Runners compete in the 2023 Saskatchewan Marathon weekend.

Sask. Marathon projecting record numbers for 2024 event

The Saskatchewan Marathon weekend — one of the largest road running events in the province — is set to take over Saskatoon’s Meewasin Valley at the end of the month with a full slate of events from a 2km family run to the marathon. For the first time, this year’s event will double as the Saskatchewan Championships for the marathon and half marathon events.

Registration is trending to reach record highs, but there is still time and space to register for the May 26 events if you haven’t already.

This week, race organizer Kim Ali speaks with the Brainsport Times about what participants can expect from this year’s event.

Q: Races across Canada have been reporting strong registration numbers for spring 2024 now that the pandemic uncertainty is firmly behind us and a lot of runners who started running during the pandemic are discovering in-person races. What is the Sask. Marathon organizing committee seeing?

A: By mid April we were at our highest point ever for registrations at that time of year; we had never had that many people registered so early in my history with the race, which would be since 2007. We’re definitely seeing lots of new people and stronger long distance numbers — we’re surprised at the number of people registered for the marathon and half marathon. We usually see a big uptick in registrations for the 5km closer to the date of the event because people don’t need as much time to train, so we are still expecting to see that.

Runners compete in the 2023 Saskatchewan Marathon weekend.
Runners compete in the 2023 Saskatchewan Marathon weekend.

Q: What was the highest registration number in your history with the race?

A: Our strongest number was just over 3,000 people in 2015 and then, in the years up until the pandemic, we just saw a bit of a decline every year. But this year we’re so excited to see more and more people taking up running and taking up the challenge of running in a race.

Q: What does it mean for participants that the Sask. Marathon weekend is hosting the provincial championships for the marathon and half marathon?

A: That’s really exciting news. We’re hoping it will attract some runners who may not have considered running the Saskatchewan Marathon this year. It’s also an opportunity for our winners to get additional recognition after they cross the finish line, for them to get their names in the record books. The winners of the marathon will get free entry into the Canadian Marathon Championships in Toronto in October.

Q: Last year we had a record set in the women’s marathon — do you think we might see more records go down this year?

A: We’re hoping so. And we’re asking our marathon and half marathon participants, if they think they’re going to finish in the top 10, to let us know so we can have some of their biographical information and be prepared for when they cross the finish line.

Runners compete in the 2023 Saskatchewan Marathon weekend.
The Saskatchewan Marathon Weekend has a full slate of events from a 2km family run to the marathon.

Q: What are you most excited about this year?

A: From an event perspective, having more runners always makes the race more exciting. We’ve been getting requests from people who need some support on the course, for instance people with a visual disability who need to run with a guide. It’s exciting to see the race is attracting people from all walks of life and it’s exciting to see that running has become so universal.

Q: What else do you want people to know?

A: We initially planned to keep our race courses the same as last year. However, damage to the bridge at the entrance to Gabriel Dumont Park has posed challenges for the marathon route. Our committed course design team has identified a new route to maintain our status as a Boston Marathon qualifier and to meet the requirements for hosting the provincial championships. While this brings a different kind of excitement than anticipated, our dedicated race committee is determined to ensure everything is top-notch for an outstanding competition.

We want people to know that we’ll do everything to keep them safe and make sure that they have an enjoyable time on the course. We will have 20 bike marshals out there that’ll be cruising the course to make sure everyone’s well taken care of. We’re going to have medical teams that are cruising on the course as well to make sure that if people do get into medical distress that there’s someone very close that can help them.

We are committed to improving the participant experience so we are revamping the menu in the food tent. We want to make it more interesting for people and more enjoyable as a post-race celebration snack rather just post-race calories.

And we want people to know that this event doesn’t just happen overnight. There are volunteers that work on this all year, volunteers that work on this weeks and days in advance. So I encourage people to thank the volunteers as they’re running by.

Last year, our shirt design featured the iconic Saskatchewan grid road sign, honouring the dedication of runners from small towns who train on gravel roads. This year, we’re highlighting the Trans Canada No. 1 Highway as a symbol of unity between Saskatchewanians and across our nation. Our goal is to infuse each year’s shirt with a unique Saskatchewan touch. Over the next six years, leading up to our 50th event in 2028, we’ll introduce a new branding featuring a different aspect of the Saskatchewan theme. Each design will draw inspiration from vintage highway signs, travel posters, and iconic Saskatchewan landmarks. Participants can anticipate exciting designs in the years ahead while enjoying this year’s Trans Canada theme.

This interview has been edited and condensed.