This Sunday is the 40th anniversary of the Manitoba Marathon, and it will be Len Rolfson’s 40th time running it. Rolfson, 70, is the only person to have run the marathon every year since its inception in 1978.
A retired technical officer with the province of Manitoba, Rolfson has lived in Manitoba since age 10. He credits this race with turning him into a runner. “We just got caught up in the excitement, back in ’78, and some friends and I decided to try the marathon,” he says. “As difficult as it was, it was so exciting to run, and finish, the province’s first marathon.”
Previously, Rolfson had always done recreational sports, but not running. “My wife gave me Jim Fixx’s book, The Complete Book of Running. I mainly trained on my own, and I made a lot of mistakes. I even got injured, but I still finished, and I was very happy and excited.”
The weather was hot that first year. Rolfson had no time goal other than to finish, and he ran 4:15. The following year he took a full hour off his time.
The third year was his fastest. He was 33, and he ran a 3:06. “My friend and I were trying for sub-3, and he made it and I didn’t,” says Rolfson. But that didn’t discourage him from continuing his streak. “We thought, wouldn’t it be cool to be at the 10th anniversary, and to have been there every year? And here we are at 40 years.”
“After the first year, the organizers realized that running the last 10 miles down Portage Avenue, with no shade, wasn’t very runner-friendly, so they changed the course to include more residential areas and Assiniboine Park,” says Rolfson.
The course changed direction in 2016, which Rolfson appreciated. “It was a nice change, and it was well received,” he says. “Things looked completely different, going in the other direction.”
Last year’s new finish line in Bomber Stadium on the University of Manitoba campus definitely added to the excitement of the event.
Rolfson has run 113 marathons altogether, including Boston (which he ran with his adult son Scott in 2015, who was sixth overall at Manitoba that same year), all of them in Canada and the US. Scott ran his first marathon in 2000, with his dad, on Father’s Day.
Forty years on, Len expects his time will be about the same as it was that very first year. “I’m just so glad I’m healthy enough to still be running it,” he says.