Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon: post-race Recovery & Baggage reflections

Sunday, October 23rd. It’s a gorgeous, sunny, wind-less Sunday afternoon in T.O. one week after STWM, and I’m finally starting to re-surface. I notice from Twitter that a bunch of you are slowly venturing out into the brilliant autumn sunshine to jog out some of that post-race soreness. I always remember Coach Hugh Cameron’s advice to Canadian National Women’s Record Holder, Silvia Ruegger, after her 8th place finish in the first ever Olympic Marathon for Women in LA in 1984 — “for at least a month, only go out when you feel like it. And don’t wear a watch. Just go out, and when you’ve had enough, turn around and come home. After a few weeks of this, when you find yourself saying ‘I WANT to go out for a decent run today,’ then you’ll know you’re ready to start thinking of training towards a new goal. You will have changed the psychology from ‘I HAVE to go out today to train’ (for STWM), to ‘I don’t HAVE to go out today but I WANT to go out.’ Then you’re ready to think about training again!”

It’s a bit like that from the Race Director’s and Canada Running Series team’s perspective. To be sure, we have to push through the Finish Line and Race Day to get everything taken down, cleaned up, returned, and bills paid. But we go through the same process of reviewing our performance, taking joy in what we did well, soul-searching and planning for next time on what we could have done better.

Before I go further, I’d like to say an ENORMOUS thanks to all of you! Inbetween having a course and Start/Finish relocate that was only approved on August 15th,  the OccupyTORONTO protests at our Finish Line venue, and the challenging winds on the Lakeshore, we pulled it off and YOU were magnificent! So many records and marvellous inspirational stories from Fauja Singh and Ed Whitlock to Kenneth, Koren, Reid, Eric; our 164 magnificent charities who raised more than $3.6 million [and counting to October 31st]; our 11 high-energy neighbourhoods. The spectators, the crowds on the course were the best I’ve ever seen in my 29 years of organizing road races in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. And CBC’s TV coverage was tremendous, showing record-setting STWM, Toronto, and Canadian marathoning on the world stage.   

But there were also two tragic events that marred my day. The first was the collapse of 27 year-old Kale Garner 300m from the finish of the Half, where he died of some type of cardiac failure [to be determined by post-mortem]. Thanks to Paul Hunter of The Star who wrote such a detailed, informative, and sensitive tribute on Friday. And the Globe’s Andre Picard for providing some valuable context and reassurance after the recent fatalities in Montreal and Chicago as well as at STWM. Our hearts and heart-felt sympathy go out to Kale’s family and friends. It doubled the sadness for me, having been part of the group that did our best to give Danny Kassap a fitting send-off after his tragic heart-related death in May at age 28. Ironically, Danny’s partner Vincenza Rotulo ran and completed her first-ever Half marathon last Sunday as a tribute to Danny. Other “Friends of Danny” ran the full marathon and half, and helped staff the 40K water station — helping other runners, as Danny did so much. We also awarded a brand-new Danny Kassap Trophy to Canadian Champions Reid Coolsaet and Katherine Moore. For those of you who enquired, I did reach out and call the only contact we had for Kale on Sunday afternoon — actually while Fauja’s press conference was going on — to express our deepest condolences and to ask if we could do anything by way of a tribute. By request, we did not comment further on the situation, or release Kale’s name during the week.

The second tragic event was the total meltdown at the BAGGAGE reclaim area at the Finish line. More than a few of you have rightly given me SERIOUS stick over this.  One finisher was kind enough to put it in the context of a serious “downer” that spoiled an otherwise outstanding event. Whatever your take, as I’ve replied individually to a bunch of you, we apologise profusely, we will be doing a complete debrief this coming Wednesday. (we are doing debriefs all this week — Baggage is on Wednesday), and you have my assurance that we will take every measure possible to make sure is does not happen again. We are in the process of getting all the written reports from the Area Managers [some 250], and then we will begin our systematic and thorough review of all areas, concluding with the resolution to change the things that need to be changed for next time. I’ll be Blogging on this towards the end of the week, to share not just an apology, but some insight into what actually imploded, and recommendations for moving forward [including some GREAT recommendations from you].

I think, I hope you all know that we are all runners ourselves, and we care deeply about YOU, our fellow runners. This has been at the core of whatever success CRS has achieved. We take some hard-earned pride from the usual, high-quality of CRS events. Dylan Wykes coach was kind enough to say that we’ve “revolutionized road running in Canada,” and in a good way! I can honestly say that in 29 years, this is the second baggage-area meltdown we’ve had. With your input, careful review, and corrective planning, we hope it will be the last! I also appeal to you to work with us on this. I’ve been reflecting back on Chicago 2007. I’ve worked the Start/Finish in Chicago the past 7 years, and Chicago General Manager, Mike Nishi, actually came to work with me for STWM Race Weekend this year. The excessive heat at their race in 2007 caused the cancellation of the whole event, mid-race, as they ran short of water and ambulances, and the situation spiralled out of control. How could this happen? It was traumatic for one of the best-organized marathons in the world, for the city, and for the entire North American running community. But they pulled together, micro-reviewed, and put in place some outstanding new plans so this is never likely to happen again, no matter what the conditions.      

So rest assured I [and all of the CRS team who worked themsleves to exhaustion for the event last weekend] feel as gutted about this as you are upset. It really spoiled our day too! 

But like Beach Champion, Dave Emilio, we look forward to making adjustments and improving our next performance. I WILL follow up at the end of the week with the details on the Review, and Recommendations.

In the meantime, I hope we can all get out in this beautiful sunshine and go for an easy, recovery run!  It’s what we do, and what makes us feel better. (with my knees shot, I’m off to the Y for a swim!),

Alan {Brookes},

Race Director

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3 Responses to Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon: post-race Recovery & Baggage reflections

  1. Soo Sutherland says:

    Thank you for this post. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere, the excitement and the fervour that goes along with a major marathon event. The baggage is but ONE aspect of the major organization and logistics into the implementation, albeit gives a lasting impression given the timing. But no need to continue harping on it – it was mentioned, recommendations were made, and we will carry on! Kudos to you for a great event, and I will be sure to be there next year. Thanks again.

  2. Lisa Peirce says:

    Hi Alan,
    I ran my first half this year at the STWM. It was an amazing experience. I didn’t use the baggage claim but I do have to say that you and your team have gone above and beyond to right what went wrong. Shit happens (pardon my language) but it does. Despite all the negativity surrounding that one aspect of the race there are far more positive things that happened on that Sunday. Those will be the things that I remember. Not just because I choose to focus on the positive but because they changed me as a person. And it wouldn’t have happened without your race and the team at CRS. For that, I just have to say THANKS!

  3. Kirsten Doyle says:

    Kudos to you for acknowledging the problem and taking steps to resolve it.

    I think the problem was simply that there was no way for runners to disperse. My issue was having no way to properly cool down and nowhere to stretch. If baggage reclaim is in an area separate to the finish line chute, runners would be able to stretch and take time to enjoy the moment, and *then* pick up their bags.

    I echo the sentiments of the other commenters. Was there a problem that needs to be looked at? Yes. Did it spoil the whole experience? Not by any means. There were so many great things about that day, and I’m already looking forward to running in next year’s event.

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