiful, and we found the beach completely deserted. It was fairly rocky, as opposed to the sandy beaches Michigan has spoiled us with, but there was enough space to spread out on. (No picture because I didn't want to get sand in my phone or camera.)

The water was freezing and, on my attempt to at least wade to my hips, I was forced to stop at my knees. Even the drunk bros in a sailboat off the beach only jumped in once, which was followed by lots of less-than-manly screeching. 

I enjoyed the simple relaxation time, as it's something I rarely do on vacation. I finished my mystery novel (Dying on the Vine by Aaron Elkins) and broke in my new swimsuit. We packed it up when, once again, we were hungry. Sensing a theme here?

Michael loves seafood, so we headed to Port 104 to try their signature walleye. I was craving some fresh veggies after all the junk we had been eating, and my chicken club wrap was fantastic. Michael also approved their walleye fingers.

Satisfied yet again, we hopped in the car for a short drive to Wabasha to visit the National Eagle Center. I found this at the last minute, and I'm so glad we went!


One of the top FAQ's on their website was, Why is the National Eagle Center in Wabasha? Apparently when the bald eagle population was severely depleted because of DDT, Wabasha was one of the very few places where researchers could be virtually guaranteed eagle sightings. The Mississippi and Chippewa Rivers converge in Wabasha, preventing ice from forming, so some eagles stay year round.

The highlight of the Eagle Center is the live eagle presentation. The Center houses several injured eagles that can't be treated well enough for them to be returned to the wild. The worker did a great job with her presentation, and it was awesome to see such a massive bird up close. We even got to watch it chow down on some fish.

The most American way to celebrate Memorial Day.
They also have a viewing area where you can see all the Center's birds. We headed there after the presentation to see the eagle clean itself after eating. I was surprised to learn how fastidious eagles are. They can shoot their poop up to six feet out, in order to keep their nests cleaned. (We were told we would share this fact with ten people...given my blog readership, I should probably go tell about eight more.)


Michael and I also enjoyed a solid hour touring the exhibits. They were all unique and interactive. There were several that allowed you to experience "eagle vision," as well as a life size eagle nest to sit in. The hour drive back to the hotel was totally worth this unique experience.

My Minnesota experience may not have been the stereotypical one of lakes and backwoods, but deserted beaches and bald eagles were more than I eve could have asked for.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Med City Marathon Rating

Race: Med City Marathon
Date: May 25, 2014
Location: Rochester, MN
Year Running: 19th
Registration: $70 

Race Information
Size: 320 full, 865 half, 106 relay
Course Limit: 6.5 hours
Min. - Max. Elevation: 1180 - 1260 ft
Min. - Max Temperature: 47 - 69
Charity Supported: 501(c)3

Airports: There is an airport in Rochester (but flights are insanely expensive). MSP is 1.5 hours away, and I believe there is also a shuttle that runs between the cities.
Rental car: Might not be needed. Everything race-related is downtown, and there were a few hotels within walking distance. Doing any sight-seeing would be hard, but it seemed possible to go without in order to stay on budget. (Keep in mind hotels a few miles from downtown were significantly cheaper, so getting a car might actually be better in the long run.)
Host hotel: None. 

Communications: Good, there were a few emails sent out the week prior the race. All the relevant information was in a well-organized PDF, and the RD clearly communicated ongoing changes in the parking situation. (Apparently the city thought this would be a perfect weekend to close the largest parking garage for cleaning.)
Expo: At the Mayo Civic Center Exhibit Hall downtown. We weren't able to go because we were traveling.
Other Activities: Pre-race 5K with free beer following. Again, we missed this because of travel.

Race Day
Parking: Several large parking garages, as well as some street parking. We arrived as the first shuttle was leaving and got the second spot in the biggest garage.
Shuttles: Shuttles took us from downtown Rochester to the starting line. The finish was a block from the pre-race parking. All the shuttles (school buses) were assembled promptly and left as they filled. We walked onto the second shuttle and left within about ten minutes. People seemed to arrive steadily and stress-free throughout the morning.

Though, once again, this happened.
Bathrooms: Plenty. There was a line close to the start of the race, but it seemed to be moving quickly.
On Time: A few minutes late.
Corrals: There were pacers lined up throughout the start, and people seemed to seed themselves appropriately. The starting area and the first several miles of the race were very wide, so there was no crowding.

Type: Point-to-point, with some out-and-backs
Terrain: Asphalt and concrete, mix of roads and bike paths
Bathrooms: Couple at each aid station. We did have to wait at mile eight for a minute, although later bathrooms had no line.
Crowding: None
Highlights: farmland, various bike paths

Course Support: Aid stations about every two miles, with water and lemon-lime Gatorade, which was mixed surprisingly well. Starting at mile 10, they provided ice. Aid stations in the second half had at least one, usually more, EMTs encouraging us to take as much as we needed. They did an awesome job evaluating runners and making sure no one was in danger out in the heat. There were also a few EMTs on bikes and driving a cart. On a hot day, all these precautions were definitely appreciated.
Spectators: Not overwhelming, but the city seemed pretty quiet overall because of the holiday weekend. The enthusiastic volunteers helped make up the difference.
Local knowledge of race: Fair. No one seemed bothered by it, but it wasn't widely known.

Food: Too many to list, a huge variety because Costco sponsored the food. I was able to get some pretty unique things, like apples with caramel dip. One gutsy guy took an empty box and crammed it full of food.
Atmosphere: Upbeat, though they packed up the party shortly after we finished, with about 30 minutes left on the clock. It was also a little chaotic, as volunteers were trying to condense the chute but weren't communicating very clearly.
Party: We caught the tail end of the feature band. There was also an inflatable and a free beer area, as well as a nice tent to relax under.

Shirt: Short-sleeve technical T-shirt. Even though we were one of the last to finish, they still had women's smalls left. My head nearly exploded. They did run a little on the short side, so my stunted torso finally came in handy.

It is more purple than pink, despite what this picture looks like.
Medal: Lightweight with a thin band, but I found it charming. The logo and colors work well together, and I certainly didn't feel gypped. I always love when medals are race specific.

Final Thoughts
  • The course was very pretty, with a great mix of scenery. The farmland was nice in the morning light, but not so long as to be mind-numbing. The bike paths showed off quite a bit of the city besides downtown, which I appreciated. I'm jealous of all the places Rochester residents have to run!
  • The race was much hotter than normal (I guess last year's version was only 45 degrees), but the organizers did a great job adapting. The ice was excellent, and the huge presence of EMTs made me feel more comfortable. If something had gone wrong in the heat, I feel I could've received aid very quickly.
  • Despite the sometimes crazy twists and turns in the course, we only got confused once, and that's because the volunteer had wandered away from their post. Otherwise, I never felt confused or uncertain. 
  • Most people kept asking me why I wasn't doing Grandma's for Minnesota (including people at Med City), but I loved it. There were none of the hassles present at big races, but I still saw lots of awesome things.
  • 50 Staters: Yes. The race is probably one of the most stress free I've ever done (at any distance), and it is so well-organized by organizers who clearly care. I felt like I saw things uniquely Minnesota, even they weren't the stereotypical sights.
  • Non 50 Staters: Yes. Again, so well-run and so scenic. If it's at all feasible, I would highly recommend it.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fargo Marathon Race Rating

Race: Fargo Marathon
Date: May 10, 2014
Location: Fargo, ND
Year Running: 10th
Registration: $60 (I think)

Race Information
Size: 708 full, 5175 half, 3482 10K, 240 relay
Course Limit: 7 hours
Min. - Max. Elevation: 900 - 908 ft
Min. - Max Temperature: 45 - 60
Charity Supported: 501(c)3

Airports: We flew into Fargo, but I think MSP and even Winnipeg are options if driving a few hours after landing is palatable.
Rental car: 99% necessary. Fargo appeared to have two bus systems, one for NDSU and one for the city. I'm not sure what all the routes were, but it might have been possible. Still, there were a lot of different locations we had to be at for the race, so using the buses would be cumbersome at best.
Host hotel: One - the Radisson downtown. There were quite a few hotels closer to downtown than the Kelly Inn, where we stayed, but their rates made me a little sick, and our hotel was right near a shuttle stop, so saving a pile of money didn't really hurt us in the end.

Communications: Great, there were regular communications leading up to race day. The only snafu was everyone's bib number emails said they were specifically for the marathon, which caused a minor panic. The race did quickly apologize and clarify the situation.
Expo: Fargo Civic Center downtown. Parking was a pain and the vendor area was a bit cramped, but there was a nice selection and it was relatively painless after we asked for directions to the shirt pick-up.
Other Activities: Pre-race speakers (including Dick Beardsley), but we opted to see more of Fargo since we had traveled so far. There was also a 5K followed by a concert. We participated in the 5K, which was fun, but we skipped the concert since it looked very...niche.

Race Day
Parking: There was plenty of parking at the mall we caught the shuttle at.
Shuttles: Shuttles took us to the starting line and were supposed to bring us back. The first morning shuttle was well organized, but the connecting shuttle was a bit chaotic. We were unable to find the post-race shuttles, so we had to follow a local to the bus station and take a normal bus back to our car. Thankfully the buses were free all day on race day, and we were parked at a major location, otherwise we would've been screwed.
Bathrooms: Four, for several hundred people. I ended up using some bushes, and Michael held out until about eight miles into the race.
On Time: About a minute late, I think, when I reconcile my gun time to my Garmin.
Corrals: Very large signs indicating paces were held up along the whole starting chute. People seemed to follow them fairly well.
Type: Loop, with some out-and-backs
Terrain: 100% concrete
Bathrooms: Plenty, I think about every four miles? The first few sets had long lines because of the starting line bathroom fiasco.
Crowding: None
Highlights: residential areas, downtown

Course Support: Aid stations about every two miles, with additional stations in the last 10K. Several rogue aid stations with water and food. The only complaint was that some weren't in the advertised location by as much as half mile. With all the turns, I sometimes got nervous there wouldn't be an aid station. There was also live music at several points.
Spectators: Plenty! Weather was great for spectating, so people were out cheering us on the whole way. I'm sure there were more for the lead pack, but I felt the love.
Local knowledge of race: Pretty good. Most people seemed to know about the race, and it seemed all downtown businesses acknowledged it in some way.
It's sad because it's true.
Food: Bananas, bagels, etc. Wide variety.
Atmosphere: A little calm, since most people were done, but all the volunteers were enthusiastic and were happy for our finish. The race had advertised a street party until 4, so it did seem strange most of the party was gone.
Party: There was supposed to be one until well after we finished, but it had stopped.
Shirt: A great light-weight gender-specific technical jacket. I love it, partially just because it fits so well. They also used different colors for men and women, so Michael and I can both wear our jackets without being matchy-matchy.
Medal: Really sweet, though it was a little strange they were all in the shape of a 10, since there actually was a 10K. 

Final Thoughts
  • This race was really well-organized. I think any kinks this year (mainly the return shuttle situation) were caused by the change in location. The RD ran the race after everyone else had finished and has done this for 10 years, so clearly he knows how to set up a race. I'm sure if they keep the location the same for next year, they'll use what they learned this year to improve it.
  • As far as I can tell, there's only two marathons in North Dakota - Fargo and Bismarck. I couldn't find anyone who had ever blogged about Bismarck, so I think Fargo is the safer bet.
  • The course didn't showcase anything extraordinary, but the neighborhoods were nice. It would've been cool to see more of downtown, but I imagine getting more permits for those streets would be difficult and/or costly. 
  • Everyone we met was friendly, and almost every business we visited at least acknowledged the marathon. I felt like Fargo really appreciated having the runners come, which isn't always the case.
  • 50 Staters: Yes. There are only two games in town, and Fargo definitely seems like the safer pick. 
  • Non 50 Staters: Yes, if you're in the area; no, if the travel would be burdensome. The course was nice, but I don't think I'd pay lots of money to see it if it didn't fulfill some further goal. But if for some reason you want to see North Dakota, this race would fit the bill.

Fargo Marathon Recap

In a shocking turn of events for us, marathon morning dawned clear and free from rain. Would this be our first dry marathon? Only time would tell.

Our hotel was kind enough to open breakfast an hour early so that racers could eat. There was a buzz of energy in the room. While it wasn't the best breakfast I've had at a hotel, there was a wide variety of options, including some hot food. The only really weird thing is there was no water other than from the tap, which was also used to wash trays.

After eating, we made the quick drive to the local mall to take a shuttle to the athletes village. I was a little worried how the new and relatively complicated shuttle system would work, and I did get a bit nervous when I saw the line, but the shuttles came quickly and in large bunches, so we were on in less than 10 minutes.

After what seemed like quite a long time, we were dropped at the downtown bus depot. We were told to wait in a line for another bus to another mall, though these buses took a lot longer to come. Some locals took off on foot, saying we were close, but there was a lot of chaos at this point, so we opted to wait. We crammed onto a short bus and arrived at the village.

I was excited to get to hang out inside for awhile before having to drop our bags and be a part of the growing excitement. We were maybe two minutes walk from the starting line, and we were supposed to be lined up at 7:30 for an 8 AM start. Even though we got to the village at 7, we were almost immediately told to leave for the start. I was a little annoyed at this, especially since we would have to drop our bags and wait in the morning chill. If the trains potentially blocking people from crossing to the start were an issue (and none even came by in that hour), I think the race should've picked a different spot for the marathon village.

We dropped our bags at the UPS trucks right outside the mall and went to wait for the bathroom line. It was the Indiana nightmare all over again, with four bathrooms for even more people, and this time there were two lines, so we made literally no progress. Finally, a bunch of ladies hopped out of line and formed a queue for some bushes. Once I had cycled through this line, Michael said his line had only moved when people left for the bushes. He was fine to bail at this point, so we crossed over to the bridge and the start line.

As soon as we started, I warmed off, and I probably took my hat and gloves off within the first few miles, though I'm so glad I had them for the long, cold wait. I realized too late I didn't really take any pictures of the course. Almost the entire thing was run through neighborhoods. It was pretty, though nothing noteworthy. It was great because people were out cheering almost the whole way, even for us stragglers near the back of the pack.

There were also tons of fun signs on the course, though it was hard for me to get many pictures, since a lot were at the beginning when it was still very congested.
Some day, right...? Also, the lady who took this picture was impressively drunk off mimosas.
I would for sure keep running if someone brought Faramir to cheer me on.
This race was also great fun because there were so many Maniacs to cheer on. While Crossroads was my first race as a Maniac, there were only a couple, and I don't recall even seeing all of them on the course. On the other hand, Fargo had a quite a few out-and-backs, so I tried to cheer every Maniac I saw. Running really helps reduce my social anxiety. (Side note: what do you say to someone wearing a 50 Stater shirt? I try saying Go 50 Stater, but that just sounds awkward.)

As we rejoined the half course, we noticed they had a special elite lane marked off. I thought this was a really nice touch to give leaders in both races clear areas to run. These were, however, empty by the time we rolled through.
Except for me, obviously.
We also had to make a pit stop at the aid station that immediately won my heart - it had tissues! I'm relentlessly teased for always having a supply of tissues at hand (though people mysteriously find this convenient when they suddenly need one).
My kind of place.
While we were going at about the same pace as at Crossroads, I mentally felt much better. I was more prepared on the fueling front, and I made a bigger effort to increase my sports bean intake, supplemented by aid station food along the way. I'm not sure why my previous fueling strategy of one bean per mile no longer is doing it's job, but it helped to be prepared for it this time.

The last few miles were again tough, but I was fine to keep pushing. If we hadn't stopped at the bathrooms around mile 25, I would've probably been able to push more in the last mile.
Though I pretty much wanted to collapse like this balloon arch.
I knew the finish was in front of the Fargo Theater, but I was again confused by crazy downtown Fargo. I knew we had to be close, but I desperately wanted to see the finish line. The course cruelly kept it out of sight until the last tenth of a mile.

Finally, finally, we turned and finished!
Thankfully being slow meant the chute wasn't crowded like the 5K!
Finish Time: 6:01:21

We were met by enthusiastic volunteers who put medals for the marathon and the Go Far Challenge (for doing the 5K as well) around our necks. Another volunteer gave us ponchos, though I didn't need since there was no line for bag drop. The UPS volunteers were spot on, even late in the day, and had my bag ready before I got to the table. There was a fairly good food spread. I had some Nutter Butters, which I normally hate, and they tasted like amazing.
Go Far Challenge medal
Photo: State four complete!
Marathon medal

Rocking my medals and the awesome race jacket that even fits my T-rex arms!
At this point it was about 2:30 and the shuttles back were only supposed to run until 3 (which seemed poopy, since racers had until 3 to finish). We followed the people who took our picture to try to find the buses. We wandered around the Civic Center, where the volunteers said the buses would be, but we could only find people who said they were waiting but hadn't seen anything for a very long time.

Three ladies sitting on the sidewalk had just about given up, and one of them was local. She said the bus depot was very close, and there would be free buses back to the mall where our car. We were so thankful to have found her, as we were able to follow the group to the bus station and get on the right bus. If we had had a flight to catch, this would have been extremely stressful, but fortunately we had all the time in the world. Big shout out to those women for helping us out.

After what was an extremely long bus ride, we made it back to the mall. We remembered our car was under a JCP sign by the Chili's. However, we soon realized JCP had signs on both sides of the mall (one of which was not where the store was), so we had to hobble through the mall to get to the car, during which we got quite a few odd stares.

We had been planning to take a nap before dinner, but after showers we were starving, so we headed out to downtown again to eat pizza at Rhombus Guys.

Sadly, our pizzas were not shaped like rhombuses. Michael loved his (T-rex with lots of meat), but my margherita was just okay. After finally feeling satiated, we went back for round two of mini-golf.

TripAdvisor has assured me their two courses were awesome and the best people had ever played at. While the course design was cool, the actual holes were uninteresting and difficult to the point of not being fun. The green was warped, and our balls constantly rolled back to the start of the hole. It was also incredibly windy as a storm brewed in the west, so we called it a day after playing one of the two courses.
Four states down, 46 to go.

Did You Try to Pick the Most Remote Place for a Race?, or Fargo Recap Part One

One of the most surprising things I've found so far in my quest to do the 50 States is people have a lot of opinions (that they are more than happy to share) about which states I should do. They seem to fail to grasp the concept that I have to do all the states, so order isn't really important.

Still, I had a hard time convincing people when I needed to go to Fargo. The fact that North Dakota has two marathons and flights to Fargo were relatively cheap did not seem to be satisfactory. It only made it worse that there were/are several local marathons in this time frame, so when I said I was running a marathon, no one was even considering Fargo.
Secretly I just wanted to find Martin Freeman.

Friday morning dawned dark and early at 4 AM to catch our 6 AM flight out of Lansing. I've never used the Lansing airport before, but the set-up was rather strange. The four ground floor gates are all meant to accomodate small regional aircraft, and, while each gate has a booth, they all share a weird boarding area. They call each flight number when it's time to actually board. It worked but was odd.

Our flight landed early in O'Hare and after a slight delay, we also managed to arrive in Fargo early. We had rented our car through Hertz because it was literally half the cost of all the other companies, but I was really apprehensive, since almost every experience I've had with Hertz in the past has been a complete crapshow, to put it mildly. But once I determined the people standing in line were just standing in a line for no reason (???), it took less than five minutes to get the car.

While I was getting the car, Michael spoke to some Fargo volunteers manning a booth by the car counters. I thought this was a really nice touch and a great way to make racers feel welcome. We got some literature and were off.

Our first stop was the expo, located in downtown Fargo at the Civic Center. Finding parking was a bit of a challenge, and we only squeaked by because a lot of people behind us got stuck by a train that just decided to chill on the tracks for at least fifteen minutes, I know they made the race "downtown" for whatever reason this year, but we had to drive by the Fargodome to get downtown, and nothing was going on there. I think it would've been easier to at least have packet pick-up there.

The set-up was fairly organized (even though someone wrote the bitchiest Facebook post about it). Bibs were picked up outside in tents, and the expo and shirts were located inside.

The tents were a nice touch, as were the carpet bridges. The weather was clear, but I think our feet would've stayed dry if it had been raining, which would be an important consideration before a day of walking around.

I didn't take any pictures of the expo because the aisles were narrow and I was kind of overwhelmed by the amount of people crammed in there. They had a wide variety of vendors: Nike and UA were both there, as well as several local businesses and local races. I was bummed we weren't local, because the events looked fun. It would've been easy to blow a lot of cash, especially at the Nike booth (what can I say, I have a lot of their Spartan-branded apparel and love their running clothing), but I contented myself with another pint glass for my collection. This was also where we discovered North Dakota sales tax is a sickening 7.5%. Blech.

There were signs on the floor directing racers to shirt pick-up, and we followed them around through the expo. This wasn't unexpected, until we realized they were just leading us in a circle. I asked someone with bags where they had gotten them, and they gave us directions. We felt pretty dumb until we had someone later on ask us where we had gotten our bags. I have no problem with the race forcing us through the expo, but one or two additional signs to make the path clear would've been helpful.

At this point we were about to gnaw our own arms off (that was probably just me), so we headed to the Wurst Bier Hall for lunch.
Jackalopes are very German, didn't you know?

I was tempted to try one of the more interesting bratwursts, but I stuck to the one sourced from Fargo, though I did treat myself to a draught rootbeer. I highly recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting Fargo - it had a cool atmosphere, and the food was super filling and incredibly inexpensive.

After eating and drinking our fill, it was off to play mini-golf. We made the drive over, only to discover the place was closed, with an opening time on Fridays of "varied." Huh. We decided to flip flop our days, and we headed to the Red River Zoo instead.

The zoo is very small and located off a major highway. It was strange to hear cars whizzing by while looking at the animals, but I suppose there wasn't a lot of good land available in Fargo when they built the zoo.

It's a...lison?
There was a field trip going on when we got there, but once the children cleared out, the visit was really enjoyable. Although the zoo is small, it focuses on rare, cold-climate animals. Fargo was a top breeder for several of the species on display; apparently Fargo has bred 25% of the red pandas currently in captivity. I've been to a few small zoos (shout out to the Wellington Zoo!), and I really like how they have unique animals not at the major zoos.

We had an impromptu lesson from the zookeeper about this baby porcupine. So cute!
Bet you haven't seen a takin before!
The wolves, obviously, were freakin' sweet.
The day was mild, in the low 50's, so the red pandas were actually active!

We probably spent about two hours going through the whole zoo, with lots of time to observe the animals. Obviously we needed a quick stop in the gift shop.
I am a panda.
Visit over, we popped over to our hotel, the Kelly Inn on Main, to check in. We got a little nervous about noise when we saw there was a bar attached, but it seemed that most of the guests were runners, so there were no problems. It took a couple tries to find the room, as evens were on one side of a square and odds on the other, but this didn't match the signs. Later, we heard others doing the same thing. 

We passed out for a short nap, which was wonderfully refreshing, before dinner. We tried a place called Grand Junction Subs, with made to order subs on fresh French bread. Again, super delicious and super filling for the price. 

The next step was to once again do battle with downtown Fargo for parking for the 5K. I was nervous that with 6,000+ people participating, parking was going to be a nightmare. By some miracle we turned down a random street right near the start line and found a street space available. We made our way to the proper pace sign. The start was very well organized, with a separate line for walkers, and enormous pace signs. Obviously, there were still walkers starting at the front of the race, but at least the race did everything they could to try to prevent it.

Start line...we were baffled by the number of people who felt they needed to run with the race bag. 100 times worse than wearing the race shirt.
At this point we realized neither of us brought our Garmins, but we were going to run nice and easy anyway, but it still felt quite uncomfortable. The course was nice, over the bridge we would be starting on the next day and through some neighborhoods. Later someone commented part of the marathon course was the 5K course in reverse. I had no concept of where I was in Fargo most of the time, but I think this was true.

Lots of people were out to cheer, and it was a fun way to shake out the pre-marathon nerves. For some reason I always convince myself I've forgotten how to run in the days leading up to a race. 

Finish Time: 36:02

The finish line was a complete cluster, and we had to fight to get a water and a medal. It was so bad some people bailed before realizing there were medals and had to go all the way back. I didn't blame them, the finish was so crowded we could barely cross the last timing mat before we had to come dead stop.

After we survived the mob, we tried to re-orient ourselves to find our car. Even after looking at one of the maps posted at an intersection, it still took us a few times. Why? Because Fargo is afraid to name their streets with words and only uses numbers. In no order. In both directions.
Which leads to this.
Once back at the hotel it was time for showers and bed before the big day. And discussing why we choose to run 26.2 miles instead of the nice 3.1 we had just completed.