Leave it to a guy named Ford to run us off the roads. For the second year in a row, marathons are making news in this city. Last year, a few headlines and frustrated motorists resulted in Toronto forcing one of two fall marathons to move. While in the end it was probably a good idea to space out our two major marathons, what annoyed me and my fellow runners was this whole idea that roads are sacred ground, never to be touched by a sole.
This year, mayoral candidate Rob Ford tells us the morning after the Toronto Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon that he would, if elected next month, think about banning marathons from the city's roads. He even goes and suggests that we hold such races at places like High Park or Downsview.
So instead of just mouthing off against utter nonsense, I think there are a few good points to make.
Great cities embrace running: Can you name a big city anywhere? London, Berlin, Washington, D.C., Chicago? All of them host major marathons. In most of the big ones, marathon weekend is a major event. It brings out runners from all corners, but it also brings out the citizenry. I hear that the New York City Marathon is one of New York's finest days. Guess what? The race is run all over the city's boroughs. Boston? It's a holiday. Chicago? Hundreds of thousands come out to cheer in every neighbourhood. I was recently running in DC and I thought to myself as I saw a few hundred runners out on their weekend long run that "this is a runners' city". Toronto is on the cusp of being one. It really is. The half marathon I just ran had 4000 finishers in 2005. Yesterday? More than 9000. Great cities are places where people live and PLAY in and they support these events because they are what make the city a livable one. If we planned our cities around vehicles that use our roads as a way out to the suburbs, then what kind of city are we trying to build? It's too late, we have downtown brimmming with people, young people like the half dozen half marathoners I saw coming into my elevator yesterday afternoon. Embrace running and you can do no wrong.
Road racing is made for, well, roads: We all hear about the first days of the New York City Marathon, when it was run as loops in Central Park. (Those roads are big by Toronto Standards and yes they are actual roads.) To suggest that marathons should be run in parks goes against the whole idea of the sport. Park and dirt, they call that cross country? Sprint and short distance, they do that on the track. My sport, it's all about the roads. (Don't make me use that I'm a taxpayer... oh wait.)
High Park? Are you #$%&! mad?
See map of High Park
View Larger Map
Note that it can support 2000 runners at a time. Note a loop of it can barely get you 3 miles if you are lucky. Note that marathons has about 15,000 - 20,000 runners. Note that it's impossible and stupidly hilly.
Road issues are caused by so much more than a Sunday road race: For every race that's run on our roads, there are as many street festivals and parades that make our city great but still cause traffic chaos. And if you wanted to ban something annoying that ties up traffic, how about all the cars that come into our club district from the suburbs every Thursday to Saturday. They're clogging up my roads. How about banning fans from parking around my neighbourhood to go see the Jays game. Unreasonable? Yep, just as unreasonable as banning our races.
The best part of all of this? The last fall Toronto Goodlife Marathon is a week before the city election. Running becomes an election issue, for all the wrong reasons. Rob Ford is running for something, just not for the votes of anyone who reads this blog.