FARGO — The first victory on Saturday morning for Mark Messmer was just getting to the Fargodome. A starting line with a few thousand runners never felt so good.
And once the Scheels Fargo Marathon gun went off, the Castle Rock, Colo., resident spent all but one of the 26.2 miles in front of the pack and won the race in a time of 2 hours, 21 minutes, 1 second. That victory was sweet, too.
“Kind of a rust buster, if you will,” Messmer said.
The rust was from not racing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with his last marathon coming in the U.S. Olympic Trials in February 2020. Every race he signed up for since then was either canceled or postponed.
He did get in a 10K and a 5K, but even those were not a typical race. The 5K, he said, was a staggered start for time only.
“That’s not a way to race,” Messmer said. “A crowd, everyone starting together and passing half marathoners along the way, that’s the way a race should be. It feels really good to have a race under the belt and be back in the swing of things.”
It was Messmer’s fifth career marathon win and the second fastest time in the 17th annual Fargo race. Chris Erichsen holds the course record at 2:19.55 set in 2010.
A former runner at the University of Montana, Messmer competed in Fargo once before at a collegiate race. He entered his first Fargo Marathon for the first time because he figured it wouldn’t get canceled.
“I was just cranking a lot of miles by myself,” Messmer said. “It was nice to get back out there.”
He endured a slight cramp in his quad around mile 20, but looked somewhat fresh finishing in the dome. His pace broke down to 5:23 per mile.
Conditions were nearly ideal with temperatures in the high 40s to low 50s and light winds for most of the race. And it didn’t hurt being closer to sea level.
“I’m living at 6,200 feet,” he said. “Coming down to, what around 900, feels pretty good.”
Messmer wasn’t kidding when he went out alone. Benjamin Kopecky from St. Louis, Mo., was second in 2:35.39 and Alec Sanbeck of Mora, Minn., was third at 2:40.05.
“It was me and two bikers,” Messmer said, referring to the bicycle riders leading the route. “It would have been nice to have someone to push.”
Messmer ran a 2:25 at the Olympic Trials, so Saturday’s effort at around five minutes faster was a noted improvement. So was hearing a starting gun.
“Beforehand, I had to pick my way through people, it was awesome to see again,” he said of the starting line. “It’s great to see everyone is back at it.”