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Event History

THE HISTORY OF THE 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 through the traffic along Macleod Trail. Thirty-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 precisely measured by Bill Wyllie, using his car’s odometer to determine the exact distance of 26 miles, 385 yards. A mere five “refreshment” stations, offering only water, lined the course. 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 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 one of Canada’s fastest runners, 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 1960 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.

The 1960’s – 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 1970’s – 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, than to the dreams, hard work, and perseverance of women like Carmen Robinson and Cathy Broderick.

The 1980’s – 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.

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.

The 1990’s – More records were set in the 1990’s that have yet to be broken. 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 still stands today. 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, where it has remained ever since.

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!

Team marathons and half marathons are now part of the Stampede Road Race, but the highlight is still the grand daddy of them all, the marathon. Starting out as one man’s dream almost forty years ago, the Calgary Marathon has evolved and grown into what it is today. We invite you to become part of its proud history. Join us and run the marathon in the Stampede Road Race this coming July.

  • Course tours for the marathon are 9:00am and 1:00pm
  • Course tours for the half marathon are at 11:00am (sold out) and 3:00pm
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