For runners, BMO Vancouver Marathon ranks high
The world of marathon running is a competitive one—whether you’re battling to beat other runners to the finish line or simply trying to test the limits of your endurance.
But it’s not just a challenge for those pounding the pavement for 42.2 kilometres. In an increasingly competitive aspect of such races, organizers of marathons around the world try to make their events as appealing as possible. And that’s why the BMO Vancouver Marathon has been given a radical overhaul, with a new course set to host 5,000 runners on May 6, while an additional 10,000 runners will take part in the half marathon, which is also being run on a new route this year.
“This is the first course redesign in over a decade for this event,” Charlene Krepiakevich, executive director of the Vancouver International Marathon Society, told the Straight in a telephone interview. “The course change came about primarily from a few years of feedback from runners, supporters, sponsors. Many of the runners had tired of the previous route. As the event world has changed and the running world has changed, it was imperative that we keep evolving as an organization and making our event as attractive as possible to ensure we have an exciting experience. We’re thrilled with what we’ve got. And now with this course, we can move forward for the next several years to place it on the world map and attract that kind of audience.”
After consulting with stakeholder groups ranging from runners to city officials to police and fire departments and transit, VIMS designed separate routes for the full and half marathons. Although both races will start and end in the same locations, they will take runners to different parts of the city. And the very fact that the start and finish lines are no longer in the same place is one of the most significant changes of all.
In past years, the Vancouver marathon has been a closed-loop course working its way from and back to B.C. Place Stadium. But that’s no longer the case. Both the full and half marathons start at Queen Elizabeth Park, in the centre of the city. From there, the full race heads west through Kerrisdale, Dunbar, Pacific Spirit Park, and UBC. Runners then turn back toward the city and race through Kitsilano and the West End, then around the Stanley Park seawall, crossing the finish line near the Olympic cauldron and Canada Place.
The half marathon, meanwhile, snakes its way down Cambie Street past City Hall, across the Cambie Bridge, and into Chinatown, Yaletown, the West End, and Stanley Park to the same downtown finish line as the full race.
“A point-to-point course, from a runner’s perspective, is really exciting because you get to see so much terrain,” Krepiakevich explained. “The landscape is refreshing because you’re never tired of the viewpoints, so it keeps runners motivated. Also, point-to-point courses are sort of the desired course design for major marathons of the world. And it’s certainly our goal now as an organization to get into that ranking. Part of our goal and vision is to establish our event in that iconic class of marathons of the world. And now with this point-to-point course and the stunning beauty that we have to offer here, and in May—one of the prettiest months in Vancouver—we really do have a great experience.”
Earlier this year, Forbes magazine ranked the new-look Vancouver course as one of the top-10 marathons worth travelling for. It included the race here in the same class as some of the world’s destination races: Boston, London, Paris, Athens (where the event originated), and the Great Wall marathon in China.
“Vancouver debuts a new course this year—it’s now a point-to-point race that will take more advantage of the scenic city sites, including its unique neighborhoods, world-class parks, and its expansive seawall,” the magazine proclaimed in its January 23 travel guide.
But it’s not just Forbes that’s giving the new route high praise. Organizers say the most important reviews are from runners who’ve been testing the new design since it was unveiled, and the early returns have been overwhelmingly positive.
“For the past few months, you see running groups doing various segments of the course, and it’s been fantastic that we’ve got this route showcasing the best landmarks and some of the most charming neighbourhoods in the city,” Krepiakevich said. “And because it’s Vancouver, 70 percent of the course has shoreline views. It’s Vancouver at its best, and feedback from runners has been great.”
Organizers are excited to show off their new route to runners from all over Canada (entry data show 78 percent of runners are Canadian, with the rest of the field from the U.S., Asia, Europe, South America, Africa, and Australia). The race will feature a number of top international competitors, plus the expanding segment of destination marathoners, who combine their entry in the race with a longer stay to see more of the city.
VIMS is convinced that people will like what they see and, hopefully, spread the word throughout the marathon community to entice even more visitors to check out the new route in future years.
With virtually every last detail of the race planned for months now, the only thing left is to see if the race gets Mother Nature’s approval.
“When you run in Vancouver, you have to be prepared for all kinds of weather,” Krepiakevich said with a laugh.
At the end of the race, runners—regardless of their level—will likely be gasping for air. Some of that will have to do with the fact that they’ve just covered 42.2 kilometres. But organizers are also hoping the new BMO Vancouver Marathon course and the many views it provides will take the runners’ breath away too.