Third part in a series
As talk around the office turns to hills, blisters and gels, you know the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon is just around the corner.
And while thousands of runners prepare with faithful training regimens, the City of Victoria, District of Oak Bay and marathon officials are preparing behind the scenes.
“It’s a great event. It’s very well organized,” said Glen Colwill, president of the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon Society.
“We have runners coming in on the Thanksgiving long weekend – 12,000 to 13,000 folks from Vancouver, Calgary, all the local areas, and in some cases they’re bringing their families with them which also contributes to the welfare of our community. They’re staying in hotels, eating at restaurants – it makes for a brilliant weekend.”
The Victoria police department provides 26 officers to help provide traffic control and safety along the marathon route, while the Oak Bay police department provides one member and eight reserves.
“The cost of three of those members is born by VicPD,” said police spokesperson Const. Mike Russell. The rest is paid for by the city.
“It’s a yearly event that happens and we hope people understand that it’s just for a couple of hours,” said Russell. “We usually don’t have too many issues.”
“We’re able to manage with the assistance of (Oak Bay and Saanich) reserves to provide guidance for people that are trying to get through Oak Bay,” said Oak Bay police Sgt. Ian Craib. “From my perspective it’s always been so well organized at the front end, it makes it quite easy.”
The race, which began 33 years ago as the Royal Victoria Marathon, has grown to be one of the premier athletic events in the country.
The GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon includes an eight-kilometre road race, half-marathon, marathon and Thrifty Foods kids run and marathon, a 1.2 run/walk for children up to age 12.
It also supports fundraising for four major charities including KidSport, Times Colonist Raise-a-Reader, the GoodLife Kids Foundation and The Kilee Patchell-Evans Autism Research Group.
“Each and every charity involved in the 2012 Charity Pledge Program has been selected based on the work that they do, and the commitment that they have to each and every participant that raises much needed funds locally, provincially and nationally,” said Cathy Noel, general manager of the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon.
It’s not only charities that benefit from the race.
Downtown Victoria Business Association general manager Ken Kelly said the economic impact of the marathon is felt region-wide.
“They did an economic impact study two years ago that determined the impact on the city at that time was $7.1 million, which is a pretty substantial increase from the previous (study) they did in 2001 that estimated the impact at that time to be $1.5 million,” he said.
Colwill pointed out that many of the marathon sponsors are local companies. “An event like this brings a lot of money into the community and it’s great that we can support those vendors who support us.”
The marathon itself spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on shirts alone, said Noel.
“But it’s not about the marathon making money. Everything we make goes back into the event to make it better. To support the volunteers and make sure the participants are getting huge value for what they’re training for and participating in,” she said.
The marathon takes over the Victoria Convention Centre for three days to host special events and a speaker series, this year featuring Canadian championship marathon runner Lucy Smith, Canadian Sport Centre Pacific Senior physiologist Trent Stellingwerff, 1500-metre runner Hilary Stellingwerff, two-time Olympic medalist, triathlete Simon Whitfield and 2012 bronze medalist, track cyclist Tara Whitten.
“It’s a key part of being considered a world-class event,” said Noel. “Having an expo to educate, a speaker series, a place for our sponsors to get their information out and to promote the sport of running, health and wellness.”
It is also hosting a pre-race Carbo Gala dinner in the Crystal Ballroom of The Fairmont Empress on Saturday (Oct. 6). The speaker series is free and open to the public, tickets for the dinner are $40 and must be purchased in advance.
After a year of planning, race day goes by pretty quickly. The first runners hit the streets near the B.C. Legislature buildings at 6:30 a.m. and the finish line closes at 2 p.m.
“Over the years we’ve not had a lot of problems,” said Craib. “Cathy Noel is fabulous trying to address all the concerns.”
Craib assists marathon officials in the planning process, making sure that disruptions to traffic are kept to a minimum.
“They do a significant mail out to all the route affected by it and I’ll be working that day on social media as well,” he said. “It’s a Sunday morning of a holiday weekend, usually people are at home anyway. It’s a good day to do it on.”
Helping the marathon run smoothly is chip timing technology provided by Race Headquarters – a Coquitlam-based company which specializes in event timing and results processing. They will have seven employees at the event.
“Around 10,000 chips are being prepared,” said owner Andre Yelle.
The company began 28 years ago doing manual timing, with employees writing down bib numbers as runners crossed the finish line. “That has evolved with the technology and now we do chip timing. We’re able to give incredibly exact timing and get results quickly as well,” he said.
The chips are embedded in the runners’ bibs and are read at the 10-, 21- and 30-kilometre points along the race.
The chip timing also helps racers with future training. “At the end of the day it can tell an athlete how long a section took and they can compare themselves against other runners in their age category,” Yelle said.
The bibs are single-use, so runners can walk away at the end of the race and not have to worry about returning the chip. “We have a 99.98 (per cent) detection rate. With up to 10,000 people a handful won’t detect and in my experience it’s usually because an athlete isn’t wearing it according to the directions,” Yelle said. Bibs should be worn above the hips and below the shoulders, he said.
“The marathon creates a list with time parameters,” said Craib. “The chips will tell you when the peak periods are.”
Police and traffic control use the technology to make sure intersections are manned at the appropriate times and buses can get through in a timely manner.
There are still “hot spots” where traffic can be an issue. The marathon will affect traffic downtown, in James Bay, Cook Street Village, Beacon Hill Park, Fairfield, Oak Bay and the Uplands. Some small residential roads will also be closed for various periods of time during the event. Residents should expect delays, and be prepared to use alternate routes.
“If I get the word, I’ll contact one of my reserves to go into that location,” said Craib. “You have to be flexible, not regimented about it.”
Volunteers, residents, runners and retailers alike are prepared for the Oct. 7 race day and look forward to it as a positive experience.
“It’s always a good crowd,” said Russell. “Everybody is focused on the race or cheering on the folks they came to see. We just make sure they do it safely.”
“I know everybody is pumped about having the racers in town,” added Kelly. “It’s always a strong weekend for (retailers). It’s always a bumper time.”
Noel summed the weekend up in one word: amazing.
“We go to a lot of other events to promote the marathon and talk to participants who can’t believe how supportive people here are. I always say I want to see a 42-kilometre cheering station. (To) have somebody out of every house banging on pots and pans, ringing a cow bell or just shouting ‘go, go, go.’”
Run volunteers make it all work
It takes around 1,500 volunteers to help support the thousands of racers who take part in GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon events.
From preparing race packages prior to the run, to course marshals, gear check, manning the start and finish lines, water stations along the way and providing food at the end of the race – it’s all done by volunteers.
“Victoria provides a phenomenal response to any big event,” Colwill said.
“We really pride ourselves in our 1,500 volunteers and our organizing committee of about 30 volunteers – all from this community.”
Colwill said there is a low turnover rate in Victoria marathon volunteers, which is a huge advantage to organizers.
“I’ve gone to many events where they (pay to) bring in an organizing committee. It’s nice that we don’t have to do that,” he said.
The volunteers are broken down into about 30 areas with a volunteer coordinator at the head of each team. “For each of us, as coordinators, having a really tight core of people helping out every year – people that look forward to that one day a year when they come down to volunteer – it makes all the difference.”
From high school students handing out water to registered nurses, doctors and paramedics manning the first aid stations, the volunteers have a variety of skills to offer.
“Our volunteer co-ordinator Maureen Mitchell-Starkey does a phenomenal job,” Colwill said. “I can’t underscore enough how dedicated these people are.”
Off and running
The 33rd annual Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon takes over the Inner Harbour area and parts of Victoria and Oak Bay this Sunday (Oct. 7). Here’s the race lineup.
• 6:30 a.m. – Marathon early start, Menzies at Kingston.
• 7:10 a.m. – 8K Road Race wheelchair and visually impaired start, Belleville between Menzies and Oswego.
• 7:15 a.m. – 8K Road Race start, Belleville between Menzies and Oswego.
• 7:25 a.m. – Half-Marathon wheelchair and visually impaired start, Menzies at Kingston.
• 7:30 a.m. – Half-Marathon start, Menzies at Kingston.
• 8:40 a.m. – Marathon wheelchair and visually impaired start, Menzies at Kingston.
• 8:45 a.m. – Marathon main start, Menzies at Kingston.
• 10:15 a.m. – Thrifty Foods Kids Run and Marathon start, Kingston just off Menzies.
Previous stories in series:
Part 2: Running – going back to school