The route for the 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is slightly revised from past years, but still quite familiar if you’ve run the race before.
The biggest changes as compared to the 2015 version of the course are a reduction in turns through the Canary District, the removal of a couple of small hills and fewer areas with limited spectator support. The net result: flatter, faster and more festive. Here’s the racePOINT Interactive Map version for reference.
Racers set off from University Avenue and Queen St. heading north. There are some tall buildings on the west and south sides, but lots of open sky to the east once you get near the start line. Some of the corrals a little ways back will be in the midst of the tall buildings where GPS reception might be an issue. Pro-tip: you’ll want to give your GPS watch some time to get locked in here before the start, so maybe fire it up ten minutes or so before just to make sure you have a good lock on the signals to get a precise position.
The first 2km are a steady incline up to Bloor St. It’s not a hill, by any stretch, but it’s good to remember that you aren’t running flat over the first little bit so if you feel a little sluggish off the line, that might be the reason. You’ll swing around Queen’s Park Circle and the Ontario Legislature on your way up. You can run the tangents here if the crowds allow it and avoid adding on too much extra distance.
The left turn onto Bloor at the 2km flag brings you past the Royal Ontario Museum. The next 2.5km are pretty much dead flat, with a wide road so congestion shouldn’t be an issue here as the throng starts to spread out. The first water station is a 2.3km, just past the left turn onto Bloor.
At 3.4km, racers make another left and head down Bathurst St. The biggest thing to watch for here are the streetcar tracks in the middle of the road. Have an eye out for potholes and areas of broken concrete around the tracks, especially at intersections. If it’s rainy, the tracks get slippery. No matter the weather, it’s dangerous to run near the rails. Don’t risk a turned ankle or a trip and fall.
Bathurst features a nice, steady downhill slope. Like University Ave., this isn’t a hill per se, but the running does feel easier here as you head towards the lake. There’s another water station around 5km. Pay really close attention just before that as Bathurst crosses Dundas (there’s a McDonald’s on the corner for reference) and the intersection is full of streetcar tracks.
Spectator support along Bathurst is usually pretty good, and it generally gets better the further south you run. Around King St. is generally the busiest area for crowds and you’ll see a good crew around Blacktoe Running (a local indie running store).
Around 7km you’ll cross over a bridge (with great views to your left) and then make a right turn onto Fort York Blvd. There’s a quick downhill here as you pass under the elevated Gardiner Expressway. That road sweeps down past Fort York on the right, and curves to the left for a few hundred metres. Then you’ll take another right turn onto Lakeshore Blvd and head west.
Look for the Princes Gates that mark the entrance to Exhibition Place. Depending on the weather, there can be either a headwind or tailwind here – usually winds are westerly, so you’ll probably get a slight headwind heading out, and a tailwind coming back. This is an out-and-back section so if it’s a windy day, the winds will both give and take here.
Lakeshore Heading west
The next few kilometres are flat as you pass in front of BMO Field (home to the CFL Toronto Argos and Toronto FC of the MLS). Look for the elites already heading back on the other side of the road here and marvel at how far ahead of you they already are. Grab some water around 9km.
Around 10km the road splits and you won’t be able to see much of the eastbound runners. There is a quick downhill section next and then the road comes back together and you’ll be running opposite more of the faster runners heading back east – they’ve already made the u-turn at the far end of the course.
There’s another water station at 11.8km just prior to the westerly turnaround. The energy from the cheer station at the turnaround is always good with residents from the Polish and Ukrainian areas of Toronto. Stay tight to the inside to save some distance on the turn but watch that you don’t get pinched as the turn is a tight 180º.
Lakeshore Heading east
At 14km you’ll hit the first real uphill on the course. It’s pretty mild and short — about 500m at 4–5% grade. The Royal Canadian Legion marks the top and look for the giant poppy to your right as the signal that you’ve crested the hill.
15.5km is the location of the next water station and there’s another one not much further down the road. Just past 18km you’ll swing under the elevated highway again and then up a short hill on what is effectively a highway offramp. You’ll pass in front of Rogers Centre and the CN Tower around 19km. The bonus here is a short downhill section to even out the uphill you just ran.
Just before 20km, bid farewell to the half-marathoners who make the left turn up Bay St. as you make the right turn towards the lake. Beware here – you’ve been running under a highway, and that, plus all the buildings around can affect the accuracy of your GPS. You might just find that the km markers on course don’t match up with your watch anymore after this section.
Because of that potential for inaccuracy, a paper pace band is recommended to track your splits against the kilometre markers vs. relying on average pace or predicted finish time on your watch.
The next 2km are along Queens Quay, which is a nice wide road along the lake. Watch out for small road issues here. This area is under construction and the road isn’t as great as it could be. There’s also the Redpath Sugar Refinery on your right which contributes both a funky smell and a huge mural of whales on the side of their storage facility. Often a huge ship is moored here bringing sugar up from the Caribbean to Toronto.
At 21.9km, you’ll turn left and duck under a bridge to get past the railway tracks. Once on the other side, you’ll find yourself in the Canary District which was home to the 2015 Pan Am Games Athletes’ Village. It’s now a brand new residential community with a college residence, affordable housing and lots of condos.
You’ll hit another slight hill up and the road bends around past the Corktown Common park to get onto Bayview Ave., along the Don River. There’s a short out-and-back section here to add some distance before runners head further east to the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto. A water station at 23km marks the start of this section, and another station at 25.5km on the way back marks the end.
Eastern Avenue and Lakeshore
After another quick run back through the Canary District (watch for friends heading out on the other side of the road), racers take a couple of right turns onto Eastern Ave. The YMCA will have a big cheer station here. for runners on the way out east, and coming back later in the race. Eastern takes you up and over the Don Valley Parkway – it’s a decent hill to climb, but you get a hill on the other side to even out any lost time.
Another water station at 28km marks the next right turn south towards Lakeshore Blvd. again. A left onto Lakeshore will have you heading east towards the neighbourhood known as The Beaches. This is a long, flat section and like the western end of the course, if it’s windy, you might have either a headwind or tailwind here.
Lakeshore eventually curves to the north, past the elevated swimming pool at Woodbine Beach and becomes Woodbine Ave. At Queen St. runners turn right and head east through the heart of The Beaches. Crowds will be strong here and the street narrows a bit. Take on some energy from them. Watch the streetcar tracks here and also be aware that you’ll be climbing eastbound through this section.
Beaches and the turnaround
The easternmost tip of the course is at Beech Avenue and it’s also at the top of a minor hill. You’ll be around 33.5km now, and heading home from this point. The skyscrapers are visible in the distance…not much running left!
Heading back west along Queen Street, you’ll enjoy the crowd support and you can pass the time window shopping and looking for your friends coming east on the other side of the street. There are water stations at 30km, just past 32km and at 34.5km along this stretch. This section is mostly downhill.
Lakeshore and Eastern again
Hopefully you’re running well through 36km and you’re back along Lakeshore Blvd. yet again. It’s the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and the course really lives up to its name these days, spending a lot of time near the lake. It’s still flat here and you’ll still be looking for, and waving at, slower runners heading east along this section. Removing the Eastern Avenue section that used to be a part of the course was one of the best changes made over the last few years. The road here is in great shape and nice and wide unlike Eastern which passed through one of the less beautiful areas of Toronto.
Racers will make a right onto Carlaw and then a left onto Eastern Ave. You’ll need to climb up and over the DVP highway again just before 40km, but that’s the last hill you’ll face before the finish. Remember that you get the benefit of a short downhill section too. Grab some energy here as you run through the big YMCA cheer station again.
The crowds will start to build as you head towards downtown. The big skyscrapers are your carrot and they’ll get closer and larger with every step. You’ll hit the very pretty St. Lawrence neighbourhood, and the Flatiron Building at 41.5km before you run down the canyon of skyscrapers and make a right turn onto Bay St.
As soon as you make that last turn, you’ll be in the crowds around the finish area. It’s about 600m up Bay St. which does climb ever so slightly. You can’t see the finish line, but you will see the Clock Tower of Old City Hall. That’s about 100m before the line, so run strong here and draw energy from the spectators who will be lining either side of the course.
The half and full runners are separated here, so there’s no worries about having to dodge the walkers finishing up their 21.1km race. You’ll see markers that countdown every 100m. At about 150m, you’ll be able to see the finish. It’s a quick left/right jog and then you’re done!
Cross the line, stop the watch and grab your medal – you did it!