Sunday, May 19, 2013

Runners tell Toronto why races matter and what needs fixing

Why do races matter? It's clear that we're passionate about them in Toronto, and that runners deserve better than we've seen delivered of late: The finish-line fiasco at the Sporting Life 10K a week ago and water issues a week prior brought that to light.

I've been outspoken about bad races because as a runner, I felt the need to express what many of us were thinking but not many are saying in a more public manner. We often see organizers or running press gloss over fine details -- they focus on the elite, record setting numbers and sometimes forget that it's the many thousands of us who run and pay for the promise of a good road race. We are, at times, the after thought.

For me, races are one of those carrots that take me through my annual training rites, giving purpose to the miles aside from the pleasure I get from running (and believe me, I get plenty).  It's a 30K race that has me slog through January snowstorms, a May marathon that has me giving away sleep on Sundays. Races provide opportunities for me -- like other solo runners -- to gather with my broader community from time to time, see old friends and meet new ones. There are exceptional races, both big and small, and they are the community 'gathering place' of our running world.

What do other runners think? Am I alone? No, as it turns out.

Why we race

As I wrote in this follow-up post, Sporting Life asked me to see if I could help them find runners for an advisory group to help them improve the race. The callout resulted in a great interest, and I've passed along the names to them.

I asked all the runners who were interested in helping Sporting Life first help me answer a few questions.

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 first two questions (I've added italics for emphasis). I'll post the rest later this week.
  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

1. Tell me why races matter

MARK: Races give runners a goal and keep them motivated to stick to a healthful regimen. The training is at once a solitary respite from work and other day to day pressures and a way to create community by connecting with other runners. My wife says I am at my most social at a post-race party. Not sure if that is a compliment... Races also can really build city wide community. We see that in other cities but have failed to create it here.

ANDREA: Races are a celebration of months of hard work and training. I run solo most of the time, but I feel like I'm part of a bigger community when I'm at a race. I like to think that seeing a large race might encourage other people to give running a try.

STAN: Personally, it is a way for me to keep fit and stay motivated.  I am extremely goal-oriented and when there is a prospect for a race, I find that it really brings a lot of focus (not to mention stress relief) into my life as I train to beat my PR.  This focus spills over to my personal and professional life.  As a result, I do better in everything and not just running. Holistically, races matter for the community. It brings people together, encourages health and celebration of life…not to mention all the other good that comes with a major race whether it's benefiting various charities or the monies that it brings to the city through increased tourism, etc.  sure it ties up traffic but it does so for one day only…besides, people drive way too much in this city anyway

AARON: Races give a runner something to strive for -- does not matter if they are new or experienced. New runners want to complete to accomplish something, established runners might be trying for a better time or different pace or any number of other things. Races are also a place where new/old runners can come together and feel like they are part of a bigger community.

MIKE: Races not only allow us all to feel a sense of personal accomplishment but they also get the community together in a very positive and health focused way.  Kids seeing their parents run a 10k or marathon or whatever distance sets such a great example.

2. What is the most important aspect of a race you'd like to improve. Both for Sporting Life and Toronto races in general

MARK:  I’d like races to be embraced by the city so that the runners feel celebrated.   Having said this, we have to be realistic and recognize this can’t happen X times a year-we will have to pick our spots a bit better.  I also want to feel respected by the race organizers and not just someone who has paid them some money-I want them worrying about whether I as a customer will have a good experience and be back.

ANDREA: Making everyone feel important no matter what speed they run at. Being further back at Sporting Life, I had no idea that the race had started. The first year I ran Sporting Life (in 2011), each corral had been walked up to the starting line and the announcer talked to us, than sent us off. For Goodlife - I read a race report from full marathoners who had finish times of 4h45 and when they were finishing, the food tents were mostly empty and volunteers were packing up. They still ran 42.2 km and they should be celebrated! Another area for improvement - safety of runners. The video posted with someone calling for medical help is scary and the biggest reason why I might not run Sporting Life in 2014. Not having the Martin Goodman Trail closed off (or properly marshalled) for the full marathon is also concerning (maybe a deal breaker for whether or not I run it next year).

STAN: I have never participated in the 10k but i can speak re: the marathons.  The most important aspect lies in the organization and attention to detail.  From the expo to the finish line, each detail has to be considered. The bags and finish line fiascos should never have happened but overall, there is a certain amount of detail and control that is lacking in the toronto races as compared to Boston or Chicago.

Waterfront for example…poor corral control.  slow runners are able to squeeze into fast corrals and spectators make it difficult for runners to get into the corrals.  I don't mind slow runners but they really need to be grouped among same speed runners. Otherwise, congestion and chances of injury (from weaving) are increased unnecessarily if control were executed properly in the first place. Course markers need to be very clear.  downsview is an example of how not to mark a course.  course marshals also need to know where to direct the runners.  It's all in the details and as much as I hate to say it because I love this city, our races simply aren't executed the same way as the two U.S. races that I've ran.

AARON: Organization. When I race I want to race, not worry about running into pedestrians, bottlenecks on a course, worry if there is water during/after a race, worry about safety issues. I worry about that stuff when I am at home and work, I run to escape and have a run.

MIKE: More fan support and we need to reduce duplication (i.e. Sporting Life 10k vs Yonge St 10K and Goodlife Marathon vs Mississauga Marathon).

Next post: What would you change and what would you do away with?

Have any thoughts to contribute? Please do so in the comments.

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