A light rain provided some welcome relief to exhausted runners at the finish line of the Toronto Marathon on Sunday.
For Bonnie Fowler, it was just a relief to be back and to see thousands of participants return to the streets of the city after a two-year hiatus resulting from COVID-19.
“Considering the challenges that we’ve had to go through, I think it was absolutely frigging rocking. I see smiles, I see life back, I see people laughing. I’m a runner myself, so I love to see people so excited,” said Fowler, the assistant race director.
“This crew went through leaps and bounds to get this done, with supply chain issues and staff issues and volunteers and COVID … But when I stand here and I see all these smiling faces, every single hour, every single minute was worth it.”
The 42.2-kilometre event began at 7:30 a.m. under bright, sunny skies near Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue before ending at Exhibition Place — part of two days of activities that also included a half-marathon, a 10-kilometre and five-kilometre run, and an eight-person relay along the course.
Liv Duwyn, 21, of Owen Sound ran her first official marathon, thanks to some inspiration from her grandfather, who’s run several of his own — including the Boston Marathon, twice, and the Toronto Marathon. She brought along his medal from the Toronto event as “a good-luck charm.”
“I feel so good. Just seeing the finish line, I got a huge boost of energy. It was the coolest feeling ever,” Duwyn said. “There were so many people and everyone’s so supportive. They just cheer you on even though we’re total strangers.
“I’m amazed at how fun it was despite how much it hurt,” said Duwyn, adding, “I’m thinking about which (marathons) I want to run next.”
Duwyn also raised more than $35,000 for the Owen Sound Regional Hospital’s in-patient mental health unit for children and adolescents, after overcoming her own struggles.
“I got involved with running during COVID. I’ve struggled a lot with mental health … so I just wanted to give back because that unit has helped me a lot,” Duwyn said. “Running has helped me a lot, given me an outlet. It feels good to give back now that I’m in a much better place.”
Taras Chebountchak was among more than 80 volunteers of Ukrainian descent who staffed watering stations along the course.
“Many of the runners are screaming, ‘Slava Ukraini’ (“Glory to Ukraine!”). They were greeting us more than we were greeting them. It was incredible just to be part of this emotion,” said Chebountchak.
His group, a chapter of a Ukrainian relief organization called Second Front, which sprang up in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, passed out wristbands, flags and T-shirts to highlight the plight of his homeland. It raised more than $8,000 in donations, which will be used to buy medicine and supplies.
Chebountchak, who settled in Toronto in 1992, said many of his fellow Ukrainians are young professionals who’ve arrived in Canada in the past few years.
“For the past two months, some of (the volunteers) have put their businesses aside or taken time off work just to support and volunteer and gather supplies and clothes and ship it to Ukraine. When the war started, there was lots of hype about it. But now it’s become just another day of war in Ukraine. That can’t happen,” he said.
Sunday’s marathon winners were Dennis Mbelenzi in the men’s group, with a time of 2:29:58, and Marianne Hogan in the women’s group, with a time of 2:47:59. Both winners are Canadian.
Race director Jay Glassman said there were about 12,500 registrants for this year’s event. The number of actual participants was expected to be lower although final numbers were not yet available.
In 2019, the last time the marathon was held, there were a total of 8,486 runners.