* One of three major marathons in Toronto.  Started as a half-marathon but expanded to include a full and 5k component.  Half-marathon reviewed here.
* Course ran from Toronto city hall, south to the lakeshore, out to the west end and back again.  The full marathon route also goes south and then to the east end before returning.  The 5k takes place separately at Exhibition place.

* Well organized (better than last year)
* Excellent weather 
* Beautiful medal (like last year)
* Solid crowd support at strategic locations
* Canadian Running magazine VIP package was an excellent (material) value 

* Race shirt deliberately sucks to trick you into buying a better one
* Might do well to have more facilities available on-course?
* Expo well organized but could have offered more.  Probably an average event of this type, but it was only my second.
* Canadian Running magazine VIP package revolved around very fast runners.

With Toronto’s two competing fall marathons separating to opposite ends of the calendar, this will be the only chance to run a fall marathon in the GTA.  Fortunately, its a well-run event with few snags.

Chip time: 1:57:43 (PR is 1:56:15)
[several minutes were lost to what I euphemistically refer to in my notes as an “imposed break”.]

This was my second time around on the Waterfront Marathon event, and as befits my running misfit status, I did things backward.  Last year marked my first marathon, and this year’s event would mark my first half marathon race.  I was able to do this–as were many others, I’m sure–because the Toronto International Marathon was several weeks off and this was close enough to combine training for both events, allbeit a bit awkwardly, without compromising a proper taper for either event.  I suppose the events, despite their extensive competitive friction managed to cooperate at least that much.

Marathon quest
Earlier in the year, I signed onto what looked like a really sweet VIP package deal through Canadian Running magazine.  For about $100 one received a half marathon race entry, and a plethora of extras.  Don’t be fooled by the “Quest” name, though, which implies a group of newbies heading to their first marathon.  This VIP package seems to have been aimed at Boston Marathon people, not ordinary runners.   If you’re not very fast, you’ll be left behind without a backward glance on “fun” runs (without anybody asking if you’ll be ok) and you might feel out of place standing in a big circle telling people about your relatively pathetic 1:55 time goals, right after every single other person cites 1:35, or that they’re looking to BQ for the tenth year going, or whatever.  Opting for Marathon Quest was at least a material success, as I scored a second t-shirt, a running hat, samples of “Infinit” brand sports drink and most importantly superior private pre-race facilities.  That’s what I really wanted.  Training plans were also provided and people seemed to enjoy these, but as a self-coached runner I binned these.  A forum on the CR magazine website was also provided.  For the extra $30 fee it was worth it, but just remember to stay in the shadows if you’re not a top 5% performer at most races, because you likely won’t fit in with the rest of the group.  Normal humans need not apply.

I’ll try not to bore you with the horrifying details of deep summer marathon training.  You either know what its like to run 18-20 mile long runs every sunday in a heat wave or (lucky you!) you don’t.  Suffice it say that I peaked at 55+ weekly miles, with four runs in excess of 18 miles and half marathon distance runs on most Fridays.  I felt pretty damn ready for what, compared to other challenges in the past, seemed like a relative puny challenge.  With a standing PR of 1:56:15, I sought a better time of at least 1:55:00.  This seemed more than reasonable.

To prevent a repeat of the issues suffered in July’s Distillery District race (where a thousand slowpokes put themselves in corrals ahead of me, then ran much slower than I), I took a corral that was one step ahead of my actual predicted finish. I don’t like having to do these things, but I very reasonably expected a lot of the exact same people at “Scotia” as people call it as were at my little 10 mile fiasco.

Consumer Concerns

The expo this year visually mimicked last year’s but seems to have lost its lustre in those twelve months.  This year’s race shirt was apparently made ugly on purpose, because once issued with said future dish-rag runners were fed down a hallway lined with examples of actually *attractive* shirts commemorating the race…..for 30 bucks each.  Funny, didn’t I already pay for a good shirt with my race fee? Didn’t everybody?  Trying to manipulate people out of yet more money once they’ve plunked down 100 bucks for a race really starts to push consumers’ boundaries for manipulation.  Just give us the good shirt in our packets next time, please, and we’ll be in a much better mood to, say, buy that nice race-day hoodie…and maybe even come back next year.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the booths as I remember them:

* 46% sellers of pink and purple stuff marketed at women, because no marketeer has yet discovered the male gender.
* 15% very expensive destination races in the Caribbean. 
* 24% the same old overpriced shoes…at the same old over-prices….with “show special’ marked on the box so you think it’s a bargain. 
* 5% the usual assortment of “will run for beer” t-shirts and bumper stickers
* 5% discount running stuff from 5 years ago…at about 5 bucks per item less than they were at the brand-new retail cost back then.
* 5% Charities spending people’s donation dollars trying to recruit more wallets

Sadly, if you weren’t a monied idiot running wallet-first into this year’s expo, there wasn’t really much there for you, but I did score a few free samples of the new Gatorade prep and recovery drinks, which I’m in the process of testing.  Canadian Running magazine also had a $15 subscription special (but they only do 7 issues a year, it seems).  

The race briefing and presentations went well, and I sat through the usual advice and info on the course and what to do on race-day, as well as a talk by Roger Robinson on the marathon race’s history (he was of course hawking one of his books).  

I stayed at my sister’s place saturday night, and she tried to ply me with strange new foods at exactly the wrong time.  I resisted, but nonetheless will be paying closer attention to nutrition at longer races in future.  I arose at around 3:30am in order to make sure I’d be at the City Hall start line for 5:30, two hours before the start.  This has become my habit because it gives me tons of time to go over the area, set up my gear, warm up, etc..

Weather for the race was predicted to be what I’d call “Textbook perfect”–partly cloudy, 8 to 16 degrees Celsius, almost no wind or precipitation whatsoever.  If there was ever a day to PR, this would be it.  Aside from a brief scary day of intense heat on the friday before, things went very much according to the Weather network’s plan.   When I arrived on-site the temperature was a frosty 7 degrees.  Fortunately, the Marriot hotel where my VIP area was to be set up was most hospitable, and I secured a comfy chair and power-plug for my ipod next to the fire.  I was able to rest my eyes after a sleepless night on the couch with garlic bread slowly working its way through me.  The race setup outside seemed well organized and I encountered no hiccups like last year, when due to organizers’ ineptitude hundreds of runners were left stranded in the lineup for baggage when the gun went off. Porta-facilities seemed plentiful and I even found a few (clean!) unattended units available minutes before the race.  Go early, go often! Corrals filled swiftly over a short period, and the race started in what seemed like a very timely manner.  

The first few km’s weren’t a problem at all as I’d feared they might be, as traffic was never quite too thick to pass reasonably, and pacing was much better than I had prepared for.  The mood throughout this race was festive and, at least to my own biased perception, quite enjoyable.  

Terrain became a worry several km’s in as I felt we were slowly but steadily undulating in a net downward direction, meaning a steep climb on the return leg of this out-and-back course.  I needn’t have worried, as the return was at least as easy as the run out.  The two biggest hills one need be concerned with are a significant rise and fall near the highway south of the CN tower and a 250m hill just past the Prince’s gates.  The former slowed a some runners and probably walked a few.  The latter I’m familiar with from the Night Crawler–its a bit of a pain, but nothing horrible.  Just maintain your effort level (thus slowing your overall speed), and you’ll be fine.  Neither should stop you to a walk unless you’re really seriously fatigued.  

Things were going splendidly, pace-wise, and I was a minute or two ahead of what I needed for a PR.  Around the 10k mark though (this is where things went badly on the Distillery race btw) my body decided to betray me as revenge for a long summer of pavement pounding abuse.  I suddenly needed a bathroom….NOW.  Compensating for this issue required an immediate walk, then several minutes lost to the only porta-potty I could find at the turnaround point.  There was a lineup, but generous non-racers recognized who *really* needed to go first and soon I was back on the road… several minutes behind my desired curve.

Since the uphill return gradient I worried about didn’t materialize, I was able to make up for some of my lost time, but fatigue was beginning to settle in and get itself comfortable in my legs, so the going was difficult.  I remember feeling very defiant running back over that rump by the highway, and the exciting “20km” banner by the final turn onto Bay St..  

Through a tunnel we went and up a quick hill onto an Avenue bordered with an enthusiastic crowds.  Race organizers thoughtfully place signs ever 100m from the 1/2 km mark to the finish, just in case the looming clock-tower of old city hall isn’t sufficient motivation.  The finish line is right next to it, hiding behind a short kink in the road past Queen St.  I remember steadily passing people until about the 100m mark, at which point I held my place steady. 

Even by gun time, I finished under 2 hours, which is nice, but my final time was only (only! ha!) my second-fastest half-marathon ever.  I’m disappointed to not have done better under the conditions, but there isn’t much one could do about my bathroom delay, and as compensation, my GPS reports my “moving time” that day was well under 1:55.  If forced to choose between a PR I know I won’t be able to attain again for a long time, and knowledge that I’m basically in that place now physically (but not getting the PR), I’ll take the latter.  And I got it.  The purpose of a tune-up race like this is to prepare one’s self for the rigors of the full marathon two weeks hence, and I know now that I’m ready for it.

[Update:  I recently became aware of comments made by Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford, a man known for mouthing off the cuff about issues in an apparent effort to gain a following based on anger for the present administration.  He railed against the use of public roads for events like this, ignorantly mouthed off about how 26+ mile races should be run in tiny public parks and generally mimicked reports I’ve heard of marathoners in my city being actively boo’d by inconvenienced motorists.  Although I don’t think Mr. Ford’s opinion on Toronto’s (multi-million tourist and charity dollar earning) race scene is reflective of the larger populace, its upsetting to hear such comments made by somebody seeking public office.  Please take this into consideration when approaching the polls this year.