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Planning begins for inaugural Bemidji marathon

BEMIDJI – Organizers of the inaugural Bemidji Blue Ox Marathon have set the time and date for the inaugural race, which will be more than 32 years after the first and only race of its kind here.

The gun for the Blue Ox Marathon is scheduled to go off at 9 a.m. Oct. 12, 2013.

A marathon organizing committee has met monthly since May to brainstorm ideas, work on details and set the event in motion. Between 12 and 15 people regularly attended the meetings to work on a long list of details, including date, complimentary races and course while discussing topics like community involvement, volunteers, sponsorships, marketing, medical personnel and offering training plans for people aiming to be more active.

In addition to a 26.2-mile marathon, organizers plan to offer a 13.1-mile half marathon, 3.1-mile 5K and a children’s race.

Aaron Riedel, a member of the marathon directors’ team, said anyone with input, suggestions or who wants to be involved can attend the next meeting, set for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Cabin Coffeehouse and Cafe, 214 3rd St. NW.

Several people working on marathon planning said they’d heard interest locally in a race, but Riedel spearheaded the initial meeting.

“What sold it for me is the Dragon Boat Festival,” said Riedel, who wants to promote community health. “Just watching what Dragon Boats has done and (how it) pulls people, I think a lot of it is our community.”

Organizers said the 5K and children’s race are planned for a Friday evening, with the marathon and half marathon scheduled for the next day. The hope is to draw runners from around the region to showcase Bemidji, support local businesses and encourage a healthy lifestyle.

One of the main focuses for the group has identifying a course, which the group intends to have certified by USA Track and Field as a qualifier for the prestigious Boston Marathon.

Several people working on the course design said Bemidji will offer a unique course, and the date was specifically chosen to avoid conflict with other marathons in Minnesota and North Dakota, particularly large ones like those in the Twin Cities, Duluth and Fargo, N.D.

“If the Twin Cities has the world’s most beautiful urban marathon, I think we have a shot at the most beautiful marathon anywhere,” said Mark Peske, a local distance runner who is helping work on the course.

Riedel and others said the marathon course will go around Lake Bemidji and Lake Irving, incorporate area trails and Lake Bemidji State Park.

“It’s a nice run,” Riedel said. “I think it’s a run people are really going to enjoy.”

In 1981, Bemidji hosted the Union Station Marathon, which was only run that year.

Dennis Bartz, who is on the Blue Ox Marathon directors’ team, remembers running the Union Station marathon.

He said 160 runners finished the race, which also circled the two lakes. Bartz said temperatures were hot on Sept. 12, 1981, prompting some runners to drop out of the race.

Organizers for the Blue Ox Marathon said they hope for community involvement –in planning, sponsorship and participation – for a successful 2013 event.

Riedel, who initially was interested in bringing a walking marathon to Bemidji, is convinced the city is up for the challenge.

He said the longer events, whether running or walking, are designed to present tangible goals for people who want to live a healthy lifestyle.

“Hopefully, in two or three years, we can bring a walking marathon to town,” Riedel said.


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Steve Wagner

Grand Forks Herald Editor Steve Wagner can be reached at 701.780.1104 and He joined the Herald in April 2013, and previously worked as editor at the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer and in several roles -- including news director, investigative reporter and crime reporter - at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. His reporting experience includes coverage of Dru Sjodin's disappearance and the federal death penalty case for her murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., along with several investigative projects. In his spare time, Wagner is an avid runner and occasionally writes about his experiences on his blog, Addicted to Running.

(701) 780-1104