It is the end of an era for runners in the Saint John area who crossed the finish line during Marathon by the Sea for the final time over the New Brunswick Day long weekend.
The organization will cease operations after almost 30 years in the port city.
Mike Doyle, executive director of Marathon by the Sea, said Tuesday that participation among runners and volunteers, and the group’s finances, decreased significantly after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the organization went from raising $60,000 per year at its peak to around $17,000 this year.
“At one time, we used to run and never had to worry about money because we always had great sponsorship,” said Doyle during a phone interview.
“But when COVID hit, we lost two years of revenue, yet we still have bills we have to pay, so we got to the point [where] if we can’t get the financial assistance that we require, what are we going to do?”
Doyle first launched the marathon in 1995, but the inspiration goes back two more years after he returned to the city from the New York City Marathon in 1993. Describing himself as an avid marathoner, he enjoyed the social atmosphere of the runners participating.
The following summer at Festival by the Sea, he found the exact atmosphere in Saint John.
“I said, ‘this is just like New York was, so why couldn’t we have a marathon?’” Doyle recalled.
“We approached Festival by the Sea and asked, ‘can we run a Festival by the Sea marathon? So, we came to an agreement and … it took off right from there. The first event was probably the largest running event in New Brunswick the first couple of years.”
Doyle said the event attracted runners across Atlantic Canada and even parts of the United States. In recent years, however, the demographic has been younger participants who were — more or less — local to New Brunswick.
When runners crossed the finish line for the last time, Doyle said he felt a weight lift off his shoulders after a stressful couple of years planning the marathon with fewer sponsors, runners and volunteers — some of which at the very last minute.
“We lost the best part of our volunteers Saturday night before the run. I mean, they just called and said they couldn’t make it,” said Doyle.
“But luckily, I got home at around 11:30 a.m. and put a note on our Facebook page that we needed help. The next morning, there were probably 15 or 20 people that showed up and said, ‘what do you want me to do?’”
Doyle said everything runs its course and believes Marathon by the Sea is no exception. He has enjoyed the last three decades and is now looking ahead to the future.
Still, he is holding out hope for the marathon.
“We’re going to take about a month and a half to do legal documents and get ourselves squared away, and then we’ll take another look at it,” said Doyle.
“The goal is just to have a fun run, and in most years, we’ve done very well doing just that.”
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