The Best BMO Vancouver Marathon Medals Yet

I thought the 2017 BMO Vancouver Marathon medals were stunning. But now that the 2018 medals have been revealed, I have to admit that this year’s design is easily the best yet.

I’ve earned some nice medals over the years and the four I have from various BMO Vancouver Marathons are some of my favourites. The Ottawa Marathon medals are also nice, and the Toronto Waterfront Marathon medals with various Toronto landmarks are also great.

I can’t wait to add this beauty to my collection in 94 days.

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The front features the course map with a unique relief design that plots the elevation of the route in three dimensions.

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The back features the famous mountain peaks called The Lions off in the distance, with ocean waves in the foreground.

2017 BMO Vancouver Marathon Medals Revealed

It’s four weeks until the 2017 edition of the BMO Vancouver Marathon and race organizers took to Instagram today to reveal the medals we’ll all be racing for in 28 days.

bmo-full-medalThe front side features a unique 3D design that combines elements of the Vancouver skyline, including Canada Place and Harbour Centre, with a geometric representation of the mountains that surround the city. The race distance is shown at the bottom with the race logo through the middle. It’s a great design that continues the tradition of beautiful BMO Vancouver Marathon medals.

On the reverse, the geometric design continues with RUN|VAN over a reverse of the imagery on the front. There’s a spot for an iTab race time insert for those who opt for it.

The medals for the various races are all similar in design, but differ in size. The 42.2km full marathon is the largest, then the 21.1km half marathon. The 8km and marathon relay are similarly sized and the smallest of the medals. The full marathon medal has a beautiful red ribbon, the half marathon is blue, the 8km is green and the relay is magenta rounding out the set.

2017 BMO Vancouver Marathon Course Guide

Here’s a Google Streetview tour of some of the sights along one of the most beautiful marathon courses in the world – the BMO Vancouver Marathon. I’ve tried to highlight a few of the key moments and points of interest along this 42.2km tour of Vancouver.

Let’s start at the beginning in Queen Elizabeth Park, where runners will gather just down the street from Nat Bailey Stadium, home of the Vancouver Canadians baseball team.

Cambie to the Big Hill

Runners make a left turn onto Cambie St. just after the start and the route heads south towards Cambie Village. There will be some locals out to cheer the marathoners on at the start. This is a residential area with some shops and homes to look at.

Here’s the view just prior to the right turn onto 49th St. Look for Langara 49th Avenue Canada Line station on your left as a landmark here. You’re about 2.5km in.

The route heads west along W. 49th Ave. which is a bit more narrow than Cambie, and decidedly residential. There are a few minor rollers along here but nothing to worry about. Eventually runners head slightly right onto SW. Marine Drive. Take a gel around 7km in advance of the big hill.

Around 9km, the course heads north and the first real challenge is the run up Camosun hill. This is a big, long, fairly steep hill. Take it easy and don’t ruin the latter stages of your run by elevating your heart rate too much here. The hill is about 1.1km.

West 16th and UBC

Once the Camosun Hill and Pacific Spirit Park are behind you, it’s back onto the wide streets and W. 16th Ave. There’s a short out and back section here up Blanca St. to add some distance and then it’s into the University of British Columbia (UBC).

At about 16.5km you’ll make a right turn onto NW Marine Dr. Look for the UBC Stadium on your right.

From here, it’s an enjoyable and slightly downhill run through the campus. Then it’s a slight left and down a long, fast hill. Look to your left here. The views across to Vancouver Island are incredible, no matter the weather. Make up for lost time on Camosun as you give back that elevation and cruise down to Spanish Banks.

Spanish Banks and Jericho

Take in views of the beach at Spanish Banks and enjoy some crowd support along this stretch. Be very glad the course sticks to the beach here as there are some insane hills to your right on some of the streets that go south from NW Marine.

At about 27km you’ll be in the Jericho neighbourhood. There’s usually great crowd support along this stretch. Between that and some incredible homes to look at, the time will pass quickly here. Don’t forget to take your gels and make sure you get some nutrition in as the Burrard Bridge is coming up!

Burrard, English Bay and the Seawall

Here we go! Up and over the Burrard St. Bridge. This is a steep climb at the start, and things level out over the top. The left turn after the bridge is one of the highlights of the course. The crowd here is big and loud. Tap into their energy and know that the climbs are behind you now.

At 32km it’s down a short hill and onto the Seawall which will be your home for the next 10km. Enjoy the views out over English Bay and make note of the Inukshuk on your left. If you have time, come back here after the race and enjoy incredible sunsets.

The Seawall curves and snakes along the edge of the water here and it’s a little tough to keep track of where you are and how much race is left to run. The first landmark to watch for is Siwash Rock around 35km. Here the path runs between the cliff and a large “flower-pot” rock. It’s quite a sight!

Lion’s Gate Bridge and Not a mermaid statue

At 36km the Seawall passes under the iconic Lion’s Gate Bridge. Look up and marvel at this suspension bridge that joins Vancouver to the cities of North Van and West Van. The bridge marks the start of the last push. You’ll be able to see downtown soon and there’s not much running left to do.

At 38km look to your left for the Girl in a Wetsuit statue in the water. Contrary to what some might think, it’s not a mermaid. Perhaps at 38km, you be ready to believe it’s a beautiful woman cheering you to a strong finish.

Get ready for the Brockton Point Lighthouse and be aware that an official photographer is often parked just around the bend waiting to snap a picture of runners. Look strong!

Coal Harbour and the finish

The Seawall seems to go on forever…but it’s almost done and the race is also nearing its end. Around 40km runners are treated to some spectacular views of the Vancouver skyline in Coal Harbour. Enjoy them and prepare yourself for a final push up a small hill to the finish line.

Here it is! The finish line awaits. Run up and finish strong. Cross the line and get a medal from one of the awesome volunteers. You did it. You’ve RUN VAN.

I hope you enjoyed this tour of the BMO Vancouver Marathon. Make a mental note of some of these spots. It helps break the race up into manageable chunks and also allows you to take some time to enjoy this spectacular course and a beautiful city.

Download a PDF version with more information including the location of water stations, first aid, toilets, etc.

Running Legend Ed Whitlock Dead at 86

The running community got some sad news with news of the passing of Ed Whitlock today at the age of 86. His family released the following statement:

“The family of Ed Whitlock is saddened to report his passing on March 13, 2017, of prostate cancer at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. His 86th birthday was on March 6th. His wisdom, guidance and strength of character will be greatly missed by his wife Brenda, sons Neil and Clive, and sister Catherine. The family requests privacy at this time.”

I first learned of Ed at the start of my running career back in 2008 when I saw this frail-looking man easily out-running me at race after race. “Who is that guy?” I asked. “That’s Ed,” they told me. His last name wasn’t required. Everyone knew who Ed was around here.

The white-haired, lanky man with the broad smile was Ed Whitlock from Milton, Ontario. And it also turned out he set many a World Record for his running over the years. Articles in Runners World and Canadian Running talked about the quiet man from Milton who trained in the Milton Evergreen Cemetery, running endless loops in solitude.

Multiple World Record Holder

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Some of Ed’s recent accomplishments included a sub-3 hour marathon at age 74. Last year, at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Ed ran a 3:56 at age 85, beating me by five minutes on a warm, humid day. He holds 36 different age records for distances ranging from 1500m up to the marathon.

Ed was nothing short of amazing. Running with Ed for a short time around the 36km mark of the marathon in October gave me a good sense of how beloved he was in the running community. Every few seconds someone would call out his name or give him a thumbs up as he passed. He would flash back that big smile and keep on running.

I’ll miss seeing Ed out on course. He was proof that if you stuck with your running that nothing could stop you. Here’s hoping he finds some good running wherever he is now.

Why I love the BMO Vancouver Marathon

I’ve run 10 marathons now, but one race in particular keeps calling me back over and over.

It’s not Ottawa, although I do enjoy the whole Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend and the marathon route is great. I’ve run Ottawa’s marathon three times since 2010 and it was my first full marathon. I’ve been to the Ottawa Race Weekend five times total.

It’s not Toronto either. Canada Running Series puts on a great event and it’s a really super route that takes runners through some beautiful parts of our city. But Toronto is also my home, and that takes away from the experience a bit. I’ve run the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon twice.

World Marathon Majors have never appealed to me, although I did enjoy spectating at the Chicago Marathon when Ginny ran it a few years ago.

BMO Vancouver Marathon

The marathon that I love the most is the BMO Vancouver Marathon. I first ran it in 2011 on my 40th birthday. It was a birthday gift to myself and a way to do something I love on a day when I didn’t really want to celebrate getting older. Running my third full marathon in my favourite city on my birthday reminded me that 40 isn’t that old, and that I could easily run 42.2km despite my age.

I’ve been back to “RUN VAN” twice more since 2011.

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In late 2011, I was in the midst of recovering from a bad bike vs. car accident that left me with a serious arm injury. The trip out to the west coast in May 2012 to run the marathon provided something to look forward to during the tough and painful physiotherapy sessions. The race itself provided proof that I had recovered enough to run a marathon again.

In 2014 I went back to Vancouver and ran it again on a rainy and cool spring morning. It was spectacular once again. I ran a PB that day and enjoyed the run immensely despite the weather.

A Stunning Course

The course has changed a bit since the first time I ran the race in 2011. Back then it was full of twists and turns (my Garmin GPS track). It started and ended near BC Place Stadium and went through some of the more industrial areas of the city before hitting a portion of the famed Seawall. From there, runners cut through the centre of Stanley Park over to the Point Grey area of the city. Then it was a tough finish up and over the Burrard Bridge and back downtown.

Starting in 2012, the course changed for the better. This year’s course is pretty much the same as it was then, with a few minor tweaks. They moved to a point-to-point route that starts south of downtown in the Cambie area at Queen Elizabeth Park. From there, runners head further south, then west towards Pacific Spirit Regional Park. There’s a big hill (hello, Camosun…nice to see you), and then eventually you end up on the campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC) before blasting down NW Marine Drive to Jericho Beach and then the beautiful Point Grey neighbourhood.

Yes, you still run up and over the Burrard St. Bridge. She’s a mean one, but when you crest the hill, there’s a nice surprise around the next corner with some of the best cheering around and another nice downhill cruise. After that, you get to run around the entirety of the Seawall starting at Sunset Beach and ending in Coal Harbour. The finish is downtown near the Convention Centre and the Olympic Torch. It’s a stunning route and I will never tire of running it.

Here’s a course map I made on RunGo.

Great Route + Beautiful City + Good Weather

What makes this the best marathon as far as I’m concerned is that it’s a spectacular route, in a beautiful city, at the right time of year.

The views from the UBC campus across to Vancouver Island will threaten to stop you in your tracks. Look left on the Burrard Bridge at English Bay and you say, “wow!”. While you may hit the wall, it’ll happen on the Seawall…and there’s no better place. Siwash Rock, the “Girl in the Wetsuit”, Brockton Point…and stunning views of downtown to take you through the last 5km.

Vancouver…what a place. Host of Expo 86, the world’s fair where the city first came out of its shell before the 2010 Olympic Winter Games introduced it to the world. It’s a new city, young and fresh. You can’t help but want to be outside and active when you get there. It’s full of life with seaplanes landing in the harbour and mountains rising up on the north shore. Find me a better city to be in.

The weather in early May is usually pretty ideal for running a marathon. According to WeatherSpark, the average weather for race day, May 7, 2017 typically varies from 9°C to 15°C and is rarely below 6°C or above 18°C. It tends to be cloudy, and generally there is a 50-50 chance it’ll rain.

I’ve had two sunny days with temps around 12ºC and one drizzly day that was about 10ºC. Compare that with an Ottawa race in late May and you’ll conclude that Vancouver offers a much better likelihood of having good weather for running 42.2km.

Making the trip to Vancouver

As I did last time I went out, I’ll be staying at the Coast Coal Harbour Hotel. It’s the race hotel, and is situated right at the finish line. That makes it super convenient after the race ends. You can literally walk out of the finish chute and into the lobby of the hotel.

bmo-inYou can find a whole bunch of different hotel options in different price ranges via beVancouver. Booking through that site gets you 50% off your race registration and a bit better price on your hotel room. If you want to stay at the Coast Hotel, you’ll want to book it via this page using the “Book your stay” button. Note you don’t get the 50% off the race entry this way, but at $219/night, it’s a great deal on a super nice hotel.

I’ll be flying out from Toronto. I was waiting on a seat sale from either Air Canada or WestJet until this week when I grabbed a flight on WestJet for just over $600 return – score! Getting to downtown from the airport in Vancouver (YVR) is easy and cheap. The Canada Line runs from YVR to the city centre.

Vancouver is a big city and it isn’t always the cheapest place to visit. That said, there are ways to make it more affordable. Airbnb is one option, although the City of Vancouver has been cracking down on these types of short-term rentals of late so be careful if you opt to use Airbnb. With great transit, one other option to save some cash is to stay south of the city near the airport in Richmond and take the Canada Line up on race morning.

Plan to stay a few days on either side of the race and take in some more of what this great city has to offer.

Let me know in the comments if you plan to run the race this year!

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon 2016 Course Guide

The route for the 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is slightly revised from past years, but still quite familiar if you’ve run the race before.

The biggest changes as compared to the 2015 version of the course are a reduction in turns through the Canary District, the removal of a couple of small hills and fewer areas with limited spectator support. The net result: flatter, faster and more festive. Here’s the racePOINT Interactive Map version for reference.

The start

Racers set off from University Avenue and Queen St. heading north. There are some tall buildings on the west and south sides, but lots of open sky to the east once you get near the start line. Some of the corrals a little ways back will be in the midst of the tall buildings where GPS reception might be an issue. Pro-tip: you’ll want to give your GPS watch some time to get locked in here before the start, so maybe fire it up ten minutes or so before just to make sure you have a good lock on the signals to get a precise position.

The first 2km are a steady incline up to Bloor St. It’s not a hill, by any stretch, but it’s good to remember that you aren’t running flat over the first little bit so if you feel a little sluggish off the line, that might be the reason. You’ll swing around Queen’s Park Circle and the Ontario Legislature on your way up. You can run the tangents here if the crowds allow it and avoid adding on too much extra distance.

The left turn onto Bloor at the 2km flag brings you past the Royal Ontario Museum. The next 2.5km are pretty much dead flat, with a wide road so congestion shouldn’t be an issue here as the throng starts to spread out. The first water station is a 2.3km, just past the left turn onto Bloor.

Down Bathurst

At 3.4km, racers make another left and head down Bathurst St. The biggest thing to watch for here are the streetcar tracks in the middle of the road. Have an eye out for potholes and areas of broken concrete around the tracks, especially at intersections. If it’s rainy, the tracks get slippery. No matter the weather, it’s dangerous to run near the rails. Don’t risk a turned ankle or a trip and fall.

Bathurst features a nice, steady downhill slope. Like University Ave., this isn’t a hill per se, but the running does feel easier here as you head towards the lake. There’s another water station around 5km. Pay really close attention just before that as Bathurst crosses Dundas (there’s a McDonald’s on the corner for reference) and the intersection is full of streetcar tracks.

Spectator support along Bathurst is usually pretty good, and it generally gets better the further south you run. Around King St. is generally the busiest area for crowds and you’ll see a good crew around Blacktoe Running (a local indie running store).

Around 7km you’ll cross over a bridge (with great views to your left) and then make a right turn onto Fort York Blvd. There’s a quick downhill here as you pass under the elevated Gardiner Expressway. That road sweeps down past Fort York on the right, and curves to the left for a few hundred metres. Then you’ll take another right turn onto Lakeshore Blvd and head west.

Look for the Princes Gates that mark the entrance to Exhibition Place. Depending on the weather, there can be either a headwind or tailwind here – usually winds are westerly, so you’ll probably get a slight headwind heading out, and a tailwind coming back. This is an out-and-back section so if it’s a windy day, the winds will both give and take here.

Lakeshore Heading west

The next few kilometres are flat as you pass in front of BMO Field (home to the CFL Toronto Argos and Toronto FC of the MLS). Look for the elites already heading back on the other side of the road here and marvel at how far ahead of you they already are. Grab some water around 9km.

Around 10km the road splits and you won’t be able to see much of the eastbound runners. There is a quick downhill section next and then the road comes back together and you’ll be running opposite more of the faster runners heading back east – they’ve already made the u-turn at the far end of the course.

There’s another water station at 11.8km just prior to the westerly turnaround. The energy from the cheer station at the turnaround is always good with residents from the Polish and Ukrainian areas of Toronto. Stay tight to the inside to save some distance on the turn but watch that you don’t get pinched as the turn is a tight 180º.

Lakeshore Heading east

At 14km you’ll hit the first real uphill on the course. It’s pretty mild and short — about 500m at 4–5% grade. The Royal Canadian Legion marks the top and look for the giant poppy to your right as the signal that you’ve crested the hill.

15.5km is the location of the next water station and there’s another one not much further down the road. Just past 18km you’ll swing under the elevated highway again and then up a short hill on what is effectively a highway offramp. You’ll pass in front of Rogers Centre and the CN Tower around 19km. The bonus here is a short downhill section to even out the uphill you just ran.

Just before 20km, bid farewell to the half-marathoners who make the left turn up Bay St. as you make the right turn towards the lake. Beware here – you’ve been running under a highway, and that, plus all the buildings around can affect the accuracy of your GPS. You might just find that the km markers on course don’t match up with your watch anymore after this section.

Because of that potential for inaccuracy, a paper pace band is recommended to track your splits against the kilometre markers vs. relying on average pace or predicted finish time on your watch.

Queens Quay

The next 2km are along Queens Quay, which is a nice wide road along the lake. Watch out for small road issues here. This area is under construction and the road isn’t as great as it could be. There’s also the Redpath Sugar Refinery on your right which contributes both a funky smell and a huge mural of whales on the side of their storage facility. Often a huge ship is moored here bringing sugar up from the Caribbean to Toronto.

At 21.9km, you’ll turn left and duck under a bridge to get past the railway tracks. Once on the other side, you’ll find yourself in the Canary District which was home to the 2015 Pan Am Games Athletes’ Village. It’s now a brand new residential community with a college residence, affordable housing and lots of condos.

You’ll hit another slight hill up and the road bends around past the Corktown Common park to get onto Bayview Ave., along the Don River. There’s a short out-and-back section here to add some distance before runners head further east to the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto. A water station at 23km marks the start of this section, and another station at 25.5km on the way back marks the end.

Eastern Avenue and Lakeshore

After another quick run back through the Canary District (watch for friends heading out on the other side of the road), racers take a couple of right turns onto Eastern Ave. The YMCA will have a big cheer station here. for runners on the way out east, and coming back later in the race. Eastern takes you up and over the Don Valley Parkway – it’s a decent hill to climb, but you get a hill on the other side to even out any lost time.

Another water station at 28km marks the next right turn south towards Lakeshore Blvd. again. A left onto Lakeshore will have you heading east towards the neighbourhood known as The Beaches. This is a long, flat section and like the western end of the course, if it’s windy, you might have either a headwind or tailwind here.

Lakeshore eventually curves to the north, past the elevated swimming pool at Woodbine Beach and becomes Woodbine Ave. At Queen St. runners turn right and head east through the heart of The Beaches. Crowds will be strong here and the street narrows a bit. Take on some energy from them. Watch the streetcar tracks here and also be aware that you’ll be climbing eastbound through this section.

Beaches and the turnaround

The easternmost tip of the course is at Beech Avenue and it’s also at the top of a minor hill. You’ll be around 33.5km now, and heading home from this point. The skyscrapers are visible in the distance…not much running left!

Heading back west along Queen Street, you’ll enjoy the crowd support and you can pass the time window shopping and looking for your friends coming east on the other side of the street. There are water stations at 30km, just past 32km and at 34.5km along this stretch. This section is mostly downhill.

Lakeshore and Eastern again

Hopefully you’re running well through 36km and you’re back along Lakeshore Blvd. yet again. It’s the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and the course really lives up to its name these days, spending a lot of time near the lake. It’s still flat here and you’ll still be looking for, and waving at, slower runners heading east along this section. Removing the Eastern Avenue section that used to be a part of the course was one of the best changes made over the last few years. The road here is in great shape and nice and wide unlike Eastern which passed through one of the less beautiful areas of Toronto.

Racers will make a right onto Carlaw and then a left onto Eastern Ave. You’ll need to climb up and over the DVP highway again just before 40km, but that’s the last hill you’ll face before the finish. Remember that you get the benefit of a short downhill section too. Grab some energy here as you run through the big YMCA cheer station again.

The crowds will start to build as you head towards downtown. The big skyscrapers are your carrot and they’ll get closer and larger with every step. You’ll hit the very pretty St. Lawrence neighbourhood, and the Flatiron Building at 41.5km before you run down the canyon of skyscrapers and make a right turn onto Bay St.

The finish

As soon as you make that last turn, you’ll be in the crowds around the finish area. It’s about 600m up Bay St. which does climb ever so slightly. You can’t see the finish line, but you will see the Clock Tower of Old City Hall. That’s about 100m before the line, so run strong here and draw energy from the spectators who will be lining either side of the course.

The half and full runners are separated here, so there’s no worries about having to dodge the walkers finishing up their 21.1km race. You’ll see markers that countdown every 100m. At about 150m, you’ll be able to see the finish. It’s a quick left/right jog and then you’re done!

Cross the line, stop the watch and grab your medal – you did it!

Sponsor Me at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and Support Fragile X Research

October 16th is going to be a pretty great day. Not only will I be running my tenth full marathon at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, but it’ll also be our daughter Mackenzie’s 14th birthday.

Mackenzie is a pretty special kid. If you’ve met her, you already know that. She’s a charming kid with a sparkling personality. She stays positive despite the fact that she has a genetic disorder called Fragile X Syndrome. This is an inherited genetic defect, passed down to her from my wife who is a carrier.

fragxcanadaThe defect in one of Mackenzie’s X chromosomes causes her to have difficulty learning and also leads to other symptoms for her like anxiety. There’s no real treatment yet, and there’s no cure yet for Fragile X, but there’s research happening to hopefully find a solution that would change her life and the lives of many others who have Fragile X.

The Scotiabank Charity Challenge

Over the years, the Fragile X Research Foundation of Canada has used the Canada Running Series events like the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM) to raise a significant amount of money—hundreds of thousands of dollars—that goes directly to research.

I’ve raised money for the Foundation through the Scotiabank Charity Challenge at the STWM a couple of times now, and I’m doing it again this year as both a dad and a runner. It’s a great way for me to combine my love of running and the marathon with a cause that is near and dear to our hearts.

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After the 2012 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. We raised $80,000 for Fragile X Research and I ran a PB!

Thousands of runners at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon will be raising millions of dollars for the various official charities through their runs. The Scotiabank Charity Challenge has raised over $50 million over the years that flows directly to the various participating charities.

Consider making a donation

I know everyone has a cause that is near and dear to their hearts and the Fragile X Research Foundation is mine. I’d appreciated it very much if you could sponsor me in the upcoming race. It’s super easy to donate online and any contribution over $20 qualifies for a tax receipt in Canada. I’m setting a lofty fundraising goal of $2,000 this year and I’ll need some generous friends to make that happen.

You can sponsor me here.

Our whole family and the entire Fragile X community thanks you, the Canada Running Series and Scotiabank for their support and for making this research possible.