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Four times around: Conquering the Johnny Miles Marathon

Five tips to help you go the distance in New Glasgow

By Andrew Wagstaff
Maritime Runner
May 18, 2017

NEW GLASGOW, N.S. – It was 90 years ago last year that Johnny Miles of Nova Scotia won his first Boston Marathon, a feat he repeated three years later.
Although the iconic marathoner has been gone since 2003, his name lives on, particularly during every Father’s Day weekend in Pictou County, when New Glasgow hosts the annual Johnny Miles Running Event Weekend.
“I think the history of Johnny Miles himself is a bit of an attraction for people,” said race director Terry Curley. “I think it resonates with people – Johnny Miles and winning two Boston Marathons. They recognize the name, and the event is going on its 43rd year.”
That history has been felt by Dave MacLennan of Scotsburn, who recalled running the event in earlier years, when Miles himself used to travel from Ontario to be in attendance.
MacLennan has since made a little history at the event himself, winning the marathon a whopping 11 times.
The Johnny Miles running event is part of home for him.
“For me it’s just the local marathon,” said MacLennan. “It’s the one I grew up with and basically the one that got me going.”
The event has grown exponentially over the years, with most runners opting for the 5K and 10K events, while the full marathon draws around 100-110 each year, depending on the weather. The course is basically a 10K loop, meaning the marathoners have to navigate it four times.
“If you like loop courses, we have a great course,” said Curley. “There’s not a lot of congestion, it’s fairly flat, and there are a lot of spectators around the finish line. If you’re not someone who likes running a loop course, you need to consider another marathon.”
Following are five tips to help those choosing the full marathon at the Johnny Miles.
The start and finish at the Johnny Miles event on Provost Street in New Glasgow is a memorable experience for many of the participating runners.
Don’t run a marathon. Run 10.5K four times:
As a triathlete, Curley is used to seeing loop courses at the ironman competitions he takes part in, and he always breaks his marathon up mentally there into four different 10K-ish sections.
“I don’t have to run a marathon at the end of the ironman, I have to run four 10Ks and a bit to the finish line,” he said. “Mentally, if you look at it that way, it’s just staying in the moment. With the Johnny Miles, every time you hit the cross roads, you’re looking at your watch and knowing exactly what that last loop was, and whether you’re running a positive or negative split.”

Be aware of your surroundings:
It is very motivating to run four loops in front of spectators who are cheering and watching the race unfold, according to Ray Moorehead of Hubley, who tied with Scott Clark of Summerside, P.E.I. to win the marathon in 2015 with a time of 2:50:13. The photo finish remains one of his most unforgettable running moments, and a highlight in the 42-year history of the event.
As the crowd is able to see the strategies the runners employ, Moorehead said the runners themselves could do the same thing.
“There are numerous opportunities to see your main competitors,” he said. “This can help you use landmarks to determine whether you are closing in on them. You have to be careful not to let your mind wander due to the repetitive nature of the course.”

Make the most of the asphalt:
While much of the route takes place on paved road, a sizable portion takes you on the gravel of the Albion and Samson trails. Be aware of which surface you’re on, and be ready for your opportunity to move faster.
“Try to maximize your speed on the paved road and accept that your pace may be slightly compromised on the gravel,” said Moorehead.

Make a plan and stick to it:
Being aware of your pace is the key to success in any marathon, and that is made easier in a multiple loop course like the Johnny Miles. Setting a game plan and sticking to it was the advice of MacLennan, whose most recent victory at the Johnny Miles came last year, when he won with a time of 2:47:26.
“Know what your splits are – that’s the main thing,” he said. “Know the pace you want to go out at, and know where you want to be at a certain point in the race. Once you start aiming for faster times, sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind and see what happens, but if you’re trying to qualify for Boston and that’s your goal, you really need to know the time and pace you want to go to get there.”

Let the crowd and the finish line motivate you:
The intimate feel of the Johnny Miles course allows runners to feel like they are out on a long run with a group of friends, even if most are strangers, according to Tawnya MacNeil of Truro, the second female finisher in 2014 with a time of 3:18:12.
The repeat course means you are always close to someone cheering you on, she said, and the finish line with its slight downhill is the best she has experienced. She recommended using both to keep you motivated.
“The repeat course can play on you mentally, for the good and for the bad,” said MacNeil. “You need to prep yourself for that to work in your favour. I make it a game, thinking about my kids in the park waiting to high-five me again, and I think about that awesome finish line. Every step gets me closer to it.”

This year’s Johnny Miles Running Event Weekend take place on June 17-18.
Running past cheering spectators four times in a race can be very motivating.
Race director Terry Curley (left) congratulates Dave MacLennan for winning the 2016 Johnny Miles Marathon.
Ray Moorehead (right) races Scott Clark to a tie at the finish line of the 2015 Johnny Miles Marathon.