I knew before asking that the bibs for the TCS Waterfront Marathon were becoming a scarce commodity when my phone started lighting up. People I haven’t spoken to in years were asking: Can you get me a half marathon bib for the race? The calls came in from deep in the woodwork. Reader, no word of exaggeration: two of the notes I received were from Facebook messenger—a function I didn’t know still exists.
When did marathon bibs become hot as Taylor Swift tickets, another phenomenon that had people who don’t know me ask if I could assist? The marathon and half marathon races are sold out at the TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon October 15. Race directors aren’t exactly scratching their heads as to the reasons why. But they also can’t put their finger directly on one single thing.
“The marathon is at an all-time high right now—the highest we had before was in 2014 at 5,200, and we’re currently approaching 6,000 marathon runners; to accommodate, we’re cutting the half a weeee bit smaller than our record high, but it’s still over 12,000, with our record high being 12,704,” said Charlotte Brookes, Canada Running Series race director.
Race Roster, the registration tool used by many Canadian races, reported that their running events, on average, are up 25% versus 2019. It could be that working from home gives runners more time to train for longer racing distances (maybe don’t tell your boss, unless she’s training, too). It could be that better shoes have made the sport more comfortable. Races have improved, gear is made of more sustainable materials, run clubs are fashionable, and we’re further out, one hopes, from the pandemic—thus Taylor Swift shows (and half marathons) are drawing numbers in record droves. As a whole, events in Toronto are up from 2019, and perhaps there’s a post-pandemic urge to gather together and enjoy what we love.
The theory I park my twenty bucks into is that we’re entering, and sustaining, another Running Boom. Charlotte’s Oasis Zoo Run this weekend is sold out, earlier than ever before, and even though their race is in May, the Calgary Marathon is further ahead in bib sales than they were last year. Running shop owners like Lynn Bourque say it’s a good time to be selling singlets and shoes.
“The running industry saw an incredible boom during the pandemic and the Waterfront numbers means we’ve retained these people,” says Bourque, owner of the legendary Runners Shop in Toronto, who adds a conversation with her friend, Cory Freedman, revealed that Cory’s Run for Women has seen a huge influx of first-time runners. Furthermore, Bourque believes the Waterfront race is not only seeing new runners, but a simultaneous return of old runners who didn’t want to sweat on each other due to COVID-19.
“Last yer, people who’ve always been runners might have been hesitant, but there’s an energy out there today with these two fields of runners—new and old—converging,” says Bourque. “I’m happy it’s playing out in this fantastic way.”
So what does a new Running Boom mean to you? For one, get your spring bibs early. You wouldn’t decide to see Beyonce the night before, and you can no longer run a half marathon in a major Canadian city with that laissez-fair approach. No doubt the 50th anniversary of the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend this May will be just as popular as Toronto, and races in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Quebec City and Montreal expect to see boosts (in Montreal, a run shop is 25% up over business last year).
If we want to keep people in our sport, races will need to be managed deftly. Traffic will need to be cordoned off; we need plenty of T-shirts, port-a-potties and bananas, and there must be adequate water and volunteers. There’s no accounting for weather, but race directors must control what they can. Meanwhile, experienced runners will have to be patient with newbies—it’s conceivable someone might arrive in the wrong corral or even (gasp!) get in your way as you swoop in for water.
We can be friendly, helpful, encouraging. Supportive. The more people who race or buy sneakers, one hopes, the less expensive the stuff we buy might become, due to the economy of scale. Maybe we’ll see more races, or maybe the TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon will allow for more participants—who knows.
All I do know is that it’s great that people are excited about running and I appreciate that people want to get involved. Racing is about my favourite thing and we should all band together ensuring that the Running Boom lasts. However, I just can’t help you with your race bibs. In the fall of 2023, it seems you’re just as likely scoring a ticket to Taylor Swift.