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'Huge' grizzly bear sightings delayed runners at Banff Marathon

Multiple bear sightings, including at least one grizzly, were the talk of the 2024 Banff Marathon on an otherwise cold and rainy Sunday.

BANFF – Runners realized quickly just how wild Banff National Park can get.

Multiple bear sightings, including at least one grizzly, were the talk of the 2024 Banff Marathon on an otherwise cold and rainy Sunday (June 16) after the lumbering bruins delayed sections of the annual race for up to 90 minutes.

“It was all clear and then the grizzly bear was right there in front of us and it was walking toward us,” said marathon winner Andrew Payne of Roberts Creek, B.C. “[Wildlife crews] yelled ‘red flag’ and everyone walked back slowly and it was just getting closer and closer as we were walking back and eventually a car came along and scared it away, but it was huge. It was at least the size of six, seven people.”

Payne was stopped three times by bears over the 42-kilometre marathon in Alberta, which began at the Banff townsite and headed west on the closed-to-traffic Bow Valley Parkway. Payne said the bear delays added about 90 minutes to his overall time of 4:32:11.

Lena Krendelshchikova, the first overall woman in the marathon, also had heart-pounding moments with wildlife on Sunday.

Looking around the corner for furry creatures, she said her heart rate shot up every time a bighorn sheep or bear popped out of nowhere.

“I was super nervous, and I also saw mountain [sheep] and … I felt like they were going to jump on me,” she said, with a laugh.

“I think the whole course was challenging just with the ups and downs, and I’m from Texas, so we don’t have many hills, but overall, this has been the best marathon I’ve ran just because it was so adventurous.”

Krendelshchikova added she was impressed by how well-organized the race was, particularly with how wildlife crews quickly came into action.

When it came to wildlife, Banff Marathon organizers and Parks Canada “planned for that extensively” and had procedures in place, checkpoints every few kilometres, and also educated about the possibility of, quite literally, running into bears.

“This isn’t a typical marathon, we know this can happen so we were prepared for it,” said race director Paul Regensburg.

Regensburg added there were no conflicts or dangerous encounters for runners or wildlife.

At one point, approximately 200 marathoners stopped all at once on Bow Valley Parkway to wait as a bear was nearby. It was an uncommonly large group size, noted Regensburg, who puts on the Banff Marathon and Melissa’s Road Race.

“We’ve had stops before, that’s not unusual for us, but it’s usually like five to 20 people for five minutes to let a bear travel [through]. This was some extensive stops just to make sure the bears cleared the area,” said Regensburg.

Banff is home to grizzly and black bears.

The Outlook reached out to Parks Canada for comment, but they were not immediately available.

Sunday’s 10km and half marathon races weren’t affected by the bear delays, but some participants got a good view of the large crowds waiting, such as Duncan Marsden of Canmore and Jesse Kitteridge of Banff.

“The lead cyclist was giving me updates the whole way, saying ‘we might have to turn around early,’ but it looks like Parks did their job and was scaring them off,” said Marsden, who won the half marathon at a time of 1:16:36.

Recently, Marsden helped set a Guinness World Record in Calgary. He and 10 other MitoCanada runners for the fastest half marathon as a linked team on May 26 at the Calgary Marathon. They finished at a time of 1:19:45, beating the previous record of 1:26:14 set in 2015.

Though no records were broken in Banff, the running-machine was at the top of his game.

“The course is quite tough and there is a few decent hills in there that keep me honest but the weather was fine. I didn’t feel like it impacted me,” said Marsden.

Coming back from an injury, Kitteridge, who came in second in the half marathon, said he achieved his goal of finishing in less than 80 minutes (1:19:36).

“One of these years, I would like to win this race and [Melissa’s Road Race] in a year, so I was trying to set the stage but I won’t be able to do it this year,” said Kitteridge.

Aside from wildlife, trains travelling across walkways also delayed runners.

In the marathon, the top placing local male and female were Henry Ratcliff in 16th overall and Melissa Delgado in 142nd.

In the half marathon, the top finishing local female was Julita Bikulciute in 69th.

In the 10km, Harrison Enns was third overall and Kim Logan was 19th and were the top finishing local male and female.

For full results, click here.

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

An award-winning reporter, Jordan Small has covered sports, the arts, and news in the Bow Valley since 2014. Originally from Barrie, Ont., Jordan has lived in Alberta since 2013.
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