2010 was a remarkable year for me personally, for Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and for the broader marathon scene.
How about you?
To me, it felt as though it was a pivotal year at home and abroad. The 2,500th Anniversary of the Marathon made it a special year, a year when we had the chance to pause and reflect on the importance of running, and of the marathon — as “the pinnacle of road running” — in the lives of so many of us.
From one man, from Pheidippides’ legendary run in 490BC, today there are millions of folks around the world completing marathon races. As Emil Zatopek is oft quoted as saying: “If you want to run a race run a mile. If you want to change your life, run a marathon.” From Houston to Tokyo to Boston, London, Athens and Marathon, Greece, to Chicago, New York, and Toronto Waterfront I watched hundreds of thousands of runners of all shapes and sizes cross marathon finish lines. Dreams came true. Others were dashed. From astonishing 2:05s in Boston and London, to a 2:07 and a 2:22 on Toronto Waterfront, I also saw Jefferson the Dog setting a Guinness World Record in T.O., and heard IAAF President Lamine Diack in Athens, praise “especially those marathoners who run to end the suffering of others.” Here was the President of IAAF, of the World Championships and Olympic Games, of Diamond League athletics and all things high-performance, cheering for charity runners. Something was definitely going on!
My year on the marathon trail ended in New York, with Simon Bairu’s much-anticipated debut, a Chilean Miner singing Elvis, and a marketing slogan “I’m in, we’re in!”. As I tweeted on race-day, “the Big Apple took a bite out of Simon” re-inforcing the enormity and the achievement of the marathon. For a Chilean miner trapped underground for 69 days, every step in the sunshine was a gift. It was a gift a wider world eagerly embraced. As NYC Marathon RD, Mary Wittenberg said at the post-race Press Conference, “Edison Pena is a remarkable man, a remarkable story. He leaves New York inspired.” There have been more than 340,700 viewings of his Letterman interview on YouTube. It was a year that left all of us marathon fans inspired. And as “I’m in, we’re in!” portrayed, not only were the runners “in” but a much wider audience of family, friends and fans were “in” for the marathon.
Everywhere in Athens, folks spoke of a broad “Marathon Movement”. Not just a foot race, but a “movement” with “social responsibilities”. They spoke of the spirit, values and ideals of the marathon, that “all citizens can embrace”. Ideals such as courage, determination, hope, setting and achieving lofty goals, of prevailing over great odds. “Finally, everyone is getting this,” Guy Morse (the Executive RD in Boston, and the guy who brought that marathon into the modern era) told me in Marathon, Greece.
Everywhere I went, there was a sense that this was a special year. An anniversary year, perhaps a coming of age year. A “Tipping Point” year as runner Malcolm Gladwell might have labelled it.
And Canada, and Toronto Waterfront were very much part of it. We were out there all year enjoying the marathon tsunami and celebrations. And the Marathon Movement and the world most definitely came to STWM in September.
To me, 2010 was an historical year about:
- major transformation in scale, in numbers, as the marathon “wave” became a tsunami, worldwide.
- “we’re in”, as the marathon became a “Marathon Movement” with spirit, values and a “brand” that reached out and engaged a much broader audience, became more mainstream
- not just quantity, but quality continued to improve significantly, and for the first time in 15 years we can say as proud Canucks that we have a dynamic, exciting, emerging bunch of internationally competitive marathoners — with the promise of a LOT more to come.
Here then, are my Top 12 Highlights, in chronological order, as my “marathon year” unfolded in my marathon, and what and how I saw things. It was long, hard and tough, but we emerged victorious!
1. Eric Gillis in Houston, January 17th. My marathon year started off on the road, and with a good omen in Houston. On an excellent morning for running, I got to ride on the back of the Press truck, and see Speed River TCs Eric Gillis make his marathon debut in a sparkling 2:12:53. I travelled back on the same flight and had the chance to chat with EG and Coach Dave Scott-Thomas about the future… that maybe included STWM! Eric’s super run started the year out on the right foot, and created a BUZZ in Canadian distance running circles, as Mihira Lakshman noted.
- The Battle of the Marathons at Toronto City Council. On Monday, February 22nd, Council voted to end a battle between STWM and the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon (formerly Canadian International Marathon) that had raged for a decade and reached a crescendo since last Fall — a battle that had done no-one any good, and certainly not the running community. GoodLife would be moved to the Spring, and as The Star wrote, the City agreed to support the GoodLife HALF, and the Scotia Toronto Waterfront MARATHON, as the city’s stand-alone, signature marathon in the Fall:
The city announced Friday that GoodLife will move to May starting in 2011 and the Scotiabank will remain [in the Fall]. In return for the gesture, the City of Toronto will put its marketing muscle behind the half-marathon of GoodLife, which is billed as a fun event, and the full marathon of the Scotiabank, a competitive race that draws international running stars and raises an equal amount for charity.
This was a HUGE battle that consumed most of my waking hours and a fair number of non-sleeping ones, for months. I can only thank everyone in the sport and the community who were instrumental through their support and encouragement, in so many ways. A special shout-out goes to Athletics Canada and to Coach Hugh Cameron who at one point told me to stop whining. “You’re a warrior. Get in there and fight!!” And to Matthew House, Team in Training and several of our key charities who sat in all-day Council meetings to lend their support.
We had now been given the opportunity to have a clear run at building the major, big-city, world marathon that Toronto and Canada so richly deserve. While we have a 5-year plan to realize this dream, leading to Toronto 2015 and Rio 2016, I’d have to say Canada’s running community came together to make STWM2010 a giant, first step forward on the road to this dream (see below).
And the 5-year goal? 8,000+ people in the full marathon; 35,000 in the whole event. Perennial sub 2:10 & sub 2:26 winning times with Canadians in the thick of things! “Live” TV. 500,000 spectators on the street. $5 million raised for our charities. TOGETHER, we can do it!
3. Tokyo Marathon. February 24th-28th. The numbers!! No sooner had the City Council vote been recorded, than I was on the plane to Tokyo for a real, mega-highlight of the year for me. As I said to Inge, “Tokyo was like New York on steroids!” The Greeks keep telling us that they are the home of the marathon — but ask any Asian and they’d say it’s Japan! Why else was Jerome Drayton’s 1975 Canadian Men’s Marathon record of 2:10:09 set in Fukuoka? Speed, excellence, size and sheer energy. Plus the tradition of the marathon. That was Tokyo. From the Expo to the race, everywhere I was blown away by the pace and magnitude: the huge numbers of runners, expo visitors, volunteers & organizers, spectators and TV audience. Perhaps “the home of the marathon” should read Marathon-Athens, Boston and Tokyo? We had a booth at the frenetic EXPO with our tour-operator partners Maple Fun Tours, and I hung out with Mike Nishi and the Chicago gang and John Conley and the Austin folks on race day — trying to keep up to Nishi in the pouring rain taking photos of the “Western-style” porta-potties, the US$1 million baggage set up, the Start and the unbelievable # of cones [~50,000] and marshalls [~5,000] as we went round the course on a lead bus.
210,000 applications for 30,000 places at Tokyo Marathon in 2010; 330,000 applications for 30,000 places for 2011. Seeing was believing: “The Marathon Movement” has become a TSUNAMI in Japan. There will be 4 new mass, city-marathons in 2011 in Japan expecting similar numbers.
Even the nasty rain couldn’t dampen the energy and excitement of the hundreds of thousands of spectators that lined the whole course. The pictures tell the story of a global Marathon Movement!
Brett Larner’s RACE REPORT.
4. Harry’s Spring Run Off. High Park, Toronto, April 3rd. Jack, Phillip, Mark & “The Cause”. One of the major stories of 2010 for me was the continued growth of “running for a cause,” or “running to end the suffering of others,” as Lamine Diack put it. The Spring Run Off is always special to me. I’ve been Race Director since 1986. It is part of my life and signals the coming of Spring in Toronto’s most beautiful park. And it’s Opening Day for running in Toronto, and for Canada Running Series in the East. Now it’s become “Harry’s Spring Run Off to fight prostate cancer”, and this year demonstrated how the core running crowd and the charity runners can share the running movement to make us bigger and better together. None other than new marathon star Eric Gillis came out to win; but NDP Leader and old friend Jack Layton was also out as the day’s media star, walking the 5K for the cause, as part of his own personal battle with prostate cancer. Globe and Mail publisher and fellow prostate cancer survivor, Phillip Crawley, ran the 5K with his daughter and captained the Globe team who were one of the largest fundraisers, raising a record total of $366,350 on the day for the Survivorship Excercise Programme at Princess Margaret Hospital.
Underscoring the critical role of “social responsibility” the Marathon/Running Movement can play, many of us will remember HSRO 2010 as the last year Mark Dailey helped MC the Awards. An initial prostate cancer survivor, “The Voice of Toronto” had cancer return, and ultimately, tragically lost his fight on December 6th, aged 57.
Run HSRO 2011, maybe run for the cause. See the promo video and get pumped!
5. Boston & London. Fast times, through the ash.
As the Spring racing season kicked into high gear, the tsunami took me to Boston and London, where the buzz was still about numbers [22,540 finishers in Boston; 36,553 in London], but also about the improving quality as young athletes attack the marathon. A 21-year old Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, a third “Robert K.” and a relative unknown, smashed the Course Record at the 113th Boston, taking 1 minute 12 off the 4-year-old former mark, crossing the line in 2:05:52. Young, fearless, running a 2:05 over the hills of Boston!! And to underscore that its about RACING, not just times, Teyba Erkesso gave up a 1.5 minute lead to hold off a charging Tatyana Pushkareva by a scant 3 seconds to take the women’s crown in 2:26:11.
Then it was straight onto London for the Virgin London Marathon just 6 days later. I say “straight” with a smile, because the Icelendic volcano “ash cloud” intervened. I WAS supposed to fly directly from Beantown to London but there was no way through! Air Canada would only take me back to Toronto. At this point, I was desperate — like several thousand others — but our UK Travel Partner, Canadian Affair, came to the rescue. They got me on a flight into Manchester on the Tuesday night. When we landed on Wednesday morning we walked out to a huge media scrum, as we were one of the first flights back into the UK after all air traffic was shut down. What a “marathon” year it was turning out to be! I then got down to London on the train, and wearily made my way to the Tower Hotel on Wednesday afternoon, ready to work our Expo booth Thursday-to-Saturday, then watch the VLM race on Sunday.
But if you think that was rough, you should read Mara Yamauchi’s “6-day marathon journey from Hell” to get to the Start line! Albuquerque to Newark, to Lisbon, a taxi to Madrid, rental car to Paris, taxi to Le Touquet, charter plane to London! She won the “Travel Marathon” but didn’t run too well on Sunday… surprise, surprise! Liliyana Shobukova did, clocking 2:22:00 for the fastest time in the world for 2010 at that date, and impressing her superiority on the women’s global marathon scene. Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede had an equally impressive outing, dusting a championship-style field in 2:05:09. The London Marathon even had to charter planes to go to Africa to get the elite athletes from there to London — “the show” must go on, and it did in what Mara told us is the world’s greatest race. “I know it is”, she said, “because Race Director Dave Bedford is always telling me!” But no-one can deny that in London and New York, the marathon has been lifted to a festival of mass, international appeal. Besides the fast times, VLM raised £50.6 million for charities, setting the bar for not just the marathon world, but the entire event-fundraising world. Since 1984, London Marathon has raised a total of £506 million — just over half a billion pounds!
6. Reid Coolsaet at Toronto Waterfront Marathon, September 26th: THE highlight of the year? Perhaps this is the picture that says it all? As Canadian Running mag said in their latest (Jan/Feb2010) issue:
On a day that dramatically boosted the profile of Canada’s top marathon, it’s difficult to pinpoint a single highlight that captured the significance of the 21st Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
But perhaps this was it! As CR mag said, the entire day was special — certainly the highlight of the year, and one of the best day’s in my running career. For Canadians, Reid’s performance has to be #1 ! The fastest time ever by a Canadian on Canadian soil. The best time we’ve had by a Canadian in 15 years, and the first Canadian to qualify for an Olympic Marathon since 2000. His 10th place also showed that Canada is becoming internationally competitive, and a legitimate part of the global marathon tsunami/movement. Reid’s 10th place time of 2:11:23 was the 3rd best 10th-place time in the world this year. Only the 10th place finishers in Paris and Frankfurt were faster. And that other new star, Eric Gillis, was only 1 second per kilometre back in 11th place, a super 2:12:08. Better that Reid do the talking than me! http://reidcoolsaet.com/2010/09/27/while-im-here-id-like-to-thank/
Eric has a few words and some video too! http://nishrunner.blogspot.com/2010/09/another-solid-422k-in-books.html
7. Sharon Cherop, Tirfi Beyene, Merima Mohammed at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. September 26th.
2:22:43, 2:22:44, 2:23:06. Who needs to really say much more? The 6th, 7th, and 8th fastest Women’s times in the WORLD in 2010, and it happened on the streets of Toronto. An amazing battle, as Cherop and Tsegaye dueled it out over the last 7km, back-and-forth, a fight to the line. The video of it went global and has almost 7,000 viewings on YouTube.
8. Kenneth Mungara 3-peats to run 2:07:58 for the fastest marathon ever on Canadian soil.
While the Men’s race was not as dramatic as the Women’s, the 2:07 Kenneth ran in CANADA was very special too. Maybe it should be “Mungara for Mayor” — 3 wins, he owns the city?!
And the depth. This year’s STWM saw the FOUR fastest Men’s marathons ever run in Canada AND the four fastest Women’s times. ”The day sparkled, the performances sparkled more,” wrote the Globe’s James Christie.
Combined, Reid and Eric, Sharon & Tirfi and Merima, Kenneth, Jafred and Daniel Rono catapulted TWM and Canadian marathoning onto the main stage of the World Marathon Movement. “Toronto Waterfront race puts city in marathon major league”, headlined The Star.
The excitement and recognition wasn’t felt just at home. Running Times columnist Roger Robinson put Toronto Waterfront and Frankfurt up there with the World Marathon Majors in the top tier for 2010. (an excellent, thoughtful piece on the broader state of the marathon world in 2010 — well worth the read!).
Watch the “Highlights” video: STWM2010- re-live the excitement!
9. The Marathon Flame & 2,500th Anniverary of the Marathon: The Spirit of the Marathon comes to Toronto Waterfront. But STWM 2010 wasn’t just about the remarkable elite performances, it was about so much more. The “Marathon Flame” was brought from Greece by the Mayor of the Municipality of Marathon, Spiridon Zagaris, and delegates of the Hellenic Athletics Federation. It was received by Mayor David Miller, Dimitris Azemopoulos, Consul General of Greece in Toronto, and Canadian Olympic marathoner, Hon. Peter Fonseca. The Torch Relay from Nathan Phillips Square that featured Peter, the Mayor, Ed Whitlock, John Stanton, and Silvia Ruegger, plus a marvelous Lighting Ceremony produced by the Greek Communities of the GTA, gave a wonderful sense of occasion. More than that, the Flame brought the Spirit of the Marathon to Canada, and placed us in the global movement. When Greek-Canadian Danny Cannis sang “Impossible Dream” there was barely a dry eye on site. Mayor Miller issued a Proclamation declaring September 20th-26th, 2010 ”Marathon Week in Toronto” and said:
For me the Marathon is not just about focus, commitment and the tremendous sense of achievement one experiences from completing what would seem to be the unachievable. At every race I am always struck by the great diversity of participants and their stories. People who have overcome tremendous challenges and have set the race as their goal to rebuild or refocus their lives. It is humbling and inspiring at the same time. The great sense of camaraderie and equality one feels amongst thousands pushing themselves to reach the same goal is unlike anything else I have experienced.
For the first time, perhaps, Toronto was embracing its marathon, and the Marathon Flame took the marathon out to a much broader audience. As the Proclamation concluded:
It is a great honour for all residents of Toronto, not just the 250,000 Greek Canadians in the GTA, to host the Marathon Flame and its ideals, and to celebrate the marathon event that began in Greece.
As a mass movement, the marathon has become synonymous with achievement, with the pursuit of excellence, with what everyday people can achieve through dedication, determination and courage as well as through fair competition and healthy lifestyles.
These are values that all Torontonians can embrace with pride, to make us all better citizens, and Toronto a better city.
10. Costumes, Neighbourhoods and the Scotiabank Group Charity Challenge at TWM.
To be successful, a big-city world-marathon has to have the kind of balance between ‘competers’ and ‘completers’ we see in London or New York. It needs to be “the complete package” that engages and gives back to the broader community.
STWM2010 gave lots of signs it’s on its way!
There were more than 4,000 folks running for charity at STWM this year, more than 20% of the field.
That’s a number that compares well to the 33% at London, who have been doing it since 1984. Combined, runners and walkers from 127 Official Charities raised an impressive record $2.53 million — even more impressive given that many of the charities were smaller, neighbourhood, local ones like the St.Lawrence Neighbourhood Association that raised $27,000 for the breakfast programmes at 5 neighbourhood public schools. Catch the feeling from the video: “Re-live the Joy of running and cheering for others!”
11. To MARATHON! “Nenikikamen — We are victorious!”
Another major highlight of 2010 for me, was being part of the Grand Finale Celebrations of the 2,500th Anniversary of The Battle of Marathon in Greece. It was a 2 week trip for me and was tremendous. So many of the key figures in our modern marathon world were there to celebrate the anniversary of Pheidippedes’ legendary run from the Battlefield at Marathon into Athens to carry the message of victory against great odds over the Persians in 490AD — “Nenikikamen — we are victorious”. Then in 1896 it was in Athens at the first Games of the Modern Olympiad that a “marathon footrace of 40 kilometres” (the distance from Marathon to Athens) was born. This was really going to the epicentre of the tsunami. The Home of Marathon. And the celebrations staged by the Greeks did not disappoint!
Guy Morse was there — the Executive Director of the legendary Boston Marathon, established the Spring following the ’96 Athens Olympics — the man who introduced sponsorship and prize monies into the Boston race and brought it into the modern era. He was elected to the Board of AIMS, the Association of International Marathons, by delegates from more than 100 international marathons in attendance. Joanie was honoured along with Constantina Dita. They lit the cauldron with the Marathon Flame, as the winners of the first-ever Olympic Marathon for Women and the winner of the most recent one. Other women’s marathon legends like Rosa Mota who began her marathon career by winning the European Championships on the Marathon to Athens Classic course in 1982, plus Katherine Switzer. Ron Hill was there as a winner on the course in the European Championships in 1969; and Stefano Baldini who won the 2004 Olympic Marathon on the road from Marathon to Athens. Lamine Diack, IAAF President told us that “the glory of our sport (athletics) today is with the marathon.”
From the Expo and Opening Ceremonies at the Zappeion Palace to the AIMS Congress, the Flame Lighting at the Tomb of the Fallen Warrior’s and the Museum in Marathon, to the Athens Classic Marathon race itself, that finished in the restored, 1896 Panathinaiko Olympic Stadium, it was an UNFORGETTABLE experience.
And where was Toronto Waterfront in all of this? Right there in the Marathon Museum, prominently displayed was the framed “Oath to the Marathon”, specially written by Greek-Canadian poet Sylvia Soldevilla-Tombros, for the visit of the Flame to Toronto for STWM weekend!
12. New York: The Edison Pena Show, as the Big Apple takes a bite out of Simon and Haile!
If London is “the show” in Europe, then New York is “the show” in North America. 44,704 finishers, the largest marathon in the world. World record holder Haile Gebreselassie on the Start line. The much anticipated marathon debut of Canada’s 10,000m record holder and star, Simon Bairu. The celebrities, the full Barnum & Bailey media spotlight on our sport. This year, it shone brightest on a Chilean miner who finished, courageously, against all odds, in 5:40:51. I was in the Media Center that broke into huge applause when he crossed the line. And everyone was on their feet at the post-race Press Conference when he sang Elvis’ “Don’t be Cruel” and so many joined in. Haile and Simon? The Big Apple showed just how cruel the distance can be, as Haile retired at 16 miles and Simon only made it to 22. As of today, Edison Pena’s video of him singing Elvis on Letterman now has 341,172 viewings! Such is the new “reach” of the marathon movement and how it has come to embrace so many more than just an elite few. Pena said:
I cut down my work boots to be able to run. I found a way to run in the mine. I wasn’t going to let it beat me. When I was running in the darkness, I was running for life. I was an active participant in my salvation. I want to motivate the world to do sports. I came to the US to do this marathon and I did it!
His running partner for the day in Manhattan, Juan Lopez, said “Pena has the heart of a champion! I’m profoundly moved by running with him”.
And that was really where my year’s highlights were due to end, then….
12a. Dylan Wykes runs 2:12:39 in Sacramento, December 5th. Canada now has 3 marathoners under 2:13! A trifecta of sub-2:13s to end the year!! For how it unfolded, read Dylan’s own Blog:
As soon as I crossed there were reporters and cameras in my face, and one of the cyclists that had been ‘escorting’ me along the course came to congratulate me and I gave him a big hug, then the elite athlete coordinator put a medal around my neck and I gave her a huge hug. Apparently I was happy! The most rewarding of my post race hugs was probably with Richard Mosley, a few minutes after he had crossed the line. We were walking along together and I told him I had won and his genuine excitement was pretty cool. I had a 125lb man crushing me with a big ole bear hug. It was rewarding because we had suffered through many many miles of training for this race together, and we both put it together on the day.
It was a great day, but hopefully there is more to come in the next few years….
Great run, Wykesy! And that really is the place to end my 2010 “marathon” highlights, with the promise of lots more to come in 2011!