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Running, before the race and during it

Prize-winning farm animals, thousands of people to watch and every kind of food on-a-stick all make for a memorable weekend at the Minnesota State Fair. And I certainly will admit to enjoying a taste of tator tot hot dish on-a-stick from Ole and Lena's stand. However, the main reason for my very first trip to the state fair was to see my sister and brother-in-law race in the Milk Run on Sunday--a race they almost didn't get to.

The 5K race is a tradition at the fair and is limited to the first 1,500 entrants. The deadline to apply was back in July. The unfortunate people who missed the cutoff will have to wait until next year to get up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning to run 3.1 miles through the streets of St. Paul in the August sun surrounded by hundreds of sweaty people. My sibling and sibling-in-law were some of the fortunate 1,500, however, and we made the trip to the Cities Saturday afternoon.

Our trip to experience some wholesome competition at the fair began with a visit to the Mall of America--a place that everyone who lives in a small town must go to when the opportunity arises. It takes a lot of courage to go to the mall on a weekend during school shopping season, but we knew we had to take advantage of the chance to shop. Like a piranha on a feeding frenzy, I snapped up all the clothes in my size and style at H&M.

After satisfying our hunger to shop we headed to a friend's place where we were staying for the weekend. She invited several friends to join us for a dinner party in her adorable studio apartment (it could be an advertisement for Ikea) right by Hennipen Ave. She prepared a delicious lasagna that was a very appropriate meal for two runners who like to carb load before a race, although it was me, a spectator, who probably did the most loading up on pasta.

We managed to go to sleep at a reasonable hour, although the morning was rushed. We knew we had to leave by 6:30 a.m. in order to get to the fairgrounds in time to park and find where the race started. The clock kept ticking faster as we brushed our teeth and combed our hair. We packed up our bags and rushed down three flights of stairs. We didn't bother with the elevator since our friend claimed it was so slow it must be powered by hamsters running on a wheel. After escaping the apartment we dashed down the street to the car. Our hostess had already left to get some cash at Wells Fargo.

We raced down Interstate 94 on our way to Target, where the four of us were planning to meet and take only one car to the fair. I didn't look at the speedometer. My brother-in-law used to live in Bloomington and he loves driving in the city. He said it makes him feel alive. When we reached the fairgrounds, we saw a long line up of cars on Snelling Ave., approaching the fair. My sister groaned and said there was no way we could go to Target and get back to the fair in time for the race. She whipped her cell phone out and delivered the bad news.

Our friend bore her unceremonious dumping quite admirably. She later credited a stop at Starbuck's for her ability to deal with the situation without getting overly agitated. While she prepared to face parking at the fair on her own, we started searching for a spot in a residential area. After parking in front of a stucco home, we jumped out of the car and started walking. Well, at least my sister and her husband started walking. I am much shorter than they are and I had to periodically break into a run in order to keep up with their brisk pace.

The gates to the fair were a beautiful site when we finally arrived. My sister was relieved to see other people with numbers pinned to their shirts and running shorts on who were also entering the fairgrounds. They wouldn't be the last ones to the race.

The gate keepers tore our tickets in half and we started searching for the Blue Ribbon Picnic Area, which was the site of the Milk Run. As we walked up the stone steps to the sight of red and white striped tents, a voice over the loud speaker instructed the runners to begin lining up. The race was starting in 12 minutes. My sister and her husband left their things with me and joined the crowd on their way to the starting line.

My sister is a dedicated runner more than a racer, but she did not finish as well as she would have hoped. Her nerves and our feast of lasagna and chocolate chip cookie cheesecake bars may have had something to do with her results. But she made it to the race and she finished it. My brother-in-law kept pace with my sister and crossed the finish line with her. My sister always laughs when people say they don't enjoy running. Nobody enjoys running, she says, but it sure is a good feeling when it's done and you feel like you can conquer the world. She may have been gagging minutes before, but after claiming her Milk Run T-shirt, she was ready to join the 166,849 other fairgoers and start searching for some food on-a-stick. I think a fried Snickers bar was a well-deserved reward for our race to a race and finishing a 5K in a crowd.