Canadian Running’s top stories of 2012: Parts 1, 2

We breakdown the biggest events and trends in 2012, from a Canadian perspective.

Canadian Running’s Top 10 Stories of 2012

The past year turned out to be a very emotionally fuelled and telling year for the sport of running, particularly within Canada. Of course, the build up and drama of a Summer Olympics created a black hole of sorts  in the middle of the year.

This was a particularly exciting Olympics for the athletics community. A few Canadian rising stars also emerged in 2012. Their stories of triumph helped them find their way onto our list.

In 2012, the running scene in Canada continued to grow, often in unexpected directions. There were, however, some bumps along the way. Those bumps could be a sign of things to come in terms of the health and future of the sport. Or, perhaps they are merely growing pains en route to an endless running boom.

Although there was no breakout craze like the barefoot movement or ultrarunning to easily sculpt the narrative of 2012, there certainly was one event that broke through to the mainstream media, one that continues to linger in the mind even now, that will no doubt endure when we look back in the distant future on this year in running. There is even the possibility that, fair or unfair, that event could become a key moment for the future.

We’ve broken down the top 10 into three sections. Today, we will countdown Nos. 10-7. On Friday, we will post Nos. 6, 5 and 4, followed by the top three on Saturday.

10. The hot Boston Marathon

Many consider the Boston Marathon to be among the most challenging road races in the world because of their relentlessly hilly course. Runners don’t get a significant stretch of flat land until they hit Boylston St., the race’s mercilessly long finishing straightaway.

The 2012 Boston Marathon was one of the hottest races on record (
The 2012 Boston Marathon was one of the hottest races on record (

So, when the weather began to creep north of 25 C the morning of the race, runners found themselves having to adjust. Those that did not, paid the price. A successful 2012 Boston race was merely completing the event. A breakthrough would have been coming anywhere near your qualifying time. Very few people had breakthroughs that day. One runner described the race as a “sunny war zone” by the time they got to Heartbreak Hill.

And although many runners were disappointed with their finishing times, it certainly was a race to remember. Also, the B.A.A. and the communities that support the race did a superlative job in keeping runners hydrated and safe along the way.

9. The continued rise of women’s running

One of the key components to the current running boom has been the growth of the sport among women. Many races in 2012 reported that the majority of entrants were women.

Women’s races such as the Toronto women’s half-marathon, Island Girl half-marathon, the Niagara Falls women’s half-marathon and Halifax’s Sole Sisters run have exploded in popularity and grown each year. In the United States, women’s races have also grown enormously in popularity. Disney’s Tinker Bell half-marathon at Disneyland in California sold out its 14,000 spots in less than a month, six months before the race.

By all accounts the running boom is still in full swing, and the extraordinary growth of women’s events and the demographic influence that women have on many races around the country suggests that the sport will only become more popular among women in the future. The half-marathon is the fastest growing event in running, and in the United States it’s estimated that 59 per cent of participants were female in 2012.

8. PEDs:  Sub-elite doping and German reports of Kenyans using drugs

The use of performance-enhancing-drugs (PEDs) has poisoned the sports world for years now, but it seemed that 2012 revealed just how rampant doping was in certain sports, particularly cycling. USADA’s decision to ban Lance Armstrong, arguably the most famous endurance athlete of all-time, and the subsequent dominoes that fell around him had many people wondering if doping could be as prevalent in similar sports, such as distance running.

Oddly enough, it was not a superstar elite runner that kickstarted the conversation of doping in distance running, but a regional sub-elite American named Christian Hesch. The Los Angeles-based runner was caught by teammates using EPO to enhance his training leading up to many small to mid-sized road race wins around the U.S., even winning a Canadian race, Edmonton’s Blue Mile. Hesch has since been handed a two year ban by USADA and has been stripped of his wins.

On the world stage, German reporter Hajo Seppelt took suspicions of doping by the best in the world to Kenya, the epicentre of distance running. Although the findings seem somewhat less damning than in other sports, 2012 did see its share of doping-related suspensions, and Seppelt’s report furthered the building cynicism around drug use in elite competition.

Most shockingly, the report did tie a couple big names in running to clinics that allegedly provided PEDs, including marathon world record holder Patrick Makau.

Athletics Kenya was quick to respond, even inviting in IAAF officials to randomly test a group of elite athletes that included 800m champion David Rudisha. Nevertheless, reports such as these will no doubt continue to swirl around the running world in 2013 and beyond.

7. The continued explosion of the obstacle race scene

Many runners will remember 2012 as the year of the “Tough Mudder”-style obstacle course challenges in Canada. It seemed like everybody started dabbling in these sorts of races, with many brands such as the Warrior Dash and Spartan Races popping up all over the country. Themed races, such as “zombie runs,” where racers need to hit checkpoints and outlast a horde of possessed course marshals, revealed just how huge the fad has become.

Zombie Races can be colourful events
Zombie Races can be colourful events (Courtesy: The Zombie Race)

More than a million people participated in some sort of obstacle course running race in North America in 2012, which suggests that the fad could be growing into an established component of the sport. Detractors argue that these sorts of races are taking away from more traditional road and trail races.

Mud pits, barbed wire, scaling walls and dodging fireballs aren’t what immediately comes to mind when conjuring up images of a running race. But the popularity of these events and the fact that they are able to grow in unconventional segments that other running events can’t seem to crack suggests that Tough Mudder style races are here to stay. And perhaps most importantly, they offer an entry point into the sport for many that wouldn’t otherwise have found running.

6. Social media’s influence on the running community

Just as with pretty much every other avenue of contemporary life, social media has played a significant role in the development of the current running boom.

In 2012, we saw the growth of the global online running community as well as the evolution of various apps for training. Races finally began to embrace social media tools in 2012, a great example being the launch of the Canadian race service Race Roster.

The London Olympics were noticeably enhanced by social media participation, as well as free global online streaming, making these the most interactive and inclusive Summer Games ever.

Photogenic runner meme
Photogenic runner meme

Odd little eccentricities previously only known to runners found their way into the mainstream via social media memes in 2012. As did many of the biggest stories in the running world. As I stood on the expo floor of the New York City Marathon on that fateful Friday afternoon, it was a barrage of tweets that informed me that something was afoot, not an official announcement from the heart of the action.

The immediacy and power of the proliferation of facts and ideas on social media has changed this sports’ community irrevocably in 2012.

5. Sell-outs, short races, long races: the state of the sport

In 2012, it was undoubtedly the biggest year in the history of recreational running. Races big and small throughout the country and around the world began to sell out in record time in the last year. One of many examples of this was one of the biggest races in the world, the Berlin Marathon, selling out their 2013 edition just three and a half hours after registration opened in late October. All of the other major marathons also witnessed a surge in demand and sellouts. Chicago broke its 2011 record for fastest sellout, and New York and London both easily hit their maximum capacities over nearly 50,000 runners. Boston, even after installing a rigid and tiered qualification system for 2012, still managed a sellout in just a few weeks.

Similarly, even the biggest races in Canada faced fast sell-outs, including Ottawa’s Army Run, which capped its entry at a whopping 18,000 and still hit its limit in record time.

Many local races exploded in size in 2012 across Canada. But with this explosion in growth there were also some serious growing pains. A few races struggled to provide accurately measured and marshalled courses, suggesting that the running boom has entered a stage where profit and quantity are perhaps trumping quality.

Whether this growth will continue, and whether it is sustainable are both major questions moving forward. Also, it remains to be seen if these quality problems with Canadian (and other races worldwide) will continue to grow along with the continued boom. Are these just the growing pains of a new mainstream sport, or are these problems the sign of an impending collapse due to a rotting core? All important issues to keep in mind in 2013 and beyond.

4. DuChene and Marchant at Rotterdam and the fallout

Something truly inspiring and exciting transpired in Canadian marathoning on April 15, 2012 in Rotterdam. Lanni Marchant and Krista DuChene both executed brilliant breakout performances in trying conditions, finishing fifth and seventh respectively in 2:31:51 and 2:32:06.

Both women came very close to running the Olympic “A” standard that day. It was the first time in a long while that Canadians were given something to get excited about in women’s marathoning. Marchant and DuChene both became national stars and divisive characters in the running scene, and whether or not they should be granted a place on the Olympic squad became a heated topic of debate.

Ultimately, both were overlooked by the selection committee and their appeals denied. But their impressive efforts in Rotterdam opened a new chapter in women’s distance running in this country. Sylvia Ruegger’s 27-year-old record of 2:28:36 was thought to be finally in danger in 2012. Even though neither runner ended up breaking it at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October, there is much enthusiasm surrounding women’s marathoning in Canada heading into 2013. Will we see a sub-2:30 marathon from a Canadian woman in the new year?

Canadian Running’s Top 3 stories of the year