The Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Third weekend in May
Its status as the largest marathon east of Montreal attracts thousands of new runners every year. And its reputation as a demanding and confusing course repels more experienced athletes. Love it or hate it, it’s impossible to ignore Halifax’s big spring race.
The course is known for both its beauty and its difficulty. It begins in the port city’s historic downtown, beneath the clock tower and fortress of Citadel Hill, before swinging up into the city’s impoverished North End. Following the gradual climb north, the race reverses direction and runners stream south through downtown to do a loop through scenic Point Pleasant Park, a wooded reserve at the end of the civic peninsula. In the park, racers encounter their first challenge, a sharp climb up from the bottom to the top of the green space.
Competitors pick up speed as they run the slightly down-hill length of the South End’s, Yonge Street, home to some of Halifax’s most magnificent heritage mansions. Arriving back at the start-finish, the full marathoners now proceed to one of the most spectacular sections of the run: over the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge, a 1.3 kilometre span between Halifax and Dartmouth. Standing at 54 metres at its highest point, the bridge offers breathtaking views of both cities as well as of the harbour.
As the second half of the marathon winds through Dartmouth, runners face a series of rolling hills before entering the shade of Shubenacadie Park. After clearing the park and following a foot path along the city’s lake system, competitors arrive at Maple street, a relatively short but sharp climb that is known for its ability to reduce runners to a walk.
Not long after that runners are delivered to the foot of the Macdonald Bridge, where they must battle another hill before the finish.
While the Bluenose’s 42.2 kilometres of challenging asphalt and trail sounds straightforward enough, the relatively compact size of Halifax – jammed as it is onto a peninsula – has proved troublesome for runners. Because the course winds back on itself, threading north and then south and then north again, before turning off toward Dartmouth, overlapping portions of the route have resulted in some problematic errors.
In 2009, confusion on the course created problems for two previous winners of the race. David MacLennan, a previous Bluenose winner, ended up running an extra five kilometres, ultimately finding himself out of contention. Leah Jabbour, the winner of the womens’ marathon in 2008 arrived at the finish, only to find a Quebec woman already there. As it turned out, the latter missed five kilometres of the route and was subsequently disqualified. Both MacLennan and Jabbour declined to run the Bluenose in 2010.
Following 2009, the marathon’s executive redesigned the route to try and mitigate any further issues. While directional challenges have alienated many competitive runners from considering the race, the run remains a favourite with first-time entrants – something of a puzzle given the course’s hardships. Part of it may stem from the fact that, like Ottawa, the Bluenose is a training goal for many first-time marathoners, particularly those enrolled in a clinic for novice distance runners.
Clever branding on the organizers’ part have undoubtedly helped the race’s popularity as well. Myles, the distinctive, absurdly pale runner with the painfully skinny arms and legs and over-sized blue nose adorns the marathon’s literature, advertising and clothing. The little man is not only funny, but tough and a number of near-classic phrases are attributed to him such as: “Giver ‘er.”