FARGO — Running is one of the most popular sports and practices worldwide. In 2017, almost 60 million people participated in running, jogging and trail running in the U.S. alone — making it no surprise that the outdoor-centric Fargo-Moorhead area is becoming a sort of hub for races.

Mark Knutson, director of the Sanford Health Fargo Marathon, says planning races at the caliber of the 15th annual event coming up this weekend takes some time.

"The process is always evolving," he says. "We start marketing in August and the race is the following May. It's about a 10-month project."

Knutson also says races are becoming more popular in the area, a trend that mirrors what's happening across much of the country.

"There are a lot more races out there than there was even five or 10 years ago," he says. "I think people see the success of the Fargo Marathon and want to have a race and do something like that."

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And Knutson says the number of local races, especially 5Ks, is on the rise here.

"It's just a great community," he says. "We live in a great community of people who love to be outdoors when they can and we have a short window of weather options. People like to get a good race going."

Fargo Marathon festivities kicked off earlier this week with the Furgo Dog Run on Tuesday. Young runners will gather at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 16, for the Sanford Health Youth Run, and a 5K is on the schedule for Friday. The highlight of the Fargo Marathon, including a full and half-marathon and 10K, is set for Saturday, May 18. Visit www.fargomarathon.com for a full schedule.

Summer races

In addition to favorites like the Sanford Health Fargo Marathon, sports management company Go Far Events is partnering with Warner Bros. and DC Comics to host the Wonder Woman Run Series in Fargo, including a 5K, 10K and half-marathon. taking place June 28 and 29.

"We think it will be a good event for the community," Knutson says. "It's a national partnership we're doing, and Wonder Woman is so iconic. With women's empowerment at an all-time high, it'll be a fun event."

Try it out

For first-time runners, the prospect of racing can be a bit intimidating. However, Knutson says taking it slow is key.

"My first race ever was a marathon," Knutson says. "I never ran anything shorter (to start with). Start with a 5K or 10K type of thing, develop a run/walk plan for yourself and build up your mileage and give it a shot."

Not everyone is a runner, though, and race coordinators understand that.

Fortunately, there are ways for non-runners to get involved. Walking, biking and even leisurely strolling with your four-legged furry friend are all options available for those who may not be ready to run a full race.

For those who prefer a less sweaty environment, there are plenty of volunteer options open as well, including running aid stations, providing entertainment on courses and assisting with registration and packet pickup on race day.