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Bemidji Blue Ox Marathon attracts the fleet-footed from all over America

Marathon runners

BEMIDJI — The first-ever Blue Ox Marathon event is new not just for the people of Bemidji but also for the dozens of runners who have traveled from across the country. As of Wednesday, there were entrants from 23 states, not to mention a few Canadian provinces. They hail from everywhere — Anchorage, Alaska to West Peoria, Ill.

Some runners have ties to Bemidj and some are coming to the city for the first time. They all have one thing in common, though: they don’t see a problem in flying thousands of miles just to run 26.2 more miles once they arrive.Obviously it seems these pace-setting pilgrims are dedicated to the sport, it stands to reason they’d be the best to answer this question: Why do people run?

Tom Luoma grew up in Bemidji but comes to the Blue Ox from Utah. This marathon will be lucky No. 13 for him. It’s difficult to explain to somebody who doesn’t run long distance why the sport is "fun," he said, but part of the explanation lies in the community that exists among runners. It’s because of the fact that, more often than not, runners are just good people, he said.

"I do find more and more that most runners are people that are generally good-natured," he said. "They’re out there for a good time; they’re out there to be one with themselves and nature…"

Apart from bonding with other runners, the sport appeals to those who also want a bit of solitude. A retired member of the Air Force, Dave Hamel is originally from Massachusetts but currently lives near Fort Bragg, N.C. Hamel uses his time out running to be alone with his thoughts without the distractions of the regular day.

"You’d be surprised how creative your mind gets when you’re out running for two hours," he said.

Hamel has actually seen runners use their cell phones during a race, which he said is one of his biggest hang-ups — no pun intended.

"You’re out there to get away from that stuff," he said. "If you’re going to run, especially distance run, make it your quiet time — put your cell phone away."

For Hamel, the Blue Ox is the very last race on a quest to run marathons in all 50 states. After he finishes, his next move is to try and run the Boston Marathon as part of the Boston Bruins’ charity team. Not only is Hamel a hockey fan, he said, but he also cross-trains by playing weekly hockey games with the soldiers at Fort Bragg.

Sherene Crawford is a lawyer living in Brooklyn. Like Luoma, she’s a Bemidji expatriate, and she’s coming back to run with her father.

Crawford said she had run periodically but never trained for a race until her father found running as means of keeping healthy as he became older.

"I started training because I wanted to do a race with him," she said. "My dad was really my inspiration to do it."

Running appeals to Crawford in that one can do it no matter where they are — no rules, no equipment (except for shoes). Unknowingly proving Luoma’s point about runners as good-natured people, Crawford had a message for her fellow participants in the Blue Ox.

"Good luck to everybody," she said.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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