Sporting Life 10k takes over Toronto's streets

There is something deeply joyful about running with more than 20,000 other people on a sunny and warm spring day.  For me, this is the running race where it all began, ten years ago. 

At the time, my partner Rob and I signed up for the Sporting Life 10k looking for a challenge.  We truly weren't sure whether we would survive it.  That's not an exaggeration.  I wondered nervously whether my body would survive until the end. 

Clearly, we made it.  :-)

Pre-race selfie.

This time around, Rob expected to be working today, so hadn't registered - or so I thought.  He surprised me as I ate breakfast at 5:10 a.m. and pulled out a race bib.  That set the day off on a high note.

Thinking back to 2007, one of the vivid memories of that experience is of watching the race start from the vantage point of one of the rear corrals: the sharp squeal of the horn, the faint bobbing heads near the start line as the fastest runners took off until gradually, that ripple got closer and closer, and it was our turn.  As we crested the hill just north of Yonge & Eglinton, I looked south at the sea of blue and white shirts, all of us on the same journey and challenge.  Breathtaking. 

In time, I've moved up the corrals, so that now there are just a few dozen of those bobbing heads in front of me.  This year, before we took off, I stood on my tip toes and craned my neck to see the thousands of people further north on Yonge Street.  Then the start line announcer "Too Tall" Tony Fletcher reminded us to make sure our shoe laces were tight, which is his trademark signal that we're about to begin. 

Shots of the crowd, courtesy of Rob. 

Why is this race such a perennial favourite in Toronto?  A few reasons:

The Cause - The run supports Camp Oochigea, which is one-of-a-kind in Ontario.  It's our province's only residential camp for kids affected by cancer, offering on-site IV chemo and blood transfusions.  When you're supporting children afflicted by this insidious disease, how can you not run with all of your heart?

The 2017 race raised $2.1 million, enough for 600 days at camp for kids.  

Triumph - This is a banner race in our city that people set as a bucket list goal to complete.  This year, my good friend Deb completed it for the 11th time, after rehabbing her way back from a painful and persistent case of plantar fasciitis.  Knowing that Deb was going to take on this race again was biggest reason I registered this year.  Deb also brought along her sister, who was resuming running again after focusing on raising her kids.  Both of them rocked the race. 

Friendship - Whether you're warming up pre-race, awaiting the start in your corral or cheering on others at the finish line, friends seem to pop up everywhere (hello Kevin, Mark, Garvin, Carly, Michael and Doug!).  Following the race, Rob, Deb, Brenda, Mayling and I decided to get treats from Starbucks and sit by the lake to chat, stretch and catch up on all the gossip.
Post-run smiles with Mayling, Deb, Brenda and Rob.

Inclusion - This is a race where everyone has a spot.  This year, a single wheelchair racer kicked off the event and back in the rear corrals, you'd find the walking contingent, some of whom would be pushing strollers.  In between, you typically find everyone from Olympians (Reid Coolsaet is a former winner) to weekend warriors. 

Organization - From the super quick and simple race kit pickup through to the corrals and end-of-race gathering, from my perspective, the logistics this year worked smoothly.  It took me more time to walk to Sporting Life from the subway than it did to actually get my kit.  It isn't easy to get 20,000 people through the entire race process.  Personally, I keep reminding myself that I grew up in a village of 1,800 people, which means the race was 11 times the population of my home town.  Small hiccup this year: one Twitter user noted that their shuttle bus from the finish line got stuck in traffic behind the race course itself. 

Bib numbers 1-12,000 on the right side of the tent,
everyone above that on the left.  Wow.

Swag - This year, organizers kept it simple: your free t-shirt and a clear bag to for bag check.  (Depending on when you registered, you would have received a e-gift card for Sporting Life, with a higher value if you signed up earlier.)  I love the dark neon orange colour of this year's shirt.  It looks and feels zippy fast.  Plus, given the ever-increasing rates of distracted driving, I think it's more important than ever that we runners take defensive action and be as visible as possible.

Swag on display at race kit pick-up. 

Volunteers - A large part of this event's success is thanks to the volunteers handing out water, helping manage traffic - both vehicular and athletes - and making sure runners received food and their checked bags at the end of the race.  These events wouldn't happen without the hundreds of hours of support from these community-minded individuals.

A race volunteer in action. 

How did I do?  Mentally, I felt great going into the race, as I usually do at large events, because the pressure is off and crowd's energy is contagious.  There were a few spots along the route where I had doubts and a slight drop in pace, but overall, I kept in a positive state of mind, even over the last two kilometres, which are usually a mental and physical slog.  Instead, in the final few hundred metres, I felt pretty perky and accelerated to pass some people before the finish line. 

In terms of numbers, I finished at 38:10 and 12th in my age category, which is shy of a PB but still pretty awesome.  On the heels of the Bum Run 5k a couple weeks ago, I chatted with Coach Roger of Ignition Fitness about my goals.  He gently reminded me that we had nearly eliminated speed work over the winter in order to reduce the chance of injury, so my springtime races won't have quite the kick I'd like.  That being said, my result was only 28 seconds off my PB, so that's pretty darn good.

The arrival of the Toronto Sporting Life 10k means that race season has officially begun in our city.  See you out on the streets, trails and start lines!