CANMORE – The Canmore Rocky Mountain Half Marathon, one of the Bow Valley's trademark sporting events, reaches its 25th anniversary next Sunday, Sept. 12 and organizers have re-imagined the scenic course for its milestone.
Year after year, the popular event, which also features 10 and five-kilometre courses, attracts thousands of out-of-towners to the mountain town, but it still embraces a familiar family-like atmosphere between athletes and organizers.
"It is a community event and we certainly take pride in the fact that we launched and sustained one of the signature events in the town where I live and have lived for 30 years," said Paul Carrick, the half marathon's founder.
"We're right up there with Folk Fest and the Highland Games and there isn't a reason to think this race won't go on for another 75 years."
Back in 1995, Carrick, a life-long runner, realized Canmore's lack of a big annual race and wanted to develop a fresh new tradition, which turned into the inaugural marathon and eight-km. Approximately 600 people signed up in 1995, and during a good year, the event will have 2,000 runners.
Described as a happy and stressful time of year for Carrick, the event has had its positive impacts and misadventures throughout a quarter of a century of operating.
Approximately 30,000 runners have participated in more than two decades and Carrick said a number of people make it to the pilgrimage.
"As a matter of fact, we have some intensely competitive 80 year olds in the event and there's a cluster of 75-85-year-old women from Calgary who've been racing against each other for 40, 50 years, and they come out to our race every year," he said.
One long-time runner is Canmore's Duncan Marsden, who's won the half marathon and 10-km races more times than he can count.
He'll be running in the 10-km again this year, which is his first in-person race since COVID-19.
"These are the things I think people have missed," said Marsden. "Race directors did their best with virtual races, but it's not the same; you're racing it with people and against people and it brings that whole spirit of seeing people and accomplishing something together and then celebrating it at the end.
"The other thing about the course that is really nice is you often do a sort of loop and then double back to a point where you were at before, so if you're near the front like I usually am, some of the athletes who are farther back in the course really help cheer you on. I always tell my kids the most tired part of my body is my neck because I'm nodding at people when they cheer me on, it makes my neck ache by the end of the race."
The course, which is mostly flat with some hills, is on about 70 per cent gravel and 30 per cent asphalt.
With the passage of time, the race adjusted to showcase a shorter main event for athletes.
"In truth, Canmore doesn't really have a good marathon route," said Carrick. "We transitioned it to a half marathon (and 10- and five-km) because we have a gorgeous half marathon course and it's also less of a demand on volunteers."
As Canmore grows and continues to bring in more visitors to the area, the new version of the course, which still starts and finishes at Centennial Park, is designed to avoid traffic and pedestrians.
"Instead of running through the busy streets we're sticking to south Canmore ... so we've eliminated some asphalt, we've gotten away from the busy streets and we anticipate there will be far fewer conflicts between cars and runners and increased the views," Carrick said.
A mandate from the beginning has been funding goes toward a charity, and this year, the Embrace International Foundation, which works with special needs children in east Africa, Central America and Canada, is the main funding beneficiary of the event.
Founded by Carrick, Embrace International Foundation replaces charity CAUSE Canada's overseas programming, which is where funds went to in the previous 24 years.
"We also work locally, and in partnership with the Rotary Club of Canmore, Embrace International Foundation helped to pay for therapy rooms for autistic and special needs children at both the middle school and elementary school here in Canmore, and the charity unilaterally built a therapy room for autistic children with the Stoney Educational Authority," said Carrick.
A full list of COVID-19 protocols is listed on the event's website, canmorehalfmarathon.ca.