By Ryan Schuster
As a former cross country runner in high school, I had completed 3.1-mile runs before. But none of them compared to this.
On Friday night, I ran in the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota 5K in Fargo as part of Fargo Marathon festivities. Instead of running on a golf course in front of a few coaches and parents as I did in cross country, we were running through the streets of Fargo, cheered on by an enthusiastic crowd. Instead of a hundred or so competitors, the run/walk had a registered field of more than 9,000 — making it one of the largest 5Ks in the nation. With so many people, there were some interesting-looking characters, like the guy who ran in a full Star Wars storm trooper costume and the Catholic sister who competed dressed in her habit.
The tightly packed together pre-race lineup of runners seemed to stretch on for blocks. There was a feeling of anticipation — and claustrophobia — as we waited for the race to start. Fargo Marathon organizer Mark Knutson announced over a microphone that a spirited effort to hit the lofty goal of 10,000 registered for the 5K had fallen just short, reaching 9,500. But Knutson said Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota President and CEO Paul von Ebers agreed to make up the difference, ensuring that 1,000 deserving local kids would get a new pair of running shoes. The announcement was met with a loud ovation from the crowd and runners.
After the race started, it took a few minutes for the tightly packed mass of runners to spread out so everyone in the middle and back could start running full tilt. With so many runners, passing other runners and moving up presented a unique challenge. As the race began, I wondered if my not-so-rigorous pre-race training regimen had adequately prepared me.
It was hot. My throat was dry and I felt like I was not only battling the course, but the heat. The temperature was hovering around 90 degrees and the sun was beating down. Every few blocks runners would dash off to the side to run through sprinklers on spectators’ lawns to cool off. I momentarily thought about slowing down and walking after the 2-mile mark. As I was contemplating if I could continue running, a pregnant woman passed me (an indication of how fast I was going). But I pushed on and managed to continue running (slowly) the rest of the way.
As the last turn and finish line came into sight, I mustered one final push to finish as strong as I could, passing a few runners at the end. I didn’t win (not even close). But I survived, managing to run the entire race. I finished the 3.1-mile run 1,537th out of 8,399 finishers (many of whom walked) in a time of 31 minutes, 52 seconds. According to a computer chip that I wore during the event, I passed 1,357 runners and was passed by 344 runners. More importantly, I had fun, got some exercise and left with a sense of accomplishment.
I plan to keep on running and get in better shape. I’ll probably run other 5Ks in the future. Maybe next time I won’t get passed by any pregnant women.
Ryan Schuster works as an editor at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota. Schuster previously served as business reporter and business editor at the Grand Forks Herald.