FARGO — Motivation can be found in many forms for a person heading out for a run. It might be a thought-provoking quote, favorite music or the desire to stay healthy and relieve stress.
But Liz Poliak finds inspiration in a much different place — the ditches along county roads outside the Fargo-Moorhead metro.
Poliak, 35, of Fargo, scans those ditches while she runs, looking for items that people have lost or discarded while passing by.
They range from the useful, including clothing and tools, to the odd and unsanitary, like used dentures and wigs.
With the latter, she simply photographs them as documentation. If she thinks an item is worthy of a second chance, she’ll take it with her.
“Obviously, I wash these things, so you don’t have to be too grossed out,” she said with a laugh, gesturing toward a basket filled with hats, T-shirts, scarves, bandanas and can koozies she’s found.
Also in the mix are license plates, box cutters, a metal tape measure, tennis balls, hockey pucks, and auxiliary cords and chargers, all of which still work.
Poliak began posting her finds on her social media stories a few years ago, much to the delight — and sometimes the disgust — of her friends.
There, she uploaded photos of past finds and is adding new ones as she continues training for the half-marathon of the Sanford Fargo Marathon on Saturday, Sept. 25.
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Once Poliak started training for longer races, including full marathons, the hobby provided the encouragement she needed to run farther.
“When you find one thing, it’s kind of like, ‘What else am I going to find?’” she said.
The mother of two and physical education teacher for West Fargo Public Schools said she’s more of a jogger than a runner, a means to stay in shape and be a good example to her young students.
She used to hit the streets with her dad, and the two would push each other to keep going, but he has since stepped back from running.
“Without that companion … maybe I was looking for something more just to keep me motivated,” she said.
Poliak sometimes runs city streets but more often drives out into rural areas, seeking new routes to explore. For example, she might run five miles down and back, covering ditches on each side of the road as she goes.
A good share of the time, Poliak is acting as a good Samaritan.
Over the years, she’s found a drone, a working iPhone, a driver’s license and a credit card, all of which she was able to return to their rightful owners.
She’s even made the roadways look a little cleaner.
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, when everyone was using disposable masks, she picked up dozens of them that had been discarded.
On three separate runs, she collected around 80 such masks each time, she said, eliciting “thumbs up” from several drivers she encountered.
She slipped the masks over her wrist along her forearm until she could throw them into the trash at home.
It makes her boyfriend and others a bit squeamish, but it really doesn’t bother her.
“I don’t mind touching things. ... I just wash my hands,” she said.
Poliak does draw a line at the truly gross, including the aforementioned dentures and wigs, and what looked like a brand new sweatshirt that had vomit inside of it.
Also, she steers clear of underwear, which she finds all the time.
“I don’t know why, but they’re out there,” she said.
On the days when no "treasures" can be found, she’ll count up discarded beer cans or liquor bottles, “just to keep it interesting.”
Her pastime has brought some of her most treasured items: a nice pair of sunglasses found shortly after she’d lost hers, a soft sweatshirt that fits just right and, strangely, a Cutco brand kitchen knife in perfect condition.
She wondered whether there was a backstory to the knife, maybe even something nefarious, but decided it was too good to pass up.
To spare herself the funny looks from carrying a knife, she covered it with a large drink cup she found and finished the rest of her run.
“I sanitized it, and it’s one of my favorite knives that I use,” she said.
Poliak acknowledged that few people would want to run with her because of the frequent interruptions, but it’s always “just a quick stop.”
If she spots an item early in the run that she wants to take home, she’ll use a landmark and pick it up on the way back.
On a rare occasion when she finds something she wants but it's too large or cumbersome to carry, she’ll return to pick it up with her vehicle.
It’s all in good fun and something she decided to share with others through the Facebook page.
“People get a kick out of it just as much as I do,” she said.