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From Brackley to Charlottetown

5 Tips to running a successful PEI Marathon

By Andrew Wagstaff
Maritime Runner
Sept. 15, 2017

   CHARLOTTETOWN – If someone wanted to show Prince Edward Island to a visitor over the course of a morning, they would probably make sure to include red sand beaches, quiet country roads and trails, and historic downtown Charlottetown.
   If they could do this in the middle of October, when fall colours are in full swing, that would be an added bonus.
   For distance runners, such a showcase already exists in the Prince Edward Island Marathon, which will take place for its 14th year on Sunday, Oct. 15.
   “I love the P.E.I. Marathon because the route is beautiful and offers so much variety,” said Jen Nicholson of Cornwall, top female finisher in the 2016 race. “It starts at the national park, by Brackley Beach, the halfway mark takes you onto the Confederation Trail, and the last section runs into downtown Charlottetown, which is a nice flat finish. The course is a really nice representation of the P.E.I. landscape and our capital city.”
Photos courtesy of the Prince Edward Island Marathon
Marathoners leave through the dunes at Brackley Beach for the start of the Prince Edward Island Marathon.
   The point-to-point course travels the width of the island from north to south, giving marathoners an experience unique from the event’s shorter distances, which are confined to the Charlottetown area. From ocean scenery to farms and forest, all amidst brilliant fall colours, the marathon has it all.
   A popular fall qualifier for the Boston Marathon, P.E.I. is also known for its mostly flat terrain, although there are a few hills late in the race that will present a challenge.
   Many have chosen this as their first marathon, like Chad Gilbert of Halifax, who finished third in 2016, and Erin MacNeil of Dartmouth, N.S., top female finisher in 2014.
   “The course is almost perfect, flat with the exception of a few hills near the end, beautiful scenery and a good portion on trails,” said MacNeil. “There is also a relay taking place at the same time, which makes for more runners and spectators along the course.”
   But the experience is about more than the course, as Jamie Lamond of Halifax, winner of the 2015 race, points out.
   “The P.E.I. marathon has this great, small, close-knit community feel to it that makes the event quite extraordinary,” he said. “After I finished the event, an organizer came over to me to congratulate me on finishing and thanked me for attending the event. It was an incredibly down to earth experience.”
Following are five tips on running a successful marathon in Prince Edward Island, from those who have done it.
Photos courtesy of the Prince Edward Island Marathon
Stan Chaisson finished first in the 2016 Prince Edward Island Marathon with a time of 2:41:14.
Be ready for all types of weather:
   Fall in the Maritimes often will deliver a mixed bag of weather conditions, and Prince Edward Island is no exception to that rule. Runners should hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
   “Expect any type of weather,” said Marcie Holland of Saint John, N.B., who was the top female finisher in 2015, with a time of 3:16:46. “The year I ran, we had wind, rain, hail, close to freezing temperatures, and then the sun came out but it was still cold.”
   Lamond, who finished first overall in that same race with a time of 2:41:58, came prepared.
   “I got lucky,” he said. “I’m a cold weather guy, and 2015 was a cold day with three or four hailstorms in the first half. I had brought along a throwaway hat, sleeves and mitts that I ended up needing for the full race.”

Train on different surfaces:
   Almost one-third of the P.E.I. Marathon route is run on a portion of the Confederation Trail, adding another level of variety appreciated by many of the runners. But those runners would also be wise to prepare for that by training on different surfaces.
   “The first time I did the P.E.I. Marathon, I found the transition from packed trail to asphalt a bit tricky,” said Nicholson, who finished the 2016 race in 3:04:40. “Also, give your legs a couple of minutes to adapt because, regardless, it may feel a bit weird after running on trail for a bit over 12K.”
Stan Chaisson of Charlottetown, who won the 2016 race with a time of 2:41:14, offered similar advice.
   “Be prepared for the change of running surface from road to trail,” he said. “Personally, I enjoy the peacefulness of the trail, but some runners find it a difficult transition from road to trail and back to road.”

Be mindful of those last three hills!:
   Nicholson described the marathon terrain as “rolling,” which she likes, but she warned about three hills toward the end of the race that will require some mental focus. She wasn’t the only one.
   “There are three hills at the end that can thrash your legs a bit, right at the worst time,” said Gilbert.
   MacNeil also warned about them.
   “Train on hills during your long runs, so that the couple of hills at the end are manageable, and remember to relax and enjoy the course along the way,” said MacNeil, who finished the 2014 race in a time of 3:20:00.
   Nicholson described them as “our version of Boston’s Newton Hills.”
   “Once you get over the last one by UPEI, it is essentially downhill and you can fly to the finish,” she said.

Be prepared for some alone time:
   While not small by Maritime standards – 217 people finished last year’s marathon, and more than 300 ran it in 2014 – some might consider P.E.I. a small race, especially once runners get spread out between Brackley and Charlottetown.
   Gilbert, who finished the 2016 race with a time of 2:48:25, said marathoners should be ready to “go it alone.”
   “I trained for the race with New Leaf Endurance coach Rick Canning, and he put me through a phase near the end of training where I did a lot of marathon race-paced running,” he said. “I think it helped to be used to holding onto goal pace while out there alone, over all types of different terrain.”

Patience pays off:
   Like any marathon, conquering P.E.I. is a mental challenge as much as it is a physical one. The worst thing a marathoner can do is spend too much energy in the early stages, as the dreaded wall awaits.
   Take it from Chaisson.
   “Patience and focus are important,” he said. “As most marathoners know, the race truly starts at 30K."
The 2017 Prince Edward Island Marathon takes place on Sunday, Oct. 15.
Photos courtesy of Prince Edward Island Marathon
Jen Nicholson was the top female finisher in 2016, with a time of 3:04:40.
Photos courtesy of Prince Edward Island Marathon
Chad Gilbert finished third in the 2016 race, with a time of 2:48:25.