Natasha Fraser on her way to setting a new course record at the Victoria's Pioneer 8K in January

Natasha Fraser on her way to setting a new course record at the Victoria’s Pioneer 8K in January. Photo Tony Austin.

As the founder of the Toronto Women’s Run series, and as the elite athlete recruiter (and three-time half-marathon race winner in the series), we have to say we were more than a little dismayed by Rory Gilfillan’s myopic perspective on women’s running.

What Gilfillan does is confuse women’s running — be it competitive, semi-competitive, even simply participatory — with the new extension of running races meant to be “experiential” fun runs. The recent craze of Colour Runs or Tough Mudder events are proof that there is a new market for fitness enthusiasts and newbies alike that is not primarily runner-oriented. Non-competitive runners have a right to organized events, too, and contrary to Gilfillan’s argument, they are not cultivating an atmosphere of mediocrity for running. They actually may be doing just the opposite, opening the gates to eventual speedsters who will migrate to the competitive fields. To our minds, driving active living in any way is a wonderful thing and in no way detracts from the seriousness of committed runners.

We have spent the past five years offering events for the women’s running community. Since its inception, more than 10,000 women have raced in our series, crossing our (timed) finish line.  Our tagline is women set the pace. This means that whether she is interested in setting a personal best or if this is her first race, it is up to each and every woman to decide upon her own goals. The races are also fun, supportive and inspirational. We want to provide an opportunity for women to be fit and active, build confidence, be connected and cross the finish line with others just like her.

Additionally, our races have a very competitive side, and we get many of the top runners in the province out on race day. While this is not meant to be like Ottawa’s Emilie’s Run (a race which consistently draws the fastest women in the country), our last 5K had three women running under 18:00 on a tough course. We provide an opportunity for the elite women to be the frontrunners, to race against each other and cross the finish line first — something which doesn’t happen in mixed gender races. Conversely, starting alongside the elites are those women and girls who are not racing against one another but against the clock, or simply for the love of running and the joy of being part of an athletic community.

Regardless of what motivates each of us to toe the line, our collective goal and hope at the Toronto Women’s Run Series is that we provide women and girls the opportunity to embrace our sport, to run or walk in a high quality races that are devoted to supporting, showcasing and developing women’s running in Canada.

Cory Freedman and Suzanne Zelazo

Cory Freedman is the founder of the Toronto Women’s Run series and Suzanne Zelazo is an elite triathlete and  senior editor of  Triathlon Magazine Canada.

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  • Henry Hill says:

    “Triathalon”, really?

  • Vickie says:

    Thanks, Cory and Suzanne. There’s a psychological barrier to entry among some in the running community. For a lifelong non-runner (until last December) the view from outside is something like this: Unless you qualify in the front of the pack, resign yourself to mockery and exclusion. You are not worthy to run with us. In fact, unless you are a top athlete already or willing to do everything it takes to become one, the best you can expect is to be a feel-good sidebar in the sport about the power of positive thinking.” If you’re one of those runners, and you don’t want runners like me cluttering up your “real” race, then don’t turn around and criticize runs where I can run at my own pace and test my limits. Remember there was a time when you couldn’t run 5k in under 30 minutes either. Give us some credit for lacing up against the odds of illness, sedentary lifestyle, injury, and circumstance, and the race organizers for making space for us to celebrate our personal victories.

    • Rory says:


      Have you been to a race in the last ten to fifteen years? I am sorry to hear that you have had to endure mockery but racing is inclusive to a fault and is almost entirely geared towards personal goals and bolstering self-esteem. Hell, everyone gets a medal just for crossing the finish line.

      I think that races are often designed so that slower athletes unwittingly clutter the course but the responsibility for this lies with race organizers who try to run two to three and sometimes four events that start and finish at the same place.

  • Rory says:


    I strongly agree with women being able to compete and that most races don’t feel that this is an important aspect to take in to consideration. This is true, to a lesser extent, for men. In 2007 I lined up in New York and for the first five miles had to fight through people who had jumped their place in corral.

    Boston does a great job by giving elite women a 30 minute preferential start. This has led to some incredible duels over the years and added a great deal of excitement and value to the event. I wish that larger races in Canada, starting with the National Capital would consider doing this. However, supporting these kinds of logistics, also means accepting that elite athletes should be treated differently. I am not certain that the running community at large is amenable to that (something I hit on in my next blog).

    Although women’s-only events may nurture wide spread participation in racing, up to this point, it has not translated in to more Canadian women competing at the highest level of the sport which beyond the noble goal of “getting people more active” (a more or less meaningless objective) should be an important part of these kinds of races. In the most recent Canadian Track and Field Championships TWO WOMEN stepped to the line in the 10 000 meter. I can’t remember the last time a woman met the Canadian Olympic standard in the marathon. Is running with a tiara, and being handed water by shirtless fireman going to turn the next generation of young women in to athletes that can run with the best in the world? Maybe but right now I don’t see the connection.

    As I wrote in my blog, I don’t see a whole lot of harm in these kinds of events. They look like fun if you’re into that kind of thing but I believe you overstate their value. In the larger world of Canadian distance running, there is almost a race every weekend throughout the year and yet Canadians continue to get fatter, slower and ever more sedentary. I suspect that this phenomenon may be explained by the fact that while many Canadians are in thrall to the pageantry of racing, they are less inclined to train.


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