Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Race Report: GoodLife Toronto Marathon

My travel adventures are never without some drama.  Weather screwed up flights all around the New York City area, and after watching my WestJet flight out of LaGuardia to Toronto Pearson (Toronto's major international airport) get delayed and delayed and delayed all day... ultimately resulting in a nearly five hour delay (a 6:30pm ending up being scheduled for 11:15pm!), I decided to just head to Newark and purchase a last minute one way flight on Porter Airlines to the smaller Billy Bishop airport in downtown Toronto.  Porter is a no-frills regional airline headquartered in Toronto, flying turboprop planes regularly between Newark and Toronto, in addition to other locations around Canada.

I get to Penn Station and immediately get on the next EWR bound NJTransit train, which thankfully leaves with only a 15 minute delay (unfortunately, the rain flooded some of the tracks at Penn). While on the train, I purchase my new flight on Porter.  Thankfully, due to the weather, my flight from LGA to Toronto could be refunded because of the existing weather advisory.

I get to Newark Airport to pick up my boarding pass and get in line for check in at the Porter Airlines counter. As I get to the counter, the agent informs me that the flight I had JUST purchased was cancelled, but she was able to rebook me immediately onto another flight leaving a little earlier, that also happened to be delayed... however, I needed to get thru security immediately.

Arrival into Billy Bishop Airport
I get through security and get ready to board my flight, and all along, the gate agents are trying to hurry us through to get seated.  We need to be in the air immediately, because the Toronto Billy Bishop Airport has a very strict 11pm curfew. Flights have been known to descend into the airport vicinity, only to be forced to pull back up and get diverted to other nearby airports because they miss the arrival window. After all is said and done, we end up arriving into Toronto at 10:30pm. Another flight scheduled to leave after mine that didn't get cancelled, however, did not make curfew, and they are forced to divert to Hamilton, Ontario; those passengers have to get on a bus and be shuttled 45 minutes to downtown Toronto.

The Billy Bishop Airport is small, but quite efficient.  Situated on an island in Lake Ontario, the airport is super convenient to downtown Toronto. An 800 foot pedestrian tunnel connects the airport terminal to the Toronto mainland, and my third cousin Rina and her fiance Rob were there to pick me up after I kept them abreast of my changing flight plans.  We immediately head out to grab some drinks in downtown Toronto after my arrival, getting a chance to catch up and enjoy the evening with each other before turning in for the night.

With womens' marathon pioneer
Kathrine Switzer
Saturday was a windy day, but we decided to spend the day to casually take care of my pre-race necessities (pick up my race bib, and the race shirt, which is probably the most generic and ugly race shirt I've ever gotten.  WHY would you pick that shade of green and use Comic Sans font....), but more importantly, hang out with family. While the race expo at the Enercare Centre was small for a race in a city the size of Toronto (this is actually one of two major distance races held in the city; the other, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, is held in October, and seems slightly more popular), one of the special guests present was womens' marathon pioneer Kathrine Switzer, who was signing copies of her memoir, "Marathon Woman."  In 1967, she became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry. During her run, race official Jock Semple attempted to stop Switzer, who was running under the ungendered name "K Switzer;" however, he was shoved to the ground by Switzer's boyfriend at the time, Thomas Miller, who was running with her, and she was able to complete the race. It was not until 1972 that women were allowed to run the Boston Marathon officially.  It was awesome to be able to chat with her and and also hear about her experiences firsthand from when she began to light the way for female distance running.

A dedication in my copy of Kathrine Switzer's memoir, "Marathon Woman"
We are family!
When I contacted Rina about staying with her for the race, my initiative was to be close to downtown and near where the race course and pre-race logistics would be.  Rina is actually my third cousin, as we share a common great grandparent, but I have first cousins that also live in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, so they all came downtown to meet up with us for lunch that morning at a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown.  We're all still pretty close regardless of how "related" we are to each other.  Aside from lunch, the group of us got to hang out in the fun artsy redeveloped area of Liberty Village, then later that night, Rina, Rob, and I decided to catch a show - the Canadian production of Strictly Ballroom: The Musical, at the Princess of Wales Theatre, which happened to star a friend of mine that had done Miss Saigon with me eight years ago in summer stock.

On Sunday morning, I set my alarm to wake up pretty early, at 5:30am.  The start of the race was north of Toronto, in the suburban district of North York.  From Rina and Rob's, I could walk ten minutes to the Hilton in Downtown Toronto, and catch a shuttle bus to take me up to the startline.  I was pretty early, so I was able to get onto the first school bus headed out.

The startline
The start area was at Mel Lastman Square, but to stay warm, everyone congregated inside the North York Civic Centre building, which once served as the city hall for the former City of North York.  When the race began, we all went outside en masse, and crossed the start line as we ran northward on Beercroft Road, then along Churchill Ave for a couple blocks before heading to Yonge Street, where we would be running for the next 5.5 miles.  Yonge Street is a major arterial route connecting the shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto to Lake Simcoe, a gateway to the Upper Great Lakes.  It's been popularly misconceived as the longest street in the world.

Running down Yonge Street

The "nasty hill"
As we continued down Yonge Street, we could see a "nasty" looking uphill section in the distance,  after passing the neighborhood of York Mills, with high-rises of Yonge and Eglinton (aka the trendy neighborhood full of "Yonge and Eligible" twenty and thirty-something year old Torontoans) beyond.  By the time we reached the 5K mark, about 29 minutes had gone by, and I was happy to have broken the half hour mark.  The steady and not so hilly early part of this race was proving to be very helpful for my time.

Yonge and Eglinton
As we continued south along Yonge Street, we passed through the neighborhoods of Bedford Park, a nice suburb with a small downtown feel just outside of the downtown core, and the aforementioned Yonge and Eglinton area, one of the four central business districts outside of downtown Toronto. At about 5.8 miles in, we made our first turn off of Yonge Street, onto Chapin Crescent and into Midtown Toronto, and I reach the 10K mark in exactly 1:00 as we make a turn onto Oriole Parkway. We zigzag our way around the beautiful neighborhood of Forest Hill, known as one of Toronto’s wealthiest and most affluent neighborhoods, with multimillion dollar homes. We also made our way past the campus of Upper Canada College, a private boys school and one of the most prestigious preparatory schools in all of Canada.  It was a little hillier here, too, so I ended up slowing down a little bit, taking a few more walk breaks than usual.  We eventually ended up on Spadina Road, which culminated in the beautiful Casa Loma, a Gothic Revival style house and gardens, notable as both a popular filming location for movies and TV and a popular venue for wedding ceremonies.

Such beautiful trees in the neighborhood near Upper Canada College
Running past Casa Loma, a Gothic revival style house and gardens constructed in 1914.
Running alongside Upper Canada College
Serene through Rosedale Ravine Lands
As we ran along MacPherson Avenue, running parallel to some east-west running railroad tracks for the Canadian National Railroad, we then went through the neighborhoods of The Annex and Yorkville along Davenport Road. We continued east along Belmont Street, before passing Yonge Street and making our way down Aylmer Avenue and Rosedale Valley Road as we made our way through the Rosedale Ravine.  While we were 10 miles into the race, the fastest runners of the half marathon (which started an hour after us) began to turn off of Yonge and join us on the course, approaching their 7 mile mark.

A spectator with her funny sign next to the cemetery

The viaducts passing over us
Along this section of the course, we were treated with beautiful views, and massive trees on both sides of us, bridges high above us (including the very tall Prince Edward Viaduct and the Rosedale Valley Bridge)  We also passed the St. James Cemetery, where a spectator had placed herself in that particular area to be able to showcase her funny, and fitting sign. The course then emptied us onto Bayview Avenue, alongside the Don River and the Don Valley Parkway.  As we approached the 12 mile mark, I ran into someone wearing a very familiar looking singlet - it was a FRNY running singlet!  Fellow Front Runners Justin and Tony were also running the marathon, with two others, Elbert and Albert far in front of us.  How cool that we had five FRNY members running a marathon in Canada... eh!?

Downtown Toronto!
I reached the halfway point of the course in roughly 2:11, as the runners turned onto the streets of Corktown, surrounded by seemingly lots of high-rise apartment buildings in development. At this point, we were also treated to our first real views of Downtown Toronto, with the iconic CN Tower defining the skyline.  We headed westward along Front Street and eventually Wellington Street.  There was so much construction on the street, unfortunately, too, forcing us to pay attention to our footing.  It seemed very crowded here, especially with lots of half marathoners aiming for their sub-2s, running by.  The wind was also very strong here, and we were running into a headwind. We turned onto John Street to get us back onto Front Street, where we continued to head westward.

Running into a headwind alongside
Lake Ontario
At the 15 mile mark at Spadina and Front Street, I hoped to see Rob and Rina, but unfortunately they were unable to make it there by 10AM when I had told them I'd be passing by.  Like clockwork, I took my first GU.  We continued westward until the street dead-ended at Bathurst Street, where we turned left onto the Sir Isaac Brock Bridge that spanned over the rail lines and Fort York.  We then ran onto Fort York Boulevard alongside its namesake as well as the Gardiner Expressway above, as half marathoners sped on with the finish line not too far away at this point in time.  The marathoners finally got to separate from the crowdedness, turning left onto Lake Shore Boulevard, rather than right, and we ran along the trails in Coronation Park as we passed the finish line in the Ontario Place parking lot while we were only 17 miles into our race.

Humber Bay Arch Bridge
We continued on, running on the trails alongside Lake Ontario all the way to Humber Bay Park, something like 7k out.  And boy was it tough... running into a headwind on the Martin Goodman Trail, I was really envious of all the runners running along Lake Shore Boulevard in the other direction.  We passed the huge wind turbine, and the Beaux-Arts style domed buildings at Exploration Place.  The kilometer markers seemed to pass by slower and slower. The highrises in the distance (which turned out to be in Etobicoke, and not too far from our turnaround point) seemed SO far away.  While the views of the lake were quite nice, it became monotonous until we finally reached the Humber Bay Arch Bridge, this beautiful white double-ribbed arch pedestrian bridge spanning over the mouth of the Humber River to protect the environmental integrity of the waterway.  We continued along the trail past Palace Pier Park, and it was at about the 34km mark where the 4:45 pacer had made a move and passed me, and I began to make a decision in my head that I would most definitely have to keep up to finish in front of him.  A couple times, he had slowed down to a walk, so I caught up and asked how much on or off-pace he was, and from then on ensured to keep him behind me as much as I could.

Running past highrises in
Mimico, Etobicoke
We made our way into the more refuge-like Humber Bay Park East, where we ran around a warm-water fish habitat and wetland area, before making our way back to Downtown Toronto from whence we came.  It was the 35km point where the "turnaround" point was, and I picked up my pace a bit, running a little longer (perhaps, more shuffling...) through the normal last 5 miles of pain. We finally got onto Lake Shore Boulevard heading east at around the 23.5 mile mark, and I left the 4:45 pacer in the dust behind me, gritting my teeth through the last 2.7 miles I still had to run.

That downtown skyline seems
so far away...
The wind turbine and the domed buildings came back into view, and I kept moving closer and closer to the Ontario Place parking lot.  The right turn couldn't have come any sooner, and I crossed the mat with Rob and Rina watching me finish!  My finish time... 4:46:31... yet I still finished in front of the 4:45 pacer.  Oh well... it's my fastest international marathon finish, eclipsing my Madrid finish from two weeks before by 22 minutes, and faster by over a minute than my marathon the week before, making this my fastest (so far) marathon of 2017, and my sixth fastest lifetime of 36 marathon finishes!  I had a blast running this race, and being able to see a lot of Toronto in the process; despite it being the smaller of the two marathons in Toronto, the course offers a lot to be able to see, other than the fall race, that stays along the water practically the entire time. 

Thankful to have my cousin Rina and her fiance Rob to capture me crossing the finish line!
Celebrating with a Moosehead

I found Rob and Rina after taking a few swigs of Moosehead Beer, and got my headstand photo taken with the beautiful views of downtown Toronto behind me.  We took a streetcar and subway back home to Rob and Rina's condo so I could shower and get myself packed before stopping into Lululemon to see my old friend Pedro, grabbing a quick bite (poutine!) at, of all places, A&W on Queen Street, and then heading to Rob's cousin's penthouse apartment for a barbecue while watching the Toronto/Cleveland basketball game.

NBA players fly commercial, too.
Tristan Thompson in the green.
My flight back home was to leave at 8:30pm that night, but after many delays, we finally got off the ground at 9:45pm -- not nearly as dramatic as my flights coming to Toronto on Friday night; however, it was very cool to see members of the Cleveland Cavaliers, including LeBron James, walking through the airport and TO THE GATE RIGHT NEXT TO MINE... since, huh, millionaire basketball players still take commercial airplanes.. who knew!?  I got home later that night, and was happy to have had such a fulfilling weekend north of the border, getting a marathon done and seeing family, as well!

My humongous finisher medal, and ugly ass race shirt I'll never wear again.
No problems carrying this puppy on, despite the engraved warning.
Victory Headstand in the park, with CN Tower in the background

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