Grand Forks Marathon numbers could take a hit as result of pandemic

Amy Will of Warren, Minn., was the top female finisher in the 2019 Grand Forks Marathon with a time of 03:11:26.Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Approximately 2,200 runners registered to participate in the 2019 Grand Forks Marathon or one of its accompanying races.

Race director Rachel Hellyer said those were typical numbers for the weekend. She wouldn’t be surprised to see a decline in 2020.

“Given everything that’s going on, being realistic, I think it would be a success if we can get 1,500 participants,’’ Hellyer said. “But I could be surprised. We could get more.’’

The ninth annual Grand Forks Marathon race weekend is scheduled for Sept. 24-26. There are a lot of unknowns given the current coronavirus pandemic.

Hellyer said the bulk of the planning process usually starts in mid-May. Early registrations have offered a mixed signal.


“We don’t usually see a ton of registrations by this time of the year,’’ Hellyer said. “It started out being an above-average amount. But the entries have trickled down since (the pandemic) started. Now we’re probably a little less than usual for this time of year.’’

Hellyer sees two main factors that could impact race numbers -- finances and timing.

“Some people will take a financial hit from this (pandemic),’’ Hellyer said. “Recreation dollars are something I can see people scaling back.’’

The marathon also lost one of its main sponsors when Wild Hog Smokehouse Bar and Grill closed. “But we’ll still be OK financially without it,’’ Hellyer said.

As far as timing, the Grand Forks Marathon is being held on its usual weekend. But other races, normally run in the spring and early summer, are being postponed until the fall.

The Boston Marathon, for instance, annually is held the third Monday in April. This year it has been moved to Sept. 14. That could impact Grand Forks numbers. A bigger impact would be if the Manitoba Marathon is postponed until late September.

“If that winds up on our weekend, it would have a real negative impact on our race,’’ Hellyer said. “We get a lot of runners from Canada.

“A lot of races have been postponed. There will be a lot of races in the fall. People can’t do every race.’’


One postponement that won’t impact Grand Forks is the Fargo Marathon. The Fargo event, originally scheduled for May 4-9, has been moved to Aug. 24-29. Hellyer said Fargo race director Mark Knutson reached out to coordinate events.

“They called and asked what our race date was,’’ Hellyer said. “They didn’t want to infringe on our event. We worked out a good day, one that worked for both of us.’’

Hellyer is taking a wait-and-see approach. She said the end of May is when there typically is a big jump in registrations for the Grand Forks Marathon, followed by another rush at the end of July.

“I definitely can see that (the pandemic) could have a negative impact on the race numbers,’’ Hellyer said.

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