What happens when you combine a city break with running the Toronto Marathon? Canadian Affair’s Managing Director, Kathryn Munro, tells us about her adventure.
So this is marathon Number 7.
I broke my collarbone 11 weeks ago (downhill mountain biking in Quebec) and lost most of my marathon training plan. This was never going to be a marathon for a new PB (personal best), perhaps a PW (personal worst!) but it was more than the time on the road. It was about getting the medal, pushing through adversity and not giving up. Oh, and raising as much money as possible for Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance, who saved my Dad’s life last year.
I’ve been thinking and talking about running the Scotiabank Toronto Marathon for the best part of 10 years. Canadian Affair have been their UK tour operator partner for all this time, so it was time I showed it my full support. Along with five of my very good running buddies, we decided that a trip across the pond would be a great idea. A mini break with a marathon thrown in!
With six days to enjoy – three days pre marathon and three days post marathon – we certainly made the most of our time.
Day 1 – Enjoying the Sheraton Hotel
Arrival in Toronto and we checked into our amazing rooms at the Sheraton Centre Hotel. Our rooms overlooked the fabulous Nathan Philips Square where the brightly illuminated city makes you feel instantly welcome. The view from the Sheraton Club lounge on the 43rd floor is spectacular and worth the Club upgrade when nibbling into the hors d’oeuvres at 5pm every evening! The Sheraton is the perfect marathon hotel. The race starts and ends right outside the hotel, so you can stay in the hotel right up to the last minute (every marathon runner will understand how great this is) and you only have a few paces to stagger at the end. A quick hot bath or the outdoor pool awaits once you’re done (great for the recovery).
Day 2 – Dinner and Raptors in Toronto
Woke early and we all head out for a 6-mile leg-stretch in the glorious Toronto morning. Back to the hotel for a shower and hearty breakfast in the Club lounge to carb-load on the most amazing porridge and bagels. We head for the expo to collect our marathon packs and I go to the media conference to meet the elite runners and some of the many heroes raising money for Canadian charities. We also see Canadian Olympic athletes and record-holding runners such as Ed Whitlock – a marathon record holder who’s a mere 85 years of age.
Our group splits for the day to head out and explore Toronto while I go off to work. The day ends on a massive high by going to dinner in restaurant E11even and then catching the Toronto Raptors in my first ever basketball game. It was fantastic! An amazing atmosphere to take in at the Air Canada Centre. My friends are totally smitten with Toronto already.
I can’t resist a Raptors top embossed with my name. I can but hope!
Day 3 – Hop-on, Hop-off Toronto
The day before the marathon is all about keeping off the legs, so we head out after another hearty carb-loading breakfast to Dundas Square to catch the Toronto hop-on, hop-off bus tour. We totally luck out with our guide that day, a very funny and highly entertaining guide gives us 2 hours of the Toronto chat and history.
Reluctantly we get off at St Lawrence Market, stop number 19, as the lure of food was just too much! It was amazing. From there we walked the short distance to the Distillery District and enjoyed a wander round the boutiques and artisan shops before catching lunch in the October sun at Pure Spirits Oyster House and Grill.
We could have stayed all afternoon, but there was more to see and off we went. Dinner involved some more carb loading at BnB at the Sheraton Centre hotel. I can highly recommend the steaks.
Day 4 – Marathon Day
The Scotiabank Toronto Marathon is in its 27th year and hosts 26,000 runners in 3 events: 5k, half marathon and full marathon.
As I’ve come to realise, the team at the Sheraton Centre are really connected to their guests and with marathon day they open the Club Lounge early for their Club guests to load up pre-race. So we meet at 6.30am sharp to find the breakfast all set out. There are enough nerves around, so having this ready is a major win. We stock up on bagels and bananas, there are even take away bags for post-race. They are so amazing!
The marathon and half marathon starts nice and early at 8:45am, while the 5k was off at 8am. It’s all very organised on University Avenue and on the square there are plenty of facilities for those staying further away from the hotel. As we are so close we leave the hotel at 8:30 am! This is the latest I have ever left for a marathon start. It was the best experience ever.
The run itself
The run itself was a huge success. My time wasn’t, (although I didn’t achieve a PW and one of my group achieved a huge PB of 2:52), but the supporters and the organised “Dream Team” volunteers all-round the course who helped and encouraged us weary runners were.
The course is flat and would be fast if you were properly trained. It’s quite a tough mental course as it heads out of the city to the Lakeshore area and turns at 13km to double back into the city centre and head out to the beaches at 32km, before turning back in again to the finish at the downtown centre. You do get to see lots of runners both ways, but it’s also hard when you are 28km in seeing people running at 37km and you want to be there!
We did get the weather though, 27°C and 80% humidity… not what we Scots train in! But the locals loved it. Personally I’d have preferred normal temperatures of 12°C, but this is not a normal fall and the temperatures have been incredibly high. This didn’t put off 85-year-old Ed Whitlock who holds the world record for fastest marathon time in every age group post 75 years. He broke the records again this year with his 3.56 marathon. Totally unbelievable. He passed me by at one stage and I was totally in awe.
The race ends and we collect our medals and head back to the hotel for a shower, swim and celebration in the bar! Dinner tonight takes us to The Keg on York Street, a mere 50 metres from the hotel. Surf and turf is the order of the day and it brings a smile to everyone. The service and staff are excellent.
Day 5 – Restful Niagara
Niagara Falls and a Niagara on the Lake private tour awaits. We knew we wouldn’t want to walk too far today, so with Niagara Airbus we tailor-made a private tour which entailed an 8am pick up from our hotel, a neat 15 seater mini coach and personal driver for the day.
Niagara Falls Cruise
We set off to Niagara Falls and to the Niagara Cruises Hornblower cruise. We were covered in our lovely red ponchos to fend off the spray from the falls… little did we realise that you’d need a full Gortex suit!
What an amazing way to start the day! This 20-minute cruise takes you up close to the American Victoria Falls as well as into the Horseshoe Canadian falls. The name Niagara Falls translates in First Nation as “Thundering water” and it’s quite apt. The noise if something you have to experience. Truly unbelievable!
Lunch with a view
We are met off the cruise by our lovely guide Willem who steers us along the front of the falls to explain the history of Niagara Falls. He leads us on to the 14th floor of the Sheraton on the Falls for a panoramic buffet lunch overlooking the falls.
While this is quite cheesy, the views speak for themselves and the food is amazing! We feed our post marathon hunger with seconds (and some thirds!) and feast our eyes on the views over the falls.
Onwards we head, Willem keeping us in tow to Table Rock to have some above-the-falls photos and more photos. We then herd out to the Niagara Whirlpool Open car. We don’t soar the Great Gorge but we do spend some time overlooking the amazing whirlpool and wondering at the madness of people below in their jet boat tours getting thrown around in the fabulous swirling water. The views here of the Great Gorge are incredible and with the fabulous fall colours we are given a great spectacle in the sun.
From here we head to Reif Estate Winery for a wine tasting session.
This is a fantastic experience and despite it being peak harvesting, the lovely team have plenty of time to talk to us about their vineyard and the grapes.
We taste a lot of wine ($5 for 3 wines) and we buy a few bottles to take home!
Reluctantly, we move onwards with Willem to the coach but are soon cheered by a stunning drive into Niagara on the Lake.
Niagara on the Lake
We pass the most spectacular houses and estates, where the rich and famous clearly live. Parked on the outskirts of this historic, one-time capital city of Canada, we enjoy a 10-minute leafy amble into the most amazing town of Niagara on the Lake. What a throwback in time. The olde-English style shops, galleries and boutiques are a sight to behold. Mix that with modern ice cream parlours (my favourite “Cows”) along with microbrewery pubs and local bistros, we all appreciated we could spend a few days here quite easily. But an hour is all we have before we head back to the big smoke, Toronto.
We “entertain” Willem, our fabulous tour guide, all the way home with our 80s revival karaoke singalong. And with the most incredible sunset we return to the Sheraton Centre for 7:30 pm for a few refreshments and a nibble at BnB… again!
Day 6 – Shopping
Say no more. With just a 5 minute walk to the Eaton Centre where over 100 stores await, we need no encouragement. With new store openings this year from Nordstrom to Uniqlo and Saks of Fifth Street, there are more stores than you can imagine. Add all our favourite Canadian brands together (Roots, The Bay, Aritzia and Wilfred are among my favourites) and you’ve got a good thing going. The pound may be weak against the dollar but with great promotions on at Banana Republic, the Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch… you can’t get a better deal just now. We return laden with bags having shopped like Sarah Jessica Parker!
Dinner tonight is at Earls where we join in on the Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays games. With recently purchase ball caps, we look like locals!
Day 7 – More shopping!
Today it’s Queen Street West. Again we leave the comfort of the Sheraton Centre and turn right onto this amazing quirky street of local Canada brands and boutiques. You’ll find high end outdoor wear from Arc’teryx and designer fitness wear from lululemon as well as a whole range of great Toronto locals like Due South. We spend a delightful day in-between coffee shops and stores. It’s almost too much to take in – some of our group have to buy an extra bag!
Day 8 – Home again
It’s time to start packing and thinking about heading home. But before the fun comes to an end we take in a show at the Mirvish Theatre for the acclaimed west end show Matilda. This does not disappoint. The theatre is super cute, very London-style but very clean and fresh. The show takes up a very pleasant afternoon and we re-enter the world post Roald Dahl very happy with our lot. Off to the airport for our flight back to Glasgow and our fabulous week in Toronto is all-too suddenly coming to an end.
So whether you are a marathon runner or not, head out to Toronto in October. The weather is great, the city is buzzing – but not in an overbearing way. Shopping is great and there is a ton of sport going on. The Maple Leafs were back in action as were the Toronto Blue Jays. What are you waiting for?
I do recommend you run the marathon though; the carb-loading pre- and post-race is so worth it.