Charlotte and Alan Brookes have helped support the road racing community during the pandemic

By Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press October 15, 2021.

Runners will battle their way along the Toronto Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon course on Sunday, October 21, 2018. Charlotte Brookes will be parked in the Command Center when the starter gun sounds on Sunday in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon 10K race. She expects there will be tears. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Cole Burston

TORONTO – Charlotte Brookes will be stationed at the Command Center when the starter pistol shot sounds Sunday in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon 10K race.

She expects there will be tears.

Sunday marks the biggest road race in Canada since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and marks a triumphant return live – at last – to a community of runners that Charlotte and her father Alan Brookes have helped maintain over the years. Last 20 months.

“I’m crying (even now),” Brookes said with a laugh during an interview with Zoom this week. “We had our big event team lineup last week (on Zoom), someone asked me to do the intro, and I’m starting with, ‘We’re so glad you guys are. my God.’ I started to cry. Of course I had to record for people who couldn’t do it. And I’m like ‘How can we change my crying?’

“I will have a time (Sunday) where I will probably cry.”

Five thousand runners will line up for the STWM 10K race on Sunday, which is the official Canadian 10K championship this year. Normally held in the spring in Ottawa, this May run has been canceled due to the pandemic.

Five thousand other runners registered to finish it virtually.

The popular fall rendezvous on the road racing scene in Canada will only have a distance of 10 km this year, in accordance with COVID-19 protocols. The runners will start in groups of 100.

“When we looked at what it might be like, and having the runners physically at a distance. . . we thought how many people could we do this with? said Charlotte, National Event Director for the Canada Running Series.

The groups of 100 starting in 50 waves, the first runners will start at 8 am and the last at 11:30 am.

Evan Dunfee will be among them, two months after winning Olympic bronze in the 50km walk. Dunfee has a friendly competition with his brother Adam. Evan – whose Canadian 10K walk record is 38 minutes 39.72 seconds – will walk. Adam is going to run.

It’s the camaraderie within the road racing community that Dunfee – who will be easy to spot on Sunday with his red hair and pivoting gait – has truly missed.

“I’m not one of the runners who take off that will never be seen again until you turn the turn in 5K,” said the 31-year-old runner from Richmond, BC. “So I have a little more time to interact with people (during the race), to chat with people, to encourage people.

“That big (emotional) moment for me will be the little interactions I have with people, hearing the ‘why’, the reason they’re out there doing this thing that day. That’s always what attracts me, their motivation and all their different goals. It will be special.

Another elite athlete to watch is Natasha Wodak. The 39-year-old from Vancouver, who finished 13th in the Tokyo Olympic Marathon, is looking forward to hitting the start line alongside hundreds of other runners.

“I haven’t done a road race in Canada for two falls, and it’s been such a struggle for all of our race directors and all of the elite athletes and I think especially the general running public, they have missed the most, because I still had a few chances to run obviously, ”she said.

“It’s really great for the thousands and thousands of runners who have continued through the pandemic, running alone, on their own and finally being able to run again, being part of the running community, it’s so great.”

The global pandemic erased the global marathon calendar for over a year, and like so many businesses, the road racing community has had to change gears. Alan Brookes, executive director of the race and president of the Canada Running Series, joked that the popular drinking game was to drink every time someone said “pivot.”

But those first weeks, he added, “have been terrible”.

“There were tears in the team including Charlotte,” Alan said. “It was the unknown, it was just boom. the world is exploding.

The Canada Running Series has gone virtual, giving runners the ability to cover popular race distances within a given amount of time, while receiving the precious bags of loot and finishing medals. Charlotte pointed to the wall behind her computer where a dozen or so medals hung – from virtual races she had done.

A virtual event, the TTC Challenge, allowed runners to travel the length of the subway line of Toronto’s transit system in a month. The event was sold out in eight days.

“The positive comments we have received from people. . . I physically went with a lot of people around town, running to every subway stop, ”Charlotte said. “And everyone was saying it was the first time they felt like they were back in person, it was a really cool way to re-explore the city.”

Wodak and Dunfee said race directors have done everything possible to create opportunities, including a virtual 10km championship – with cash prizes – for elite runners with no race available in their preparation for Tokyo. .

“I lined up for the virtual 10k road racing championships, and put on all my racing kit, and I was nervous,” said Wodak. “I did it right because I felt like we wanted to bring our A game just as much as Alan Brookes and the other race directors brought their A game to make sure we always had those opportunities.”

Charlotte said the vaccine rollout marked a turning point early last summer, when they finally got to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They got the green light in mid-July for an in-person event.

In the meantime, virtual races have allowed the Canada Running Series to retain a full-time staff of around 20 employees throughout the pandemic. Alan Brookes said their sponsors have stuck with them. And virtual races have maintained the much-needed fundraising component for which the STWM is well known.

The Brookes hope to raise $ 3 million on Sunday for the 151 charities represented in the Charity Challenge.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 15, 2021.