Fargo Marathon has the luxury of Tom Reagan in adjusting flooded course

Experienced measure, certifier makes sure the route will be exactly 26.2 miles

Runners in the Sanford Fargo Marathon run Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, cross the Red River into Lindenwood Park, Fargo.
Michael Vosburg/Forum Communications Co.
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FARGO — He answered the cell phone on Monday afternoon, a bit winded from a most crucial adjustment from the flooding Red River. Tom Reagan was on his Trek road bicycle riding the updated Essentia Fargo Marathon course to make sure it’s all of 26.2 miles.

The pastor at Bethany Free Lutheran Church near Abercrombie, N.D., didn’t need divine intervention to do the job. He needed his bicycle and the extensive knowledge of accurately measuring a marathon course so it will be certified with USA Track & Field, the governing body of running, by the time runners toe the line Saturday morning at the Fargodome.

In one case, the marathon is fortunate that an experienced course measurer lives in the area. It’s also fortunate Reagan is a certifier, therefore avoiding one step in the process.

After measuring it, Reagan sends the paperwork to himself. He’ll send it to USATF, where it is expected to get approved and within a day or two, the Fargo Marathon will have a certification number.

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Marathon executive director Mark Knutson did the course changes. It’s up to Reagan to make sure it’s 26.2. Using a device called a Jones Counter mounted on the front of his bike, he rode the course last Saturday and again on Monday.


“It worked out really well in the end,” Reagan said.

The process is technical and involves calibrating his bike before and after each bike ride and correction factors that even if the course comes up 2 feet short, 2 more feet need to be added. Reagan also takes into account the air pressure of his tires.

“If it’s certified and done a certain way, it’s done accurately,” he said.

Complicating this Fargo and Moorhead course is over 100 turns built into it. When Reagan first rode the adjusted route, it was short by around 2,000 feet, so distance was added at a turnaround point on the southeast part of the course.

He’s measured courses for 28 years, first getting into the game when he was the director for a 5K race in Lake Benton, Minn.

“It wasn’t certified and I had people saying it’s short or it’s long,” Reagan said. “I was so ticked off and said I was going to get this right.”

He followed a manual provided by USATF and when he was done, the 5K course was 5K, not a bit long or short.

The certification eliminates the runner who ran too slow from complaining the course was too long and vice versa. And certification is a prerequisite for runners trying to qualify for a restricted-entry race like the Boston Marathon.


“It’s kind of cool, he does this as a side project,” Knutson said. “He’s very technical. He crosses all his Ts and dots all of his Is.”

Reagan is the USATF certifier for North Dakota and South Dakota. He measures courses in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

It’s not the first time the Fargo Marathon has had to adjust its route because of flooding. It’s probably the closest to race day, however, that the process had to go into overdrive.

Reagan, in his work this week, got an up-close look at people in both cities making race day a good experience. On Monday, he started at 6 a.m. and ran into workers in Moorhead filling potholes, a concerned citizen wondering if the course was going the wrong way (it wasn’t), and police motorcycles who lead the race showing a rookie the course so as to help prevent mistakes.

“There are so many people that are necessary to make it happen,” Reagan said. “It’s amazing. It’s a big production with so many people involved.”

It’s a production that for the marathon will be 26.2 miles. Not a foot more or a foot less.

Mike Alquist, left, and Tom Reagan work at plotting out the Fargo Marathon route as they look at possibilities along in First Avenue and Sixth Street North in Fargo on Monday, April 22, 2013.
David Samson/The Forum

Related Topics: FARGO MARATHON
Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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