BANFF – For the first time, the Banff Marathon goes beyond the borders of Canada’s first national park on a virtual racing platform as part of this year’s pandemic response.
To the surprise of organizers, there’s been a “huge response,” which has them thinking that virtual racing could have a future at the event.
After cancelling Banff Marathon’s race day, which would have been Sunday (June 21), participants who signed up for the virtual marathon, half marathon and 10-kilometre races will have two weeks (June 20 to July 5) to complete their distances from anywhere and upload their times on the event’s webpage.
The event is on track to have more than 2,000 participants from across the world participate, said race director Paul Regensburg, and there’s been around 500 unique sign-ups from runners who weren’t already scheduled to visit Banff this year.
“I could really see us going forward with the real event and sort of a complementary virtual event happening side-by-side, so people that can’t make it to Banff that year can still feel like they were there, feel like they were a part of it,” said Regensburg.
A downloadable Banff racing bib is available for runners to print and wear at this year’s event. Plus, a photo contest was created to encourage racers to take a picture from wherever they’re completing the distance. Prizes for the winners will include a trip to Banff for next year’s race, spa packages, and sports apparel, among others.
As organizers become more in-tune with operating a virtual event, Regensburg said what was “never on their radar” has created a new angle and sparked ideas down the line such as a potential video of the marathon course being uploaded for treadmill users and using technology to create the inclines and declines of the actual route.
“We’re working with a treadmill company right now who said they’ll take all the elevations of the routes, program it into a system that will work on the treadmill,” he said.
“That would truly be a virtual event where you’re simulating everything right on your treadmill, including the visuals of the route.”
Regensburg said running the virtual event has its pros and cons, such as the resources needed to mail out thousands of medals and race T-shirts to participants.
“It’s a much bigger job than we anticipated, but it’s fine – we still feel engaged, which is great and the participants are excited,” he said. “I think [virtual racing is] here to stay. I think it’s one of these things in our new world that's going to happen more and more.”
Despite racers participating from anywhere, organizers are staying true to their mantra and promoting stewardness and sustainability of the national park. Plus, for those who had already registered for this year’s event, Regensburg said they are offering 50 per cent off at next year’s race and the year after to returning participants.