What started out as little more than a whim a year-and-a-half ago is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of Ontario’s marquee running events.
On October 2nd and 3rd the Muskoka Marathon is set to take place in Bracebridge, and it’s likely to draw 1,500 athletes to the area, despite being only the second edition of the event.
It’s an incredible leap forward, considering the inaugural Muskoka Marathon launched in the middle of a pandemic and could only accommodate 200 runners due to health restrictions.
However, Jed Corbeil, who organizes the event along with Curt Dunlop, says the Marathon drew a tremendous amount of attention among top-tier athletes last year due to the fact that it was one of the only sanctioned events to take place in Ontario in 2020.
“We had tons of positive feedback afterwards. I think a lot of people were just so happy to have somewhere to run,” says Corbeil. “They like the course and a lot of them really like the hometown feel of the event. I think it was a little bit more lighthearted than some of the more serious marathons and the runners felt like it was a welcoming environment.”
Despite being a more laid-back event than some of the bigger races, the Muskoka Marathon still saw extremely competitive times put in by many runners over four distances. In the end, 37 of the 75 marathon runners qualified for the Boston Marathon and former Queen’s University standout Branna MacDougall ran a Canadian U23 half-marathon record of 1:11:42.
Incredibly, the event was conceived of, planned and executed in a little more than six months.
“I turned 40 in 2020 and I really wanted to set a big goal for myself. Right after New Year I started running just about every day and I signed up for a marathon in Greece at the site of the original marathon race,” says Corbeil.
Those plans came crashing down in March 2020 as the pandemic brought the world to a standstill.
Undeterred, Corbeil took matters into his own hands.
“It occurred to me that Muskoka doesn’t have a marathon and I thought, you know what, I’m going to have my own marathon,” says Corbeil.
Easier said than done, Corbeil recruited his longtime friend and business partner Curt Dunlop (the duo own the Griffin Gastropub and the Muskoka Natural Food Market) to help him execute his vision. There was red tape to navigate,volunteers to recruit, promotion, marketing and logistics, and the largest hurdle of all – ensuring the safety of runners and volunteers in the midst of a pandemic.
“The Health Unit signed off just days before the event and they made sure to do a number of drive-bys during the race to make sure all of the rules were being followed,” he says. “We played it so safe. Instead of the group start we had one runner starting every minute. It made for a very long day but in the end we had no problems with covid.”
While Corbeil says there were many locals competing, the inaugural event also drew runners from across the province.
Corbeil says the support they received was incredible, and he singles out Ares Law and Santa’s Village for going above and beyond to make sure the marathon was a success. That being said organizers are still looking for a few more volunteers to help make sure this edition is successful.
Ironically, Corbeil himself didn’t actually compete in last year’s marathon, as the work of organizing the event simply made it impossible for him to take part. Nonetheless, he says he did run the same marathon route the week after the event with some friends and family, complete with medals at the finish line.
This year, with restrictions loosened slightly, Corbeil says they can have up to 1,500 runners take part, leaving in pods of 30 every minute. The half marathon route starts at Santa’s Village and runs down Santa’s Village Road to Wellington Street and then up Beaumont Drive to Kirby’s Beach and back to Santa’s Village. The Marathon distance is that route twice.
While the event has grown considerably in just one year, Corbeil said he hopes it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“We have an amazing course and I think we could get 5,000 runners here eventually and really put this race on the map,” he says. “Hopefully next year we’ll be able to throw a big party after the event with food and live music. I feel like this is something that could really be a huge benefit to the entire community.”
You can get more information on the Muskoka Marathon at muskokamarathon.ca.
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