Thursday, May 23, 2013

Runners on what they would change about Toronto races

It's fantastic to see the sport of running is alive and well in Toronto. The passion? It's there too. In fact, I was going to start off this second post about what runners would change about road races with a call to arms, but one of the runners who wrote back to me wrote this. I think I'll let it speak for itself before we get to the answers.

Take it away, Mark.

...What I don't think the wider community understands when they get irritated with us is that for many runners, the race has huge importance to them and their families. When they honk at some woman struggling through a full marathon they may be honking at someone who has taken up or intensified her running because she wants to feel whole and alive after losing a breast-or a husband. When there aren't people cheering on runners they're not cheering on the runner who has taken up running to feel alive and in control after surviving abuse as a child. These are the stories of many of those who run in our races. Just as we wouldn't grouse about the Labour Day Parade, or the Santa Claus Parade, etc., we shouldn't grouse about (at least a limited number of) these events. We should in fact be honouring and celebrating those who through running have taken control over their bodies and their lives and who are in many cases raising tons of money for local charities to give back in tangible ways to our community.  
Hand them a section of an orange and call the names on their bibs. Applaud. Wave signs. Volunteer to hand out water or pick up the cups. Runners may not be the soldiers who go off to battle for us but they're deserving of our respect and a place in the community on its streets, at least for a few hours on the odd Sunday morning.
That about sums up a lot. Well said.

After the Sporting Life 10K fiasco, I had a number of runners answer a call from the race sponsor for feedback. I asked them to give me thoughts about what they thought about Toronto's races. Five of them have kindly responded, and agreed to let me post their answers here with their identities. Their answers are amazing. Here they are: Mark, Andrea, Stan, Aaron and Mike. Race directors take note.

Below are answers from the last three questions.

  1. Tell me why races matter.
  2. What is the most important aspect of a race you'd like to improve. Both for Sporting Life and Toronto races in general
  3. If you were to change anything about how races are done in toronto (anything from number of races, routes or the big idea to invigorate our scene) what would it be.
  4. If you were to do away with anything we do with races, what would it be?
  5. Final thoughts

If you were to change anything about how races are done in Toronto (anything from number of races, routes or the big idea to invigorate our scene) what would it be?

MARK: One big 10K down Yonge Street a la Sporting Life but with live spectators along the route, the TTC assisting by opening up early on a Sunday and traffic being closed off other than to shuttle runners who have finished back to Union.  And one marathon on a par with Chicago, NYC and Boston that is lined with spectators and is embraced by the city.  That route would shut down more of the city but would showcase the city.  Why would anyone want to run at the 30K mark along the shadeless Leslie Street Spit or through the barren spectator free port area?     Finish lines need to be improved.   As someone who has done cardiac rehab I am well aware of the inherent dangers in going from maximum exertion to a full stop when a cool down is essential.    Not only does the finish line need to be unimpeded but people need to be able to continue to move for the next five minutes.   This is not the case in many races and I’ve actually written to CRS about it, and they corrected it in the case of when they managed Sporting Life.

ANDREA: There are too many spring races clumped together within a short time frame that all use the same route (Yonge Street 10K, Goodlife, Sporting Life). For runners - It would be great if some of these races either moved a bit later into the spring (June) or maybe one of the 10K's into the fall. It's kind of ridiculous that Goodlife has been on the same date as the Mississauga Marathon two years in a row. For non runners - I'm sure people would appreciate not having Yonge Street closed off three Sundays out of four. Also, it would be great if there were more crowd support and people who had no connection to running came out to cheer for the big races.

This is easy for me…the route.
Waterfront - love the change that takes it to rainbow.  now they need to figure out a way to include Little Italy (and Brazil and Portugal) along College, Koreatown, and most of the Danforth.  they need to drop Cherry and Commissioners (why can't they run right through Lakeshore from Queens Quay?).  They especially need to eliminate Eastern and the Richmond St ramp. It is desolate, broken down, and really depressing.

Goodlife - Eastern needs to go…other than that. moving the finish was a very good idea.

Signage…both in Chicago and Boston, you could feel the buzz among the locals…signs for the marathon were up early on every street and there was a very festive atmosphere leading up to the event.  In the days leading up to Waterfront, I did not see any significant banners, signs, or billboards advertising the event.  I work downtown and if I am not a runner, I wouldn't know there was a major marathon happening that weekend.

Community support and entertainment along the route: Waterfront, outside of the beaches and the finish area, there really isn't a lot of community support unlike (again Boston and Chicago) where the streets were pretty much packed all the way from start to finish.  Framington, Natick, Newton, Wellesley all had great support. Koreatown, Boystown, Japan town showed Chicago's incredible diversity.  Toronto is the #1 multicultural city in the world but you'd be hard-pressed to notice this during the race.  I love the greek contingent on the richmond ramp but imagine how big and loud they would be if the race ran along the Danforth?  we need to showcase our great communities.
AARON:  I think an official plan for Toronto running would be a brilliant idea. There is no rhyme or reason to what goes on. Seems like there are just a big bunch of groups running a bunch of races whenever/wherever they feel. Would love to see some sort of City Plan like they do for zoning/development. This many races in this many places on this many dates. If there was some sort of guidance, I think people (runners and non) would be alot more understanding. As it stands now, it is a bit of a Wild West mentality. Yonge St is closed three out of four Sundays in a row in April/May, start/finish lines get moved all over the place, entire races have to move on pretty short notice, there are a hardly any races outside the downtown core, etc. If politicians and developers and taxpayers can get together and make an official plan, surely the Toronto Running community can.

MIKE:  I need to think about this more but would focus on ways to invigorate.

If you were to do away with anything we do with races, what would it be? 

MARK: Hard to get to race expos where you have to pay for parking, running in a half along the road with cars, having frustrated motorists honk at us, being stuck at the end of a race with no easy way to get home.

ANDREA: Can't really think of anything - overpriced photos maybe? Seriously, does anyone really pay $29 for a download?

AARON:  Improve communications and better organization. I don't care if a race has a swag bag, but it would be nice to know that before you show up expecting to get a bag to carry your shirt & bib home in. I run lots of races without a finisher medal. I don't care if a race has a finisher medal, but if you are going have one, do it properly, with the date and year of the race. Same with shirts, if you are going to do a shirt, and ask for sizes at registration, make damn sure I get that size. Otherwise, just say first come first serve. Same goes for food. Nothing annoys me more than a race that advertises “Free Chili & Beer” at registration, only to run out halfway. If you are going to do something do it right or dont do it. In the case of SportingLife, no one ran the race because there was a finisher medal, but lots of people though the race was incompetent because the medals were so poorly done (sample size 12people in my RR clinic). Ditto for water, no one runs it for a bottle of water at the finish, but they notice if water is screwed up.

Final thoughts

MIKE: I love Toronto races and hope we can continue to build them to a world class level.  They are great for the city in so many ways.

AARON: There are lots of people upset at the way SL10K went, and there are lots of people saying “Chill out, it is for a good cause” I get the good cause, but eventually the goodwill towards SL and Camp O will wear thin. A woman ahead of me at the finish line collapsed, and it it took over 4mins for medical staff to attend to her. It turned out fine, but what had happened if it didn't? Will it all be ok because the run was for a good cause? Everyone involved has a responsibility to do what they can to make the race safe and fun for everyone. The response from Mr Glassman about the finish line was appalling. Leadership is about taking responsibility for your mistakes and fixing them. Blaming others just shows me he has no intention of fixing anything. Say what you will about CRS, they had a problem with Bag Check in 2011. A HUGE problem. Within 10 days, an apology was sent out to everyone on their maling list and website, responsibility was taken and the problem was fixed, and it was a much smaller problem than the one SL10k faces.

For some, having to wait 90seconds to cross the finish line is no big deal. Personally, I was not too worried, but I am not someone who took a RR 10K Clinic and worked for months and months towards a goal, only to have it a bit tainted. I am a RR Clinic instructor, and I see how hard a lot of people have to work to finish a 10K, how hard some people work to get to a specific time, and while I don't mean to sound melodramatic, it is a bit heartbreaking to see someone who worked all winter to get a specific time have to not meet that goal because they had to wait to cross the finish line.

Having a fun run is a great idea, they can raise lots of money, people have lots of fun and they can be very successful, but a race is a race, and if you are going to do it, do it right. If it is a fun run, people need to know before hand, not find out with 15 meters to go.
STAN: I really think the waterfront is where we hedge our bets for international runner.  it showcases the city, we get the big(ger) names, it's more of an international event and we have a real chance to attract tourists into this great city.
ANDREA: Sporting Life 10K and Goodlife are some of my favourite events. I really hope they take what runners are saying and make improvements. We only want these races to get better!
MARK: Some participants are serious runners and others aren’t.  Either we need to basically separate one from the other in different events or we have to find a way to have the two groups co-exist in one race.   A 10K with a charity people want to support is going to bring out the latter category and that is a very good thing.   But the organizers need to make sure the race quality is still excellent for the first category so that gets us into corral management, wave starts and sufficient EMS personnel to watch for anyone who gets into trouble and plentiful personnel at the finish.

I have enough tee shirts to fill a closet so it isn't the swag but the race experience. I want a great race and a safe race, not swag.  


pyrad said...

So much to love in this post! Mark's quote and the replies to the questions too.
Loved Andrea's comment about the $29 photos!

Marky Mark said...

Thanks for doing this! FYI I ran a small race yesterday-the half in Whitby. There were virtually no spectators but it was on parkland/waterfront trails (and there were lots of volunteers) and so it was very different from the big race experience. I highly recommend doing this one and/or others like it (e.g., the County Marathon in Prince Edward County) for a different experience.