Banff Jasper Collection

For Jim Fry, the trip to Banff each September to run Melissa's Road Race is a tradition that dates back 39 years. And, except for 2017 when the race was temporarily cancelled by organizers, he's run every single year.

"I love running in the mountains, it's so picturesque," says the retired teacher and avid runner. "It's just such a great location for a road race."

Fry has raced in marathons and road races across the continent. He and fellow veteran Mary White are the only two who haven't missed a single Melissa's. It’s that tradition that makes this race so special.

New blood is breathing some fresh life back into Melissa's for 2018 and the community is thrilled about it.

From international elites racing marathons to local buddies just aiming to complete 5 km, Melissa’s has a broad appeal.

Two runners dressed up as a mountian goat and bighorn sheep.

Photo: Melissa’s Road Race is known for its casual and unpretentious spirit.

A Good Time for All

Sure, the routes are spectacular. The 10 km race goes up Tunnel Mountain Road while the half-marathon follows the Bow River to Bow Falls and the Banff Springs Golf Course.

But a huge part of what has made Melissa's such a favourite race is the social aspect—the ‘post-race party’, you could say. In the early days, the festivities were held at Melissa's Restaurant, but as the crowd grew, the party moved first to Bumper's, then to the tennis courts and now to the Banff Recreation Grounds.

Race organizer Paul Regensburg says there'll be food trucks, a beer garden and live music waiting racers at the finish line. "It's going to be a lot of fun."

Runners run down a road near the starting line of a race.

Photo: Runners make their way through the start gates at the Banff Recreation Grounds.

A Perfect Partnership for Mount Royal Hotel

Back when Melissa's started out in 1979 as a 10 km as part of an effort to attract visitors during the shoulder season, Jim Fry says there were only a few road races in Alberta. Melissa's was, he says, at the forefront of what has since grown into a 'running phenomenon'.

In 1979, there were about 400 participants. During the 1990s, the race would sell out very quickly with 4,500 racers, Regensburg says.  This year, the race is already sold out at 4,500 bibs.

Melissa's has a very loyal following from Alberta. Just as the founders imagined, many people make an annual trip to the mountains each September to participate.

With the newly-reimagined Mount Royal Hotel stepping up this year as official lodging sponsor, the heritage of Banff is on display. Event registrants will receive a discounted nightly rate and can take advantage of all of the new amenities that the hotel has to offer, including the rooftop lounge with outdoor hot tubs, welcoming community spaces and spacious guest rooms with mountain views.

People sit about a rooftop patio.

A streetscape with forest-covered mountains behind.

“Similarly to Melissa’s Road Race, the Mount Royal Hotel has been an anchor in Banff’s community for both locals and tourists alike,” says Dave McKenna, President, Banff Jasper Collection by Pursuit. “We look forward to welcoming everyone in September.”

It’s two community icons teaming up for a celebrated event, typical of Banff.

"It's a natural fit," he says. "We love that the hotel has come back better than ever at the same time as the race. This is what Banff is all about."

Runners run down on a road between forests.

Photo: The cool, crisp and sunny weather in September can be ideal for runners.

Going Green

For Regensburg's team, the experience of running the highly-successful Banff Marathon will make transitioning to a more sustainable version of Melissa's easier. Running races, like so many sporting events, can produce a huge amount of waste. Regensburg believes that a race held in Banff National Park has a particular responsibility to be environmentally-friendly.

"It's a ton of extra work and expense," he says. "But it's also an opportunity."

The race is now moving towards "zero waste". This involves significant efforts to reduce waste, to divert from landfills via sorting, and working with sponsors and partners to ensure all goods brought into the event are recyclable.

"There'll be stations everywhere for sorting," he says. "We're aiming high for this year."

The Spirit of the Race

Now 77, Jim Fry is still a competitive runner who is aiming to do well in his age group. And he says he’s looking forward to reconnecting with some fellow ‘old-timers’ as well as the free beer at the finish. Having fun is at the heart of Melissa's Road Race, after all.

"I wouldn't miss it," he says.

It’s that unpretentious, fun and casual spirit that is the essence of Melissa's.

Two people dressed for a run stand in front of a grassy meadow.

Photo: Jim Fry and Mary White haven't missed a single Melissa's Road Race

Event organizers are still looking for volunteers, a job that comes with plenty of perks. Sign up at

Race day is September 22, and runners hit the route at 10:30 AM.

Visitors to Banff and the general public can watch the racers make their way down Banff Avenue, cross the Bow River Bridge or take in the festivities at the Recreation Grounds.

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