More than a few Canadians have been known to take part in the popular sport of Toronto bashing. I know here in Ottawa all you have to do is mention “Toronto” and “snow” in the same sentence and at least one person in the room will ask if the army had to be called to the rescue. Then there is the Toronto Mayor. I am sort of at a loss as to what to say about him so I will just quote a sign I saw at the race that made me laugh out loud:
YOU’RE RUNNING A MARATHON? OUR MAYOR WANTS YOUR CRACK!
But I am here to tell you that Toronto runs an amazing race! While “Flat. Fast. Festive” may be the tag line, you could easily add in “Well Organized. Welcoming. Worth It”. Maybe that doesn’t sound as catchy but it is accurate. This was a race where you really got the sense that everyone involved – from organizers to volunteers – were honestly thrilled that you took the time to come out to their race. Everyone I spoke to was cheerful and helpful. A few times volunteers helped me before I even had the chance to ask. A case in point; when I paused to try to figure out where my corral was located, a volunteer was quickly at my side and having already looked at my bib kindly directed me to the green corral. I should also note that changing corrals at Expo was beyond easy. Once you had your bib you just had to go to the help desk where a volunteer was standing with a stack of coloured stickers, ready to make a quick adjustment on your bib. Oh, and did I mention it was easy to get in your corral and you did not have to stand in it for an hour before the race. In fact, you could spend much of your waiting time in the hotel lobby that was located right near the start line. From my point of view the start line process ran smoothly and easily.
I will note that my husband found the start of the 5k race to be less than ideal. Runners were encouraged to get on an early shuttle to avoid line ups. By starting out early he certainly avoided line ups but also ended up at his race start line at 6:30 am on a cold morning, giving him and many others an hour and a half wait outside until gun time. I admit I am glad I wasn’t waiting for that race. Mind you, Mike was back at the hotel in a hot shower when I was only a couple of km into a 42.2k run…
The marathon and half marathon started at the same time which I thought might make things really crowded but for the most part I was able to find a comfortable “personal space bubble” to run within. Watching out for streetcar tracks was a new experience for me but if nothing else watching where your feet were stepping gave a bit of distraction and before I knew it we were heading west out of the downtown core.
The course was very well laid out and there was definitely no way you could miss where the half marathoners turned left and the marathoners continued on for the rest of their race. Cones divided the path, several marshals were calling out directions and there were large blow up arches labeled with the correct race distance.
One of my favourite little touches came later in the race when we had to cross a short grate type bridge. Carpet had been laid out and taped to the grating, eliminating risk of slipping. A marshal was on site to ensure the carpet stayed flat and no tape curled up. I have no idea of other races do this too, but I loved that attention to detail.
By far the most fun area of the run was in the Beaches neighbourhood where locals clearly treat the day as a party. There were lots of spectators and in particular a thanks goes out to the kids handing out oranges. What a nice treat after running 28km! Throughout the race there were some great spectators and of course fantastic signs. That said, and I am admitting I could be biased here, I still think Ottawa spectators for both Ottawa Race Weekend and the Army Run are a hard bunch to beat.
As for the worst section, hands down it was the never ending maze somewhere between 35 and 40k. Just when you could see the downtown core within reach you were dragged through a bizarre little route that wasn’t getting you any closer to the finish. Apparently this was added this year to make up for distance lost earlier during the course due to construction. As much as I am whining about it, it actually was a very good mental challenge because it took a lot to convince yourself that at some point you would get out. They couldn’t just leave you there, right?
As soon as you crossed the finish line there were lots of volunteers talking to finishers to make sure everyone was ok. I was still smiling and I am pretty sure I was walking a straight line with no obvious staggering, so I guess no red flags were raised as I went through. I had no trouble finding Mike as well as my friends who had run the half marathon. Nathan Phillips Square made a great place to hang out while we waited for another friend to finish the marathon. We were also there to see many of the last runners come in and once again I was impressed with the volunteers. Even as the course was being dismantled around them, those volunteers were there to hug, cheer and high five every last participant. It was a pleasure to watch such support after what had to be a long day for them all.
I think it is pretty obvious that I would recommend this race to anyone. In fact, I am even considering doing it again next year. So much for the theory I would do this once and once only.
Part 2 of my report will be what I like to call a “me, me, me” report. That’s right, all about my run – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Without giving away too much I will say I had a great first marathon experience. I even had the chance to finally meet in person my blogging friends Karla and Rod. So lots more to tell next time as well as a few pictures…