How does one begin to write a race report from Fargo 2018. Many people have asked me about my report and honestly I’m not sure my words will do the weekend justice. In any event here goes.
Before I can talk about Fargo or the experience I have to start with where any race preparation starts for me. I had to have a conversation with my wife Chelsea. As adults who love running it is very important to recognize that training for races pulls on your relationships. Before either of us sign-up for an event we always talk it through first. Some important questions Chelsea and I discuss are the following. How much time will you be training each week? How are things at work and can you commit to adding more time to running? What are some things you are going to do to keep family time a priority? If we are able to check these boxes we go forward with looking at races.
The journey to Fargo was pretty fun. I’ve always been pretty open about documenting my training experiences and sharing what I’ve done for training. What I haven’t done was open myself up for the actual running part of the journey. For the Lincoln marathon I wrote my own training plan and did almost all of the running by myself. As we prepared for Houston I turned the plan writing over to Coach Watley and did a lot of running with him until his injury; after that I was on my own for the most part. My first thought with Fargo was to go solo and surprise everyone when I showed up to run a marathon. As someone who literally makes a living talking about running, training and racing this didn’t go well.
Once I committed myself to the race, I got a coach. There are many great resources out there for training plans. Books have been written on specific training plans, a simple google search will bring you countless options. I’ve read the books and I’ve done the searches, but having a coach in your corner cannot be replicated. A coach gets to know you as a person and understands just exactly what makes you tick and what type of training will be best for you the individual. A coach can also safely navigate the rocky patches during a training cycle like injury or personal life issues that come up. I’m pretty sure Coach Meadors could write an entire blog post about what it’s like to train me as I dealt with personal stuff and injury stuff during this cycle.
In my last blog post I wrote about my team. With all of the training, planning and organizing my friends and I did, you would think getting out of town would have been the easy part. My initial plan was to take the day off from work and take our time getting up to the race. With half of the 605 staff participating in Fargo and the other half taking finals, graduating or on leave with beautiful new babies it ended up being a pretty busy weekend. Taking the day off was ruled out pretty quick. After several travel discussions and a mild panic attack on my part we ended up splitting the band up for travel. Chelsea and I left around 1pm on Friday and made it to the expo to get everyone else’s packets, checked into the hotel and ordered food for the party to enjoy upon arrival. We stayed at the MyPlace Suites and took over the breakfast area for dinner. On the menu was Rhombus Guys pizza, just writing that makes me hungry all over again.
After dinner we took Benson over to his lodging for the evening. As an elite athlete Benson was assigned an apartment on the campus of NDSU. With the 5k event taking place in the evening some roads were closed which made it a bit of adventure to find where he was staying. Around every turn Benson would tell us a story of running in a particular area of Fargo and how nice it was. As the stories started to stack up and many laughs were had I asked Benson how many times he’d been to Fargo. His response caught us all off guard based on his stories,
After dropping the goofball off at his elite apartment we were back to the hotel for sleep.
I actually slept pretty well. My alarm was scheduled to go off at 4:30am. I got out of bed at 4:24am and started my race day. Being the first up I tried to be as silent as possible. I snuck into the bathroom to get some light. I put my race day kit on which was laid out the night before, followed by my sweats. From there I grabbed my pre-packaged breakfast from home and tried to sneak out of the room. My plan was to go to the breakfast area to heat up my oatmeal and drink coffee while Chelsea and Maren got some extra sleep. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a microwave down there so I had to return back to the room. Being a MyPlace Suites there was a large coffee maker and microwave in the room. Using as little light and trying not to make too much noise I prepared my oatmeal with bananas and peanut butter. Between the coffee pot gurgling and having to start microwave 3 separate times all hope was lost at not waking Chelsea and Maren.
We piled into our car and headed for the Fargodome just after 5:30am. Pre-race was pretty relaxed. I wasn’t feeling a lot of stress or anxiety. We were generally a pretty happy bunch, taking photos, stretching, visiting the restrooms and warming up. This was the most comfortable pre-race day I’ve ever had. Eventually, the time came to head to the floor of the dome, Chelsea and I said our goodbyes and wished each other luck on our respective races and away we went. It was a little comical how hard Chris, Scott and I had to work to get to the actual floor of the Fargodome, but we eventually figured out where we were going. After the national anthems we were ready to go. The gun went off and we made our way out of the dome and onto the streets.
For the first 5k Chris, Scott and I had all agreed that we couldn’t take it easy enough. We knew the beginning of a big race would be packed with people and we didn’t want to spend a lot of time trying to duck around people or running too hard so we casually got started running. Every once in awhile one of us would start to pull away from the group and we’d remind each other to pump the breaks and chill out. My first three miles were very comfortable: 8:39, 8:31 and 8:25. I desperately wanted to go out harder, but this was a good strategy for the group and we were able to stick together in a mass of people very well.
With that being said once the third mile buzzed on my watch I was ready to go and effortlessly clocked an 8:14. I felt some nerves from the guys, but I felt we were right where we wanted to be. We spent the next several miles cutting down, closer and closer to that 8 minute per mile mark. That is until just after the 8 mile mark. I had felt like I needed to pee while waiting for the starting gun. This isn’t abnormal for me and usually that feeling goes away and I chalk it up to nerves. Today, I actually had to go. I didn’t want to lose the group and I spent most of mile 8 thinking about how hard it would be to catch up to the guys. Finally, I had reached my breaking point and I mustered the most noble voice I could and told the guys,
“At the next aid station I gotta use the restroom, but I don’t want you to wait for me. I’ll catch-up, you’re doing great, don’t change a thing.”
Saying it out loud was hard, but it brought almost enough relief as an actual visit to the restroom might bring. Better still both Scott and Chris responded with,
“I gotta go too”
And so in almost perfect unison three dudes all standing over 6 feet tall running a marathon went to the bathroom together. We didn’t lose too much time either. Mile 9 we clocked at 8:50 with our bathroom visit, and mile 10 we clocked our first sub 8 mile. The race was very much on. At the half marathon point I reminisced to the guys that two years ago that would be a half marathon PR. Chris smiled and said,
“And now we are going to negative split that!”
Miles 14-17 flew past bouncing between sub 8 and right at 8 minute pace. We were moving forward fast and things were going pretty well. Around this time we started to hit some of the more difficult wind. The conditions took the life out of me and I could feel myself slowing down. I tried to deny what was happening and refused to give in. Somewhere during this point we lost Scott. Miles 18, 19 and 20 we dropped back down to 8:20’s for pace. Chris was incredible at this time. He would say things like,
“This is why we did all of those 5:30am runs”
“It still isn’t as bad as running through that snow storm”
Miles 21 - 24 I continued to slow down. The wind was relentless. A pace group would go past and Chris would suggest we latch on to them. I would try and I would fail. Benson and Tessa from the store were on the course and cheered their souls out for us - I couldn’t even manage a smile for them. My quads were burning up at this point. My GU reserves were depleted and even if I had more I wouldn’t want it. I had made it to the wall. Mile 25 was my breaking point. I was mad, I was sad, I felt like I had let everyone down. I told Chris I was gassed. I walked the aid station, chugged a cup of Poweraid and two cups of water and got over it. The finish was right there I had to get my butt in gear. The last mile was painful, but faster than the two previous miles.
As we approached the Fargodome the realization that I was about to PR the marathon began to sink in. I didn’t have a “kick” in me, but I was running and that made me happy. The announcer got my name right as we approached the finish line which was very refreshing. As I crossed the line I decided I could raise my hands as though I won something and that made me happy. It was done and the real fun was just about to begin.
It started with an awkward side hug from Chris. I’m not sure if he was simply holding me up or we were actually having an embrace. It was both. I was so stinking proud of this run, but I was in awe of the whole atmosphere. To my right in the stands was a wall of ladies from SFWR and to my left on the floor was my beautiful bride and my friends from the store. There may have been some other people in the Fargodome, but as far as I was concerned this was a Sioux Falls party. I couldn’t believe how many people stuck around to see the full marathon finish. I found Scott who finished just three minutes after us and gave him a hug. I found Chad who finished 7 minutes in front of us and gave him a hug. I was just so stinking happy at this point. As a guy that doesn’t give hugs, 3 hugs in a matter of minutes had me feeling like Oprah!
“You get a hug, and you get a hug!”
We went through the food line and I promptly grabbed a chocolate milk, a slice of pizza, two containers of cookie dough and two chocolate chip cookies. We made our way to the stands, talked about the run we all just finished. I found out that my friend and co-worker Tessa had won the women’s half marathon. We took pictures, we laughed, I wanted to cry, we took more pictures, I ate more food and eventually we got up to go home.
Fargo was an incredible race experience. I did not hit my goal time, but I did set a new personal record by 14 minutes and change. Training for this race has been truly remarkable and for the first time in my running career I didn’t want to die at the end of the marathon. Yes, I was sore, but not like in the past. I know I have a lot more to give in the marathon distance. When that next marathon will be is still to be determined. In the meantime I will joining Benson on June 9th in Green Bay, Wisconsin for the Bellin Run 10k. A distance I’ve never raced.
I’m so thankful to everyone that ran with me during this training cycle, sent me kind words throughout, cheered me on, watched my live tracker and came to the store to talk about the experience. I am truly humbled by the grace and beauty of our running community.
Greg Koch is the General Manager/Co-Owner of the 605 Running Company. When he is not at the store he volunteers on the Sioux Falls Marathon Board and Co-Coaches his church softball co-ed team. Greg is an avid runner and enjoys being outdoors whenever possible. Follow Greg on Instagram @gregrun605