Sunday October 16th marked a major milestone in my life. I ran and successfully completed the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon. But the sheer joy and sense of accomplishment of coming across that finish line with a time that far exceeded my goals was completely crushed in a matter of mere minutes.
I’m still trying to make sense of it all.
Post finish line, I was impressed with the large number of volunteers rapidly handing out finishing medals. Also, the post-race sustenance- consisting of bagels, fruit, sports drinks, and water- was plentiful. Upon grabbing a bagel and bottle of water, I made the good (albeit last minute) decision to accept one of the thermal sheets the volunteers were giving out. Little did I know that this moment would play such a heavy role in what was to come next. (Note: this was my first half marathon. I had run in a tank top and capris and was feeling ‘comfortably warm’ by the end of the race). Everyone proceeded forward down the narrow path set up on Bay St. I just sort of followed the crowd as I was too tired and unfamiliar with the process to do any differently. I did look around for a volunteer to inquire about the process, but it appeared all available hands were giving out medals.
This is when things took a most unfavourable turn. Myself, along with hundreds of other runners, were funneled and packed like sardines into a small ‘bag claim’ line-up. There were several gates to section off lines but no clear indication as to what each line was for. Bear in mind- everyone in these lines had just run for a solid 2 hours or so- and now had come to a complete standstill with no room to move or stretch.
I tried to be patient and wait for the line to move, but it didn’t. This was my first indication that something was wrong- as people around me started to clue in too. There were murmurs that there had been a huge mess up with bag sorting. This was around the time when I felt a very unfamiliar feeling— my knees and arches were starting to seize up. I gathered this was from the sudden halt in motion combined with the cold. I did my best to wiggle my legs around (despite the cramped quarters) but there were moments when I was really afraid. I would feel a cramp coming on and shake it off only to have another one replace it. I tried to keep calm.
The people squished in around me tried to stay in good spirits but as the pile-up continued and the line failed to budge and word of what lay up ahead at the booths spread, the crowd grew disgruntled. People took matters into their own hands and slipped through the sides… some lines were moving faster than others, and word spread that the bags were in no specific order so even once at the front of the line, which was going to take at least an hour, there was no guarantee that volunteers would find your bag. At one point, someone passed out in line. I’m sure there were many, many more who were in distress, too.
As a Producer who has planned hundreds of TV shoots “in the field”, including those in questionable outdoor conditions and with many unknown variables, I know that one must always have contingency plans in place. In my line of work, we plan for any possible problem to be able to react quickly and effectively. While I realize you can’t entirely prepare for the unexpected- there are certain ‘Plan Bs’ that are useful in most sistuations: ie. What to do when a crew member is late or calls in sick; what to do if if weather doesn’t cooperate, etc. etc.
Where were the emergency or back-up plans on race day? Where was the official on a megaphone (or multiple volunteers) stationed at the finish line? Individuals who could have informed participants that due to a glitch or oversight, there was a major backlog at the bag check in and would people kindly like to make their way to a nearby heated tent for coffee and warmth to wait it out? Where was the apology or announcements informing people what their options were or what was happening? Unlike a music festival or outdoor concert, where people are left to fend for themselves and know more or less what they are getting into and prepare accordingly- we are athletes expecting the events in which we enroll to be considerate and cater to our basic health and human needs.
I spent as long in the bag check line as I did running my race- 2 hours. By hour two, I was shivering underneath my thermal sheet- chilled straight to the bone- not to mention, my muscles and joints in my legs had entirely seized up. I fear what would have happened to me had I not grabbed one of those thermal covers. As much as each of us is responsible for taking care of ourselves, no one could have anticipated that type of wait or scenario. Finally, as news that other runners were taking matters into my hands, I located my family members and passed my bib number to them. They were able to get my bag within 15 minutes. At this point, I was shivering uncontrollably and feeling ill. I later learned that there was a complimentary McDonalds coffee truck set up not too far from where the 2 hour wait had unfolded.
I headed off with my family, barely able to walk due to my inability to stretch and stay warm after the race.
I am appalled and saddened that this debacle has put a damper on an otherwise monumental day. I paid $100 to participate in a race, which I also vigorously fundraised for, only to be treated like cattle and forced into an unfortunate post-race situation without any explanation or consideration for my health and wellbeing. I still don’t have an official explanation on what the problem was today. I know this is an annual event and a world-class one. How on Earth did organizers allow this to happen? But more importantly, how did no one manage to act quickly and offer an alternative to all those racers?
This is a shameful display of disorganization and disrespect shown on the part of the organizers of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. This will not turn me off from running races but I will here forth have serious reservations about ever participating in this particular event again. With so many other races happening in this great city, I would rather support ones that operate in a more humane and organized fashion. Or compensate their participants for such a terrible end to a life-changing experience.
Yours in running,