The plan, after the completion of two marathons, was to think about ramping up the training for the next one. A thought came to the novice runner that maybe wasn’t out of the question: Would it be possible to qualify for the Boston Marathon?

It’s the creme de la creme of the sport, after all, that normally requires an entrance fee of blood, sweat and tears. Sweat is mandatory, blood is possible and tears are optional.

Thirteen weeks before the Chicago Marathon, the novice runner mapped out a training plan that consisted of Saturday long runs that would increase by increments of two miles each week. The longest run would be 20 miles exactly three weeks before race day, to allow the body time to power down in the name of getting to the starting line feeling healthy and fresh.

Interspersed during the 13 weeks would be speed work at a local outdoor running track, something that seemed a little hardcore to the novice runner. But something had to be done in training to shave about 20 minutes off the marathon PR to reach the Boston age group qualifying standard.

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The novice also had to alter his dietary habits. No longer would trips to Hornbachers mainly consist of busting through the frozen food section, throwing some stuff in a cart and heading out the door. He researched what the good runners ate and drank. No longer would a Thursday night snack consist of a schooner of beer and pretzels at Jim Lauerman's in downtown Fargo.

In fact, for 13 weeks, there would be no alcohol. The novice was taking this training stuff seriously. His friends thought he was losing it.

Race day came on a cool but sunny day in Chicago. Through about 21 miles, the plan seemed to be working and although a few negative splits were needed in the last five miles, qualifying for Boston wasn’t off the table.

That’s about when somebody figuratively shot the novice in the calves. They started to cramp. Other parts of the body weren’t feeling so hot, either. At about Mile 22, the Boston dream was over.

At Mile 24, looking like he was running on eggshells, the novice started feeling sorry for himself. It is at this point we bring you to Saturday’s Sanford Fargo Marathon.

The weather forecast is not looking good, with rain and wind a high probability. It’s one thing to run in one or the other, but the combination of the two will make 26.2 miles an even bigger challenge.

When runners reach the last six or so miles, they’re going to need help. They’re going to need you. This is not the time to be a fair weather fan and if you want to make a difference in somebody’s life, then grab a raincoat and umbrella and head downtown late in the morning when the average runners begin to hit the later miles.

The sub-three hour runners? They’re hardy veterans who can handle a variety of conditions. The rest of the pack? They could use a helping hand, some claps and a few words of encouragement. Runners just hoping to finish need every amateur psychologist out there.

The average finishing time of a marathon is 4 hours, 22 minutes. With a 7 a.m. start, that would mean the biggest pack will arrive on Eighth Street South at Mile 21 around 10:30 to 11 a.m. They’ll be downtown at Miles 22 and 23 about 20 minutes later.

You don’t have to sit somewhere for five hours. Grab a coffee or a beverage of some sort late in the morning and help the back of the packers. Give Ed Broadnax and Bonnie Lee, the Florida couple who are getting married at 6:30 a.m. at the Fargodome starting line before running the marathon, a congratulations.

Back to the novice runner, which was me.

The folks in Chicago who were saying “just a little bit farther” and “you’re looking good,” albeit appreciated, were lying. It felt like 20 miles to go and I looked like dog meat. At Mile 25, some guy, perhaps sensing I needed some truth, gave me the Vince Lombardi tough-love speech complete with expletives every five words.

It was exactly what I needed.

“He’s right,” I remember thinking. “Quit feeling sorry for yourself.”

This is not to say you should swear at runners on Saturday, I was the exception, but whoever that guy in Chicago was who made the effort to get in my face, thank you for making a difference. Despite the Boston failure, I finished with a better attitude.

Here’s to hoping thousands will have the same feeling on Saturday.