FARGO — Kenyans have won the last five men's full marathons of the Sanford Fargo Marathon. The country that has produced so many great long distance runners over the years may well be represented a sixth time at the Fargodome finish line on Saturday.
It looks to be a competitive field for the 7 a.m. start. Perhaps helping the increased number of elite runners is the upcoming Olympic Trials for the 2020 Olympic Games.
“So people are looking for a flat course and we have that,” said Mike Almquist, marathon operations director. “We have people from all over the country.”
Runners like Enock Birir, who is training out of Sante Fe, N.M. He’ll toe the line with the fastest personal record of the elite entrants at 2 hours, 20 minutes, 10 seconds. The 28-year-old won the Des Moines (Iowa) Marathon last fall, which was his first 26.2-mile race in seven years and took third in the Mercedes-Benz Marathon in February in Birmingham, Ala., with a time of 2:26.44.
He’ll have competition from Arturs Bareikis of Crestwood, Ill., a native of Latvia, who took second in the Fargo Marathon in 2014. The Duma Running Club in Coon Rapids, Minn., is sending Kenyan runners Anthony Kurui and two-time Fargo champion David Tuwei.
Kurui most recently finished fifth in the half-marathon in Lincoln, Neb. The 40-year-old Tuwei lists a 2:14 as his PR, but his performances in the last few years have been more in the range of his Fargo-winning times of 2:27.15 in 2015 and 2:28.24 in 2017.
“We’re happy to have him back,” Almquist said. “We gave him bib numero uno and we’ll see if he’ll be ready for the race day pressure.”
Perhaps a sleeper favorite is Garang Madut, who won the St. Jude Memphis Marathon last December. He ran cross country for four years at Cumberland University (Tenn.) and is a graduate assistant coach for the Cumberland women’s cross country team.
Madut moved to Nashville, Tenn., from South Sudan when he was 5 years old. At 23 years old, he may be on the verge of realizing his potential.
“We might be catching him on the rise up,” Almquist said. “It’s nice to be able to get somebody that young and in their prime and ready to make Fargo part of their map. It’s nice they’re giving Fargo a chance. He could be somebody who we look at in a couple of years and say, wow, remember him when he ran our race?”
Defending Fargo champion Geofrey Terer of Colorado Springs, Colo., won the Brookings (S.D.) Marathon last weekend in 2:30.47. It’s doubtful the 42-year-old would have enough in the tank to challenge on consecutive weekends but he’s been in the running game long enough to know competition over 26.2 miles can get strange at times. It worked last year when he won the Fargo in 2:30.00.
“It’s about who’s on Saturday?” Almquist said. “Who has it mentally and physically together? Or who adapts best to the conditions the runners are facing that day? You know Fargo, it could be anything on Saturday.”
Like the men’s race, the women’s race appears to anybody’s ballgame with the retirement of three-time defending champion Semehar Tesfaye. She ripped through all three races virtually unchallenged.
“It’s wide open,” Almquist said. “I’ve heard it a lot — where’s Semehar, she’s not on the list? A lot of runners were expecting her to be here and now I think they’re realizing there’s an opportunity for a new winner.”
Lindsey Zimmer of Minneapolis has the top PR of the elite entrants with a 2:48.11. In contrast, Tesfaye set the Fargo course record of 2:37.27 in 2016.
Zimmer won the Get in Gear Half Marathon in the Twin Cities three weeks ago dominating the field by almost eight minutes. Megan Smith of Denver owns a 2:50.19 PR set at the Twin Cities Marathon in 2017, where she finished eighth overall.
“It’s anyone’s race,” Almquist said. “It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”