MOORHEAD – Like the kickoff of the first football game or the first pitch of a baseball season, Paul Johnson is a symbol of marathon season in Fargo-Moorhead. The regional artist unveiled his annual race poster on Monday morning at a sponsorship breakfast, the first sign that the event is not far away.

The rendition centering around three students from Concordia College, Minnesota State Moorhead and North Dakota State is directly tied to the theme of the May 7-9 weekend: a celebration of the three universities.

The marathon route will prominently use all three campuses for the first time. Now entering its 11th annual running, the marathon has never done the same thing in two consecutive years. That’s by design, said marathon executive director Mark Knutson.

“If you don’t reinvent yourself, it gets kind of stale,” he said. “This is a dawn of a new decade and that means new concepts.”

The reinventing includes starting all three Saturday morning races inside the Fargodome. They started in front of the dome on North University Drive in eight of the first 10 years but this year will start and finish inside.

The idea came from the Fargo Mini Marathon last fall. It was a cold morning in October, so race organizers decided to start everybody inside at Centennial Hall in downtown Fargo rather than outside in an adjacent street.

Later that day, Knutson and his wife, Sue Knutson, were at the NDSU and Southern Illinois football game with the other 18,000-plus fans when the thought hit them.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we did that with the marathon,” Mark Knutson said.

He said the inside start for the Mini Marathon “worked flawlessly.” Not everybody will be on the arena floor at the same time. The marathon will start first at 7:30 a.m., followed by the half-marathon at 8 and the 10K at 8:30.

The marathon will use MSUM around miles 11 and 12, Concordia between miles 12 and 13 and NDSU during the last 1½ miles. Johnson used student runners from all three schools and a collage of maps as a representation of runners and people coming together for the weekend.

He also said the work is in honor of former Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker, who was a big supporter in the first 10 years of the race before he died in early December.

“There are lots of layers,” Johnson said.

Almost finished, he decided to go with a headline format using “College Courses 26.2,” in reference to students taking classes.

“It just fell together,” he said.

Knutson also announced on Monday that the “Shoes for Kids” will try to be expanded. Instead of donating 1,000 pairs of running shoes to local elementary children, the hope is to double that to 2,000, he said.

That program is now open to donations other than the major contributors from the first three years of the marathon, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, Dakota Medical Foundation and Discovery Benefits.

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