Read It, Run It: Johnny Miles Running Event Weekend

The race: Johnny Miles Running Event Weekend

The location: New Glasgow, Nova Scotia

When: Mid-June

Distances: 5, 10, 21 and 42.2 km

Why do it: To run an historic race course

Swag: Shirt and collector’s hat

The sun beat down and the heat radiating off the pavement seared my eyeballs and fried my skin to the point where I felt like a crispy chicken on the run.

My racing nemesis, Evil Frank Atherton,  lurked close by.

He’d already pressured me once on this rolling, sometimes windy, race course.

I’d almost say I had my hands full, but for the fact I use my feet to run.

Welcome to Johnny Miles, pilgrim, two loops of rolling hills if you’re running the half; four, if you’re foolish enough to do the full marathon.

The race gains its name from the two-time Canadian winner of the Boston Marathon, who grew up in relatively nearby Sydney Mines, Cape Breton.  A doctor named Johnny Miles Williston founded the race in 1975, according to an article in the New Glasgow News.

Personally, I have a fondness for the race since I ran my PB in the half marathon there in 2009. At that time, you ran a rolling route along the roads and then took a sharp left onto the trail system adjacent to the river before ending up in a sub-division with one sharp hill up before racing to the finish.

This year’s course stayed on the road, kicking up from the start before flattening for a bit, but then again covering rolling hills with some flatter stretches back to the finish.

It’s a fair course.

In some ways the race has improved since I last ran it; in other ways, not. In 2009, I remember seeing hordes of panicked runners lined up for the two few porta-potties when the announcement came that the run was set to begin.

This year, race organizers had so many porta-potties that no one had to wait. Any runner will tell you that’s awesome.

Too bad none of those porta-potties offered any kind of hand cleanser.

I signed up well in advance of the June cut-off date for shirt sizes, but wasn’t given the option for sizing online. At the bag pick-up, I received a medium, which is too large for me and a shame as I’ve always thought the race’s shirts were very high quality.

And last time I ran the race, Subway provided the finish line food. This time it came from Wendy’s, wasn’t so great and lacked vegetarian options.

Nice medal though!

On the narrow main street, the start line quickly became congested and made for a tricky beginning to the race.

But enough quibbles. I know what you really want to hear about: the pain and suffering.

Rest assured, plenty of that could be found.

A mild uphill start guaranteed some immediate stress only to be compounded when the Evil Frank Atherton pulled up beside me on a particularly windy stretch. Frank had his game face on and chose not to acknowledge me.

At least that’s what I first thought, but as I matched his strides I realized he was unable to talk because of his furious pace, which he’d now sucked me into.

I faded back, deciding I’d keep my eye on him.

We sweltered in the heat.

The first six kilometres a steady wind mocked our puny pace, but it quickly became a tail wind  after that.

Even so, Johnny Miles is not an easy course. When it’s flat, it extracts a price in speed. Just as often, though, we’d find ourselves running a steady uphill grade.

I can’t call the course particularly scenic. You run through New Glasgow and out along some wooded areas and then follow the river briefly on one side. Nor did it offer much in the way of shade.

But I knew Frank didn’t care about such trivialities. I redoubled my effort, having passed him earlier and concentrated on pounding over the relatively flat second half (except for the many hills) to triumphantly sweep downhill across the finish line.

I’m extremely pleased to say that Frank, as evil as he is, ran a PB on the course.

As much as I loved the all-road course, the river valley trails offered more shade from the sun, balancing that with a couple of sharp curves under one of the bridges. Even so, I feel the new road course makes Johnny Miles much more of a true “road” race.

Johnny Miles is a classic, a rightfully well-loved race on the Nova Scotia circuit, but compared to some of the other runs still seems to be grappling with details years after its founding.

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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