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How Toronto can become a more 'welcoming place' for runners – and their tourism dollars

Celebrity runners. Bigger cash prizes. Bands playing along marathon routes.

Those are just some of the recommendations to boost Toronto’s running tourism industry from fitness professionals, race directors and other members of the city’s running community. 

The city needs to become a more “welcoming place” for runners, said Tribe Fitness founder Heather Gardner.

“It’s also the culture and community,” she added. “It’s bringing neighbourhoods together.”

Gardner was among those who attended a January stakeholder meeting.

On Friday, city council’s economic development committee voted to take a closer look at their recommendations, outlined in a new report from Mike Williams, the city’s general manager for economic development and culture.

The group’s other suggestions include opening TTC subway lines earlier on early-start race days, ensuring running events have consistent dates and routes each year, and creating a new office within the city’s economic development and culture department to handle the running file.

It’s a key area to focus on because of the financial impact on the city, said Gardner, who has run nine marathons around the world.

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The Sporting Life 10k road race, seen here, is just one of many running events in Toronto every year. (Submitted by P. Tam)

$36M annual economic impact from running events

With two full marathons annually, and numerous smaller running events, Toronto attracts more than 100,000 spectators and roughly 55,000 participants to races every year, Williams’s report notes.

But while these events currently generate more than $36 million in annual economic impact for the city, it’s still small compared to many other top running destinations.

In 2014 alone, for instance, the New York City Marathon brought in $415 million (USD) in economic impact.

Still, the industry as a whole is booming, with the number of marathon runners in Canada growing by 11 per cent between 2009 and 2014, the report continues.

Coun. Mary Fragedakis, whose motion at city council last year sparked the creation of the stakeholder working group, is pleased the city will be exploring the new recommendations to tap into running’s rising popularity.

In particular, she thinks Toronto should consider more city-wide races, rather than downtown-focused events.

“Everybody’s proud of their neighbourhood and wants their neighbourhood to be focused … if you make the route interesting enough, you can get people through all parts of the city,” she said.