FARGO — The Sanford Fargo Marathon has been sold to a national company called Rugged Races with hopes of boosting participation numbers.

The transaction from Fargo Marathon Inc. to Rugged Races was completed last week, said race founder Mark Knutson — who noted runners competing in the 16th annual event next May are not expected to see a difference.

Knutson and cohort Mike Almquist will still run the Sanford Fargo Marathon events, only they are now employees of Rugged Races, which is a division of Gatehouse Live based in Chattanooga, Tenn.

“If there was one thing to describe this transaction, at this point it’s the best thing that could have happened to the Fargo Marathon,” Knutson said. “It will take the Fargo Marathon to the next level at a point when marathons are leveling off. It’s a struggle.”

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The Fargo Marathon began in 2005 with 2,641 participants. Growth came quickly with almost 20,000 in all events by 2010. The high was 25,700 in 2012.

The races maintained levels around 20,000, but dropped to 17,800 last May.

Rugged Races, Knutson said, is expected to help push the numbers up again with its national arsenal of marketing power, including a database of 500,000 runners.

“We can’t tap into that,” Knutson said. “I can buy all the adds in Runner’s World (magazine) I want but no way can I push a button and send an email to 500,000 people and say, 'come run Fargo'.”

The charitable components of the Sanford Fargo Marathon will not change. In the case of the “Shoes for Kids” campaign, it’s expected to increase. Rugged Races, in conjunction with its parent company, have guaranteed a $50,000 a year commitment to running shoes that are distributed to kids in Fargo-Moorhead area schools for the next 10 years.

Fargo Marathon Inc. will still run the non-profit segment of the marathon.

“As a committee, we’ll still purchase the shoes and distribute them to the schools,” Knutson said.

The Sanford Fargo Marathon was previously run under Knutson’s company called Go Far Events, which contracted with the marathon to manage the event. Go Far Events still exists, Knutson said, but he’s not sure for how long. The Dick Beardsley races in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and Fargo Mini Marathon are part of Fargo Marathon Inc. and will continue under Rugged. Knutson said he's not sure about races like Sandy's Donuts 5K and 10K and Resolution 5K and 10K, which were owned by Go Far Events.

Knutson will be a director of operations for Rugged Races and Almquist an operations manager. Knutson said he could not disclose the selling price “but you can say it wasn’t a big check up front but an over-time process.”

The appeal is in the demographics, according to Fortune magazine. The median household income of a runner is $112,000 with at least 79 percent having a college degree.

Rugged Races will also provide the Sanford Fargo Marathon timing personnel, photography, medals and T-shirts.

“That’s their marketing muscle,” Almquist said.

It will most likely take some of the pressure off Knutson and Almquist in organizing the week-long extravaganza that shuts down parts of Fargo and Moorhead on a Saturday.

“It’s hard when it’s just two people behind the scenes,” Knutson said. “When the committee gets going, when race month is here, everybody jumps in and it’s fantastic. On the backside of it, you’re constantly trying to come up with new ideas. After 15 years, we’ve done everything.”

The Sanford Fargo Marathon is already listed on the Rugged Races website among the national map of events. Its resume consists of one ultra-marathon, six marathons, 17 half-marathons, 23 “Hot Chocolate Series” 15Ks, seven 10Ks and 54 5K-or-less races.

Knutson said selling the marathon wasn’t an easy decision for the Sanford Fargo Marathon Board of Directors.

“When they received this proposal from Rugged, we wrestled with it,” he said. “They had a fiduciary responsibility to look at the proposal and the longevity of the event. It’s local management, so nothing changes with the management. It’s us two. The race committee we’ve had for 15 years. The local high school church groups that volunteer and get donations for volunteering, that stays the same.”