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University of Calgary Marathon Training Program strides to 35 years

UCalgary staff and students receive 20-per-cent discount on registration fee for marathon training
February 28, 2017
Running buddies Kirsten, who is also a University of Calgary kinesiology student, and Annette tackle the Victoria Marathon in 2015. Photo courtesy Chad Gibson

Running buddies Kirsten, who is also a University of Calgary kinesiology student, and Annette tackle the Victoria Marathon in 2015. Photo courtesy Chad Gibson

UCalgary marathoners looking fresh as they pose for posterity pre-race in Dublin last year. 2016 marked the first time a UCalgary team participated in the Dublin marathon. This year, the team is bound for Portugal.

UCalgary marathoners looking fresh as they pose for posterity pre-race in Dublin last year. 2016 marked the first time a UCalgary team participated in the Dublin marathon. This year, the team is bound for Portugal. 

No lounging around on beaches for these adventure travellers. For 35 years, the University of Calgary Marathon Training Program takes its participants around the world to help fulfil their running dreams and learn the latest research in training and exercise physiology.

The University of Calgary Marathon Training Program in the Faculty of Kinesiology is the longest-running destination marathon training program in Western Canada. It was started by former faculty members Dr. George Kinnear, Prof. David Bean and Dr. Barry Kerr, who in 1982 were keen to head to Hawaii with other Calgarians to take part in the Honolulu Marathon. The program has continued as an opportunity to educate, train and influence the general public in the most up-to-date, safe methods of distance training. 

Honolulu, Hawaii, was the sole destination until organizers decided it would be fun for participants to experience other destinations. Since 2009, marathons have been run in Long Beach, Santa Barbara, Niagara Falls, Portland, Victoria, and Dublin — and in November 2017, they're heading to Portugal. 

“A good deal has changed in marathons since 1982. Running in general has become the norm rather than the exception,” says Colleen Parsons, head coach of the marathon training program.

More people run marathons; women now outnumber men in most marathons; training programs have changed to accommodate ‘normal’ adult athletes; and the number of marathon finishers has expanded exponentially.

Fun is part of winning formula to successfully train for a marathon

“Our secret? Few injuries, and a lot of fun,” says Ashley Fox, co-facilitator of the program. “The format prepares all runners to incrementally train in such a way that they are completely prepared when they ‘toe up’ to the start line.”

Fox says the program has a 100 per cent success rate, meaning all those who show up to start the the 42-kilometre race finish the event.

"From the beginning, the program has incorporated the latest principles of training, movement preparation, strength training and recovery to help avoid injuries as much as possible. Through the guidance of many local experts, mainly from the Faculty of Kinesiology, and the experience of the coaching staff, we have been able to reduce the number of injuries," says Fox.

“We have seen runners join because of a bucket list — a box that they want to tick, but also those who have made it their life’s goal to make a lifestyle change. We have seen marriages, divorces, landmark dates, newly minted empty nesters, you name it,” she says. “If there is something to commemorate, a marathon for some folks is the exclamation mark. We’ve had those same bucket-listers turn into lifers. Multiple marathoners. Boston Marathon finishers.” 

Participants range in age from early 20s to early 70s and for many, it is a life-changing experience.

“It is because of you and the marathon program that I was able to make an abrupt lifestyle change," says Bob Wright. "I am 67 now and my running pace is slowing down, but not my enthusiasm to maintain a lifestyle that allows summer hikes in Europe, the occasional race and lots of play time with five grandchildren.” The program alumnus from 1999 is a 25-time marathoner, including three Boston marathons.

On your mark, get set for your 2017 race plan

The 2017 races have been designated; however, the team is flexible in how they can support the runners, should someone decide to attend a different event. The two events for this year are Porto, Portugal in November and Portland, Oregon, in October. However, "we welcome runners interested in any fall marathon — because we can generally customize the running schedule to support our team — wherever they choose to run," says Fox.  

New this year is distance learning. Yes, distance learning of a marathon program. Those interested in virtually joining the team will have access to the lectures and support system in place to help walk the first-timer (or not) through an online system.

How to get involved

  • The 2017 Marathon Training Program begins on Monday, March 6. UCalgary staff and students receive 20 per cent off their registration fee as our anniversary gift. Please call 403-220-7749 to register at this rate.
  • Participants are required to have a 30-minute running base (please email marathon@ucalgary.ca for a 0-5k training plan to get you there if needed).
  • Learn more about the Marathon Training Program.