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Kevin Schnepf, Published May 17 2012

Schnepf: Fargo Marathon settles in as event for the community

Fargo - Mark Knutson vividly remembers waking up at 3 a.m. on May 15, 2005, looking out his front window and watching it snow.

This was his initiation as race director of the Fargo Marathon.

Knutson remembers standing on Veterans Memorial Bridge between Fargo and Moorhead unable to raise a scissors lift because it was so windy. It was the same gusts that made it next to impossible to hang starting-line banners.

He remembers watching volunteers grab bottles of water for aid stations, leaving many wondering, “Why? It’s snowing and it’s cold.”

“This isn’t going to work,” Knutson remembers thinking to himself. “Everybody is going to hate it.”

Contrary to Knutson’s frustrations, the Fargo Marathon has worked ever since that bitterly cold, spring day in 2005. It has worked so well, there’s the feeling among the running community that everybody loves the Fargo Marathon.

It has worked so well, the number of participants has skyrocketed 12 times since 2005.

More than 2,000 runners were part of the first Fargo Marathon. More than 24,000 are expected for five different races scheduled today through Saturday.

“No way we could’ve imagined it getting this big,” said Knutson, who senses the huge growth is over yet says he will be content with 22-25,000 a year.

It has become an event that not only caters to runners and walkers of all shapes and sizes, it has become an event that caters to the community. What other event can Fargo-Moorhead residents get involved with like they can with the Fargo Marathon?

It seems if you’re not participating, you’re standing in your front lawn cheering on the throng of runners. It was that community involvement that gave Knutson a more optimistic outlook on his new marathon back in 2005.

“I remember opening up The Forum the day after our first race and seeing this picture of a lady on Eighth Street, bundled up in her parka, banging a big wooden spoon against a metal pan encouraging the runners,” Knutson said. “I always think of that picture. It made me really understand that the community was going to get behind this thing in spite of the weather.”

Knutson also understood – even back in 2005 – that if this event was going to survive, it needed more than just a 26.2-mile marathon. In fact, the majority of the Fargo Marathon entrants participate in either the 13.1-mile half-marathon, the 10-kilometer or 5-kilometer runs, a full marathon 4-person relay – not to mention the half-mile and 1-mile runs for kids.

Last year, more than 7,000 participated in the half-marathon while slightly more than 2,600 ran the full marathon.

This year, tonight’s 5K run is the big attraction. Marathon officials have today to attract 1,500 more runners to reach their goal of 10,000.

“For many people the 5K is their marathon,” Knutson said. “What we quickly realized is that 26.2 miles is a huge endeavor … less than 2 percent of the world will run a marathon in their life. But people want to be a part of this.”

Even if it means running in the snow.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or at kschnepf@forumcomm.com

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