by Karen Bertasso
My build for the Fargo Marathon was one of the best marathon builds I ever had. I was clicking off paces I had never touched before at the end of 21-23 mile long runs in the midst of 80-90 mile weeks. I felt strong and healthy and was excited to see what I could do.
However, it doesn’t always matter how well your training went, it depends on what happens on race day. This is why the marathon is so challenging. Get an upset stomach, and you’re off wasting time in the porta john. Get crummy weather, and things can go south very quickly. Then a likely scenario this past May, get COVID right before and you no longer can go. Thankfully my stomach was fine, and I have stayed healthy. However, there were some hiccups.
Just over a week before the race the elite coordinator asked me where I’d like my personal bottles on the course. I said I could be flexible but gave him 4 locations. No more than 20 minutes later, he emailed the entire elite field saying there would no longer be any elite bottles. What?!! I had emailed them months ago to ensure this was the case so I could practice with my Maurten 360 mix. Now one week out, I had to change my nutrition plan.
Additionally, the course was changed the week before the race due to flooding. In 2019, similar flooding caused the course to change so it was already certified. Good. Until it wasn’t. Unfortunately for the area, rains continued to fill the rivers coming into Fargo, requiring further changes to the course up to 2 days prior to the race. For those that don’t know, the Fargo Marathon course has a lot of turns. Now, they added additional little add-on areas with out and backs to make up the distance. As annoying as the extra turns were, I am very grateful the certifier was out there to ensure we’d be running on a legal course. One article in the local paper described the new course as having 100 turns! I don’t think there were actually 100 turns (I counted about 80) but definitely 100 different roads we ran on.
One perk of being in the elite field was free lodging at the student apartments right across from the Fargo Dome. I graciously accepted a 2-night stay. When I entered the room it quickly reminded me how far removed I was from college. Although it was clean, the bed had a small wool-like blanket that I associated with one you’d get in a jail cell. I quickly got on my phone, booked the last room at one of the hotels downtown offering a shuttle on race morning and got an Uber!
The race starts inside the Fargo Dome, which is great for keeping warm and dry, however, not so great for GPS satellite. For some reason, my watch never synced correctly and every mile was off for the entire race! I knew Sam Roecker would be there to support her teammate who was running, however I didn’t know she was doing so by running with her. I was now hopeful I’d have a couple of ladies to run with, or as I was thinking, to chase. We chatted during the early miles of the race and strategized to alternate taking the lead over the last 10k, during what we were anticipating to be the worst of the headwind. However, shortly after 10k into the race they stayed behind as I separated to take advantage of the tailwind from ~miles 7-9. I was leading from this point and did so for the rest of the race while essentially running solo. We then went through a park that was filled with lots of turns in such a short distance and crossed over into Minnesota. Miles 12-14 were on an out and back section which was curvy with some dips and a headwind on the way back. We then looped around a campus before looping around a different campus with lots of turns. I followed the lead cyclist as I entered back into North Dakota, very thankful he was keeping me on course correctly! There was a headwind for most of the last 10k (not the ideal place in a marathon). I was running solo and losing my mojo quickly. So many thoughts went through my head, but mostly the biggest thing was this sucks. My watch continued to beep further and further from the mile splits (I was secretly hoping it would all of a sudden work out in the end).
Around mile 23 I knew I had the win. As approaching the finish, I did what I’m known to do at the end of races, slow down, smile, don’t look awful! I crossed in 2:47:06.
After the race Sam was nice enough to drive me back to my hotel where I showered and packed up quickly. I then treated myself to breakfast with a mimosa and was off to the airport shortly after.
Overall, the city of Fargo was stellar for being out there and supporting the race (lots of bands and spectators). The Fargo Dome was a nice perk to stay warm pre and post-race. The race director and his staff worked endlessly to ensure there would be a certified marathon despite continuous flooding, and the lead cyclists were amazing at keeping me on the right route.
Marathon #25 is complete. I can’t wait for my next marathon where I can run in a large pack, on a faster course without so many turns!
Coverage of entire Marathon on YouTube with Karen victorious
WATCH: Sam Westerberg and Karen Bertasso-Hughes win Fargo Marathon in WDAY's 6 PM Sports