I finished the Toronto Half Marathon, my first race in Canada, this past weekend. By chance, my family members who hosted me live within walking distance from a Power Yoga Canada studio. So I enjoyed a class there a couple days before my race. But that’s the only yoga reference for this post.
The Toronto course – which is mostly downhills, flat terrain, and a handful of inclines – gave me my second best half-marathon finish (2:30:58)! I was proud of this since I trained using an effort-based plan after being in running regression for several months. My time improved by 15 minutes from the half I did in Louisiana in January. It wasn’t a PR (currently 2:24:45), but it was 2 seconds faster than what I ran on flatter course more than a year ago. I’ll take it!
I followed a pacer for much of the race. This helped me get over a big hill after the first mile and challenged me to keep up. All the markers were in kilometers, which I expected. My watch was tracking the miles and my pacing was strong for much of the race.
Toronto Race Organization Critiques
With a great course and a finishing time I was happy with, I wouldn’t have too many things to say. However, the organization of this race unfortunately received tons of public criticism from runners, some of which I share.
Things that stood out to me about this race are as follows:
Not every race has an expo. But every one I’ve done has a packet pickup. This is where runners get their race bib, race shirt, and might pick up sponsor coupons and/or flyers. Toronto offered a bib pickup, which I didn’t think was worth an Uber to get to. However, I’m glad they gave the option to mail the bib. So my Toronto bib arrived at my home in Iowa in mid-April. But I would’ve expected and happily attended an expo for a race at a major city.
No Shirt Option, No Finisher Medal Option
The race presented these options during registration. I said ‘no’ to both. I’ve seen the option for no shirt at other races. However, I don’t know why they asked about the finisher medal. If it was to save money it seems unlikely to happen for longer distances.
I took an Uber to a hotel, where organizers bused runners about 40 minutes to the start. However, the marathon started an hour before the half, and they didn’t separate the groups. So my bus had runners of both distances. Also my bus left when it got full since there wasn’t a definite departure time stated. Nevertheless, we all got to the start line in plenty of time.
Not Enough Portable Toilets
There were two rows of portable toilets facing each other near the start. Each row may have had anywhere from 10-15 toilets, but I didn’t count. Besides that, the race was relying on two sets of men’s and women’s restrooms inside a nearby retail space. All the restrooms and portables had very long lines. The number of portables available would be expected if this was a smaller race. With a race that regularly attracts 8,000 to 10,000 they needed much more.
Medal Retrieval Chaos
After finishing, I expected to see volunteers handing out medals in an organized fashion – the norm at every race. Instead I followed a crowd of people inside the exhibition hall (recovery area). There was no signage on where to go. Scanning the space, there were sponsor tables set up and runners carrying boxes with food and drinks. Some had medals, some didn’t. I asked another runner where she got her the medal and she pointed under the washroom sign. A crowd had gathered along a wall where volunteers were opening cardboard boxes and handing out medals. They might as well have handing out bread. The whole scene seemed to cheapen the experience of having just completed an incredible challenge.
In past races I’ve done I occasionally hear things from other runners they didn’t like. But this was the first time the complaint level was collectively shared. If the Toronto race organizers want to improve, I would highly recommend looking at the Chevron Houston event in January. I ran that half in 2022 and felt the majority of the setup was the best I’ve seen.
It’s likely I’ll never run this race again (it’s rare for me to run the same race twice). But on behalf of those who love running, especially travel for races, I hope the organization takes the criticism to heart and works on improving the experience moving forward.