Read it, run it: PEI Marathon

The race: BMO Nesbitt Burns Prince Edward Island Marathon

Location: North shore of Prince Edward Island to Charlottetown

When: Second week of October

Distance: 42.2 km

Why do it: Relatively flat course with generally good weather that is kind to first-timers and at points very scenic

Swag: Tech T-shirt


You’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful start to a marathon than Prince Edward Island’s. As you leave the parking lot at Brackley Beach and start down the narrow 10 kilometre stretch in P.E.I.’s national park, sand dunes flank one side of you, the Atlantic Ocean the other. A few kilometres in and the space opens up and everything is reduced to its most elemental: sky, dunes, water.

It’s a glorious start to a race that in 12 years has become a destination, partly for its natural beauty and partly for its reputation as a forgiving course. In regards to the latter, the truth is somewhere in between.

The course soon turns inland, progressing past the green farmland and lovely hedgerows that make up much of the island. At the half, a rowdy checkpoint greets runners before sending them on a long stretch of rails to trails that is isolated and can prey on the mental will of many a marathoner. Screened on both sides by trees, the trail offers very little in terms of a view and can quickly become a test of patience and endurance.

All the flat running can lull runners into believing the home stretch is an easy cruise, but the reality is different. Marathoners emerge from the trail near the Charlottetown airport. At that point, they begin picking up the slower half-marathoners, an added bit of motivation if they can surge past.

It’s here the hills begin. One thing non-islanders always say is that they didn’t think P.E.I. had hills. In fact, the island has lots of nasty, short steep hills (don’t take my word for it; try the Brookvale Ultra race in early August and discover for yourself), and at the end of a marathon they can take their toll.

Before runners can start the final, long flat leading to the finish, they must climb a couple of those nasty, steep hills. They’re not terribly lengthy, but that late in the race, they can really turn your legs to rubber if you’re not prepared.

The last couple of kilometres along a broad avenue are as undistinguished and bland as the first few are lovely and breath-taking. By that point, however, many marathoners won’t be paying too much attention to their surroundings, anyway.

Besides the full, P.E.I. offers a half-marathon, and 10-and-five-km. races, as well as walks and a kid’s race.

Islanders Stanley Chaisson and Jen Nicholson hold the marathon records of 2:32:58 and 2:53:22 respectively.

Marathon weekend often features temperate weather, but rain and wind can be factors on race day.

The island itself is a very agreeable spot in which to spend time before and after the race. October is a particularly fine time as many of the tourists have left, but the weather can still often be fine enough to entice runners out to P.E.I.’s many, splendid beaches. Charlottetown itself has grown to support some very good restaurants and pubs. Many marathoners may wish to congregate after the race at the Gahan House, a brew pub that offers a number of handcrafted beers.

That way if the course proved not as forgiving as some runners hoped, they can put their sorrows behind them.

More likely, though, you will want to celebrate a day running in one of Canada’s more splendid spots.

About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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11 Responses to Read it, run it: PEI Marathon

  1. CeilidhWoman says:

    Still on track for PEI’s full marathon…my first, Charles. I am still on track. I think that is my mantra …still on track! 🙂

    • subthree says:

      Wow. That’s going to be your first? I had no idea. PEI was my first back in 2007. I think it’s a great introduction to the distance. Hope your training is going well.

  2. says:

    I’ll be there Charles!

  3. Trevor M. says:

    It was my first in 2009. That year, they had “Marathon Mind Buster” riddles/jokes on the mileage markers, alternating between riddles and the answers. (When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar!)

    • subthree says:

      I believe that’s a bit of an island tradition. I ran a half marathon there where the same thing was done as well. If I’m not mistaken, I’m pretty sure the local club, the PEI Road Runners is responsible for the signs – a neat way to keep tired runners entertained and motivated.

  4. Robbie M says:

    Thanks for providing a great recap of the course. It will be my first marathon this October. I ran the PEI half twice before so I know about those tough hills near the end…well I guess I should say I know about those hills after 16 km in, not 37! As an experienced runner on this course, would you recommend altering your pacing strategy any to account for the relatively flat first part, and the hard, hilly end?

    • subthree says:

      You know what they say about the marathon: the real race doesn’t start until 20 miles. I’ve heard lots of people regret that they ran the first half too hard only to crash in the second half. The best marathoners aim for even splits or negative splits. If you’re going to do the latter, then you should have trained that way in preparation, running the second half of your long runs harder than the first. Of course, these are just general rules of thumb: every runner is unique. Good luck with your marathon, and thanks for reading.

  5. Lucia Alzaga says:

    Hi! I traveling all the way from Idaho to run in the land of Anne of Green Gables!
    Have you run Boston? If so, how would you compare with course to Boston? Thanks! I’ve started to freak out. I do have hills where I live, I guess I have to start tackling them.

    • subthree says:

      Hi Lucia: Yes, I’ve run both Boston and PEI. They’re quite different. Boston is downhill with three gradual raises near the end. PEI starts flat and stays that way for the first 10 km. Then you’ll have a long gradual uphill on a curve before the half. After the half, you’re on rails to trails for another 10 km or so, which is also flat. Then after you exit the trails, you face two rolling hills near the end. These are very doable, although coming at the end of the race makes them tough. Then you have a flat section into the finish chute. The first 10 km will likely be among the most beautiful you’ll have run anywhere. It’s through the national park. I hope you have a terrific marathon.

      • Lucia Alzaga says:

        Thanks subthree! Sorry for my typos! This computer is crazy and I’m an awful proofreader. I’m getting very nervous. I started hitting some awful hills, I hope it pays off. I usually do well at Boston, but I am scared of this one. Can’t wait!

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