Sometimes you just need rest. And sometimes when you don’t listen to your body, it just forces the rest upon you. After the Q50 in Louisiana, my body was ready for a rest and with an inflamed post tib tendon diagnosis I ended up in physical therapy. I spent most of the spring resting and then as summer rolled around I started to get back on the road. The PT and at-home exercises helped strengthen my hips and legs which did wonders for my running. As I was training my body overall just felt better as the miles increased. After a few weeks of running, I felt ready to get another race on the schedule to try and get at least one more in before the end of the year.
In the middle of all this, we had decided to move away from Ohio and start a new adventure in Minnesota. Long story short, we have friends that had to move for a job that found out they were pregnant with twins and Kaela felt led to offer to help them. So keeping in mind our move deeper into the Midwest, I needed to make sure the race was easily accessible. I registered to run the Fargo Marathon in the spring of 2020 but just like most races in early 2020, it was postponed. They planned to have it in the Fall and then ended up canceling the race. Come to the spring of 2021, the race was postponed again to the Fall. Fargo is only a 4-hour drive from Minneapolis and it lined up nicely with our move so that became the race to run.
Race: Fargo Marathon
Location: Fargo, North Dakota
Date: September 25, 2021
I kept an eye on the race and registration as the race date drew nearer. With races still being canceled because of the pandemic, I didn’t want to register until I knew the race was going to be taking place. By the first week of September, I felt confident that the race was going to take place and also that my foot/ankle was going to hold up to make it happen.
Two weeks before the race during my long run, my foot started to act up again. Even though I held it together on the outside, doubt started to creep into my mind. Was I trying to get back to racing too fast? Was I going to be able to actually run another marathon? Luckily I had the upcoming move to help keep me distracted but I had to keep a positive outlook towards the race to keep me in good spirits.
The weekend before the race was the move. We packed up our U-Haul Friday night and made the 13.5 hour drive on Saturday from Columbus. The pressure of keeping the foot on the gas pedal didn’t help my foot issues, but we had a great trip up so couldn’t really complain. I continued to stretch and do my home exercises until getting back on the road on Tuesday for a few miles. I wanted to keep things loose but still make sure I was fresh for the race on Saturday.
Thursday afternoon I started to get the sniffles and could feel a little tightness in my throat. I chalked it up to a busy day of meetings but by bedtime, my throat was completely raw. Of course, on top of everything, I would catch a cold heading into the race. Friday morning I woke up for a few-mile run that helped drain any congestion I had. After the run, I made my way to the store to pick up some throat drops to help ease any discomfort. I had planned a shortened workday so we could head out early afternoon to Fargo. It had been a while since I had gone through my carb loading routine and I found it hard to match the typical routine, so I settled to eat until I was full but not uncomfortable.
Shortly after 2pm, we hit the road for the just under a four-hour drive to Fargo. Typical travel style, Kaela and I talked a little bit about everything. The drive was basically just farmland and trees once we passed St. Cloud. It was pretty seeing the leaves already changing colors, something I wasn’t used to seeing in September.
As we neared closer to Fargo, I started to look up some dinner options. We came across a local Italian restaurant that sounded really good. Their website had a drive-thru option for pick up and we were going to try and time it out where we could go to pick up the food then head to the expo and then eat in the car. I dialed their number and busy tone. Kaela said definitely must be a small restaurant if no call waiting. Called again, busy. At this point we were getting too close that we were going to have to go to the expo first as no food would be ready.
However after another 7 more attempts and still getting a busy signal, we started to think that maybe this place was no longer in business. We made our way directly to the expo as I started to look up other options. There was a pizza place that sounded good to us and I suggested once we get to the hotel that we could order to food. Kaela apparently had not eaten lunch and was past the point of being hungry. When we arrived at the expo, Kaela dropped me off and then circled to park to take Bella for a walk. On my walk around the Fargodome looking for the entrance, I placed our pizza order which would end up timing out exactly right for pickup.
I headed into the expo around 6pm, combing through the sea of people to find the bib pickup. A few days earlier we received an email that due to shipping delays we wouldn’t be getting any race swag at pick up but it would be mailed at a later date. So it was an easy pickup process before heading back out to pick up dinner.
We opted for Rhombus Guys Pizza and ordered a Wild Mushroom pizza. Kaela and I were definitely not on the same page as she had mentioned that two pizzas sounded good (that one and the Gorgonzola Pear) and I heard that as pick whichever you want. However, she meant to order both of them to have options and try them out. I apologized and made the excuse/joke that it was because I was rusty at race prep.
We picked up the pizza and headed to our hotel to get checked in, eat dinner and relax. We sat on the couch in our room and ate while going over a little bit of the course map. There weren’t any race materials to go over so we just used a PDF copy of the course they provided on their website. The layout of the course was going to mean that Kaela would have to drive to a few spots to see me, but with it being a smaller race we didn’t think she would have any issues getting around.
Oh, by the way, the pizza was pretty good!
After dinner, Kaela went to clean up for bed as I prepped my gear for the next day. I turned on the TV for background noise and stumbled across Space Balls starting. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is one of those so bad its funny parody movies. Kaela came out of the bathroom wondering why I was laughing and what I was watching. To my surprise, she entertained the idea of watching it for a little bit as I finished my prep. Eventually, she got over that so I changed the channel. The next thing up was curling with the US team playing. A few years ago we went for a basic curling lesson so we understood the premise of the sport and we watched and admired how easy they made it look.
Once I finished getting my race and post-race gear all organized I did some easy stretches before cleaning up for bed. Those night before jitters never really go away, even after so many races, but I felt a little less nervous than normal. Even though my foot was not feeling 100%, I had taken a lot of pressure off by reminding myself that this road to recovery is a journey and to just enjoy the day regardless of the outcome because not everyone gets these opportunities. That really helped give me some peace as I laid down to call it a night.
My 4:45am alarm didn’t startle me when it went off. I felt like I got some good sleep, just waking up a few times through the night having to reposition my pillows. I got up and grabbed my bagels and made my way over to the breakfast area at the hotel. We had a microwave in our room but I’ve had my share of microwaved bagels and much rather use a toaster when available. It was also nice as they had small cups of JIF peanut butter so I decided to split up my one and a half bagels and just have peanut butter on one of the halves.
Back in the room, Kaela had gotten up to take care of Bella and I went through my morning routine of listening to my pre-race playlist (link here), eating my breakfast and reviewing the course. The course was described as pretty flat, so I just spent some time understanding a few of the turns and the straightaway areas that may require a little more mental focus.
The race start was at 7:30am so we planned to get to the Fargodome around 7am to give me plenty of time to take care of business and get into the corrals. I’m glad I had the extra time as I was all over the place with preparation. We made our way into the building when I realized that I didn’t have any water to take my prerun meds (consisting of a caffeine tablet, two Tylenol and two Gas-X). We walked back to the car to grab that and then drop off the quarter-zip I was wearing. The weather was in the upper 40’s at the start but it would warm up to mid 60’s through the morning so I was going to be fine with my short sleeve shirt.
Back in the building, we made our way to the floor of the arena. I have participated in a handful of races that had their expos inside arenas but this was definitely going to be a first starting one inside the arena. We found a location for Kaela to try and take a picture of me with the area. The problem was I only brought my telephoto zoom lens so she couldn’t get a wide enough shot. So I ended up with this photo that was kind of awkward with a guy that was about 10-15 feet in front of me.
So instead I saw an LED screen with the Fargo Marathon logo that we decided would be a better starting photo.
The race announcer gave the call for marathoners to line up in the corral. I gave Kaela and Bella a kiss and they made their way into the stands to get ready for the start of the race. I made my way to the corral and went through my routine of stretching my neck and arms that had helped make a huge difference in my stiffness during training. I laced up my shoes and took my “3 minutes until race” gel.
The race director was announced and gave a few words before we started everything. There was a moment of silence for someone important to the race that had passed earlier that week. I missed the story but said a prayer for their families and those impacted by the loss. After he talked about how this race had been a long while in the making after all of the postponements and cancellations. The weather was apparently out of the ordinary as he said he did his best to make sure we had rain/snow and hard winds but instead we had a gorgeous fall day with 6mph winds. The guy lined up next to me made a comment about luckily the weather was this way. I had asked if he had run it before. He said this was his first time doing the full marathon but the last few years of the race had been in the 20’s/30’s with rain and strong wind gusts. I was starting to be very thankful the race was pushed off to September.
A local singer performed the national anthem. This is usually the spot where my emotions run high and it seemed they ran a little higher this morning. Within the first few lines, I could feel my eyes starting to water. Everything that I pushed through during physical therapy. All the doubt that had crept into my head during training. All the support that Kaela and my friends provided leading up to the race. It all caught up to me at that moment. I closed my eyes and said another prayer of just thanks. It had been a journey to get back to a starting line and I took a moment to remind myself to just enjoy the day. No matter the result, keep a smile on my face and keep pushing.
The gun went off and the crowd inched forward towards the starting line. As usual, folks started running way back before the start, but I kept my ground not starting until I hit that timing mat. One thing I didn’t take into consideration with an inside start was that I wouldn’t have GPS signal on my watch. I ignored the warning it gave me, hoping it would catch up shortly after I made it outside. As I reached the exit tunnel I could see Kaela on the edge taking photos as she wished me luck and to have fun.
We climbed a ramp out of the Fargodome (which many joked was the steepest hill of the course) before turning into the parking lot. The start was tight with folks out of position with pace groups and trying to adjust their headphones, armbands and really anything else that was bothering them in those first steps. I worked my way around folks to try and get myself to an opening in the crowdf. Running up University Drive my watch had still not connected. I was contemplating stopping the activity and starting up a new one and at that moment it found a connection and we were good to go. When I hit one mile on my watch, I noticed it was a little off from the course markers because of the GPS issue, so I decided to manually mark the lap so my watch would be more in line with the markers for the rest of the race.
The first two miles went by quickly and smoothly. The cool air was helping clear my congestion and I had to hack up some lovely mucus a few times to clear my throat. We were running through neighborhood streets that were closed to traffic and I was able to stay on the right-hand side of the road which helped my foot immensely. Part of my problem was that my right foot wanted to roll in hard so being on the right-hand side of the road allowed just an extra factor to make sure my foot didn’t roll in. Folks were lined up on street corners and at the end of driveways cheering on the runners as we went by. I made sure to thank everyone I could for being out there, another piece of my “enjoy the day” mentality I had going into the race.
At mile 3 we came across the first water stop. I grabbed a cup and drank in stride and then noticed that there were a few open porta-potties. I had a slight feeling that I needed to pee so I made the smart decision to just do it rather than holding it for another 2 miles until the next aid. I started the race just ahead of the 4:10 pace group after zig-zagging through the crowd and after coming out of the porta-potty saw that they had caught back up to me. I decided that this was going to be the group I would hang on to, at least for the first half of the race and then reaccess how I was feeling.
We made a turn into a weird lollipop cul-de-sac portion of the course that surprisingly had no volunteers guiding the way. The folks around me made the comment about no one being there as we were just following the folks in front of us. Around the turns, I got ahead of the 4:10 group again and put some space between us as they were running a little wider than I liked and I wanted to make sure I could get back to the right-hand side of the road.
Shortly after mile 5, the marathon course joined up with the 10k course. The timing of this wasn’t the best of planning in my opinion. They were only at mile 3 and when we connected the marathoners were mixed with runners going about 90 seconds slower of a pace (I only know this because I heard a group of folks yell out their last split to each other). It took a bit of energy to work around the 10k folks to keep with my pace and get back into any bit of an opening. Kaela was set up just before mile 7 and when I noticed her it put a big smile on my face. I really am so thankful that she drags herself (and Bella) around cities and towns for these races to help capture these moments. She asked how I was feeling and I told her I was feeling good. And I really was. The steps were coming smoothly and my body felt good. I could feel the tightness in my foot but nothing that really caused me any concern.
Around the 7.5 mile mark, the 10k group split off from our course and we could see on our right there was a banner the width of the street “1 Mile to Go”. Many marathoners sighed as they knew it would be a little while until we would be running under that banner towards the finish.
At mile 8 we made our way out of the neighborhoods and onto a bike path heading into a park. Now up to this point, we may have had 20 feet of elevation change. They were not kidding when they said the course was pancake flat. However, the bike path had a little bit of a different feel. We started going down a sidewalk before a steady climb into the park. We then had some small rollers and portions of uneven bike path under our feet. Even though the scenery was tranquil, my foot did not appreciate the terrain like it did when I was enjoying the right-hand side of the road. The river was to our left so the bike path angled that way causing the tightness in my right foot to flare just the slightest.
I managed to continue to stay in front of the 4:10 group, tackling the rollers by shortening my stride to climb to keep my effort consistent rather than trying to push my pace. I was proud of myself for racing it smartly rather than trying to hit a number on my watch. I maintained the effort as we ran out of one park and into another still following the river. At mile 10 we crossed the river heading into Minnesota. I had not realized until a few days before the race how close Fargo was to the state line and that we would actually be crossing into Minnesota for a few miles of the race.
Rounding the corner, I saw a lady with a sign that stated “Run like Cannibals are behind you.” I overheard a conversation she was having with the person next to her.
Cannabis. Does your sign say Cannabis?
No. It’s Cannibals!
I replied as I ran by, “if it was cannabis you may have some people turn around”. This got a good laugh to those around and gave me a chuckle as I kept on around the bike path.
We passed under 1st avenue at mile 11 and to my surprise, Kaela was set up with the camera. Our original plan was for her to see me at mile 12 but it always brings a smile to my face when I get to see her early. Shortly after we made our way off the trail and back into some neighborhood streets. This section was interesting as we headed around two college campuses that were just a few blocks from each other. It was an out and back with a loop around each of the campuses before heading back to the road off of the park.
The first campus was Minnesota State University Moorehead. They were the Dragons and their mascot was cheering on runners as we entered the main loop within the campus buildings. Football players and other students were cheering us as we made our way around the loop. After exiting the loop, just a ¼ mile down the street we turned left in Concordia College Moorehead. The sidewalk here was just a little tighter as the 4:10 group was close on my heels so we bunched up a little bit as we made our way through narrow passages. Shortly after hitting the sidewalk we made it to the official halfway point in the race. I was right around 2:04 and felt good about the first half I had put in.
Their mascot was Kernel Cobb, a little bit less impressive stalk of corn compared to the dragon. But hey at least they were out cheering us on as well as we ran on by. We made our way past a few buildings before circling a Belltower positioned in the middle of campus. I heard the bells going off and looked down at my watch to see that we weren’t at an interval I would have expected to hear it go off at. Then I realized it wasn’t even playing any sort of rhythm, it was just going off non-stop with no purpose other than to make a ton of noise for the runners.
Finished with our little out and back, we made our way south to get back to the trail that would take us back into North Dakota. I took a quick walk through the aid station after mile 15 to make sure I didn’t choke on my water and Powerade. Back on the road, there were a few runners that for some reason were trying to cut me off in the corners and pass me. There didn’t seem to be friendly intent in their attempt so I decided I could play the game as well. This wasn’t a “me being nice” portion but it rubbed me the wrong way. We powered around a curve and then had a quick turnaround on the park road. I made my way and grabbed the inside quickly shortening my stride to make my way around before exploding out of the other side and hitting the bridge to cross over the river. I know I wasn’t breaking any speed records but it felt nice to leave those challenging me behind.
Back on the uneven bike trail, we weaved left and right as we hugged the river. I could feel the 4:10 group closing in and before I knew it I was mixed in with them. I felt like they were pushing the pace a little bit more than their scheduled pace but I was going to just stay in stride and keep with them. We made our way onto a service road just before the aid station at mile 18 when I looked ahead to see the fairly steep climb that we were about to make to get out of the park area. I ran to the aid station grabbed a few cups and decided that it was better energy spent to just walk the hill. I was hoping to not have an extended walk until at least mile 20, but it made no sense to expense the amount of energy I would have used to “run” the climb. As I grabbed the cup from the military veterans that were in charge of that aid station I commented as I pointed to the climb, “ I thought folks told me that North Dakota was flat, what is this all about?”
All in all I walked for about 3 minutes but it gave me a good break to get my body and head back in the right place. I did end up losing the 4:10 group out of sight but I felt good about where I was in terms of the race as a whole. We crossed over a busy intersection before dipping back down onto another bike path. Fargo seemed to be connected fairly well with these bike paths which seemed very convenient to get around. We turned north on the path and Kaela was cheering me on again from the side. She let me know that the next place I would see her was the finish and wished me luck as I continued on. That was some good motivation to try and get to the finish as fast as I could.
On the other end of the park we could see a school band just hanging out and eating. It looked as though they just finished their set and were done for the day. I found it odd because I felt like I was running a pretty good time that course entertainment would be shutting down already. Maybe they were taking a break? It didn’t really matter but it gave something for my brain to think about that wasn’t my sore legs.
Once out of the park we made a left to the final out and back lollipop of the course. This portion of the course also joined up with the half marathon course. They would be with us for the remainder of race. Around mile 19 I ended up playing a back and forth game with another marathoner before we ended up just running side by side, stride for stride. We got into a nice groove and even though it was probably faster than I would have ran if not pushed, it kept me moving forward with some purpose. At about mile 19.5 we had a slight break in our stride. There were a group of adults enjoying some beverages at the end of their drive way and I noticed one day holding up a Coors can as though it was a water stop. I decided I was going to embrace the day and took it from him before stopping for a moment to kill half of it in a gulp. I could hear behind me “Dude! He actually took it and he is drinking it!”. I should have known better since already feeling a little dehydrated but sometimes you switch it up a little bit.
Back in stride with the lady we powered down the street together. We had a nice system going as well. If someone on the right side of the street gave us motivation I thanked them. If they happened to be on the left hand side of the street, she thanked them. I sensed that we were both going a little harder than we were planning for this stretch but neither of us wanted to break. Close to mile 20 though, she backed off a little bit and I kept powering on. There were some tables set up with gels so I grabbed a handful and walked for a moment while getting them positioned in my belt before getting back in stride.
I was slowing down a little bit from the average pace I had been going since then but I was able to hold on to a run until about mile 22. Folks on each side of the road were cheering me by and I just didn’t have the energy to turn my head or even speak, so my acknowledgment with a quick hand wave and head nod hopefully provided the confirmation to them that I heard them and appreciated it. My body just felt beat up and just lacked a lot of energy. I had kept up on my nutrition throughout the race but I think the fact that I only had a few long runs during training with the longest being 16 miles was catching up to me now. The last 4 miles of this race were going to test me but I knew I could push through it.
I mixed up my stride with a run/walk plan to keep my momentum moving forward as we made our way through some of the downtown Fargo area. I kept an eye out for restaurants for lunch and even asked a few spectators what would be a good place to stop after the race. They seemed surprised and taken back by my question and stuttered out the first thing that came to their mind. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember anything they said by the time I finished the race. The sun started to peek its way from outside of the overcast that we had the whole day. Because of course I needed just one other little thing to suck energy out of me.
As we continued our zig-zag approach north we had a few spots that didn’t have good signage or volunteers and the group of runners around me relied on each other to hope we were going the right way. There was a left that we made on 2nd street that seemed very suspect as we couldn’t see runners ahead or any signage. Luckily there were a few cyclists that had stopped to watch the race and they let us know that we were heading down the correct path.
We had about a mile stretch up Oak Street that seemed to go on forever. I felt like I would run for about 30 seconds before I would start feeling light headed. Towards the end of it there was a blessing table set up on the side of the road. It was full of all sorts of candy and I opted for the smarties. There is something magical about that flavored chalk or maybe it’s just the fact that it’s basically pure sugar, but it gave me a little pep in my step. I had hit the 4 hour mark with just under 2 miles left. I had given myself an internal A goal of under 4:20 and I was going to have to put in some work to make it happen.
Powering through I hit the “1 Mile to Go” banner that we ran by a few hours before. Even though the race elevation chart shows no climb during this portion, it felt like I was on a slow and steady climb. I needed a sub 10-minute mile to make it under 4:20 but I needed to take a quick break as my quads were over everything I was requiring of them. There was a guy in a full Grim Reaper costume with a sign “The End is Near.” I gave an audible laugh at the sign as I had never seen something like that but this guy did not change the stern expression on his face. I decided I was going to get back to running.
Road signs indicated we had ½ mile to go until the finish. I picked up the pace and ignored how my legs were screaming at me. Passing folks one by one I just kept moving forward while peeking down at my watch knowing that the time was ticking down. We turned into the parking lot of the Fargodome and rounded our way around to the spot where we exited to start the race. The ½ to go sign was just a little off because just before I entered the dome my watch hit 4:20. I powered down the ramp and entered the arena to cheers from the stands from all the spectators. They had a camera set up on the finishing line that was displayed on the big screen so everyone could see those making their way across the finish line. I soaked it all in during those final steps because I put it all out there today.
I quickly looked for Kaela and found her in the stands to my right. She was saying how great I did as the race announcer said over PA system, “and that was Jonathan Flores from Savage, Minnesota.” Kaela and I looked at each and laughed as that was the first time I had heard anything other than Ohio at the end of the race.
A volunteer placed my medal around my neck as I stumbled through the finishers area grabbing as much food as I could. Kaela met me on the other end and we found a spot to sit in the stands while I got some calories in. It was not very fun having to climb the stairs to get from the floor of the arena but it helped keep me moving (positive thinking). After I was done eating, I went to the bathroom to clean up before making our way outside for my finishers photo. We spent the afternoon on the patio of DCR brewing having some delicious sour beers and talking about the race.
The Fargo Marathon was a great experience. Not only was the course, volunteers and overall race organization amazing, my foot held up very well and I ended up running a great race. Even though I didn’t hit my goal time, I was so pleased with my race and how I was able to push through the discomfort. Lots of prayers and trusting in the process helped me get to the finish line and gave me more confidence that I can get back to my “chase for PR” shape that I was working towards in 2020.
This was my last race planned for 2020 as I wanted to make sure I didn’t overschedule myself and end up hurting my foot again. It also felt good to finish up the year with state #40. It is crazy to see that I have just 10 races left in this journey. I have been to so many cool places and learned so much about myself through this journey. I know this final push will stretch me and I am looking forward to all that is to come! See you in 2022!