© Copyright – 2023 – Athletics Illustrated

On October 20, Athletics Canada (AC) revealed a new domestic label road race series to be run during the 2023 season. Its aim is to bring together Canada’s competitive running community under a repeated superior experience and presentation. Is the program enough to keep the elites racing in Canada and foster more general interest in the sport?

The 2023 Road Race Label Program is also a new initiative intended to bring together to help raise the profile of Canada’s leading road races up to the marathon distance.

On January 11 AC published the 13 races that are included in the Program, all but two are clustered in Southern Ontario or Southwestern British Columbia. Five are located in the city of Vancouver, two in Ottawa, two in Toronto, and one each in Winnipeg, Mississauga, Hamilton, and Montreal.

An Athletics Canada release stated, “In step with one of the goals of its 2028 Strategic Plan, the program will work to support existing events while also aiming to increase the number of high-level competitions across the country. To do so Athletics Canada aims to work closely with its Provincial/Territorial Branches, Clubs, Local Organizing Committees (LOCs), and Race Organizers to have more events meet the established minimum requirements.”

The Program is designed to bring together the larger races that can afford the higher or “superior” standards in safety and runner experience that target the elite athlete experience. It’s a healthy start to be sure, however, for a truly cross-Canada experience, the Program will need to eventually include or help create events in Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Quebec City, Halifax, and perhaps other locations. For example, the TC10K — likely given the opportunity to join — would be a race that already provides much of the experience that Athletics Canada is looking for. There is, however, a financial investment to be included in the Program. Expensive drug testing may also be required, possibly at the cost of the event.

Many road races will not fit into the criteria for one reason or another, but more importantly, most races do not generate large enough profits and often invest in local charitable initiatives. The masses who in large part pay for the races to operate may not be attracted to a Label Program race unless there is truly a greater run experience offered — it would have to be a profound change. However, the value proposition to sponsors may be enough to warrant investment, however, sponsors will want a large participatory field. One feeds the other.

AC must be pinning hope on generous growth at the local participatory level.

“Canada has a vibrant road running scene with fantastic events from Coast to Coast to Coast,” said Director of Domestic Programs Chris Winter. “We want to unite this collective energy and passion into a National Series that will raise the profile of these races and provide participants, at all levels, opportunities to compete at events that offer an exceptional participant experience.

“In addition, labeled races will provide meaningful competition opportunities for our elite athletes at home here in Canada. These races will receive a World Athletics Sanctioning and the courses will be Internationally Certified, enabling our Canadian athletes to earn valuable World Ranking points as they pursue qualification to International Competitions.”

Athletics Canada is targeting existing races, rather than trying to create new events. There are already many quality competitions across Canada for example the Vancouver Sun Run (although the current course cannot be certified by World Athletics standards) and the aforementioned TC10K in Victoria, with the Canada Running Series primarily in BC and Ontario as well several stand-alone events scattered across the country. The Tely in St. John’s, NFLD comes to mind, Hamilton Around the Bay 30K, and Royal Victoria Marathon.

Canada’s elite athletes often travel abroad and or south to the US to find valuable competition that will allow them to raise their game. For example, The Houston Marathon and Half Marathon Sunday, January 15 will see a few of Canada’s best athletes toe the line including Tokyo Olympian Malindi Elmore of Kelowna. Houston is where she set the national marathon record two years ago on the same day that Natasha Wodak became the first Canadian to run sub 70 minutes in the half-marathon. What is Canada’s proverbial answer to Houston?

There may be many opportunities. Perhaps AC needs to turn the tables on the Houstons of the world and consider attracting thick elite and sub-elite fields (ala Toronto Marathon), to improve the Canadian elite profile. Trying to keep Canadian athletes competing in Canada has merit, but growing the international fields within Canada is potentially more powerful. For example, Cameron Levins and Trevor Hofbauer have run two of the three fastest marathon times in Canadian history in Toronto, 2:09:25 and 2:09:51, respectively. Levins has since improved the national record to 2:07:09 during the Eugene World Athletics Championships in 2022 finishing in fourth position.

First six months of 2023: track, road and championship events

National Track & Field Tour
Jan 26-28 – Knights of Columbus Indoor Games (Saskatoon, SK)
May 28 – Bob Vigars Classic (London, ON)
June 10 – 14th annual Hub City Classic (Moncton, NB)

Athletics Canada Road Race Label
Feb 12 – First Half Presented by Blueshore Financial (Vancouver,  BC)
April 30 – Mississauga Half-Marathon (Mississauga, ON)
May 7 – BMO Vancouver Half-Marathon (Vancouver, BC

Canadian Championship Series
Mar 18-19 – Canadian Indoor Track & Field Championships (Saint John, NB )
May 27 – Ottawa 10k presented by Otto’s Ottawa (Ottawa, ON)
June 18 – ASICS Runkeeper Half-Marathon (Winnipeg, MB)