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Jeff Kolpack, Published May 15 2013

Former winners vie for another Fargo Marathon title

FARGO – The course record for the Fargo Marathon was set in 2010 when Chris Erichsen blasted through the streets in 2 hours, 19 minutes, 55 seconds. He was only 24 years old at the time.

In the sport of running marathons, that’s like a high school baseball player pitching to Joe Mauer.

Three years later, Erichsen is back in the Fargo field and is one of two returning champions who will toe the line Saturday morning by the Fargodome. Chad Wallin, the 2006 and 2007 winner, is also back in the field for the first time since 2008.

“There’s something about coming through that (Fargodome) tunnel, looking around and think, ‘is this happening?’” Wallin said. “It’s life changing.”

Erichsen will be running a Fargo event for the fourth time. He finished 40th in the 2012 Olympic Trials in Houston and said the plan is to eventually think about the Trials for the 2016 Games. Now 27, he’s still relatively young in the sport where a lot of runners don’t peak until they’re in their 30s.

“Definitely on the young side,” he said.

His growth pattern is typical of an American elite marathoner. He was an All-American runner in track and cross country at St. John’s University (Minn.) who steadily increased his mileage after college.

He won the half-marathon division in the Fargo Marathon in 2009. He lowered his 2010 Fargo time by three minutes last year in finishing ninth at Grandma’s Marathon in 2:16.31. He was the top American finisher.

“The last couple of years have been consistent training,” Erichsen said. “I think I’m smarter in knowing what works for me and what doesn’t work for me. The marathon is a tough distance so experience helps a lot. The more you do it, the more you learn and every time is something different.”

Training hasn’t been real smooth this spring because he spent three weeks in Asia for work. Circumstances limited him to a treadmill or low-mileage runs.

Wallin, from Minot, N.D., has been more selective in his races in recent years, saying training has been more enjoyable than racing. He’s done the Bismarck Marathon and Chicago Marathon since 2010.

“I think I’m ready to go back to Fargo and give it a shot again,” he said.

He said the field looks improved from when he won the back-to-back titles. A top-10 performance would be a good goal this time around, he said.

His attempt at a threepeat in 2008 was thwarted by a virus that week. He got sick during the race.

“That year changed a lot of things for me as a runner,” Wallin said. “It shows you can be in the best shape of your life leading up to that week. Then I remember I didn’t feel right. So that sits on you. It will be good to just go back and compete on the course again.”

Mike Almquist of the Fargo Marathon, who coordinates the elite field, said a few entrants have canceled because of various conflicts.

James Kirwa has a better personal-record marathon time than Erichsen.

Kirwa, who has a PR mark of 2:12:54, is a Kenyan runner that has won the Pittsburgh Marathon the last two years including a 2:13 finish on May 5. He also won the DesMoines Marathon in 2011.

After Erichsen, Wojciech Kopec from Searcy, Ariz., has the next-best PR at 2:22.00. Kopec is only 26 years old.

“I think he’s an up-and-comer,” Almquist said. “But overall I think it’s pretty wide open. On any given day, somebody can go out there and lay it down.”

Wallin said he’s been training with Brittney Christianson of Minot, who is in the elite women’s field.

“She’ll be in the top three,” he said. “She’s been somebody that has gone out on weekends in rain or snow. Once you’re committed, it holds you to your training.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.