THUNDER BAY -- It takes time to build a world class running event.
That’s the lesson local organizers continue to learn, as the Thunder Bay Marathon: Miles with the Giant wrapped up its fifth edition Sunday.
Event coordinator Marianne Bortolin said organizers are pleased with the progress that has been made over the past half-decade but said they hope it will continue to grow.
“I think this event is a great way to show what we have to offer,” she said. “We have great spirit here and we have a lot of potential to make it grow. As long as we can get more people on board showing their support with registrations and volunteering we’ll have a greater turnout in the future.”
As the marathon becomes more established word of mouth is beginning to travel amongst the broad running community.
Amy Yanni, from Fort Myers, Fla., travels around the continent to run marathons and made her first trip to Thunder Bay.
She met organizers in June during an expo days before Duluth’s marathon and was intrigued enough to make the trip north to check out the race.
“I was aware of Thunder Bay and had looked at it and thought it would be a good one to do,” Yanni said. “The folks talked to me about it and invited me up. I’m so glad I did because I had a great time and I’m looking forward to spending this afternoon and evening in the city.”
One of the reasons Yanni enjoys travelling to run marathons is the exposure it gives her to different cities and towns. She said running the race course is often the best way to take in the entire host community.
Yanni admitted she likely would never visit Thunder Bay had it not been for the marathon.
She also had high praise for the course.
“This was just beautiful. We went through some parks and schools and saw downtown,” she said.
“I thought it was a good combination of hills, straightaways and to finish downhill by the waterfront was wonderful.”
Bortolin said events such as the marathon aren’t designed for last minute decisions to travel. Many runners plan their travel schedules close to a year in advance so gaps need to be bridged to make the city more accessible for visitors.
“The market for running is so competitive,” Bortolin said.
“It’s getting on their radar and staying there and I think we’ve been doing that because we have a great turnout from out of town. As long as that traction keeps going hopefully we’ll grow.”
She estimated that close to 30 per cent of the field was from outside the city and included participants from outside North America.
Even though organizers are looking at drawing a visiting contingent, the local running community has embraced the event.
Veteran runner Jonathan Balabuck, who win five straight 10 Mile Road Races from 2003 to 2007, said the event is an asset to the city.
He can still remember when people thought the race wouldn’t last.
“When it first started everyone was skeptical about whether you could pull off a marathon in Thunder Bay,” Balabuck said. “The organizing committee has come out guns blazing on this thing and it is fantastic…It’s a big city marathon with a really small town feel.”
One of the crowning achievements for organizers of the event was the full 26.2 mile course that was first used in 2012 and was certified as a qualifier for the prestigious Boston Marathon.
The route had to be modified this year as a result of construction work being conducted on the Court Street bridge spanning McVicar Creek, meaning the race lost its qualifying status.
However, Bortolin thinks it had a minimal impact on registrations.
“I don’t think it was too much of a deterrent because of what the numbers showed,” she said. “Next year we’ll get back to that Boston qualifier status and we’re quite happy about that.”
There were 87 runners registered for the full marathon, with 79 of those completing the distance.
Overall, 652 individuals completed the marathon, half marathon and 10 kilometre distances. There were another 40 people who participated on relay teams. There was also a substantial number of runners who did the untimed five kilometre event.
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