Which Toronto marathon is best? It’s a question I see often from members of the RunToBeer and Nike Run Club facebook groups. So…
Although I’m far from the best runner in Toronto, I have run the half-marathon races at both the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon and the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM). So I wanted to throw my 2 cents into the ring. Unfortunately, I can’t chime in on the full distance race. But feel free to drop me a note in the comments if you have an opinion.
Anyways, if you’re trying to pick the best (half) marathon in Toronto, I hope this blog post can help.
GoodLife Toronto Marathon vs Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon:
Season: The good thing about both these races is they happen on the shoulder seasons. So you don’t know need to worry about sweltering summer heat.
The GoodLife Toronto marathon is typically held in the spring. For 2016, the date was May 1st, and for 2017 the race is scheduled for Sunday May 7th, 2017. For me, this was the first race of the year. So it was nice to get outside and get running after months on the treadmill. I’m going to try and run outside more this winter, so hopefully I’ll be more prepared for the GoodLife marathon in 2017.
On the other hand, STWM was held October 16th 2016. While the fall run was nice, I wasn’t in the best shape. Basically, I had too much fun during the summer. So you’ll probably want to tone down the time spent drinking beer on patios if you’re serious about this race. Lucky for me, I’m only half serious. 🙂
The bad news is that during 2016 both races had crap weather. I’d say the GoodLife marathon was worse, but not by much. Fingers crossed 2017 will be a better year for warmth and sunshine, rather than windy, wet and cold.
Start and finish location: Admittedly, I’m biased on this one. Since I live in downtown Toronto, I much prefer the STWM course layout. The start and finish lines are downtown, so it’s a short jaunt from my house to the race. I loved this aspect of STWM and hope they don’t plan to change up the course too much going forward.
On the other hand, the Toronto GoodLife marathon race course starts uptown at Mel Lastman Square near North York Centre subway station. And the race finishes at Exhibition Place. To be honest, I found this to be kind of a pain.
The reason is, I had to take a taxi to get to the start line because the subway hadn’t started yet. And then the race basically ends in the middle of nowhere. Maybe you don’t hate exhibition place as much as I do. But I found the finish line of this race to be kind of a mess.
More specifically, it was freezing cold, raining and it was very difficult to get out of Exhibition Place. The TTC is not very accessible, it’s tough for cars to get in and out (especially with race day road closures) and it’s too far to walk home easily (especially after you just ran for a few hours). It took me about 75 minutes to get home and required me to take a bus, walk a few blocks and then cab the rest of the way.
Now admittedly, I was pretty tired and cold at this time. So there were probably shuttle busses that I couldn’t find. Nonetheless, for me, picking up the race kit at The Enercare Center the day before was as close to Exhibition Place as I wanted to get. For this one, I’d say STWM is the winner.
Start time: I guess this depends on personal preference. But for the half marathon the start times were similar, 8:30 vs. 8:45. However, for marathon runners, there is a 7:30 start time for the GoodLife marathon. That said, I usually sleep poorly before a race anyways so waking up a little early isn’t the worst thing. And had it been in the heat of summer I surely would have enjoyed the earlier start a little more.
Course: For me, I think this might have been a tie. Each race course had its own pros and cons. However, since I only ran the half-marathon at each of these races that’s all I can comment on.
The Toronto GoodLife marathon race route starts uptown, heads down Yonge street until just before Bloor, then loops down a little east, to Front street, heading west towards the finish line at Exhibition place.
Overall, I was pretty happy with this route. At times it was a little boring, and the hill near York Mills station was a beast. But otherwise this was a very fast half-marathon course. There was a lot of downhill as you head towards the water.
On the other hand, the STWM race route is much flatter, and probably offers a better tour of the downtown area, as well as the waterfront. I liked that the race started with a slight uphill and then a jaunt west across Bloor before turning down Bathurst. From there, the course is an out and back along Lakeshore to the High Park area.
I really liked the out and back part because not only was it along the water, but you could see the elite runners coming back as you headed out. It was very motivating. And mind-blowing.
What I didn’t love was the half-marathon race finished with about 1.5km of uphill. I was pretty tired by this point in the run and didn’t love slogging it to the finish line. And since this course was so much flatter I posted a slower time than I did at GoodLife, despite being in better shape.
So which Toronto marathon or half marathon should you choose to participate in?
While both of these races have their pros and cons, the good news is that you can definitely run both of them. I’m still not sure if I’ll run the half marathon next year, or push for the full distance. But either way I will likely be at both runs. Which marathon will you pick?