Over the past couple of years, I’ve run several half-marathons and 10Ks without ever hitting the wall; this Sunday, however, I ran the Sporting Life 10K with just under 22,000 finishers and I hit the wall at the 9.9K mark. Let’s rewind to the beginning to reveal what happened.
A Messy Start
My wife and I had signed up to do this race together for several months now – my job was simple: be the pace rabbit that lovingly guides, encourages, and supports his wife to a sub 1 hour finish. As such, we were assigned to the green corral which is in the front half of this massive running pack. It was a sea of watermelon red as many chose to dawn the great Nike dri-fit race shirts given for the run.
We had to make our way back to the bag check trucks and we were a little panicked at the hundreds of people in the lineup with just 20 minutes to race start. Another truck suddenly opened its doors and a mob of runners made a rush to literally thrown in their gear bags as a quickly as volunteers could handle. We said a quick prayer to hope to see our bags at the end and made haste towards our corral.
We stood in our corral and waited for race instructions, but we didn’t hear any. It was a wave start so we would shuffle up and wait, shuffle up and wait. As we got near the start, we started into a jog and we were suddenly off – an anticlimactic start to a race.
Still a Great Course
One of the best parts of this race is the downhill course along Yonge Street. This course is meant to be fast – that is, until you’re running it with 22,000 other people. The start corrals were too crowded and we had to do a lot of dodging and weaving for the first couple of kilometers until we wised up to running on the clearer sidewalks instead.
Although my wife’s goal of sub 1 hour required a 6:00 min/km or less pace, I was going to test the waters with a 5:30 pace to see if I could help her beat her personal record from last year. When our pace dipped, I encouraged my wife that “we need to pick up the pace” to which I received a bug-eyed “Why?” Wanting to remain happily married, I focused more on pointing out streetcar tracks and reminding her how strong she looked.
One improvement over last year was that there was an increased number of bands on the course to spur us on. The water stations, however, seemed to be short of volunteers to distribute cups. In any case, we were still keeping at our desired pace, that is, until the finish.
The Wall at the Finish
As we made the final turn, we were pushing hard for a strong finish. We were headed towards a 57 minute finish and at about 20 feet from the finish line, we hit the wall. This wasn’t that wall that you experience at a marathon where your body just wants to shut down – this was a wall of runners clogged at the finish line. We were stopped dead in our tracks for 30 seconds waiting to cross the finish mat for our chip time. Just awesome.
In a race, not being able to finish when you want to, is unacceptable. Although we finished well within our goal time, what if weren’t? How do you explain to your friends that you met your goal of running under an hour when your official time says otherwise? There simply weren’t enough informed volunteers to move finishers onwards to clear the finish chute. This race was simply undermanned and it showed in the post-race area as well.
The Post-Run Wasn’t so Fun Either
After we finally crossed-over the finish, we just followed in the direction that all the runners were going. There weren’t any signs and it wasn’t clear which way to go to collect our medals. We eventually found our way to the medals, and subsequently the food area which consisted of bagels and bananas. The water and Gatorade area was a farce – just a few volunteers pouring out cups one by one as hundreds of thirsty runners waited. Not good.
I then headed over to the bag check area and thankfully it was well organized and I was able to quickly retrieve my bag, albeit on my own without anyone checking me. We had a number of other friends who ran the race and meeting with them was a challenge – there were no designated meetup areas and a map of the post-race area was never shared. Frustrating.
There was free McDonald’s coffee so we decided to wait in line – big mistake as that single small cup of coffee took about 30 minutes of waiting time in a cold brisk wind. We quickly assessed that there really wasn’t much else to do in the finish area and opted to head towards the shuttle to take us back to the race start area where we parked. The shuttle area had multiple lineups and it was unclear as to which lineups would be serviced in which sequence. We waited, shivering in the cold as mobs of runners would try to jostle into unorganized lineups for the next bus. Painstaking.
The Final Word
The Sporting Life 10K has the potential to be a great race for the city of Toronto. The funds it raises for Camp Ooch for kids with cancer is an incredible contribution towards a great cause. This run does a fantastic job at drawing many new first-time runners to complete a 10K – it did this for myself two years ago and got me hooked. The management of this race, however, has not kept up with its growth in size and it is my sincere hope that the race sponsors and organizers would listen carefully to the feedback from the running community to make this the great race it deserves to be.
My name is John Roe and I am the Director of Marketing and Advertising for Sporting Life. I have been looking after our 10k for nearly 9 years now. We too are not impressed with what happened yesterday and please all be aware that we are going to do what is neccessary to enure that our “little run” that could will live up to your expectations. We do listen to our customers and we do react when reaction is needed. We will take the steps nesseccary to make the run/race the quality event it should be.Our goal has always been to have an experience for aspiring and competeing runners while raising a lot of money for Camp. Both can co- exist
Thank you and keep the posts coming. we are watching and we are listening.
Thank you for your support and participation in the 2013 Sporting Life 10k supporting Camp Oochigeas. This year’s race hosted an incredible 27,000 registered runners, and raised over 2 million dollars to support camp. Our partners at Sporting Life have been incredible to us, just as our donors, volunteers, fundraisers and runners. Your loyalty and commitment to camp is inspiring. And we appreciate your feedback. We know that Camp Ooch’s success relies on the support of you – our community – and your input counts. We recognize that, if we are to continue to grow this event there are things that will need improve so that it’s not only one of the biggest runs in the country, but one of the greatest too.
Executive Director, Camp Oochigeas
Thank you Sporting Life and Alex Robertson for responding to this post. I look forward to future announcements from you in terms of the changes being made to make this the great race that it deserves to be. I really hope that you make every effort to improve this race for the sake of the kids at Camp Ooch, for the city of Toronto, and for the great number of new and seasoned runners you attract to this event every year.
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