Marathon just needs new locale

Well, that was quick.

Marathons are supposed to be tests of endurance, but the Surrey International World Music Marathon never made it to the third race. Check that – the race is not officially dead, but organizers say it will take "a major miracle" for the 2014 edition to take place. Easter is coming, and a bunny pooping chocolate eggs is likely to be the only miracle to occur this year.

So the Surrey Marathon is either dead in the water or, at best, placed in a carbonite stasis like a prisoner of Jabba the Hutt – neither of which is a desirable end for what was such a promising event.

Full confession here – I liked the Surrey International World Music Marathon. With my bulbous backside and stretched-out belt, I’ll never be mistaken for a runner, but the Surrey event was different. It was/is a fun event for runners and spectators alike. In addition to the showcase marathon, the event features routes to accommodate runners of all abilities, including a half-marathon, 10K and 5K races plus a kids event and a recreational walk/run.

The athletic endeavours are then supplemented by musical groups and dancers performing on makeshift stages throughout the assorted race courses. The bands performing reflected the cultural diversity found in Surrey, with zones dedicated to bhangra, Carribean, Chinese, African and many other cultures.

The athletes loved it, with many saying the event is more interesting than many marathons just because they don’t know what awaited them on the next mile of the course.

It was fun for the spectators, who would set up lawn chairs along the route and groove to the music while cheering the runners on. The community spirit engendered by the event was neatly summed up by a family standing in the rain along the marathon

route holding a sign reading, "Go Anonymous stranger, go!" But for all the positives about the event, there were problems as well. The second edition of the race in September of 2013 turned into a traffic nightmare with roads throughout Whalley blocked off willy-nilly, creating frustration for drivers and residents alike.

To make matters worse, the race ran through streets surrounding Surrey Memorial Hospital, limiting access to the facility by ambulances, patients and staff.

To make matters even worse, heavy rain pelted the Lower Mainland on race day, forcing organizers to make changes on the fly. Musicians had to be shifted around because the rain could potentially damage the instruments and runners made last minute decisions as to whether they wanted to run a full marathon or just a half-marathon route. This created massive confusion at the finish line and when the marathon winners finally completed their runs, many in attendance had no idea who won.

In real estate, the mantra is "Location, location, location." Same goes for marathons and, like real estate, scenic downtown Whalley is rarely an ideal location.

The Surrey International World Music Marathon was the brain child of the good folks at the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association, so it’s understandable that they would want the event to take place within their sphere of influence. Loyalty is nice, but in all fairness, Whalley might not be the best choice as the site of such a large athletic event like a marathon. Factor in the disruption to hospital and residents and there’s no "might" about it – the marathon was being run in less than ideal conditions.

A better choice of locales would be Cloverdale, where the athletes would be able to run through the historic downtown streets before heading out into the countryside along rural roads and byways.

Thanks to the presence of the Cloverdale Fairgrounds, there are plenty of venues available on site, plus ample parking and experienced volunteers. Best of all, Cloverdale is also the site of Surrey’s big white elephant – the Millennium Amphitheatre – that deserves to be put to use more often than two or three times per year. The structure would be ideal for a stage for headline acts during the event with the finish line for the race situated nearby.

Two years is far too soon for the plug to be pulled on Surrey’s marathon. The event has promise, but was not allowed to grow into maturity. It usually takes four or five years for all the kinks to be worked out on a major event and, as such, the Surrey event never had a chance to blossom.

The idea of marrying music with a marathon is exciting and it set the Surrey event apart from other organized runs through urban landscapes. Hopefully the missing 2014 will be an aberration and not the death knell for the event.

Michael Booth can be reached at

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