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Reaping the rewards at Valley Harvest

5 tips to running a successful marathon in Wolfville

By Andrew Wagstaff
Maritime Runner
Sept. 8, 2017

   WOLFVILLE, N.S. – For the running community, the Valley Harvest Marathon is as much a part of the Thanksgiving weekend tradition as falling leaves and eating too much turkey.
   Known for its beautiful scenery, quiet rural setting, friendly atmosphere and challenging course, Valley Harvest packs plenty of appeal as a fall marathon destination. Part of that is due to the diversity of the landscape, according to race director Susan Carbyn.
   “You pass by cows, orchards, vineyards, mud flats, coastal areas, villages and, despite the hills along the route, you really become mesmerized by the scenery,” she said. “The solitude is also something to savour, because you have all these backcountry roads during the harvest weekend to take in – colours, stillness, beauty of the surroundings. For a lot of people, the change of season is a time of reflection, which you can certainly feel when running the valley.”
   The gorgeous views were a big help to Holly Van Gestel of Halifax, who finished as the top female in 2015. Van Gestel loves running with music over long distances, and when her music died at the 10K mark, she switched her attention to the scenery to help her get through.
   “I loved the Valley Harvest, it was so much fun,” she said. “The energy, camaraderie, and beauty of the course are some things I won’t forget.”   
   It’s the most beautiful weekend of the year, according to Carla Braganza of Halifax, who finished second among females in 2016.
   Starting and finishing at the Acadia University’s Raymond Field track, the route crosses the Cornwallis River and meanders around communities such as Port Williams, Canard and Kingsport over rolling terrain. It’s Braganza’s favourite course, at what she describes as the perfect time of year.
   “It’s on Thanksgiving, one of my favourite holidays… and how appropriate,” she said. “I am thankful for my health, and that I am able to run. I also like the finish on the track… super fun.”
   Justin Lalanne of Sydney, winner of the 2016 race, agreed.
   “Another neat part of the Valley Harvest would have to be the starting and finishing on the Acadia University track,” he said. “When you’re on your last push, having the crowd cheer you on is really amazing.”
   Adam Deveau of Halifax chose to run his first-ever marathon at Valley Harvest in 2015, and ended up finishing in first place. For him, it was all about location, location, location.
   “The valley makes an amazing locale to run a marathon or do any type of outdoor activity,” said Deveau, an Acadia alum. “I knew, with the changing of seasons, the beautiful scenery and perfect amount of hills to keep things interesting, that the Valley Harvest was the perfect place to do my first marathon.”
   Following are five tips on running a successful marathon at Valley Harvest, from those who have been there and done it.
Know the course:
   Every marathoner fears hitting the dreaded wall late in the race, and that threat becomes all the more real at Valley Harvest, where the hills on the way back to Wolfville present a formidable challenge.
   Deveau, who finished the 2015 marathon in 2:54:09, warned to save valuable energy for the latter stages of the marathon.
   “If I can give one piece of advice, it’s to really take it easy for the first few kilometres,” he said. “It’s hard to do when the gun goes off and adrenaline is coursing through your veins, but, if you are able to hold back just a little in the beginning, it will pay off big time when you reach those hills towards the end of the course.”

Train for hills:
   Just because the Valley Harvest course has inclines does not mean you should not expect a great performance from yourself. Like any other challenge, it can be answered with the right preparation.
   “Don’t skip your hill training,” said Van Gestel, who finished with a time of 3:03:12 in 2015. “There is some great scenery, but you need to get up the hills in order to enjoy it. Make sure you prepare for some long and gradual climbs.”
   Carbyn, who ran the marathon in 2009 with a time of 3:13:37 before taking over as race director the following year, said she often hears from people that Valley Harvest is a challenging course. Her response to that is that anyone can go and run a flat course and get a personal best.
   “When you do something that challenges yourself, you can then look in the mirror and say you conquered that and you are strong,” she said. “A lot of folks have had personal bests on our course because what goes up, must come down. When you incorporate hill workouts and core to your training program, success is certainly guaranteed.”

Dress for success:
   Wondering what to wear for this marathon? Bring everything. It’s better to have something and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
   October in the Maritimes can offer a mixed bag of weather conditions, and runners would be wise to prepare for any scenario. Braganza, who finished the 2016 marathon in a time of 3:28:12, warned how the temperature can fluctuate through the duration of the race.
   “I’ve seen it 13 degrees at the start, and 24 degrees at the end,” she said. “Dress in layers, and enjoy the course.”

Do your research:
   Like most marathons, Valley Harvest offers maps of its course on its website. Check it out. If you happen to be in the Annapolis Valley, take a drive around and familiarize yourself with the route.
   “I think to have success at the Valley Harvest Marathon, it’s really important to know the course,” said Lalanne, who finished the 2016 race in 2:49:16. “The course has a lot of rolling hills, especially on the second half, so it’s really important to pace yourself accordingly.”

Make use of your surroundings:
   Much has been made of the beautiful fall scenery in the Annapolis Valley, including the Valley Harvest route. Runners might not realize their stunning surroundings can also work to their advantage during the race.
   “Take in the scenery,” said Deveau. “The valley is a beautiful place, and it’s during a beautiful time of year. Focusing on what’s around you may be the little mental break you need to get through the darker times during your race.”
The 2017 Valley Harvest Marathon will take place on Sunday, Oct. 8.
Photos courtesy of Shelley Crowe and Valley Harvest Marathon
Justin Lalanne and Carla Braganza in the 2016 race.