By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – As the number of marathons, half-marathons and shorter races across Canada grows, race organizers are having to come up with novel ways to attract runners from near and far, and make their event a must-do.
The folks behind the Manitoba Marathon, now in its 39th year, believe they have come up with something unique — a new finish line inside a Canadian Football League stadium, with runners appearing on the jumbotron as they make their final dash to the end on June 18.
“You’ll get to run right on the turf … your image will be up and your name will be announced, and the music will be playing,” executive director Rachel Munday said.
“The finish line will be somewhere around centre field … and then people will be able to mingle on the field post-race and take pictures and that kind of thing.”
The event, which includes a variety of race distances ranging from a 4.1-kilometre fun run to a full 42.2-kilometre marathon through tree-lined neighbourhood streets, has become a Father’s Day tradition in Winnipeg, and attracts roughly 12,000 participants each year.
In recent years, runners have ended the race on an outdoor track at the University of Manitoba, with little room for post-race food and stretching. The move to the playing surface inside the adjacent Investors Group Field, built in 2013 and home to the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, should help the Manitoba Marathon’s status on the national stage, Munday said.
“It’s definitely a challenge to differentiate yourself from other events. As race directors, you’re always trying to make your event special,” Munday said.
“We are very cognizant of the fact that we need to give people a reason to come and run us.”
Munday, who took over the reins of the event two years ago, has already made a few changes to enhance participants’ experience. She and her team reversed the course last year so that runners are in the shade more often near the end. They also created a separate finishing area for full marathoners, with dedicated food and support to help people recover from the gruelling 42.2-kilometre distance.
There is also a VIP package available that includes parking a short hop from the start line and a full catered lunch afterward, on top of the yogurt, bananas and other standard fare offered to racers.
While the event has long catered to recreational runners and families — there’s a tiny run for kids under age five and a 10-kilometre walk or run for all ages geared more toward fun than competition — organizers are now offering more amenities to full marathoners.
Jeff Vince, who at age 69 has completed 74 full marathons around the world, said that people running the full 42.2 kilometres in the past have sometimes felt ignored — left to pick through the post-race food long after the half-marathoners and 10k runners have finished.
Munday has made “massive improvements,” Vince says, which have made the race much more supportive for runners doing the longest distance — everything from special food to massages to dedicated portable toilets.
“She’s made major changes in a couple of years,” Vince said.
For the more casual runners and spectators, the Manitoba Marathon weekend offers a variety of activities — a pre-race expo where sports equipment and nutrition vendors show off their wares; hats and medals for even the shorter distances; and — this year — a chance to be in a pro football stadium and soak up the atmosphere on race day.
“Once you finish your race … you can sit in the stands and you can still watch people and you can still cheer them on,” Munday said.
“As far as the runner experience goes, and certainly the start and finish experience, it just takes it to a whole other level.”
If You Go…
— The Manitoba Marathon is run every year on Father’s Day, which is June 18 this year.
— The start and finish lines are on the Fort Garry campus of the University of Manitoba in south Winnipeg. Race organizers off a park-and-ride shuttle service from four nearby parking lots.
— Runners can register online up to June 14 at manitobamarathon.mb.ca/register.