I’ve run 10 marathons now, but one race in particular keeps calling me back over and over.
It’s not Ottawa, although I do enjoy the whole Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend and the marathon route is great. I’ve run Ottawa’s marathon three times since 2010 and it was my first full marathon. I’ve been to the Ottawa Race Weekend five times total.
It’s not Toronto either. Canada Running Series puts on a great event and it’s a really super route that takes runners through some beautiful parts of our city. But Toronto is also my home, and that takes away from the experience a bit. I’ve run the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon twice.
World Marathon Majors have never appealed to me, although I did enjoy spectating at the Chicago Marathon when Ginny ran it a few years ago.
BMO Vancouver Marathon
The marathon that I love the most is the BMO Vancouver Marathon. I first ran it in 2011 on my 40th birthday. It was a birthday gift to myself and a way to do something I love on a day when I didn’t really want to celebrate getting older. Running my third full marathon in my favourite city on my birthday reminded me that 40 isn’t that old, and that I could easily run 42.2km despite my age.
I’ve been back to “RUN VAN” twice more since 2011.
In late 2011, I was in the midst of recovering from a bad bike vs. car accident that left me with a serious arm injury. The trip out to the west coast in May 2012 to run the marathon provided something to look forward to during the tough and painful physiotherapy sessions. The race itself provided proof that I had recovered enough to run a marathon again.
In 2014 I went back to Vancouver and ran it again on a rainy and cool spring morning. It was spectacular once again. I ran a PB that day and enjoyed the run immensely despite the weather.
A Stunning Course
The course has changed a bit since the first time I ran the race in 2011. Back then it was full of twists and turns (my Garmin GPS track). It started and ended near BC Place Stadium and went through some of the more industrial areas of the city before hitting a portion of the famed Seawall. From there, runners cut through the centre of Stanley Park over to the Point Grey area of the city. Then it was a tough finish up and over the Burrard Bridge and back downtown.
Starting in 2012, the course changed for the better. This year’s course is pretty much the same as it was then, with a few minor tweaks. They moved to a point-to-point route that starts south of downtown in the Cambie area at Queen Elizabeth Park. From there, runners head further south, then west towards Pacific Spirit Regional Park. There’s a big hill (hello, Camosun…nice to see you), and then eventually you end up on the campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC) before blasting down NW Marine Drive to Jericho Beach and then the beautiful Point Grey neighbourhood.
Yes, you still run up and over the Burrard St. Bridge. She’s a mean one, but when you crest the hill, there’s a nice surprise around the next corner with some of the best cheering around and another nice downhill cruise. After that, you get to run around the entirety of the Seawall starting at Sunset Beach and ending in Coal Harbour. The finish is downtown near the Convention Centre and the Olympic Torch. It’s a stunning route and I will never tire of running it.
Here’s a course map I made on RunGo.
Great Route + Beautiful City + Good Weather
What makes this the best marathon as far as I’m concerned is that it’s a spectacular route, in a beautiful city, at the right time of year.
The views from the UBC campus across to Vancouver Island will threaten to stop you in your tracks. Look left on the Burrard Bridge at English Bay and you say, “wow!”. While you may hit the wall, it’ll happen on the Seawall…and there’s no better place. Siwash Rock, the “Girl in the Wetsuit”, Brockton Point…and stunning views of downtown to take you through the last 5km.
Vancouver…what a place. Host of Expo 86, the world’s fair where the city first came out of its shell before the 2010 Olympic Winter Games introduced it to the world. It’s a new city, young and fresh. You can’t help but want to be outside and active when you get there. It’s full of life with seaplanes landing in the harbour and mountains rising up on the north shore. Find me a better city to be in.
The weather in early May is usually pretty ideal for running a marathon. According to WeatherSpark, the average weather for race day, May 7, 2017 typically varies from 9°C to 15°C and is rarely below 6°C or above 18°C. It tends to be cloudy, and generally there is a 50-50 chance it’ll rain.
I’ve had two sunny days with temps around 12ºC and one drizzly day that was about 10ºC. Compare that with an Ottawa race in late May and you’ll conclude that Vancouver offers a much better likelihood of having good weather for running 42.2km.
Making the trip to Vancouver
As I did last time I went out, I’ll be staying at the Coast Coal Harbour Hotel. It’s the race hotel, and is situated right at the finish line. That makes it super convenient after the race ends. You can literally walk out of the finish chute and into the lobby of the hotel.
You can find a whole bunch of different hotel options in different price ranges via beVancouver. Booking through that site gets you 50% off your race registration and a bit better price on your hotel room. If you want to stay at the Coast Hotel, you’ll want to book it via this page using the “Book your stay” button. Note you don’t get the 50% off the race entry this way, but at $219/night, it’s a great deal on a super nice hotel.
I’ll be flying out from Toronto. I was waiting on a seat sale from either Air Canada or WestJet until this week when I grabbed a flight on WestJet for just over $600 return – score! Getting to downtown from the airport in Vancouver (YVR) is easy and cheap. The Canada Line runs from YVR to the city centre.
Vancouver is a big city and it isn’t always the cheapest place to visit. That said, there are ways to make it more affordable. Airbnb is one option, although the City of Vancouver has been cracking down on these types of short-term rentals of late so be careful if you opt to use Airbnb. With great transit, one other option to save some cash is to stay south of the city near the airport in Richmond and take the Canada Line up on race morning.
Plan to stay a few days on either side of the race and take in some more of what this great city has to offer.
Let me know in the comments if you plan to run the race this year!