Interview | Alan Brookes Canada Running Series Race Director
Where did it all begin? and how did you end up as the Race Director of CRS?
It started in 1983 when I was a History prof at U of Guelph. I was a 33:38 10k guy; a 2:34:40 marathon dude.I helped Coach Vic Matthews with the UofG XC team, and ran with them. The Wellington County Red Cross asked Vic to help organize their “Billy Taylor Memorial Jog-a-long” in 1983. Vic asked me to help.
I got the bug.
Turned the Jog-a-long into the Billy Taylor 15k & 5k, then created, built the original TIMEX Series [founded 1984]. When I started my RD career, people used to tell me, “if U want a decent race U have to go to the States!” It drove me nuts. I’d like to think we’ve changed that. I quit teaching in 1987 and became a full-time RD.
From 1986 to 1988 I was Co-RD of the Toronto Wang Marathon. In 1990 I moved on to set up the Coors Light Series, presented by Q107 radio — a 6-pack of races in Downtown Toronto. Beer, Rock n Roll goes healthy lifestyle. This evolved through the GMC Running Series to the Great Canadian Bagel Running Series, before going national in 1999 as the “Canada Running Series/Circuit du Canada”. In 2000, we added a full marathon 42k to our Scotiabank Toronto Half-marathon & 5k, and evolved it into #STWM From Day 1 we said “we’re runners in business; not businessmen into running”. While we’ve had to become decent, well-organized business people, we still like to think we’re part of and driven by the running community.
Our Mission is “Building Community Through Running”, resting on the twin pillars of Organization & Innovation. We want to give everyone a GREAT running experience, while also making our sport, our lifestyle a meaningful and relevant part of the broader community – of the city-building process. CRS races are for everyone: healthy lifestyle runners; competitive runners; and charity runners. We like to think they are top class international sporting events that provide a platform for Canadian Olympians and role models to get competition at home and inspire us all; and they’re also great community fundraising festivals. They connect us, bring us together, inspire us to make ourselves and our communities better. This is the whole deal: together, our collective energies make something MUCH larger than the sum of the parts.
Our 8 races attract 60,000 runners a year, who together raise over $6 million a year for some 350 mostly-local charities in the 3 cities. So there’s lots of #community #InItTogether #onelove #crewlove. In 2012 I was honoured to get a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award for “community service”. Like Ciele, we’re proudly Canadian.
16 years in, What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome in building the #STWM Scotiabank Marathon into what it is today?
The simple, concise answer is probably, “Getting people to share the vision, the dream, of having a major, big-city, world-marathon in Toronto, in Canada.” This crusade has been a marathon — definitely not a sprint. I’m so lucky I now have a great team with me to keep moving things forward. When we started in the mid-’80s, people in the running community told us, ‘If you want a decent road race, you’ve got to go to the States.’ I think we’ve changed that view for road races, but not completely for the marathon. A work in progress! City staff told us that “Toronto doesn’t want a big marathon!” Translated: “This is a lot of extra work for us that is not a regular part of our day job, so WE don’t want a big marathon.” Over the last 10 years, Toronto’s politicians have become strong supporters of STWM. Ditto for senior staff where we have some great champions. I’d say we’ve made huge progress with more jumior staff, who in fairness don’t have an upside in this, but (again), its a work in progress.
About 10 years ago a MAJOR athletic brand told us they wouldn’t sponsor STWM because “there’ll never be a major marathon in Toronto!” Ouch! Check out our IAAF Gold Label. Only New York, Chicago and Boston have Golds in all of the Americas… oh, and us!
People told us no-one would ever run sub 2:10 in Canada, that Cierpinski’s All comers record from Montreal 1976 Olympics would never go down. Then John Kelai ran 2:09:30 at STWM 2007. Then we took it down to 2:08 and then 2:07. And the Women’s all comers we’ve taken down to 2:22.
Ed Whitlock came and ran 2:54 at aged 72! Fauja Singh completed his marathon at age 100 years. The only centenarian on the planet to complete the classic distance. At STWM.
They told us Drayton’s and Ruegger’s National records were safe for the ages. Then Lanni Marchant ran 2:28;00 at STWM 2013 to take out Silvia’s mark that had stood since 1985. Drayton’s…? That’s a work in progress too!
Reid and Eric qualified for London 2012 Olympic Marathon at STWM 2011 — Eric unbelievably by ONE second! We hadn’t sent anyone to an Oly marathon since 2000, and then we sent only one person.
To date myself, I’d say its like the ‘Incredible ’69 Mets’… “You GOTTA Believe!” And to add some Ed Whitlock words of wisdom, “Don’t limit yourself!’ Just because we’re Canadians doesn’t mean we’re third-rate, a bunch of losers and also rans.
It’s taken a MASSIVE effort of collaboration to get where we’ve got so far. The City, the neighbourhoods, the running community, Scotiabank and our other great sponsors, our amazing charity partners, high-performance athletes, healthy-lifestyle and charity runners (all of them).
I always remember going to the Runner’s world “Heroes” awards in New York city with Ed Whitlock, and listening to Amy Palmiero, a double amputee marathoner. Amy told us she’s learned 2 things since she lost her legs in a car accident. “One, nothing good in life ever comes easy. And two, you can’t do it on your own!” Together, we’re well on our way — though there’ll always be challenges! That’s sport!!
Building on the past, what’s going to make this years Scotia Bank Waterfront Marathon a one to remember?
Not sure there is a single answer to this, but here’s a few!
- The fact that we’re the Canadian National Marathon Championships for the first time, AND got the IAAF Gold Label, combined with the fact that this is ROAD TO RIO time, will generate an extra buzz – our top Canadians will be here, gunning for 2:12:50, 2:29:55 and Olympic Dreams, and we’ll be right there with them, on the road, running with them [ok, behind them] and cheering them on along the streets of The Six. None of us will ever forget Eric Gillis’ eyeballs-our spring in 20111 to make the London Oly standard by ONE second!!!
- #BTGYYZ means we will be COOL as well as attracting 26,000+ runners from 60+ countries this year! SO MUCH ENERGY!
- Our amazing-balls Finishers’ medals… its year 8 of our “Landmark Collectors’ Series. Last year was Honest Ed’s on the medals. This year’s medal will be revealed August 18th. R U ready?
- Some super-cool new partners like CIELE, who are helping us build the BUZZ, build STWM into a great EXPERIENCE, not just a run!
- Our NEIGHBOURHOODS who’ll bring the city alive, and make this an unforgettable TORONTO EXPERIENCE.