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.