Canada's Longest Running Marathon
On August 10, 1963 nineteen men lined up at Glenmore Stadium to run the first Calgary Marathon, and what was also the first marathon ever to be run in Western Canada.
Discover more about the history of the race, pushed forward by Calgarian Doug Kyle (pictured), who also won the race in the inaugural year and continues to support the Calgary Marathon to this day.
Dream of Olympic Trials
The First Calgary Marathon.
On August 10, 1963 nineteen men lined up at Glenmore Stadium to run the first Calgary Marathon, and what was also the first marathon ever to be run in Western Canada. Only twelve men finished the race that day, which took them on an out-and-back course aside traffic along Macleod Trail. Thirty-one-year-old Doug Kyle was the victor in a time of 2:45:54. The rest of the pack ranged in age from 17 years to a spry 38 year old. The course had been measured by Bill Wyllie, using his car's odometer to determine the distance of 26 miles, 385 yards. A mere five "refreshment" stations, offering only water, lined the course, making for 10 water stops in the out-and-back. For the most part the runners were on their own, after being given instructions and brief directions at the starting line. Charles Hanna of the Canadian Legion fired the gun, as the official starter.
Before they even got to the starting line, however, there was a medical doctor on hand whose task was to examine all of the athletes. One of the runners, Gordie Dixon, was nearly disqualified because the doctor, not being a sports specialist nor familiar with distance runners, declared that Gordie's pulse was just too low. Despite his "medical condition of a low heart rate," Gordie went on to win the race the following year.
The marathon was the brainchild of Calgarian Doug Kyle. At that time Doug was Canada's fastest runner, having competed for Canada in both the 1956 and the 1960 Olympics in both the 5,000 and 10,000-meter distances. He was nearing the end of his competitive career and was looking for new challenges, so he looked to the marathon. At the 1959 Pan American Games, after competing in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter events, he decided to enter and run his first marathon: he placed seventh! Upon returning to Calgary, he somehow convinced a good-natured Bill Wyllie to join him in his efforts to hold a marathon in Calgary; after all, how difficult could it be? In Bill Wyllie's words, "the two of us 'beat the bushes' to come up with our 19 entrants."
Doug's motive was simple: to bring the 1964 Olympic time trials to Calgary. If they could successfully hold a marathon in Calgary, he felt that he could convince amateur sports to host the Olympic trials in Calgary the next year, instead of the usual Ontario choices. Our high altitude and the hometown advantage would put the Calgary runners at the front of the pack. Doug succeeded in his goal: the Olympic trials were held in Calgary the next year, at the second Calgary Marathon.
Through The Decades.
There were four marathons run in Calgary in the 1960's, with some of the fastest men in the country running in those four races, particularly the 1964 Calgary Marathon, which was also the Canadian Olympic trials marathon.
Few in number, but impressive in their times and international status, in its formative years, the Calgary Marathon was often the host to Canada's finest marathon runners.
The Calgary Roadrunners took over the organization of the Calgary Marathon and it has been an annual event in Calgary since 1971. One of the biggest highlights of the 1970's, however, remains the inclusion of women in the race.
In 1975, 41-year-old Carmen Robinson of Banff became the first winner of the women's division in the Calgary Marathon in a time of 3:59:12. Second place Cathy Broderick was a full forty minutes behind Carmen, with a time of 4:30:04. These two women were also among the first women ever to run a marathon in western Canada.
According to Doug Kyle, up until the early 1970's, it was just an accepted fact, by both men and women in our society and elsewhere in the world, that women could not run long distances. Women now make up nearly half of the marathon participants, thanks to the dreams, hard work, and perseverance of women like Carmen Robinson and Cathy Broderick.
This was the decade of repeat winners. Lorna Hawley of Calgary boasted five straight victories in the women's division starting in 1981. She remained unbeatable for another four years, breaking the three-hour barrier in four of the five races. Her fastest race was in 1984, with a time of 2:54:45. Lorna still holds the record as the Overall Winner in the Women's Division.
Lorna Hawley finishing in first place for the women in 1985.
In 1989 the Calgary Marathon moved from its May date to the new date of July, to team up with the fourth running of the Stampede 10k event. The famous Stampede Breakfast was introduced and remained part of the event for more than a decade. As well, 1989 marked the 25th anniversary celebration of the Calgary Marathon.
More records were set in the 1990's. Kelvin Broad ran his first Calgary Marathon in 1991. That same year he set the record for the Calgary Marathon in a time of 2:23:49 and the record stood until 2012 when Benard Onsare ran a 2:22:47. It was also the first year that prize money was given out to the top performers. Kelvin received $500 for his efforts that day. He continued to win every Calgary Marathon he entered and remains the Overall Winner of the Men's Division with a record eight victories.
The women's record was set in 1990 by Claire Kroshus, with a winning time of 2:45:59. Like Kelvin, her record has stood the test of time, and is yet to be broken.
The early 1990's saw the formation of the long partnership between the Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation and the Calgary Marathon. With the new sponsorship came the new name for the Calgary Marathon; the name of Stampede Run-Off was coined to cover the entire event, including the marathon, the 10k and the mayor's 3k fun run. It was in this decade that the race finish line moved three times: from Eau Claire to Mewata Stadium, and finally to Fort Calgary.
Several of the more interesting participants in the marathon history ran in the 1995 race, including two executives from the Laredo Boot Company of Nashville. They completed the marathon wearing newly designed Laredo cowboy boots! In that same race Wally Herman of Ottawa ran his 441st marathon and Don McNelly of Rochester, New York ran his 431st marathon. Pretty impressive for two men, aged 69 and 74 years respectively.
The 21st Century
In the year 2000 the rain poured down for the entire race, as the temperature reached a high of only +3 C. Runners crossed the finish line wearing among other paraphernalia, plastic garbage bags to help keep them dry. The next year saw near record highs with temperatures in the +30's. Despite the extreme weather conditions, the Calgary Marathon can still boast an average race day temperature of perfect +15 degrees!
In 2006, HSBC signed on as the new title sponsor of the Calgary Marathon. A team event, 10KM race and half marathon became part of the Calgary Marathon race weekend, which took place at Mewata Armouries, but the highlight remains the grand daddy of them all, the marathon.
Scotiabank took over as the title sponsor in 2010 and introduced the Scotiabank Charity Challenge, the fundraising arm of the event. This addition helped grow the race and reached new runners while giving back to dozens of charities. There were two years where the event was staged in Bridgeland on the site of the old hospital but mother nature didn't cooperate and the field was destroyed and record turnout meant a new venue had to be secured. In 2011 to accommodate that growth, the start and finish moved to Stampede Park and allowed a redesign of the course. The total participants hit 10,000 the following year.
In 2014, a record 15,000 participants came out to celebrate Canada's longest running marathon turning 50, including 500 participants who competed in the first-ever 50KM Ultra.
2020 was the year the COVID-19 pandemic began and the Run Calgary team was forced to postpone and eventually cancel the in-person event. The entire mass participation events industry was shut down and virtual races went from niche to mainstream overnight.
In 2021, the last year as Scotiabank as title sponsor, the event took place in the fall rather than the spring. It was the first Calgary Marathon in 28 months and there were 5029 participants, with just over 1000 participating virtually. On the Wednesday before the event a State of Emergency was called by the province of Alberta and despite all the planning, the event was at risk of being cancelled. Strong covid-19 mitigation plans that exceeded what was being required allowed the event to move forward. On September 19, 2021 Calgary Marathon became the largest race to happen since the beginning of the pandemic.
In 2022, Calgary Marathon welcomed Servus Credit Union as the title sponsor and returned to the last Sunday in May. In 2023, due to construction throughout Stampede Park, the finish line was relocated to Enmax Park.
Starting out as one man's dream almost sixty years ago, the Calgary Marathon has evolved and grown into what it is today. We invite you to join us in May at the Servus Calgary Marathon race weekend and become part of its proud history.