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Kevin Schnepf, Published May 21 2012

VIDEOS: Race veteran says course mishaps in Fargo Marathon won't hurt its reputation

FARGO – Two course snafus, which cost two runners a chance to win their events, blemished last weekend’s Fargo Marathon.

“But it’s not going to damage the Fargo Marathon,” said marathon expert G.P. Pearlberg. “If you look at the history of racing, even the old guard races like the Boston Marathon, there have been mistakes. It happens. It’s unfortunate. It’s not a perfect world.”

James Schanandore saw his chances of winning the 10K race fade when the lead car veered off course to avoid oncoming runners. Andrew Carlson was 40 meters from winning the half marathon before he was slowed down by three 10K runners who ended up in the wrong finishing lane.

Fargo Marathon director Mark Knutson said he will take the blame for the 10K snafu, but said there wasn’t much more he and his committee could do to prevent what happened in the half marathon finish.

“I can state with a clear conscience that we did everything we could,” Knutson said, referring to the half marathon finish in which Joe Moore sprinted by Carlson to win the race by three-tenths of a second.

Knutson said orange cones were set up for the final blocks leading up to the Fargodome, separating 10K and half marathon runners. A volunteer stationed at top of the ramp where runners entered the Fargodome instructed runners which lane to use.

Somehow, three 10K female runners ended up in the half-marathon finish lane. They slowed down Carlson enough to allow Moore to sprint past him.

According to Pearlberg, who was the public address announcer in the Fargodome, Carlson was responsible for his own second-place finish.

“He has to know three things: where his competition is, how far away the finish line is and he has to be able to anticipate slower runners in front of him,” said Pearlberg, a running coach who has ran in nearly 30 marathons and has worked in more than 100 marathons. “Andrew’s biggest mistake was he started to celebrate and that was a big no-no. And equal to that, he was totally oblivious to those people in front of him who were literally walking.”

Knutson compared it to a speeding car creeping up on a slow-moving car.

“For that brief moment, Andrew took his eyes off the course … just for a second … that’s all it took,” said Knutson, who said the marathon committee may look at adding two more volunteers to help direct traffic at the top of the Fargodome ramp.

In regards to the 10K race, Knutson said they will most likely look at changing the course to avoid what happened Saturday.

The problem occurred on Elm Street in north Fargo, where Schanandore ran into congestion with slower 10K runners heading the opposite direction. According to Knutson, it forced the driver of the lead car to turn off course to avoid hitting runners.

By the time bicycle volunteers got slower runners to move to one side of Elm Street, second-place runner Cley Twigg was able to run the intended course and eventually beat Schanandore by 34 seconds.

“We had talked about using cones on that road to form two lanes, but we had run out of cones,” said Knutson, adding the 10K race is the event’s fastest-growing with 3,800 runners this year. “We will definitely adjust the course to accommodate the growth.”

Despite the two course mishaps, Pearlberg said the Fargo Marathon committee is dealing with what he described as growing pains – especially last Friday’s 5K race that attracted 9,500 runners competing in 95-degree heat.

“What they did was fantastic,” Pearlberg said, praising the decision to have runners walk from the finish line to the Fargodome to get their medals. “It forced them to keep walking and walking. That’s the best thing to do to get your heart rate down in heat like that.”

Fortunately for Saturday’s runners, temperatures dipped into the 60s. Knutson said only 10 runners were sent to the emergency room for minor problems – compared to last year when nearly 40 runners were sent after struggling in warm and humid conditions.

“It’s like someone turned on the air conditioner Saturday,” said Knutson, who pointed out Saturday’s Green Bay Marathon was canceled due to 90-degree heat. “They got the heat that we had on Friday.”

Despite the course mishaps, Pearlberg said he was impressed with how smoothly marathon officials handled nearly 14,000 finishers at the Fargodome Saturday.

“Mistakes will happen,” said Pearlberg, who pointed out the Lake Shore Marathon in Chicago met its demise when its 2005 course was mistakenly marked for 27.2 miles instead of 26.2. “That’s death right there. But the overwhelming vibe I got from Fargo was positive. Just as long as you learn from your mistakes. And I think Fargo has done that very well over the years.”


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