It might sound odd to hear a marathon has partnered with a local baseball team, but Bismarck Marathon Co-Chairs Dustin Erhardt and Mark Momerak along with Larks General Manager John Bollinger think it’s a home run.
“Through our conversations, the Bismarck Marathon planning committee has come to realize the Larks are more than a baseball team, they are an events company,” said Momerak.
Erhardt and Momerak are serving in their second year as the Bismarck Marathon’s Co-Chairs. They are both running enthusiasts whose vision is to turn our community’s largest race into a memorable event.
“I love traveling to other cities’ races and not only running, but experiencing each town’s unique terrain, culture, and community,” said Erhardt. “The planning committee’s vision, with the help of the Bismarck Larks, is to make the Bismarck Marathon an event people leave and say ‘Wow, now that was fun!’”
The Bismarck Marathon’s Rich History
Introduced in 1981 by the Missouri Valley YMCA, the Bismarck’s Marathon presented by Touchstone Energy has evolved into one of the state’s premier running events. With breathtaking scenery along the out-and-back course that parallels the Missouri River, runners are treated to a fast, flat course that promises experienced runners’ new personal best opportunities and novices a great race experience. What’s more, the course is USATF certified, meaning marathoners hoping to qualify for the Boston Marathon may do so here. The event has included a half-marathon and in recent years has added a team relay event, 10k, and 5k to engage a more diversified group of runners. At its peak in 2012, the Bismarck Marathon had over 2100 registrants.
The event was successfully operated for 25 years by the YMCA and turned over to a volunteer committee of local community business leaders—who happen to also be running enthusiasts—to continue the event. While the volunteer committee has worked diligently to maintain the event’s prestige, the event’s registrations have steadily dropped over the past few years, resulting in only 1100 runners in 2017.
“While our committee is passionate about the race, it’s hard to run an event this size with a group of volunteers,” said Momerak. “We know this event has big potential, and believe we found the right partner that can help us put the time and energy needed to turn this race into an event.”
That is where the Bismarck Larks come in.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about the Bismarck Marathon after my first meeting with Dustin,” said John Bollinger, the General Manager of the Bismarck Larks baseball team and now Managing Member of their new special events company, Bareknuckle Events LLC. “This event has so much potential and after hearing Dustin and the committee’s vision, I knew our team’s passion for making events FUN could be a match made in heaven.”
Known for their antics and electric environment in the ballpark, the Bismarck Larks hope to add some fresh ideas to attracting more runners.
“My favorite compliment at a Larks game is when people leave and say, ‘John, we had some much fun tonight, but can you tell us who won the game?’ That’s when I know we’ve done a good job at entertaining them!” said Bollinger. And the Larks hope to bring that fun, fresh perspective to the Bismarck Marathon.
A New Chapter: Converting the Bismarck Marathon from a Race to an Event
The Bismarck Larks role will be to serve as a General Manager of sorts, helping with fresh new ideas to make the race more fun, family-friendly, and to assist the committee in marketing and sponsorship sales.
“At a local level, our vision is to inspire everyone to run for the HEALTH of it!” said Bollinger. “From the 5k race to the Kids Mini-Marathon on Friday, this event is going to have something the whole family can participate in.”
They not only plan to make the route more entertaining by engaging local businesses and organizations to swarm the event course with cheering fans, bands, and themed water stations, but also plan to add more of a festival type atmosphere before, during, and even after the race.
“We can’t share all the ideas with you yet, but I promise this year will be the most FUN Bismarck Marathon anybody’s participated in,” said Bollinger.
The Same Sweet Ending: Maintaining a Focus on Charity and Giving Back
And the best part, all the proceeds raised from the Bismarck Marathon go back to support local non-profits.
“While we want to increase runners and fun, we haven’t lost our main focus of increasing wellness in our community and raising dollars for charity,” said Erhardt.
Just last year, the event raised over $22,500 for local non-profits and this year the plan is to at least double that.
“We’re going to need a lot of support, but with the Bismarck Larks on our team, we feel confident we can create an event that can catch people’s attention and inspire them to get out and run,” said Momerak.
The Bismarck Marathon presented by Touchstone Energy will be held on Saturday, September 21 at Cottonwood Park. On Friday, the event will host the Kids Mini Marathon presented by BNSF Railway. The Larks plan to add more festivities on Friday evening as well as turn the Bismarck Marathon start and finish line into an event on Saturday. More details will be announced at a later date. Interested runners can register online at thebismarckmarathon.com. Registration fees for all races rise $5 on April 1.