BANFF — A sold-out Banff Marathon returned at full capacity for the first time in three years and it might have found its new finish line.
Lacing up for “the most beautiful run on the planet”, 2,250 runners from 25 countries, 40 U.S. states, and 12 provinces and territories hit the pavement in Sunday’s (June 19) marathon, half marathon and 10-kilometre races.
“It had an international component and it had friends and family getting back together again and then all meeting in Banff, so it was pretty special in that regards,” said event director Paul Regensburg.
“This event is not seen as a competitive event, it’s seen as a participation – almost like an adventure marathon – because we tell them, you might be stopped by a train, you might be stopped by a bear, it’s about just enjoying the experience.”
The Bow Valley made its presence known on the hometown courses.
Sixty per cent of racers were from outside of Alberta, but the gold is staying local after a Bow Valley trio swept top spots in the Banff Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K.
Canmore’s Charlie Clarry finished first in the marathon at a time of 2:48:35. The top local woman was Sarah Lonz, finishing 22nd among women at a time of 4:08.19.
Banff’s Jesse Kitterage led from beginning to end to claim gold in the half marathon at 1:19:53. Alison Harle was the fastest local woman, finishing third among women at 1:36.10.
In the 10km, Canmore’s Calum MacKenzie crossed the finish line in first place at 39:23. The top-placing local woman was Franziska Loehr in 24th place at 52:41.
Training 111 days out of 115, marathon winner Clarry averaged about 130km per week in preparation for the big day. Although, he said his biggest test out there was against himself.
“You can really only do what you can do,” said Clarry. “My No. 1 strategy was training, not race other people.”
Last year, the local physiotherapist won the Banff Marathon’s half marathon. He plans to continue endurance racing into the summer.
“As a physiotherapist, my goal is to keep people moving and keep people active so I think this is one way to get the message out,” he said.
Starting on Bow Avenue, the course went along the closed-down Vermilion Lakes road and Bow Valley Parkway, and finished downtown.
Parks Canada and race volunteers monitored the route for wildlife and traffic management. No incidents took place, according to race organizers.
However, runners did see some local residents.
"We heard a rumour that there was a bear just sitting back in the woods just watching the race, like, literally just like a cartoon,” said Regensburg.
It's the first time since 2019 the Banff Marathon was back to full capacity.
In 2020, the marathon went virtual due to the pandemic and more than 2,000 signed up around the world. About 100 people signed up for this year’s virtual event.
In 2021, the marathon was capped at 60 per cent capacity and held in September, instead of its traditional time slot in June.
Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno, who ran in the half marathon, said she could smell the sweat and sunscreen and it was wonderful to see the race back at its full potential.
“I found how you miss out on running in that crowd and the energy of your fellow runners and that camaraderie you feel out there on the race course,” said DiManno.
“It’s my opinion that the Banff Marathon has such a positive impact on our community … whether it’s the kids run, they raise money for the YWCA, I think they truly put Banff on the map as a running destination around the world."
She added she thinks the event promotes the national park values well by being a green event and encouraging the use of public transit.
Besides runners returning to the mountain town, a big change to this year's races was the finish area moving from Central Park to Bear Street while construction is underway on the second pedestrian bridge.
With Cascade Mountain as a backdrop, the finish area on pedestrian-friendly Bear Street had “mountain village vibes” with lots of crowd support for runners barrelling to the finish line. However, one of the questions moving forward is if the popular downtown street will be part of the marathon moving forward.
“We’ll review it because to get to Bear Street you have to run across the other streets and traffic is already tough in Banff as it is, so it was a lot of traffic management to do that,” said Regensburg.
“It was managed pretty well, but it was busy. It was a nice day, so it was pretty busy for traffic down there, but managed well.”
Regensburg added both finish areas have pros and cons.
After construction completed on Bear Street last summer, Mayor DiManno said she thought it was the “perfect home for the finish line.”
“I think from council’s perspective, we invested significantly into the transformation of Bear Street into making this pedestrian-friendly atmosphere and I think that having the finish line there was really creative use of what that street could do. I’d be really interested in whatever opportunities could be out there for Bear Street.”
For full race results, visit www.banffmarathon.com.