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Running the Toronto Waterfront Marathon

posted February 8, 2017


toronto marathon

For the experienced runner, this is an awesome running festival.

For the new converts or aspiring runners… this is a totally awesome running festival!

I’ve run seven marathons, countless half marathons and hundreds of 5k and 10k races. I’m far from elite but I’d consider myself competitive with myself – in other words, always searching for a PB!

The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon was my second favourite marathon, after the London Marathon which I’m not sure will ever be beaten.

Why Toronto?

toronto marathon drone view

So why did Toronto beat Barcelona, Loch Ness or even Edinburgh? Quite simply it was so friendly and brilliantly organised. In true Canadian style, the focus was on having a great time, being safe and providing something for everyone.

There’s a 5k, half marathon and the full marathon. The Expo in the 2 days leading up to the race event sets the tone. You are welcomed by friendly Torontonians, registration is slick and fast, and you can browse the dozens of stands and selling booths to pick up some running gear or just have a good chat.

Every runner’s number has their name on it which makes a huge difference! This is the first event I’ve run where you don’t need to rely on having your name printed on your t shirt in order to get a shout out. In Toronto you have ten thousand supporters calling out your name in support all the way round the course.  This was such a massive boost to me. I love the way the Canadians pronounce my name!

Stay near the start line…

Sheraton Centre Toronto

I had friends running in the 5K event and as this started really early, they were able to get back to the start in time for the half and marathon beginning, which itself was at a fabulous time of 8:45am. Perfect for a bit of jet lag as I’d naturally woken at 5:30am!

We were staying at The Sheraton Centre Hotel, which is literally 20 meters from the start and finish line, so we were able to stay in our rooms using the facilities until 10 minutes before the race started. This was a massive bonus, as any experienced racer will know the nerves kick in and result in 20 trips to the loo! The Sheraton Club lounge also catered for the runners. They opened earlier than the normal 6:30am Sunday time for runners, and provided breakfast bags and plenty of their delicious bagels for last minute carb loading!

The plan for getting around the course…

runners in the toronto marathon

Just 12 weeks after breaking my collarbone in a mountain bike accident, I wasn’t really at my fittest. I just wanted to get around the course without doing any further damage, so I set off on my own with the goal of finishing and collecting the medal. I had 3 other friends who hadn’t quite completed their training plan and were walking/running, and we can also own up to having a fully fit racer who was after a new PB! So we split at the hotel lobby and with cheery fist bumps said we’d see each other at the finish line… whatever time that would be at.

Running around Toronto

running the toronto marathon

The course starts in downtown Toronto and winds its way up University, along Bloor and down Bathurst until you hit the Lakeshore and you head out along Lakeshore Boulevard. Crowds cheered, kids held signs and live bands and singers entertained. With Lake Ontario in view for much of the first 8 miles, the scenery was a great distraction.

Turning to head back into the city gave an opportunity to see runners coming and going. I managed to wave to my fit and fast friend George, who looked far too relaxed to be chasing a PB! With the CN tower in glorious sight for the next 5 miles you are spoiled with one of North America’s greatest skylines as your running view. The crowds were constant and the water stations every 2km a godsend as it turned out to be hot and humid at 20°C! Us Scots don’t even train in this in the peak of summer, never mind in the middle of October!

The half marathon finishes in the city centre and as the CN tower became a massive feature, I was seriously questioning why I didn’t just sign up for the half. I was feeling comfortable but very hot and my shoulder was sore. But just as the road sign split for half and full marathons I saw my husband and daughter by the roadside shouting for me, so I had to run past and smile as the next 13 miles lay ahead.

Where’s the CN Tower?

toronto marathon cn tower

Now the next 13 miles is another loop, out to the Beach village and back again. This was new territory for me as I’d never run this way before but it was every bit as enjoyable, except I had to deal with the CN tower once again becoming smaller and smaller in the distance. Until finally at mile 21 you get to u-turn again and run back into the imposing skyline once again and your focus is entirely in getting that CN to be bigger in your vision (at least it was for me!!)

It was in this half of the marathon that I really enjoyed myself. I spoke to everyone, especially the “Dream Team” helpers positioned in the middle of the roads to help any runner who needed a pick me up, comforting words or medical help. They were amazing! I’d never seen a more helpful team at a race event. Dressed in flashy red T shirts, they were clearly very proud to help runners and took great pride from being part of this team.

The motivation

motivating crowds toronto marathon

I also chatted to fellow runners, catching their marathon stories, who they were running for and what charity they were raising funds for. Nearly everyone was running for a charity, which was totally commendable. I was running for Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance, as they had saved my Dad’s life just 18 months before by air-lifting him from a regional hospital to Glasgow City Centre to have lifesaving brain surgery. Without their help, my father might not have survived. This was with me for the entire run and when I felt sore or tired, it came back to me in full force, that I was running for him and for all the other people they help.

I ran a slower second half to my first, as the pain was increasing and my legs tiring. I didn’t have enough training miles in the bag and my mid-race hopes of getting a sub 4 hour were dashed when I had to walk for a good 10 minutes at mile 23. But time was never the goal and I crossed the finish line in just over 4 hours with the biggest smile on my face. This was a medal I was going to cherish.

The crowds at the finish were raucous, the music blaring and I met up with a very happy George and his new PB! We were all there for our other friends who had run, danced and staggered their way round in just over 5 hours. We all had something to celebrate… and that we did!

Celebrating in style

TWAG0243

First though we all staggered back to The Sheraton (taking just 2 minutes!) We enjoyed a glorious bath, a quick power nap and then a few ice-cold beers in the 43rd Floor Club lounge overlooking the city we had just run around. It was quite an emotional sight.

We continued our holiday by having a personal sightseeing tour with Niagara Airbus to Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake the next day. Our legs were a little sore, so having a personal tour guide to take us to all the attractions and not have too much time on the legs was great. But to see the Falls and visit some Niagara wineries was an amazing day.

We topped off the trip with a hop-on, hop-off Toronto city tour, a day of shopping in the Eaton Centre, a visit to The Steam Whistle Brewery, a Toronto Raptors basketball game at the Air Canada Centre and amazing food at every opportunity. You can read more about the days spent exploring after the marathon here.

It was a city break with a marathon thrown in! Totally worth it and such a memorable experience.

lunch by niagara falls

2017 marathon packages are now available through Canadian Affair at incredible prices. Book now and sign up for a run, whether it’s the 5k, half or full marathon. Supporters are also required, so bring as many friends as you can!

I think my friends and I will be back to have a go at a Toronto PB!

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