Following months of staying – and running – apart, thousands of Manitobans got in step Sunday for the return of the region’s beloved marathon.
It was a sight the runners taking part in the Manitoba Marathon on Sunday had not encountered since the COVID-19 started.
“Even though we were spread apart, you still had the camaraderie and the spectators on the street cheering you on. It was so nice to see,” said Cheryl Stuart, who participated in the half-marathon.
The 43rd running of the Manitoba Marathon was a smaller and more spaced out affair from the annual races that became a Father’s Day tradition in the territory.
Less than 3,000 persons were registered across all events, a far cry from the usual 10,000 to 12,000 runners competing.
Pandemic restrictions in place
Runners were required to wear masks till they set off on foot.
To avoid congestion, 5 runners took off a time. Each group was 5 seconds apart from each other.
The forced separation did not dampen the enthusiasm of runners taking part in an in-person full marathon, the first in the country since the pandemic kept people separated. Some runners enjoyed virtual races, though it is not the same as in-person race, they stated.
“This is amazing. You look around, there’s people here,” said Evan Vermette, who took part in the full marathon. “We’re all excited and it feels like we’re getting back to normal now.”
When COVID-19 closed gyms, Vermette made running his athletic outlet. He has run half marathons each year, but has not attempted the full marathon in more than 10 years.
“It was a grind and I never thought I’d do it again,” he said, but the pandemic changed that.
It disrupted the usual running calendar and got persons such as marathon runner Steffan Reimer thinking creatively. He did not know when he would have his next opportunity to run in an elite race.
“Your mind goes crazy when you’re stuck at home so you come up with crazy ideas.”
He chose to beat the Guinness World Record for the fastest time in a full marathon whereas dribbling a basketball. On Sunday, Reimer says he beat the record by around 10 minutes when he clocked the finish line in 2:50:33.
Steffan Reimer said the experience was worth it, even if he got “a lot of funny looks” from his neighbors in Blumenort, Manitoba, as he was dribbling down the street.
Some of the top finishers at 2021’s marathon is in the same family.
Brian Walker won the men’s full marathon with a time of 2:29:24.
His sister-in-law, Nicole Walker, crossed the finish line of the women’s full marathon first in 2:52:55. She said it was her new personal best time in the marathon.
A family with runners implies there is always someone to train with at the cottage. Nicole Walker said.
“It seems like every year, somebody else is super fit and we kind of take turns. It’s nice.”
She was training for the Ironman World Championship, but when that event was postponed she diverted her immediate energies to the Manitoba Marathon instead.
“It’s one of my favourites. I just didn’t think it would work time-wise this year and it ended up working.”
Her brother-in-law, Brian, has not run the Manitoba Marathon since 2015, and has not won the race since 2014. He said it was challenging to make the race work in his plan as his three kids are growing up. He added that he was eager to try a road race again.
“It’s sometimes hard to train when there’s nothing to train for,” Walker said. “It’s fun to get in the race and have a few guys to run with and have people cheering and have family on the course.”
Daniel Heschuk won the men’s half marathon with a time of 1:06:16 and Melissa Raven was the fastest in the women’s half marathon by completing the marathon in 1:27:37.