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Fargo Marathon organizers backtrack, cancel race

Race organizers said the event would go ahead as planned, but they've done a 180-degree flip after cancelling their event

In June, Fargo Marathon organizers announced that their event would go ahead as planned in August, and it looked like it would be the first mass participation road race held in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic. Now, organizers of the North Dakota race have cancelled their event due to “a continued surge in COVID-19 cases” in the U.S. The cancellation announcement, which was released on the event website, says the risk posed by the coronavirus is “too great to conduct any in-person events in 2020.” As with so many other event cancellations, the Fargo Marathon will offer a virtual race format to participants. 

A quick turnaround 

The announcement that said the race was a go was made on June 18, and while it did note that organizers would continue ton”closely monitor the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the tone was very hopeful. News of the event cancellation was made public on July 27, just over a month after the original announcement.

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North Dakota has produced some of the lowest COVID-19 numbers among all of the United States, but since June 18, reported cases have more than tripled to reach around 110 to 160 new COVID-19 cases each day. In the U.S. as a whole, the country has seen an enormous spike in the last month. In June, daily reported cases sat between 15,000 and 20,000, and in the last week, there hasn’t been a day with fewer than 50,000 new cases. While numbers in North Dakota might still be relatively low, inviting runners from all across the U.S. probably wouldn’t have been the wisest decision for the city of Fargo. 

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Running on thin ice 

The 180-degree flip performed by the Fargo Marathon shows just how difficult it can be to plan an event months in advance during the pandemic. Two months before its start date, Fargo looked ready to go, but now, just four weeks before it was set to run, participants will have to wait until 2021 to race. 

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The only silver lining for organizers of other races might be that they have been shown how not to run an event during COVID-19. The Fargo Marathon race week was going to be run the same as it always had been, with each of its events accepting their regular capacity of entrants. The race week features a cycling race, a dog run, a kids race and 5K, 10K, half-marathon and full marathon race options. In 2019, these events saw more than 10,000 participants throughout the week-long festival.

Cutting field sizes and adding social distancing guidelines won’t guarantee an event’s safety by any means, but any race directors looking to the Fargo Marathon for tips at least know now that they can’t treat their 2020 events with a business-as-usual mindset.  

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