04 April 2014, 7am
Competitors ran beside traffic along the Macleod Trail. After being given instructions and brief directions at the starting line Charles Hanna of the Canadian Legion fired the gun, and runners were left to do the rest.
Before they got to the starting line a doctor was on hand to examine the runners. One of them, Gordie Dixon, was nearly excluded because the doctor, who was not familiar with distance runners, declared that Dixon’s pulse was just too low. Despite his “medical condition” of a low heart rate, Dixon went on to win the race the following year.
The marathon was the brainchild of Calgarian Doug Kyle. At that time Kyle was one of the best runners in the country, having competed for Canada in the 1956 and 1960 Olympics in both the 5000m and 10,000m track events. He was nearing the end of his competitive career and was looking for new challenges. At the 1959 Pan American Games, after again doubling at both 5000m and 10,000m, he had decided to run his first marathon and placed seventh. Upon returning to Calgary he somehow convinced a good-natured Bill Wyllie to join him in his efforts to stage 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.”
Kyle’s motive was to bring the 1964 Olympic trials to Calgary. If they could successfully hold a marathon in Calgary he felt that he could convince the athletic authorities to host the Olympic trials in Calgary the next year, instead of sticking to the usual Ontario choices. The relatively high altitude and the hometown advantage would put the Calgary runners at the front of the pack. Kyle succeeded and the Olympic trials were held in Calgary the next year, at the second Calgary Marathon.
There were four marathons held in Calgary during the 1960s, with some of the fastest men in the country running in those four races, particularly the 1964 Canadian Olympic trials marathon. The runners were few in number, but impressive in their times and international status. The Calgary Roadrunners took over the organization of the Calgary Marathon and it has been an annual event since 1971.
One of the biggest highlights of the 1970s was 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 a time of 3:59:12. Second place Cathy Broderick was a full forty minutes behind Robinson, with a time of 4:30:04. These two women were also among the first to run a marathon in western Canada.
According to Doug Kyle, up until the early 1970s it was just an accepted fact – by both men and women – that women could not run long distances. Women now make up nearly half of the Calgary Marathon’s participants, thanks to the example and perseverance of women like Carmen Robinson and Cathy Broderick.
The 1980s was a 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.
In 1989 the Calgary Marathon celebrated its 25th edition and moved from May to July, to team up with the fourth running of the Stampede 10km event. The famous Stampede Breakfast was introduced and remained part of the event for more than a decade.
More records were set in the 1990s that have yet to be broken. Kelvin Broad ran his first Calgary Marathon in 1991 and set the current record of 2:23:49. It was the first year that prize money was awarded, and Broad received $500. He continued to win every Calgary Marathon he entered, finishing with a record eight victories. The women’s event record was set in 1990 by Claire Kroshus, with a winning time of 2:45:59.
The early 1990s saw the formation of the long partnership between the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Calgary Marathon. With the new sponsorship came a new name “the Stampede Run-Off” was coined to cover the entire event, including the marathon, the 10km and the mayor’s 3km 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, where it has remained ever since.
Several of the more interesting participants in the marathon’s history ran in the 1995 race, including two executives from the Laredo Boot Company of Nashville – completing the marathon wearing the eponymous (cowboy) boots. In that same race Wally Herman (69) of Ottawa ran his 441st marathon and Don McNelly (74) of Rochester, New York, ran his 431st.
Rain poured down for the entire race in the year 2000, and the temperature reached a high of only 3C. Runners crossed the finish line wearing plastic bags to help keep themselves dry. The next year it topped 30C. Despite extreme weather conditions, the Calgary Marathon enjoys an average race day temperature of 15C.
In 2006, Scotiabank became the title sponsor of the Calgary Marathon. Team events, a 10km race and a half marathon are now part of the race weekend, but the marathon remains the highlight. And it all started out 50 years ago as one man’s dream…