Sidewalks and Sprinklers vs. Lightning and Rock Slides

Jenny Sheets's picture
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A scientific comparison of the Fargo Marathon to the Bridger Ridge Run

"Bonk" —verb. to run out of energy mid-run, to deplete the body's glycogen stores, to "hit the wall."

We were on an 'in-and-out' section of the marathon course, which gave us a chance to pass those much faster than us and eye up our competition behind. I watched the first-place runner float by with ease as I heard the Texan behind me panting, close to his last living breath. We had lucked out on race day with overcast skies and a slight breeze. I jaunted through the first 20 miles, proud of my training and my ability to pop ibuprofin like a pro. And then it hit me: the BONK, my body breaking down without warning. The sticky midwestern sun began to seep through the protective layer of clouds, the humidity materialized like condensation on glass, and the mass of runners went viscous. 
 
 
My fatigued body began to slump and my mind played tricks on me: non-existent puddles, the pavement swelling and sinking before my eyes. Was this Fear and Loathing in Fargo? I wanted to crumble in the street and cry for the sake of crying. How could I run another six miles in this heat? It can't possibly get any worse than this moment right now. I mean, there's no way that the infamous Bridger Ridge Run in Bozeman, which I'm scheduled to run on August 10, could be as bad as the sweltering heat in Fargo. After all, I was in the process of running 26.2 miles and the Ridge Run is only 20 miles. Piece of cake... right?
 
Location
Fargo Marathon: Well, it's Fargo. Not the worst place in the world, but not much in the way of scenery, and the marathon is run entirely on asphalt or concrete. However, despite the fact that it's a road race, it winds through beautiful old neighborhoods which is definitely a perk. And it helps that it's run at at 900 feet above sea level and has no elevation gain.
 
Ridge Run: A trail run entirely on the beautiful mountain tops of Montana, this rocky ridge run pumps the adrenaline with loose rocks, scree fields, steep climbs, intense cliff drop-offs, along with 6,800 feet of elevation gain and 9,800 feet of loss.
 
Spectators/Aid Stations
Fargo Marathon: At the time of the race it felt as though every spectator on the course was laughing and relishing in my pain, but in hindsight I now realize the entire city had come out to cheer on the runners. There were bands at every mile (complete with two Elvis impersonators), local cheerleaders, lawn sprinklers to run through, orange slices, gummy bears, aid stations every three miles, not to mention mom and dad with water, Vaseline, and words of encouragement.
 
 
Ridge Run:  At 9,000 feet, the Ridge Run course has trouble recruiting any spectators, let alone squads of cheerleaders and conveniently placed lawn sprinklers. The true cheerleaders are the few brave volunteers at the three aid stations perched along the dramatic rise and fall of the course. Worst of all, no mom and dad motivating me when I bonk.     
 
Weather and Wildlife
Fargo Marathon: May in Fargo can produce anything from heavy rain, to blizzards, to killer temperatures and high humidity. While runners may have to swat a few bugs, there's nothing more than a mosquito, and the wildlife in Fargo is nothing to worry about: hungry grey squirrels and terriers in a pink sweaters.
 
Ridge Run: Every region in the country believes they own the saying, "Don't like the weather? Wait five minutes!" but the Bridgers can truly attest to unpredictable weather. Just like Fargo, any day in Montana can bring rain, blizzards, and heat, but Ridge runners experience this erratic weather on top of 9,000-foot cliffs. You'll also be hard-pressed to find a sweater-bearing terrier on the Ridge, but keep your head up for hungry bears, mountain lions, and traveling packs of wolverines.
 
 

And the Winner Is...
Looking back, my tears and agony during the last six miles of the Fargo Marathon were unwarranted. I was moving at a snail's pace, sprinklers lined the blocks with drops of water from heaven, and adorable little girls were handing out cups of gummy bears. And I thought that was as hard as it gets—pathetic. Jenny, get your big girl pants on and start training for 7,000 feet of elevation gain, the rogue wolverine, rock slides, and lightning strikes. So between a road marathon and the Ridge Run, the most worthy of fear and respect? Bridger Ridge Run by a landslide, (or should I say rockslide?)
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