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25 Years of the Servus Edmonton Marathon

by Leah Paterson

It’s flat and fast to the finish at the Servus Edmonton Marathon on August 19 & 20, 2017. Racers will gather at the Shaw Conference Centre to take off on a 42-kilometre odyssey that passes through several historic neighbourhoods and Edmonton’s oasis of urban parkland—the North Saskatchewan River valley. To find out about what it’s like to hit a personal best, we thought we would ask an expert. Meet Stefan Fekner, who crossed the finish line ahead of the pack on an unseasonably chilly day 25 years ago, when Edmonton held its first official marathon (then known as the Capital City Marathon).

This Woodstock Ontario native and retired city planner has run over 600 races; gone to 9 world championships; is a three-time Canadian 100 km champion as well as Ultrarunning Magazine’s 1988 male North American Ultrarunner of the Year;  and is the only Canadian to crack the top 3 in the IAU 100 km World Championships since 1987. But even running legends start somewhere—Stefan recalls his first marathon when he moved to Edmonton in 1982 as being one of his hardest.

“It’s like jumping out of an airplane. If you have a bad parachute jump they say you should go back up immediately or you’ll never go back. I did my second one and it was much easier than my first.”

His advice to first time racers? “Just enjoy the accomplishment and go in with a bit of humour.” 

There are practical tips to running a marathon, like putting band aids on your nipples, getting up early so you can go to the bathroom, and making sure you’ve eaten something (sounds glamorous, doesn’t it?). But Stefan stresses the importance of a runner’s mindset. “I just have to accept the conditions and whatever happens, happens. At mile 20 when you start to get heavy legs, turn around to someone and tell them a joke. Think about something different.”

Generally, the worst conditions for running are high heat and humidity, so the dry Edmonton climate is ideal for long distance racing, or even a casual jog around the city. From downtown, you are only minutes from the heart of the river valley and over 150km of natural trails just waiting to be explored. The marathon’s first gold medalist frequently runs in Hawrelak Park and Edmonton’s west end, and notes that there are many excellent multi-use trails and neighbourhood pedestrian networks around town.

As a retired city planner, Stefan knows firsthand how much the city has changed since the Edmonton Marathon’s inaugural year. He even talks about using his experience running through communities as a means to encourage the development of new sidewalks, trees, and benches.

“Running is sort of my ‘think time’, so when I would run from work at noon hour I used to unclutter my mind, and if I had a presentation to do I would use my run time to create my bullets and think about what I want to say. Sometimes when I’d get stressed at work, my staff would say: go for your run.”

After racing in cities around the world—like Bangkok, Moscow, New York and Toronto—Stefan says that what stands out about Edmonton is the incredible volunteer culture that has developed around the racing and sports community. “Volunteers come in all stripes. I remember being struck by one particular episode in the 2001 World Track and Field Games. It was in Hawrelak park the day before. There was a person on crutches walking around the park picking up litter. You could sense the pride that people had. You go to other cities and you don’t find that as much as you do here.”

When travelling, Stefan uses running as a form of exploration, and encourages visitors coming to Edmonton for the marathon to hit the pavement around town and discover the city.

The Servus Edmonton Marathon is less than a week away and includes an ABC Kids 1km, 5km, 10km, 21.1km and marathon run/walk events. With last year seeing nearly 4,500 participants, this is the perfect opportunity to check out the beauty of Edmonton’s green space and to immerse yourself in the incredible athletic community. Not running this year? Volunteer or grab a lawn chair with pom-poms and get involved in this 2018 Boston qualifier.

For information on road closures, parking, neighbourhood access and Edmonton Transit detours, click here.

For more about the Servus Edmonton Marathon from our friends at Edmonton Made (including a list of awesome places to enjoy brunch while cheering), click here.