Did You Know the Servus Calgary Marathon is the Oldest Marathon in Canada?

Celebrating its 60th anniversary on May 26, 2024, the marathon draws around 10,000 runners over a range of distances and has fostered endless tales of inspiration, camaraderie and community spirit.

Photo by Angela Burger.

Co-founded by two-time track Olympian Doug Kyle and runner Bill Wyllie, the inaugural Calgary Marathon took place on Aug. 10, 1963. Kyle, who placed first out of the field of 20 runners with a time of 2:45:54, also led the charge to secure Calgary for the 1964 Canadian Olympic marathon time trials.

Kyle remained a devoted spectator up to the 2023 event — sadly, his last, as he died in a car accident three months later at the age of 91. But, he lived to see his race, now known as the Servus Calgary Marathon, grow into an event drawing 10,000 runners competing in a range of distances. As the oldest marathon in Canada, it is steeped in six decades’ worth of personal stories, highlights and several Guinness World Records (GWR): Calgarian Justin Kurek setting the GWR in 2017 for the fastest marathon (2:42:14) in a cowboy costume; Okotoks runner Dave Proctor running 150 kilometres overnight for a winning time of 12:18:42 in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial; and the 112 Team MitoCanada charity runners racing the fastest marathon by the most runners linked together (6:24:56) for a GWR in 2017.

Calgary’s marathon is also highly prolific in terms of athletics credentials. Course-certified by Athletics Canada, it’s a qualifier for the world’s most venerated foot race, the Boston Marathon. Calgary also hosted the 50-km national championships from 2014 through 2023, while this year it will offer a 60-km “ultra” distance.

Despite the Calgary Marathon’s pedigree and stature, it tends to fly under the radar as far as spectatorship goes — at least compared to the hype surrounding the Vancouver and Toronto marathons. It’s something organizers hope to change. Seeing elite runners, amateur runners in costumes and cheering on friends and acquaintances as they stay the course through the city is its own form of adrenaline rush. “Watching the race is often people’s first exposure to the sport and then a year later you’ll see those same spectators running it,” says Kirsten Fleming, now in her 12th year as executive director of the Servus Calgary Marathon and Run Calgary, a not-for-profit organization governed by the Calgary Marathon Society.

Fleming’s wish is for Calgarians to feel a sense of pride and ownership for their marathon — citing, as an example, the festival spirit of residents in the Kensington area who set up an annual pancake griddle at the Memorial Drive section of the race course (and are rumoured to serve tequila shots). She believes that having the city wholeheartedly embracing the race, would, in turn, attract more participants and more tourism.

But it’s also just a way for the city to come together. “A marathon is a grind,” says Fleming (speaking from experience). “If you have a thousand people cheering your name along those long, difficult sections of the course, you’re going to be thinking, ‘This is so awesome that my city is supporting me!’”

The 2024 Servus Calgary Marathon runs on Sunday, May 26, calgarymarathon.com

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This article appears in the May 2024 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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