Remember how excited I was to run the Nike Women’s Toronto 15km race? Well, I ran it on June 14th and boy, was it exciting! Let’s recap, shall we?
Can I start off by taking my hat off to Nike’s marketing and PR team? I think they created an excellent campaign to promote not just the race, but also the city of Toronto and the sport of running. A key part of this campaign was the Crystal Coliseum, a custom-built studio barge on Lake Ontario. That’s right. Nike built a floating training studio. During the race weekend, Nike’s Master Trainers were offering free classes to help runners get ready for the race. The Nike Womens Village also took over Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre next to the Crystal Coliseum. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it down to either the Crystal Coliseum or the Nike Womens but my research on Instagram tells me that there were plenty of sponsor stalls and Nike-branded photo opportunities.
I took advantage of the early packet pick up and was able to get my race shirt, bib and ferry ticket a week before the event. Since the race was taking place on Toronto’s Centre Island, all participants had to take a ferry from the “mainland” to the island. Our ferry assignments were based on our wave and start times so I couldn’t complain much about my 7:00 am ferry ticket.
The day before the race, I did my best to stay hydrated and load up on carbs. I realize that you probably don’t need to carbo-load that much for a 15 km race but it also happened to be my brother-in-law’s 40th birthday party that day. Eating a lot (of cake and pie) just seemed like the right thing to do, especially since I wasn’t drinking any alcohol.
In a break from tradition, I decided that I would wear the Nike race shirt for the actual race. I usually wear the race shirt from the last race I ran but for reasons I can’t quite articulate, I felt the sense of community was stronger and more important for this race than for my previous races. Maybe I felt this way because it was my first women’s race or maybe Nike’s clever marketing campaign just really got to me. I also decided to run with my husband’s Garmin watch to help me pace myself. In the past, I’ve relied on either the Nike Plus app on my iPod, the loudness of my breathing, my husband or some combination thereof for pacing. I had done a few training runs with the Garmin and found it helpful so I thought I’d give it a shot.
The morning of the race, I woke up at 6:00 am to get ready. That involved toasting a bagel and coating it with peanut butter, putting in contact lenses and changing into the race outfit that I had laid out the night before. Luckily, I don’t live too far away from the ferry terminal so I was able to bike there in about 20 minutes. After some initial confusion about whether my ferry ticket was grey or mint, I got into the right line and boarded the boat. Despite the crowds, everything was super organized and on time. While on the boat, I enjoyed a lovely breakfast with my peanut butter bagel and a spectacular view of the Toronto skyline.
I arrived on the island a full two hours ahead of my start time. Luckily, there was a lot to explore. I meandered by the food trucks selling breakfast and coffee (pre-race crepes, anyone?). I waited in line to take photos next to inspirational quotes about running (who doesn’t love a good inspirational quote?). I wandered around looking for free heat sheets and tattoos (found the heat sheets, no luck on the tattoos). The heat sheets were a great idea because the sky was overcast and there was a cool wind coming off the water. Because the island is a popular city-run recreational spot, there were lots of real washrooms which means I didn’t have to use any porta potties. I thought it was great that there were two lines formed at the washrooms: one line of all women for the women’s washroom and another line of women with a couple of guys mixed in waiting for the men’s washroom. There was also a warm up area where Nike trainers were leading warm up exercises to get everyone ready. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it over to the warm up area because I forgot about it and decided that I should conserve my energy and my legs.
Forty-five minutes before the race started, I checked my coat and bag, ate my energy bar and headed over to my start corral. After some dynamic stretches, I found a spot near the start of my wave and plopped myself down on the grass. And that’s when the rain started. In an effort to stay somewhat dry and warm, I opted for the futuristic space turtle look—wrapping myself completely in my silver heat sheet with just my face showing. As the rain grew from a drizzle to a downpour, I started to get nervous because I really really don’t like running with wet feet. There is nothing worse than the squelching noises wet socks make as water gets squished out of them with every step. Instead of thinking about all that unpleasantness, I focused on the Nike running coach giving a pep talk and the announcers, who were introducing the elite athletes that would be participating in the run. These included Paula Findlay, a Canadian triathlete who is the only woman to win consecutive world championships; Marlen Esparza, the first American woman to qualify for women’s boxing at the Olympics; and Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first-ever women’s Olympic marathon champion. Knowing that I would be sharing the course with these phenomenal athletes and 10,000 other runners from 24 different countries really got me pumped up and ready to go.
The 15 km course took us along the edge of the entire island so we always had Lake Ontario in sight. There were some really beautiful spots along the course where literally, the entire city of Toronto was behind us. We were running on many different types of terrain—paved road, sidewalk, boardwalk, beach, grass, and oh yeah, airport runway. Three kilometers into the race, we turned into Billy Bishop Airport on Centre Island and ran the next 1.5 km on an actual airport runway. Two planes took off while I was out there. It was exhilarating and terrifying. We also got to run through the little neighbourhood of Hanlon’s Point where people live year-round on the island. With the exception of a small bridge, the course was flat and fast. There were lots of volunteers and signs directing us which way to go. Some parts of the route were pretty narrow compared to running on the road for a typical race. There were spots where giant puddles narrowed the course even more. Passing was definitely a challenge on this race. I found myself weaving more than usual and occasionally having to really slow down because I couldn’t get around another runner. Due to the number of runners and the narrowness of the paths, we never really thinned out. But I didn’t feel crowded either so it was ok.
Luckily, the rain stopped shortly after my wave started and the skies stayed clear for the rest of the run. There were also a lot of spectators and volunteers cheering us on. I definitely fed off their energy and picked up my speed as I approached cheering stations. I think my favourite cheering station was the gospel choir that was singing upbeat and joyous hymns outside a little chapel. There was also a confetti canon close to the end, which sadly did not go off when I ran by.
My initial plan was to power through the entire race and not lose time at water stations. I skipped the first water station at 3 km and realized a few minutes later that I was thirsty. By that point the sun had come out and the humidity was setting in. Remembering my not-so-great performance at the hot and muggy Sporting Life 10k earlier in May, I opted to visit each of the remaining water stations at 6k, 9k, and 12k. Despite the water breaks and weaving in and out, I maintained a pretty consistent pace, thanks in part to the Garmin. Five hundred meters before the finish line, I started to pick up my pace for a sprint to the end. Then I saw my husband with the camera up ahead so I slowed down for pictures. I still sprinted across the finish line though.
This was the first race in which I’ve participated where there was neither a bagel nor a banana waiting for me at the finish line. That is my only complaint about the event. My recovery snack bag consisted of an apple, a snack size bag of potato chips, a granola bar, some trail mix and a little bag of dried cranberries. Maybe Nike’s target group is predominantly gluten-free and low carb but I am definitely not one of those people, especially after running 15 km. My bagel disappointment was quickly forgotten, however, when I saw the unmistakable blue boxes being handed out to the finishers. As promised, all finishers received a specially designed Tiffany and Co. necklace engraved with “Nike Women’s 15k Toronto 2015” on the back. The pendant is actually something that I would wear on a day-to-day basis unlike the rest of my finisher’s medals, which have been relegated to a shoebox.
After taking some photos, we left the island quickly because it had started to rain again. Biking back in the rain was not very fun but we made it home in one piece.
So after all the hype and the expensive registration fee, was the Nike Women’s 15k Toronto worth it? Yes! It was fun, well organized and really brought out a sense of community. Would I do it again? Yes! Hopefully, in a different city.
While I was huddled under my heat sheet waiting for the race to start, the Nike running coach said something that stayed with me for the entire race: run this race not just for yourself, but for all the people who can’t run and for all the people who think they can’t run. I used to be one of those people and now I’ve just completed a 15 km race while setting a new personal best. Take that, old me!
Betty is a science communicator living in Toronto. Her two proudest accomplishments are completing a full marathon without barfing and obtaining her Ph.D. She has an unhealthy obsession with pancakes and good deals. Luckily, her husband is very good at eating pancakes and finding creative storage solutions. In her spare time, Betty blogs at Eat, Read, Science where she writes about the latest and coolest science papers in a way that won’t make you fall asleep. You can follow her on Twitter at @BisousZou.