Marathon rivalry?

Did anyone notice the Bismarck Marathon flyer in the Fargo race packet? It seems our friends to the west must be trying to cash in on Fargo’s success, or trying to build a little rivalry.

"North Dakota’s flattest, fastest and friendliest marathon," the Bismarck race claims. Perhaps Fargo might want to trademark it’s flat, fast and friendly motto – much like the Twin Cities Marathon registered itself as "The Most Beautiful Urban Marathon in America."

It seems Fargo could make its claim after this year’s event, and ismarck might want to rethink it’s slogan. You’d be hard-pressed to find a flatter course than the double loop Fargo used this year. I’m not familiar with the Bismarck course, but previous years in Fargo were pretty flat, too.

But let’s focus on fast. As I start looking at some of the numbers from Fargo, it was definitely a quick marathon.

Most marathoners with time goals are either seeking to qualify for Boston, which standards depends on age, and running below 4 hours.

At Saturday’s Fargo Marathon, 537 of 1,270 finishers – or 42.3 percent – ran the marathon in less than 4 hours. Another 9 runners posted times with 4 hours and a few spare seconds on the clock, less than a minute from dipping below. The top 5 finishers all ran under the course record set by Eric Sondag last year, and 29 runners finished in less than 3 hours. The average finishing time for all finishers was 4:16.

It might not be fair to compare marathons from one year to the next, and several years of data might be better suited to show trends. But here’s a look at last year’s marathons in Bismarck and Fargo:

Last year in Bismarck, the marathon was run on Sept. 20. There were 145 finishers, with 45 – or 31 percent – running less than 4 hours. Historic weather data shows it a low of 51, high of 82 and average wind speed of 10.8 mph. The average finishing time was 4:21.

For the 2008 Fargo Marathon, 437 of 1,427 finishers ran sub 4 hour marathons. That’s 30.6 percent of runners. Historical weather data shows a low of 41, high of 73 and average wind speed of 17.2 mph. The average finishing time was 4:27.

Weather can play a big factor in marathoners meeting time goals. I wasn’t in Bismarck, but the National Weather Service data would indicate it was warm. We know that was the case in Fargo – conditions were ideal at the start but both the temperature and wind soared within 2 hours of the start.

So Bismarck may be able to claim it was faster last year, by a tiny fraction. And they may have the data to show it was flatter – but can you imagine it much flatter than Fargo? And how do you measure friendliness? If Bismarck wants to tout their slogan as the state’s flattest, fastest and friendliest marathon next year, race organizers have their work cut out for them. And it might help to start praying now for cool weather.

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