The Manitoba Marathon ran like clockwork for 40 consecutive years every Father's Day on the streets of Winnipeg.
The streak ended Wednesday when race organizers announced the event, first delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic from its usual slot on the race calendar, will not be staged in the traditional manner in 2020.
Tentatively rescheduled for Oct. 11, the marathon will now be conducted as a virtual event from Oct. 11 until Nov. 11.
Race executive director Rachel Munday said it was important to make a decision with less predictable weather coming.
"We're 31 days out and for us, at this point, our proposal for a return to sport was a two-day proposal," said Munday. "It was 1,500 people a day over two days (on Oct. 10 and 11), which is a significant drop obviously in participation for us from 12,000 (in a normal year).
"But the amount of work it would take for our staff to put it on, and the number of volunteers and medical professionals, because we needed a good, safe course, all of the things that factor into that we were at the point where we needed to either know we were able to move forward or move forward in a different direction."
Organizers considered a scaled-down version of the traditional course by using only the half-marathon track with full marathon participants completing two laps. Those plans were abandoned when the logistics became too unwieldy.
"The number of people that would have been in each start time, because our proposal had 250, we could've dropped it to 100 but our road permits would have to have been extended for hours and hours," said Munday.
"Then we'd have volunteers out on the course for longer periods of time and the weather is cooler, you don't know what it's going to be... It just got to be we needed to make a decision and we can do a great virtual option."
As for the virtual event, Munday strongly advised against running the full course. Without the typical road closures, the course is too dangerous although portions of it could be deemed safe.
"The beauty of what we're doing is they can do it alone with their Garmin or whatever app they typically run with," added Munday, "Or they can use what's called the Runkeeper app, which will send them an individual link to their event through their registration.
"Then they can just go out with their app on whatever day they choose and find their route, press start and it will calculate when they're finished their full- or half-marathon or whatever distance they're going to run and automatically upload the results to our results page."
The upheaval is also challenging for the marathon's important function as a charity. Normally, the organization raises between $50,000 and $75,000 per year. So far in 2020, the total is approximately $20,000.
Registration fees help to keep the organization afloat and about 1,500 participants were already signed up.
"We're doing everything we can to not only put on a great virtual event but to stay alive so we can put on a great in-person event in 2021," said Munday. "We really need the community to support us so if people have run with us before, we're hoping they run with us again. Even though it's a virtual experience, it's something different than they've ever done before.
For more race details and to register, go to manitobamarathon.mb.ca.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.