Connecting communities: Second Blue Ox Marathon weekend will be Oct. 10-11
BEMIDJI -- Just as the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival has grown to attract thousands of participants and spectators, Phil Knutson believes the Blue Ox Marathon weekend has the potential of becoming as big a marquee event for the Bemidji community.
"There's a big active community here, not just in Bemidji but regionally. I think this is a way to connect them all," said Knutson, executive director of the Blue Ox.
Even for individuals who aren't runners themselves, Knutson said the event requires the support of similarly active-minded individuals and groups, such as cyclists to bike the route ahead of race leaders.
"(They're) leading them around, so that biker can relay to us, 'Hey they're at Paul and Babe. They're going to be there (at the finish), your winners are coming in,'" Knutson said. "Normally the leader has a pace car in front of them. We did it with bikes."
The second Blue Ox Marathon weekend -- featuring kids runs, a 5K, a half-marathon, a 26K Lake Loop and the full marathon -- will be Oct. 10-11 at the Sanford Center. The annual event, which includes the two-day Be Active Expo, is planned to always be on the second weekend in October.
The inaugural event last fall drew about 950 total participants. Organizers have more than 600 total registered for this fall -- 200 more registrations than they did at this time last year -- and Knutson suspects total event participation could approach 1,500. Total participation will be capped at 1,700, if needed.
"It's all that question of, 'Are they registering earlier?'" Knutson said. "Last year we reached 23 states and two (Canadian) provinces. As of about a month ago we had about 500 registrations and we'd already reached 21 states and three provinces."
Registration for all events must be done in advance, which Knutson said will be adjustment for many local runners.
"Last year we did allow some registration the day of packet pickup ... and every other local 5K and 10K allows same-day registration, but being that we're using a timing company, just like the big events, we don't have that luxury," he said. "There is no same-day registration. Even for the 5K, you have to be registered in advance."
5K: This is the event Knutson suspects will draw the most number of local participants. The 5K event, which currently has about 150 currently registered, has a cap of 550.
Knutson said the run last year had about 250 participants and if it reaches its limit this fall, he acknowledged the route -- which goes from the Sanford Center to Paul and Babe and back along on trails and sidewalks -- would be "tight," but that it would be fun.
Kids runs: the 1/2K and 1K kids runs. The 1K took place last year but organizers this year added a 1/2K as well. Total participation is capped at 150 and parents are welcome to run with their children.
Half-marathon and 26K Lake Loop: Total registrations for both of these events is capped at 600, with 250 allowed for the half and 350 for the route that loops around Lake Bemidji, which is three miles longer than the half-marathon.
The reason for the cut-off on registration, Knutson said, is primarily associated with busing capacities. Because organizers want all events to end at the finish line outside of the Sanford Center, half-marathon runners will be bussed about three miles up the Paul Bunyan Trail to begin their race.
Last year, when there was no 26K Lake Loop, 350 participants ran the half-marathon.
Marathon: Nearly 250 people registered for the full marathon last year and that number is currently at about 150 for this fall. The cap for this event will be 400.
"The thing we deal with with having a later marathon is even though people register earlier, the later your marathon is, the more people want to know what the weather's going to be like," Knutson said.
New this year: The Blue Ox Marathon will include the Minnesota Pacers, an organization composed of long-distance runners who run their courses carrying signs to lead a group of runners to the finish line for a specific time goal.
The Minnesota Pacers Pace Team will have seven runners this fall in the Blue Ox: for those aiming for a 3:25 finish (three hours, 25 minutes), 3:35, 3:45, 4:00, 4:15, 4:30 and 5:00.
"Since we are a qualifying course (for the Boston Marathon), it makes it nice for some of those people," Knutson said.
Also, the Pacers add a few more sets of eyes and ears along the race, being able to perhaps encourage volunteers at a water station to keep an eye on an upcoming struggling runner.
"It helps us in many ways and it helps the runners," Knutson said.
The Be Active Expo
This two-day event is free to the public and will be at the Sanford Center with a variety of groups and businesses dedicated to an active-living theme.
The Expo, featuring both vendors and speaking, will be from 2-8 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Volunteers and spectators
From hosting a water station to directing runners to cleaning up, Knutson said numerous volunteers will be needed to host a successful event. Anyone interested can sign up online at BemidjiBlueOxMarathon.com
"It's probably our biggest need right now," he said.
Also, Knutson wants to see the general public get involved in the event, not just in terms of participation but also by lining up along the route to cheer on the runners.
"Before I ever ran, I went to many, many marathons to watch my father-in-law and it was always the most inspiring thing you could ever go to," he said. "You'd watch people of all shapes and sizes finish (their races). No matter which race they were finishing, it's always a big deal for a lot of people. It's good for a lot of people to see."
All events for the Blue Ox Marathon weekend require pre-registration, due by Oct. 8. This includes the shorter events such as the 5K. Details: www.BemidjiBlueOxMarathon.com