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Banff Marathon returns after year-and-a-half hiatus due to COVID-19

“People want to get out, be active and do what they love,” he said. “One of our COVID plans was to move all of our activities outside. We had an expo to get their package at Fenlands (Recreation Centre) and there were speakers, so we had everything outside this year. … We found a way to make it safe and people are ecstatic to get back at the marathon.”

Following a hiatus of nearly a year-and-a-half, runners were able to hit the course and cross the finish line at the Banff Marathon.

After being cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 and pushed back three months from its regular start date this year, the annual event saw more than 1,400 people participate and a further 300 people virtually complete their own course.

Paul Regensburg, the race director for the marathon, said they had a cap of 2,250 participants to ensure physically distancing could be maintained and allow runners to get back out to the popular event featuring a 10-kilometre run, half and full marathons.

“People want to get out, be active and do what they love,” he said. “One of our COVID plans was to move all of our activities outside. We had an expo to get their package at Fenlands (Recreation Centre) and there were speakers, so we had everything outside this year. … We found a way to make it safe and people are ecstatic to get back at the marathon.”

Regensburg said typical years would see about 30 to 40 per cent of participants come from about 30 different countries, but with international travel significantly less due to COVID-19 the numbers were likely about five per cent.

There were, however, about 200 locals running and many from southern Alberta.

He pointed to a stringent COVID-19 plan to ensure runners were kept safe, which had several runners at the start line wear masks then dispose of them after separating themselves from the pack.

Regensburg said in keeping with their sustainability platform that focuses on using renewable resources, they found a group able to recycle them.

The 2020 marathon was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns and public health restrictions at the time. Typically held in June, this year’s version was pushed back to September for the chance to have an in-person event in the national park.

They also had more than 2,000 participants from across the globe for their virtual 2020 marathon, which saw them receive more than 2,500 photos of people completing their own race with makeshift finish lines and friends and family cheering them on.

“We made some lemonade out of lemons and it went better than we expected. … We’re very fortunate to be able to do it this year.”

The top runner for this year’s marathon was Alex Petrosky of Edmonton, who completed the course in 2:43:47. The half marathon saw Canmore resident Charlie Clarry take top spot in 1:18:10, while Oliver Hamel of Calgary was first in the 10km at 35:26.

The planning for the event involves 20 people on the organizing committee, a further 250 volunteers and 25 local suppliers and contractors, Regensburg said.

The plan for 2022 will see them return to their regular June date, he noted.

Depending on the length of the race, the marathon begins in Banff townsite and takes over part of the Legacy Trail, winding through Vermillion Lakes before heading through the Bow Valley Parkway just short of Johnston Canyon and returning to Banff.

The marathon offers a scenic impression of the popular national park and a key aspect is presenting an educational component to provide runners with information about the park.

The 10 aid stations each have a theme with interpretive guides to tell stories of the park, Regensburg said. In previous years they would stamp runners’ bib’s similar to a passport, but due to COVID-19 they relied on trivia following the marathon.

“Part of our goal is to learn more about the park through the event. It’s an opportunity to learn about the park and fits within the theme of the park instead of it just being a marathon. We want it to be a learning experience,” he said.

“Sometimes we have to kick them out of there because they’re out at a station on the Bow Valley Parkway talking for too long.”

The Sunday had the 10-kilometre race followed by the full marathon and the half marathon all beginning in the morning. A free kids for youth between three and 12 was completed on Saturday.

The three to five category was 500-metres, six to eight was 750m and it was one kilometre for ages nine to 12.

“It’s important for us to have park stewardship and represent the community. It’s very community orientated. The kids run is for locals, the committee is mainly local, there are a lot of community sponsors. The community aspect is extremely important.”

All race results can be found at www.banffmarathon.com.