Marathon of the Month September 2001  Bismarck YMCA Marathon, North Dakota

There I was, alone in the Outback as darkness fell.  Indians were everywhere, and their rain dances were working.  Rain beat down throughout the night, and I knew that come morning it could be a long, wet run....

Arriving in Bismarck, North Dakota on Friday afternoon, I soon found that getting a room would be next to impossible.  It seems that marathon weekend coincides with the Inter-tribal Powwow.   Every hotel and motel for miles around is booked up with Indians in town for the annual festivities.  After inquiring a couple places, I realized that searching for a room could be fruitless.

But I had a plan.  It happened that Hertz rented me a Subaru Outback station wagon.  Maybe not the most comfortable place to sleep, but for a guy who enjoys improvising, it wasn't a bad idea, and a good way to save a few bucks in the process.  I stopped at Walmart and picked up a fifteen-dollar blanket and a two-dollar throw pillow, and a pair of those nice flannel lounging jammies like my buddy Shawn actually wears out in public.  

There's no pasta dinner for this race, so I asked the girl at the registration desk at the Y for a recommendation.  She gave me three choices, but when I asked her where she would go, she recommended the Walrus.  Now, this girl must have seen me coming, because the Walrus just happens to stock micro-brews from all over the area.  I actually drank something called Moose Drool.  Oh yeah, the pasta was good too.

Three days earlier, it had been 103 degrees with a 30 mph wind.  Saturday morning, it was in the mid 50s with just a very light rain coming down.  About 220 people lined up at the starting line where both the marathon and the half-marathon would start.  The start took us a couple miles along the Missouri river on what would be a very flat course.  In fact, the biggest hill on the course was when we ran down to a tunnel under the road and then back up the other side, for a total elevation change up and down of maybe ten feet.  It was an out and back course, so we had to endure the same hill work on the way back in too.

Normally, the 103 degree day would be time for a mirage, but after four miles, my running partner Mike Smith looked over through the mist and said to me, "Are those camels over there?"  I looked, and sure enough, it was a couple of two-humpers.  I swear, neither one of us was smoking anything weird in the peace pipe.

After the half marathoners got to their turn-around spot, the crowd thinned out substantially.  I was trying to stay on a nine-minute pace, and was successful for the whole first half.  Then I slowed down a bit--maybe I should have started out at a 9:30 pace.  After about 11 miles, I passed a big guy who I guessed had taken an early start.  I didn't look at his face on the way by, but just asked him how he was doing.  "Is that Don?" he said.  It was Bob Platt, one of my Antarctica Marathon friends.  I stopped to talk to him for a minute.  

The second half went slower than the first, but I was still on pace for a pretty good marathon.  I had a little extra time to read signs on the way in, and found out with about four miles to go that the course took us by the zoo.  Oh.  That would explain the camels.  I finished 24 miles a couple minutes before the four-hour mark.  If I concentrated for the last couple miles, I could finish in a sub-10-minute-per-mile pace for the first time in over three years.  I succeeded, crossing the finish line at 4:21:48, my best finish since May 1998.

I drove back out the course to check on Bob, and he was only a mile out, so I went back to watch him finish.  He asked me where I was staying, and I pointed to the Subaru.  He offered me a spot on his floor that night.  A considerable improvement--indoor plumbing and a TV set.  Not bad.

It was one of those days that you get wet and cold and a warm shower is just about the best thing a person could imagine.  Good thing the YMCA was sponsoring the marathon.  Not only a hot shower, but a hot tub too, followed by a pizza party for the awards program.  

My friend Alfred McClodden was there--he had taken sixth overall in the marathon.  I love this guy.  Alfred is a classic.  He's a skinny black guy from Louisiana whom I met in November 1999 in Mississippi.  He got talking that night and kept our whole table laughing.  He had started running marathons about a month earlier and was at that time doing his sixth one.  This one makes 44.  He drives to all of them, 33 states so far.  If you want to meet someone who genuinely loves running, Alfred's the guy to talk to.  We talked in the parking lot for about an hour before he headed south.

I spent part of the afternoon at the powwow, looking at Indian crafts and watching the dancing contests.  The costumes were fantastic.  Bob and I met later and went out for a steak dinner to celebrate another successful marathon.  I grabbed my pillow, blanket and jammies from the car, and enjoyed a night in a nice warm room before getting up early for a shower and a trip to the airport.

and the adventure continues....