Alan’s Journal: Holiday 2020

First and foremost, thank you! We can’t say it enough. As this year draws to a close, we want to give a heartfelt thanks to you, our community, for sticking by us in 2020. Canada Running Series is something we have built together over the last 30 years and we are grateful and excited to be planning an incredible 2021 season for you.

The past nine months have felt like the last leg of a tough race – we are moving toward the finish line, but the end still seems so far away. Many of us continue to be physically separated from our family, friends and training partners. Many businesses have not survived. The demand for the services our charity partners provide has been high, while resources have been stretched thin.

Our Canada Running Series team has been challenged like never before to create meaningful virtual experiences in an effort to keep our community running together, while we have to be apart. We’ve been challenged to completely rethink the meaning of “diversity and inclusion” in our sport. We’ve acknowledged that running, a sport that prides itself on democratically including everyone on our start lines regardless of talent or speed, may not be as inclusive as we assumed. “No-one left behind” has become so much more than just an assurance that runners of all abilities are welcome.

But throughout this difficult year, your passion, energy and determination has kept shining through and kept our team moving forward.

Four cheers for a resounding, remarkable team effort! 

1. To our community. You went to the fences and back this year. Almost 20,000 of you participated in our Canada Running Series virtual events. A far cry from our usual 70,000, but still an enormous number that has helped keep us in business.

Even more impressive, you raised over $4.6 million for our charities across nine events, with $2,960,760 of that donated to our 163 charities in the Scotiabank Charity Challenge at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. That’s 85% of our usual fundraising total, a truly astounding feat this year!

A special tip of the hat to our Scotiabank Charity Challenge prize winners: Fountain of Love and Life (Largest amount raised, $622,063); Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto (Largest average amount raised per participant, $15,473); and Giant Steps Toronto/York (Most participants, 72). Congratulations all!

The sport component had its diamond-studded moments, too. Yes, it was a year when the Olympics had to be postponed, and our Canadian team was forced to withdraw from the World Athletics Half Marathon in Gdynia, Poland. But it was a thrill for me to have so many of our top Canadian stars compete virtually in our 4-person Athletics Canada 42K Relay Challenge, a substitute for the Athletics Canada National Marathon Championship. They raced hard from Newfoundland to British Columbia: from Kate Bazeley’s ‘Rockin’ Rock’ team in St. John’s, Newfoundland to the ‘Quarantine Queens’ featuring Malindi Elmore, Natasha Wodak, and Kinsey Middleton in the West, with 4th member Emily Setlack racing in Ontario.

The ‘Quarantine Queens’ Kinsey Middleton, Natasha Wodak, Emily Setlack and Malindi Elmore.

Fan favourites Krista DuChene and Reid Coolsaet had teams from Ontario where Chris Baslestrini’s ‘Backroad Bandits’ took the Men’s title. In Vancouver, Justin Kent went out and blistered a 62:34 half to help his British Columbia Endurance Project ‘White Team’ best ‘BCEP Red’, to win the Mixed category (2:11:46 to 2:12:41), despite Luc Bruchet’s scorching 22:47 8 km leg for the latter.

Pumped? I was! Go Canada Go!

2. Our second resounding cheer goes to our partners. It’s an apt saying that “sponsors pay for races: partners help build them.” We have always known how important our partners were to our events and this year they showed up in ways we can never repay.  Their commitment to our events and our community is something we’ll forever be grateful for and we can’t wait to show you how we’re building on that commitment in 2021!

3. Our third cheer must go out to our Canadian government. Without the support of the wage and rent subsidies, we would not have been able to keep our incredible team of employees – a team that has taken us 10 years to build and without whom our races would be vastly inferior when we return to real-life events.

4. My fourth cheer goes out to the Canada Running Series team, in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Mexico. Our world changed overnight in March. I recall editing a statement about the cancellation of our in-person events six times in two days because the situation was being transformed by the hour.

The Canada Running Series team.

Over the last nine months our team has joined event organizers worldwide in the pivot from in-person to virtual running experiences.  They quickly transitioned from five-star event planners and organizers to fulfillment experts – packaging, shipping and delivering race kits across the country and overseas.  They came together to collectively write 20,000 hand-written thank-you cards for our virtual race kits, many of which they then personally delivered to your doorsteps. They did this while, like many of you, they were also looking after their children, quickly learning new roles at work, and trying to adjust to a remote work lifestyle. And like you, many of our team also tried to juggle work/life responsibilities while trying to find the time to get out and run! Over the summer, our team participated in a virtual distance challenge as we collectively logged enough kilometres to cover the distance from our Toronto office to Vancouver, over to Edmonton, then Montreal and finally back to Toronto again!

To cap it off, this week we received the iRun readers’ “Best Virtual Race of the Year” award for Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. It feels like this award is from and for ALL of us. Thank you.

2021. The road ahead.  

Where do we go from here?

We’re inspired by the fact that so many of you continue to run, to walk, to train hard, or to race (virtually and in person); and in fact, by so many new people taking up the sport. It’s a hugely positive sign. If you’re a new runner who has joined us for the first time this year, thank you! We look forward to continuing to support your running goals both virtually and in-person.

If virtual has been the key word to describe 2020, hybrid will be the word that best-characterizes 2021. Hybrid races will offer a real-life race option for those willing and able to travel, and to commit to in-person gatherings, plus a virtual option for those more comfortable connecting at a distance.

Our staff getting out to RUN our races this year, something we have never been able to do before.

Virtual races are here to stay. They’ll never replace that mass-race, in-person celebration, but they offer a flexibility in time and space to connect us, when face to face get-togethers aren’t possible. Virtual races have proved especially popular among charity runners and walkers; among people who’ve moved away but want to still be part of their hometown race; or those who want to travel to a Canada Running Series event but can’t do it this particular year.

Gradually, we are planning to return to real-life races, when it is safe to do so in 2021. When in-person races return, they will look different. They’ll be smaller and stripped down to reduce contact touch points, with lots of extra safety precautions. At first there are likely to be no bag check services, no post-race parties and awards, and packet-pick-up will be outdoors or via mailout. Lots of physical distancing, mandatory mask wearing and hand sanitizing.

In order to help you plan your race season, here is our Canada Running Series 2021 calendar. We are currently committed to hosting virtual races for the first half of 2021. Working alongside our municipal and athletics partners, and following local and national health and safety guidelines, we will continue to re-evaluate the potential of in-person events for Fall 2021.

Apologies for this lengthy chat, but there’s so much going on! Rest assured we will continue to do our best to deliver world-class events, both virtually and in-person, while keeping our Canadian running community (and our international friends) strong and moving forward.  To paraphrase that old chestnut that “it takes a village to raise a child”, it has taken all of us to get though 2020, the worst of years. And it will take our continued, combined efforts, working together, supporting each other, caring, resilient, determined and strong to get back on those Starting lines that we love so much in the year ahead.

Keep running. Stay safe. Stay with us. One foot in front of the other, with patience, dedication and determination – all great runner characteristics – we will be back! For the moment, let’s keep connected across all our social media platforms, and keep sharing experiences through our virtual events.

Much love and gratitude,

Alan
Connect with me @alnbrookes on Twitter and Instagram

*Header photo credit: Runners from CECI – Centre d’étude et de coopération internationale fundraising for the Scotiabank Charity Challenge!