Quinton Jacobs is a runner I love. He has a job outside the sport and all his work, like Escape to Boston, is done as a volunteer. It’s helped him, running, and so he feels passionately that it can help other people, too.
“Replacing bananas with donuts isn’t rocket science,” says Jacobs, a longtime Toronto-based runner, who has worked with Lululemon and Parkdale Roadrunners and ran the TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon Sunday with Abdul Hussein, entering his first half marathon with training advice from the Kickback Foundation.
Jacobs has done mountain running all over the world and participated at Comrades in South Africa, but he’s not dreaming of being the next Andre De Grasse or Malindi Elmore. He says the human spirit in everyone is worth celebrating.
“My interest is in exploring the non-traditional runners and telling their stories,” he says. “When we tell stories of regular people, we can draw diverse people together. That’s what running is to me: community.”
The community was out in full force in Toronto and race bibs were sold out, with rumours circulating of illicit bib markets with $600 asking fees and counterfeit bib sales. There were hundreds of people showing up for a Saturday Running Room Shakeout Run and Natasha Wodak autographed copies of her iRun magazine while a line snaked its way from our booth to the Expo stage.
“I run because it makes me a better dad, better husband, better sleeper — it’s a keystone habit,” says Jon Bird, race director of the Servus Calgary Marathon, who says we simply need to remind people outside our sport why we love it so much.
How do we maintain the momentum from Toronto throughout the winter across Canada? The Road2Hope Hamilton Marathon is next month, and there’s the Chilly Half Marathon and Around the Bay early next year. Meanwhile, plans are underway for the fiftieth anniversary this May of the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, alongside big city spring Canadian marathons in Vancouver, Mississauga, and Halifax. Quinton Jacobs believes the more we can make running appealing to the masses, the more the masses will feel invited to our events, which clearly benefit everyone.
Jon Bird sent me a link to a story that came out earlier this month in a neurology journal: a 16-week running program was deemed more effective in combating depression than anti-depressants. Running is good for you. More people are running since COVID. Lots of runners came out this weekend in Toronto. How do we keep them coming back for more?
“People need to see themselves in run clubs and organizations, and that gives people belief that running is for them, too — not just the super elites,” Jacobs says, adding that he first got into running for fast times and racing; then, battling burnout, ditched his Garmin and leaned into the sport for his mental health. “Running teaches us that we can get through the tough parts of life, and keep going,” he says. “We need to tell that story to as many people as we possibly can.”
Quinton mentions Allison Hill at Hill Run Club as a community leader who tells the story of running well. The energy her group brought to the Waterfront Marathon was infectious. It was the same energy Parkdale Roadrunners and Frontrunners and Kardia Athletica brought to the course. They were happy!
It was fun!
“There’s a subtle difference in many of these new run groups from the pre-pandemic formulas to the groups we see now,” says Lynn Bourque, long-time owner of the Runners Shop in Toronto. “Primarily, they are more focused on the social aspect of running and less concerned with being at the front of the pack.”
Lynn says that if half marathon bibs are going to continue to sell over asking price like a waterfront Vancouver home, than Quinton Jacobs is right about broadening running’s appeal: why can’t we have donuts instead of bananas?
Running may need less dads, and more DJs.
“Going to races is a social event now,” Lynn told me. “If we want to keep the sport booming we need to tell that story to as many people as possible: running is good for you — but it’s also fun!”