Toronto Marathon [Day554]

It was an exciting trip and a big race for me. I like it just because Toronto is a great city. Granted I didn’t explore much but just the area near my hotel, the place seems orderly and unlike many places in the US. It has been many years, might have been like 24 years since I have been to Toronto, or at least 10 years. Has it changed much? Not much. It is just as hip as back then. I felt honor to finally run in it.

For most marathons, I would fly in, run, and then fly out. I could have done the same too for the Toronto Marathon, but for traveling this far and not spending more time in the city seems like a waste.

My mom and aunt wanted to come along, so I made it into a 5-day road trip. There certainly could have been a 7 or 8 days trip. It was a bit rush with 5 days.

We arrived in Toronto on Friday afternoon having stayed the previous night at Niagara Falls. We stayed near a chinese center, Time Square in Richmond Hill/Markham. There were a lot of good chinese food to eat, which is mostly what I want to do in Toronto other than running.

On Saturday, I went to check out the starting line at Yonge and Sheppard to get a sense how far the drive would be from our hotel. The race goes from North York and finishes at the water front at the BMO Field (about 13 miles away).

At the same time, I was searching and was able to purchase a temporary Canadian phone plan. Most major US phone companies have data coverage allowance for Canada but my phone plan did not, so I had to purchase a SIM card to use cellular service and data in Canada. With a data plan, I was finally free from teethering to a wifi. It allowed me to contact my family to pick me up after my race. Wifi isn’t hard to find, since almost everywhere provide free wifi, but still having a phone data plan is kind of a must.

The Toronto Marathon is a point to point race for the full and half marathon. Logistically, it is a challenge because either you need to know two separate locations – a drop off at the start and/or a pickup at the end of the race. It is kind of hard to tell your family where to pick you up at the end. They would have to find their way there. The race provided optional shuttle buses to transport runners to the start from the finish innthe morning. We could park at the finish and then take the bus. However, then our family members would have to wait there until I finish since the bus ride was not for them. So, as for me, I was dropped off and picked up by my family. I did not use the bus.

The course being a point to point was one of the reasons I picked this race. I like to feel the distance I covered in a race and to see it on a map. I love to run across the city (actually any city). I like to feel I was going somewhere instead of running around in a loop as many marathons tend to do.

It was an inconvenience for the whole city because the course caused road closures to a big section of the city, effectively dividing it north/south and east and west. Many city drivers were not happy about us running on the roads (and took their outrage to social media). I think many did not expect the duration of the closure to be long and also there was a lack of communication from the race organization and alternative routes being provided. Having just a map of the closure on their website is not enough. Some were upset they were blocked up to an hour. Some cars went on the course (probably illegally) and was driving among the runners — it was caught on video. Yes, wtf.

My family too was having trouble going around the closures trying to find their way to pick me up post-race. The race website did poorly to direct where to park for post-race runner pickup. They mentioned a parking lot, but we being from out-of-town were not able to find the lot. My family circled around the area several times before contacting me to set a mutual meeting place that worked for both of us. I am sure locals have less a trouble with the post-race runner pickup. I ended up walking to them.

The race recommendation was to use public transportation. Yes, sure. I will do that next time. (Note, trains didn’t run before the marathon started).

Race day. Everything worked out exactly for me. I arrived 1.5 hrs early. I had my bib mailed to me ahead of time so I did not have to attend the convention to pick it up. There were issues for some runners receiving incorrect bibs or not receiving a bib at all before the race. Some runner’s bibs were not being recorded during the race either, which was a runner’s nightmare. Mine was working correctly.

We arrived at the Yonge-Sheppard Centre by 6 am. It was not my first rodeo, so I knew to arrive early. We got a parking spot. Other runners also arrived. They closed the roads by 6:30 and began setting up. It felt late. I have been to races where the starting chute was set up during the middle of the night. There was a slight delay of getting the race start on time (5 minutes late — not bad but it was a shame they could not start exactly on the dot. Certainly some runners also couldn’t make it to the race before the start due to traffic.

We lined up on the street. The race feels empty. There were supposed to be 3000 of us but it felt like 500-600 runners. It did not feel like a big city mega race. I had expected it for more runners, like 50 thousands. There was an announcer at the starting line. His voice did not carry to the back and, we who were lining up in the back could not hear much of what was said.

I wish they had place some loud speakers toward the rear so we were feel the festive too.

I am sure the announcer was giving out last minute instructions since there would be two other events happening. The half marathon started half hour after us. However, I think some half marathoners seemed to be mistakening joined us (I think unintentionally) and did the full.

Some of the half marathon – walkers (walkathon) intended to walk the course, they started 15 minutes after us. They might have joined the full unintentionally. There were certainly some confusions that morning. I think also lack of signages at the start advising the half marathoners to wait or where to wait created some confusion.

There were also runners without bibs — I don’t think they were race bandits, but likely their bibs did not arrive in time. Again, I think communication could have been better to resolve this. They mentioned they would have race officials to pull runners without a bib off the course. When I was reading over the postings on social media, there were some confusions out there.

There were supposed to have different waves (corrals) to separate out the fast and slower runners but I think because they did not have time to set it up or volunteers to enforce the separations, it became one giant wave start.

Some faster runners complained about the disorganization. I believe the slower runners must have gotten in the way of the faster runners and crowded the faster runners. For me, as a slow runner, I stayed to the right and let people pass on the left. I also lined up in the back instead of the front of the pack.

Also other big marathons have restrictions that dropbags to be of a certain size (and a clear plastic bag). Here too they did, but the rule doesn’t seem to be enforced or followed. I saw many people brought all kind of suitcases, backpacks, and handbags. I did not use a dropbag myself because I carried everything on me like in a trail race, but I found it was comical that people did not follow the rules/or that the race organization did not provide those clear plastic drop bags for runners. Of course, there bound to be someone who missed the drop-off time (7:00 am). The bag drop-off closed 30 minutes before the race start. Not sure why, since they could have kept it open for the half marathoners too. Anyway, rules are rules.

We had a lot of first timers and the race did not explain well what a bib is or what to put in a drop bag or generally what to expect. Some did not know they need to pick up their bibs un order to run. Some thought they could pick up their bibs on the race day (and they could with exceptions, for those who chose mailing but didn’t yet receive a bib).

What went well: I am not complaining, with a big race like this, something would go wrong. Social media just amplified it more. However, I felt a lot of these could have handled and communicated better.

As for myself, my race was a success. Everything pretty much in line to my expectation.

The weather was good. We had a week of bad weather leading up to the race weekend and a week of bad weather after we left. I felt pretty lucky on race day, we had dry, calm, and warm weather.

I started off with a good pace. I tried to keep a 7 min per 1 km pace (probably around 10-11 min-mile pace). There were a lot of people around me. Many could and did run faster. Slowly I made my way forward. I was not in a rush. I started in the back so there were a lot of room once the race started. The course was measured in KM and I adjusted in my head to KM. I counted my pace using mins per km. It was easier than I thought.

There were some pleasant runners around me. At one point, the first km, I did it in 7 mins and I was saying what 7 times 4. The runner beside me answered 28 when I could not say it out the answer. hahaha. I was struggling with math. She said I am having runner’s brain already. True. I was actually calculating my finishing time of 7 times 42 in my head (7x4x10+14), which is 294 minutes or about 5 hours. Complicated math for running. I was stuck on the first part of 4×7.

I know the course is 6 hours. I was not sure if I could do it under 5, or that I will need the full 6 hours. The first km allowed me to get a good projection of my finishing time. Note that I had not run fast for a long time, so I was not sure if I could do it in 4h30.

I did enjoy the course. It had couple big hills. I ran up on all of them. Those around me also run up, unlike many marathons I did where most people would walk the hills. I was impressed with the Canadians.

The crowd support outside the city was tame but I did not mind. Most runners were quiet too. No one talked much. It did not get boisterous until we merged back with the half marathoners and we arrived in downtown.

Generally, I like to run with a pace group but this time, I ran by myself because they did not have a 5 hour pacer. I did not wear a smart watch (I lost/misplaced mine somewhere since my last race) and so I kept my own pace based on feel and an old watch. I did not caught up to the 4:45 pacer until couple hours later into the race. I think it would have been helpful for first timer to have a later finish pacers. I wish I had volunteered for the 5:00 group.

Once we reached halfway (over 21 km), I saw a lot of runners went down from going out too fast. A lot of them needed medical services for cramping. They all sat down either in the middle of the course on the side. Medical personels would go to them and wheel them off the course. I felt bad that many of them could not finish their races. I wish I had stopped to help some of them. In races in the US, only serious injuries would require medical attention, as for cramps, I was told to walk it off, and I would tell others the same. I mean each runner would have to judge for themselves if they could still finish or they need medical aid. I was surprised so many called for help.

It could be that the temperature was a bit hot. It was in the 60 F. For me it was perfect, but many prefer to be cooler say 45-50s.

We were given plenty of water like at every 2 km except at the finish line. Some complained with a race this size not providing water or gels at the finish and it was a bit of a disappointment. It did not bother me, because as a trail runner, I learned to take care of myself. I brought my own gels.

The last 10K was on a bike trail. Some faster runners complained that the path was not wide enough to have runners running in both directions. They said they almost crashed into runners going in the other direction. I (4:33 finisher) did not have that problem. Everyone mostly stayed in their own lane. I guess, they just need to educate runners to “slow down” and stay in their lanes. Some might have taken the race too seriously.

Some also said not all the roads were closed off. The police/security people were letting cars to cross, and some runners said they did not feel safe having cars sharing the same road. Again I did not have that problem. I think it might be the very front of the race or the very back of the race where they let cars crossing the course or onto the course. Some runners said they were stopped by the police to let cars cross and they felt that was not right because they were held up from having a PB or BQ (personal best, boston qualified). Some said they were almost ran over (because they didn’t yield). I did stop twice to let an ambulance through and another time was to let the police to go through. Those two stops might have costed me the 4:30 finish. However, I didn’t mind, but you could imagine if someone was chasing a BQ and they had to stop for couple minutes.

There were a lot of course marshals on the course, but I almost missed a turn during the final half-full marathon split. The half were making a right turn to the finish but the full marathoners were supposed to go to the left.

They did say, know the course. However, somehow I missed this turn during my course study. It is on me but I wish they had made a mention on the course map, put a star or something to draw attention to the split. Also I wish they had several course marshals there to separate the full from the half. The race signage was kind of lacking. Their signs were small and easy to miss. I have done many marathons where they would use giant banners/flags to warn of turns. The signages here were like a 5k race instead a major city marathon. Not complaining. My race was saved when a spectator shouted out to me to make the left turn after I went the wrong way. I was forever grateful to him otherwise my race would come to an end at the turn.

Running the marathon distance was not a problem for me. By 32 km, I was getting tired. The turn around point for the full marathon was a bit later maybe at 35 km. It seemed an eternity. I carried some gels on me, so I ate my gel. Then I picked up my pace, running a 9m30 (per mile) pace. It started to rain. I was one of a few who could still run at the time. Many were walking or slow jogging. I was able to pass many people. I finished at 4h33. It is a good finish time for me.

At a turn around point, I met a friend was also running the full marathon. I was good seeing her. I was kind of searching for her during the race, knowing she flew in for this. However, we were not able to meet up beforehand. I tried to catch up to her but her pace was too fast for me. She finished 15 minutes before me. I did not have a chance to see her again at the finish. Maybe because of the rain.

Ice: The weather was warm. Around 37 km, someone had a small bag of ice (maybe 5-6 lbs or so) and she was giving them out ice to runners. So I stopped and received a handful from her. Ice was so good on a hot day. I ate them. It was one of the reasons I could pick up my pace toward the end.

The post-race was a bit disorganized. They guided the runners out of the finishing chute. We were then left on our own. Runners did not receive their medals or water nor were we directed into the Elizabeth where we could pick up our finisher’s swag. Some went home without picking up a medal!

There were no signs or instructions where to go. Many met their family there at the end of the exit. So it was crowded. The Elizabeth building was right in front of us. Many people were crowding around there trying to get in but that was the exit. They would not allow runners to enter. The other entrance we could enter into the Elizabeth building was on the side. There were also a crowd there because they were handing out the medals at the doorway. I think it was not a good idea, say a stampede condition in the making. I waited around a bit for the crowd to clear but it started to rain harder, so I joined in and entered the building.

Inside the building was not crowded as I expected. Some were saying there were no one handing out medals earlier, but I got my medal from a volunteer.

There were food tables. They were handing out electrolytes. They were out of water. Likely the 5k/10k runners took them all.

I also drank energy drink instead. They had bananas and muffins for us. Many runners grabbed a big box and filled up their boxes with food and drinks. There was no limit how much we can take. I think it is ridiculous people carrying boxes of food. It was not likely they would eat a whole carton of of waffles or drink cartons of 24 cans of energy drinks. People were extremely greedy and grabbed as much as they could carry.

Late runners were out of milk and a lot of good stuff. I saw the earlier finishers had a lot of good food. Runners also discarded boxes and trashes all over (when they decided to leave behind after couldn’t finish them or the stuff they took was not good).

There were volunteers cleaning up as quickly as they could but they could not keep up with thousands of runners throwing away their trashes onto the floor. To me, it showed the lack or anyone in charge inside the Elizabeth building and people were doing whatever they wanted. There should have been a one way direction to guide runner through the food tables and then exit the building and then to their ride pickup location. Runners were like a mob there, robbing the place. Some described it being like a refuge camp. I think refugee camps have more order than here. Yes, it is a shame.

My family came to pick me a bit later. It took them an hour to circle around all the road closures to get near the building where I was. This was unavoidable. However, I wish the race had mentioned or provided a place for “kiss-and-ride”, a pick up area for family, taxis, and ride-share. They probably did, but I did not know about it. I stayed and watched how others were being picked up and did the same. We waited near the fire house, it seemed easy enough for our drivers to find us.

I had runners asking me about whether shuttle was available to take runners back to the hotel or the start area. I doubt there was any race provided shuttling back. Again there was a lack of signs or communication post race of where to go especially for those who were from out of town. The website mentioned we can take a city bus to various points in the city. Those places were like greek to me.

Personally, I enjoyed the race. The race could improve a few things. When runners pointed out the deficiencies on its social site, however, their comments were deleted. I understand it is to creat a positive experience but it was seen as stopping negative press. The race only wants positive reviews but not the negative comments.

There will always be people complaining but if the race went out of its ways to antagonize both the residences and runners, the race would not last long. Some were calling to boycott this race. Before I ran this race, I had some hints that the organization would not be as top notch as the city’s other marathon races. I still picked it for the point to point course. Also it fitted my race schedule.

I was lucky the race was good for me and my time during my stay in the city was also good. There were runners who ran this race every year. If I am near, I would run it again but since it is so far, it is a once and done for me. They do have a few bad sides but the goods certainly outweigh the bads.

2 responses to “Toronto Marathon [Day554]”

  1. RD issued an email apology today for the race. I wanted to post it but afraid of DMCA. Anyway, in the apology, runners were blamed for the chaos. With a gathering of 10,000+ people, crowd control is very important. Most runners were good, there might be a few trouble makers. I don’t believe the runners at the Toronto Marathon is any different from any other marathons. I ran in plenty events (60+). It is the first time I saw something like Toronto.


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