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Kevin Schnepf, Published May 18 2013

Schnepf: Timing mats at Fargodome part of Boston bombing scene

The mats that recorded the times of about 13,700 runners at Saturday’s Fargo Marathon were part of a crime scene last month.

The orange-painted line on one of the mats on the Fargodome floor was sprayed on by investigators of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings.

“I didn’t know if I was going to get the mats back in time for our next race,” said John Magnuson, who with his MTec Results company out of St. Paul tracks times of runners in about 150 events a year across the country.

One of those events is Fargo, where Magnuson has tracked times at all nine Fargo Marathons. So when he tells people as far away as Boston that 20,000 people come to Fargo to run, nobody believes him.

“There are few places that can do what Fargo does,” Magnuson said.

What Fargo has done has grown from the 2,641 runners it attracted in its first marathon in 2005 to more than 20,000 each of the last three years. It seems the marathon has reached its peak in terms of numbers.

But that hasn’t stopped Mark Knutson’s marathon committee from its annual quest to reach a new peak each year in terms of quality. It has become an event that brings Fargo traffic to a halt, fills up nearly every F-M hotel room, fills the neighborhood streets with bands and parties, and fills the west side of the Fargodome with spectators cheering on those who crossed the crime-scene mats at the finish line.

“The big thing with this marathon is the Fargodome,” said the 64-year-old Magnuson, a 1971 Concordia College graduate. “It’s a controlled environment that provides a secure place for runners. Today is a good example. If a violent thunderstorm had broken out, the runners would’ve had a secure place. Very few marathons can do that.”

As much as the Fargodome has become the trademark of the Fargo Marathon, Knutson would love to start next year’s 10th anniversary event outside and downtown on Veterans Memorial bridge – where the very first Fargo Marathon began.

“Seeing 15,000 runners on that bridge would be cool,” Knutson said while watching runners finish at the Fargodome. “But we would still finish here.”

It would be just the opposite of the Twin Cities Marathon, which starts indoors at the Metrodome and ends outside near the Capitol in St. Paul. This change, according to Knutson, would be a one-year deal with the start returning to the Fargodome in 2015.

“People just like the convenience of the Fargodome,” Knutson said.

And they like the quality – something Knutson said he and his committee strive for every year.

“I think we will always attract more than 20,000 runners until we screw up,” Knutson said. “If we ever do, people talk quickly. As much as we have benefitted from word of mouth, it can turn on you just as quickly if you don’t run a quality event.”

Guy Goschen of Fargo, a marathon committee member for the last six years, is hoping next year’s event will attract more full marathoners.

While total weekend event numbers have increased from 2,641 in 2005 to nearly 21,000 this year, the number of full-marathon participants has held steady in that 2,000 range for the last four years.

“We’re hoping that 10K runner will try the half marathon and that half marathoner will try the full,” said Goschen, who after years of running 10Ks made the leap to running full marathons. “Although people may find it hard to believe, it’s really not that big of a difference between the half and full.”

One thing that is for sure next year: Jerry Magnuson will be laying down his crime-scene mats in the Fargodome.

“Fargo is truly blessed to have this facility,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or at kschnepf@forumcomm.com