FARGO — It won't be the Fargo Marathon of old, but this weekend the runners, spectators and bands are back after 16 months away.
The 17th Fargo Marathon events and festivities began this week and culminate Saturday with the full marathon and relay, the 10K and half marathon beginning at 7:30 a.m. at the Fargodome.
Marathon Executive Director Mark Knutson said the race fields are down by about 50% from previous years, which had been run in May until the 2020 race was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic and delayed this year until the fall.
About 1,400 racers are expected to run the full marathon, about 2,300 in the half, about 1,900 in Friday's 5K, roughly 1,400 in the 10K and 500 for today's youth run, Knutson said.
Contributing factors Knutson cited are the lingering pandemic, the date change and competition with other fall marathons, and what he called the "COVID hangover."
"People are still nervous and not sure what to expect," Knutson said. "People said, 'You know what? I took 2020 off because of COVID,' and now they're saying they're going to take 2021 off, too."
Promoting the race during the spring and summer months also presented a challenge, he said.
"You know what it's like when it's spring and summer around here," Knutson said. "We all kind of check out and head to the lakes."
However, the move to the fall has had its benefits, primarily far more predictable weather and course conditions, Knutson said.
"Planning has not been so tough," he said. "In fact, in some ways it's been easier because we're not dealing with winter and flooding. In about half the previous races, we had to re-route the course because of flooding and there were a couple of times we weren't sure we'd even get it run."
In turn, that the Fargo Marathon has options to use different routes each year is a feature participants enjoy, Knutson said, adding that the races have been run on the same course only a few times in previous years.
This year's half marathon, for example, will take advantage of recently completed bike trails in Moorhead, a course that will take runners through Homestead Park and the Hjemkomst Center area, Knutson said.
"The routes are really good this year," he said. "I've been on them, checking them out and we made little tweaks seeing it from a runner's standpoint.
"It's going to be different, but we'll have people running the races, people on the course and 40 bands out playing," Knutson said. "I think everyone will enjoy it."