If you are looking for a hilly Boston qualifier that passes historic Halifax architecture, surreal coastal parks, and has a scenic bridge crossing, the Bluenose Marathon is for you. Known for being a ‘little hilly’, and with a grueling uphill finish, the Bluenose Marathon is named after sailors who in the 1700 and early 1800s returned to port with blue noses. The story goes that the dye used to color their winter jackets rubbed onto their noses as they were used for substitute handkerchiefs. Blue jackets and foul weather aside, don’t be intimidated by the weather. The Bluenose Marathon is held annually during spring which is the perfect optimal race weather. The most recent race I ran was 55F, under a mix of cloudy and foggy skies, and had very little wind.
Having completed the Bluenose Marathon twice now using the Hansons Marathon Method, I prepared for the course hills by running hilly routes on easy and long run days, and stuck to mostly flat routes on tempo and strength days. The race route has water stations are spaced approximately every two miles and most have Gu gels. Below is an annotated course map from the Bluenose race website. Notable hills and areas are circled and written in blue.
The route has three steep uphill sections, one run twice, that each ascend around 130ft, and a bridge that is run twice which has a gentle incline and significant amount of elevation. The route also has two large downhill portions, one run twice. There are an additional two downhill segments in the first 3 miles, but I didn’t notice them very much. Most of the race is on pavement except for the portion through Point Pleasant Park which is gravel.
The start line was packed due to having multiple race lengths but the crowd quickly evaporated, and with 172 marathon finishers this year there were large sections where I saw no other runners. Of course, there were people cheering on the sidelines and the course was well marked such that there was no chance of getting off course.
The race begins at the base of Citadel Hill, which has a fortification at the top that once served as defensive outposts for Halifax during the early 1800s. After circling around the base of the hill, the race heads directly to Halifax’s southern bridge, “the Old Bridge”, which connects Halifax to Dartmouth across the Bedford Basin. Once over in Dartmouth, the route has several gentle hills that encircle Lake Banook. Maple Street is the first significant hill and is at mile 6 just before crossing the Old Bridge back into Halifax.
Back in Halifax, the course turns up towards the north end of Halifax and ascends through several neighborhoods. After reaching the north end of Halifax, the route turns back south and winds through a historic neighborhood called Hydrostone. The Hydrostone is interesting because it was rebuilt with housing and shopping all constructed with similar grey stone after the Halifax Explosion in 1917 destroyed most of the north end of Halifax.
The next significant hill is on Cornwallis Street, which comes just before mile 13 and has a steep incline ascending 130ft. This is the steepest and most aggressive hill of the race, and is run twice, the second time close to the finish line. I ran the hill slowly the first time in an attempt to save my Type-2 muscle fibers for later in the race.
After reaching the top there is a half mile recovery before a very steep decent on Duke Street. Once down Duke Street, the course turns toward the south end of Halifax and into Point Pleasant Park. Point Pleasant Park has a gravel trail system, which gave me a nice relief from the pavement. I thought this was the most scenic part of the race, as I got to bask in the broad views of the Bedford Basin channel and Atlantic Ocean and enjoy the peaceful morning park. The southern end of the park has several old naval fortifications and a stone lookout tower with historical significance. On the way out of the park comes another significant hill with a gravel path surface.
After exiting Point Pleasant Park, the route winds back to the north end of town and through the Hydrostone neighborhood a second time, where it joins up with the previously run route heading up Cornwallis Street for the final time before the race end. The uphill finish was grueling, but I enjoyed the challenge on tired legs right at the end, and there is plenty of recovery food, water, and drinks right past the finish line.
The first time I ran the Bluenose Marathon, my legs began to cramp on the final couple hills. This second go around they were not an issue at all. My overall weekly milage working up to this race was 45 to 60 miles, with only about 18 of those weekly miles as part of difficult workouts. High easy milage is how the Brooks Marathon method lays out the training plan, which has been highly effective for me. I think there is a lot of wisdom in training with easy milage in order to have to maximum adaptation for Type-1 muscle fibers.
The top male finishing time this year was 2:42:27 and top female time was 3:33:54. With a fair amount of vertical ascent, the Bluenose may seem intimidating, but the challenge is well worth it. Whether you have raced hundreds of marathons, or it is your first one, the Bluenose Marathon is a great race I highly recommend!
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