Sunday, May 18, 2014

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.

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