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Elderly woman's encouraging words help reporter through the final miles

'I made it." That's the statement echoing throughout Fargo-Moorhead today, as the more than 7,500 participants of Fargo's marathon, half-marathon, relay and 5K reflect on their Saturday accomplishments. During the past 18 weeks, it has been my as...

Forum reporter Melinda Rogers

'I made it."

That's the statement echoing throughout Fargo-Moorhead today, as the more than 7,500 participants of Fargo's marathon, half-marathon, relay and 5K reflect on their Saturday accomplishments.

During the past 18 weeks, it has been my assignment to give a voice to what it's like to train for a first marathon.

Here's a look at what the Fargo Marathon course brought my way:

Mile 5

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I discover the closest thing Fargo has to the Boston Marathon's Wellesley scream is on Eighth Street South.

A chute of people holding signs, shouting encouragement and blasting music fuels my energy as I get into the groove of the race. F-M Acro team members flip on a trampoline giving an awesome show.

Mile 10

I am shocked that 10 miles have flown by and I feel so good. I think about how five months ago, I couldn't run three miles without walking.

I realize I've come far but that I've still got to tough it through 16.2 more miles to find out whether I'll make my goal of finishing.

Mile 12

I run by a guy with a kazoo and a "Go Pre!" sign - a reference to legendary long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine - in a south Fargo neighborhood.

"I promise the entertainment gets better ahead!" he yells at us.

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We high-five a line of Fargo North students, one of several high school groups on the course who cheered runners throughout the day. I run by belly dancers and am momentarily distracted, wondering how they move their hips like that.

Mile 15

I am amused as spectators by Prairie St. John's and the Downtown YMCA hum the "Chariots of Fire" theme song.

Mile 19

I catch up to the 4:30 pace group, which is my goal time for finishing the marathon. The group is led by a woman named Kathryn, who has run more than 80 marathons. I marvel at how Kathryn can:

- Run 26.2 miles while holding up a cumbersome sign alerting runners that she is the pace leader.

- Easily chatter on and encourage our pace group despite having just passed the 19-mile mark.

Mile 22

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I discover what people mean when they say they've "hit the wall." My legs feel like they've been put through a meat grinder. My shoulders tense. My breathing is labored. I keep going but lose the 4:30 pace group and three training buddies from class.

Mile 22.5

I mentally break down and feel ill from some bad-tasting energy gel. I take a walking break, hoping to feel better.

Mile 23

I contemplate whether it would be so bad to drop out of the race. I think about what I would write for The Forum. I decide a headline of "Hey, I got tired and quit the race" probably wouldn't draw in many readers. Plus, training for five months to stop three miles from the finish line seems silly.

I ponder whether the "quitters never win" mentality is overrated, but I keep on going anyway.

Mile 24.5

Not many runners are around me at this point; a good portion of the marathon field has already finished. As I run alone, an elderly woman walks to the edge of her yard to encourage me. I muster a smile.

"Is this your first marathon?" she asks.

I nod.

"Oh, you're my hero," she said.

There was something about the way she said it that made me cry.

I cried because I was tired, because everything hurt, because I felt guilty for wanting to quit and because it didn't matter to this woman that I wouldn't make my goal time.

What mattered to her was that I had gotten out on the course to attempt a marathon. She'll probably never know what her simple statement did for me as I struggled through my final miles.

I allowed myself one block to cry and then told myself to snap out of my pity party.

Finish line

I cross the line in 4:37:16 - a 10:35-per-mile pace and slower than my goal time. I swear to myself I will never run a marathon again.

Ten minutes later, I dissect the race with my training partners and discuss how I will lower my time next year.

I will be back.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Melinda Rogers at (701) 241-5524

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