In 2023 the Bluenose Marathon weekend is headed back to the way it ‘usually’ operates. Even before COVID the Macdonald Bridge project and a hockey tournament had things changing up from the norm for a few years. It does look like virtual races are here to stay as an option though.
Bluenose was my first ever running race and I’ve since participated in 7 races over 6 years. Since it’s been around for 19 years I’m not among the biggest Bluenose die hards but… I love this race and this city.
I hope to keep this somewhat organized but we might have to have a random section for little tips and tricks you might want to know. That’s some of the best stuff here so be sure to read to the end.
Bluenose is the biggest race in Atlantic Canada each year and it’s held in the Downtown of Halifax Nova Scotia. Though some of the longer races do run into Dartmouth depending on the year. The races are split over two days. Typically the youth runs and the 5k are held on Saturday in the afternoon and everything else starts the Sunday morning after.
The youth run is either 2 or 4k open to participants 15 years and younger. One parent may run with their children. Only the 2k run allows strollers and you must enter the course from a separate chute at the back of the pack.
Difficulty getting around
My very first Bluenose experience is a testament to just how disruptive Bluenose can be to Halifax’s downtown. I was trying to get from a downtown hotel to St. Mary’s Boat Club for my sister’s wedding with the ring bearer’s pillow to serve as maid of honor at the ceremony in my street length gown. After 10 minuets of waiting to pull out in my car I just backed up and ran barefoot to the ceremony instead.
Halifax’s downtown can be a little brutal to get around in the best if times. The old historic streets are narrow, many are one way and parking is not plentiful. It’s also a draw for people on a long weekend. With only two ways onto the peninsula in both directions traffic jams can and do develop.
Though anything can happen I’ve never had an issue with the Sunday morning races. All of the night life crowd have cleared out and the shoppers and brunchers aren’t there yet so it’s pretty easy to get some free on street parking and get to the start line. I wouldn’t be too picky about how far a walk it was to the Scotiabank Center though.
The Saturday races are a different story though. During the afternoon of the long weekend you have shoppers, boardwalk walkers and brunchers to contend with. I would suggest aiming for parking on the public garden side and towards Quinpool for getting around and walking into downtown from there.
It might also be a great day to either take transit or a cab from a location outside the downtown core as all the the Bluenose races do close some streets.
Weather the weekend of
Almost always Bluenose happens on the Saturday (5k and kids run) and Sunday (everything else) of the long weekend in May. Though the date does change a bit Canadians tend to call the holiday ‘the May 24’ because of the number of beers one drinks as well as the approximate date. Officially Victoria Day (the May 24) happens on the weekend before the 25th. So Bluenose usually happens in the last half of May.
In Nova Scotia our shoulder seasons like the spring and fall can be hella unpredictable. So even towards the end of May one would expect perfect running weather which you might get. It might also snow, there might be a heavy rainfall or wind warning or there might be a heat warning. If you’re racing both days the Saturday afternoon might require gear for the heat of the summer and come Sunday morning you might be wearing a knitted hat.
So if you’re coming in from out of town basically bring all your running clothes!
This guide is meant to be useable year to year and any time of year but I’m publishing it now because team Myles applications close at the end of January.
Team Myles is a club of sorts that trains together for Bluenoise events. You apply and if you are accepted then you get to train with expert running coaches and the group, trainers and have access to sports medicine doctors and any support that you need.
Team Myles members are often those lookin to make health and fitness changes in their lives or getting back into running after a break. It’s really neat to see the team Myles runners out there on course on race day in their special shirts.
If you’re looking to make a big change in your life and would like some support in the process why not find it in the experts and friends at team Myles.
Typical numbers and how the start/finish line works
The start/finish line for all the races is right around the old metro center (Scotiabank Center) on the Brunswick Street side. In fact the Scotiabank Center acts as the staging area for the races. That’s where you can hide from the elements before the races or pick up snacks after. After the race you will even be corralled into the center so you might as well grab a banana and a beer if you want on the way through.
Obviously in the last three years the numbers of participants have been down when the race was offered. Even before the pandemic numbers have been down from their peak in years previous. That said you can still expect to line up with several thousand other runners for your race.
I haven’t done the kids run yet with my sister’s little crew, they are just too young for all that excitement still. But the 5k is the most popular race. It starts on its own but it numbers into the thousands of participants on Saturday afternoon.
The Sunday races start basically all at the same time after a warm up usually. The marathoners start first with the half marathoners. The 10k is the most popular Sunday race and it starts moments after the marathoners leave the gate. I think over the whole weekend it’s about 10 000 runners overall on a typical year.
The first street you run down is wide and closed so congestion isn’t much of an issue for even a whole km out of the gate. To further combat congestion you are encouraged to line up roughly by expected time so near to the correct pace bunny with the big sign.
Bluenose itself doesn’t make a charitable contribution but you can sign up for free to raise money for one of 47-80 different charities each year. The bluenose association itself is a registered non-profit. I don’t always sign up for the charity challenge and raise money but if I do it is for the brain tumor foundation in memory of my brother. Bluenose is the only place I’ve ever elected to ask for donations to a cause.
There are lots of options to choose from for your charity of choice. A little note you register for the race first and then sign up to be part of the charity challenge with the organization of your choice after that.
Bluenose does like to change it up in terms of which race goes where at the longer distances but they all follow certain trends from year to year. Typically the 10k goes through the park, the half goes through point pleasant park and then into the north end and the marathon adds a loop into Dartmouth to that. Which you do first does vary by year though.
Halifax unfortunately is a city built on a hill. Sucks for parallel parking a standard and sucks for running a race. I think the organizers do their best to minimize how many you run into but make no mistake they are there. Pre-pandemic volunteers even run the worst one with you in the north end!
Some years Bluenose has included a 15k distance which I think is a great start of the season distance. Given the date of Bluenose and the winter’s and springs we have, training for the marathon and even the half can be less than ideal. But the 15k does seem to come and go so if you’re keen on it snap it up on the year it is offered!
There’s no getting around it Halifax is a city with some pretty stunning views and vistas on the water. There’s a decent amount of historic architecture too. Routes will take you through Point Pleasant Park, across the harbor, through the Hydrostone and you’ll get to see the views from Citadel hill, just to name the hits. So even if you’re going for a PR make sure to take in the sights (and maybe plan for some ocean breezes too)!
On course support and medical
Bluenose is most definitely a big shiny well organized race. Even though the bigger races can be intimidating there is no comparison in the level of on course support and organization in a race like this. The routes will be clearly marked, there will be lots of well stocked aid stations and porta-potties on the course too. Plus course maps before hand will let you know exactly what to expect.
All the intersections are staffed by HRP police officers and many of the roads are closed down completely. You won’t have to deal with a car on the whole course. There are also medics at many of the aid stations, the finish line and around the general area. Should you have a medical issue or see someone in the crowd who does, there will be a very professional response as quickly as possible.
Last but not least do not under estimate the value that cheerers add to a race and there are lots of them out along the whole course for Bluenose in Halifax!
Other Bluenose races
In the last few years the Bluenose organization has started or taken over a few other races. All the other races are smaller than Bluenose weekend but they are all just as well organized and supported. I’ve done Valley Harvest, the popsicle run and night owl. I have yet to do Not since Moses but it would be super fun!
Random tips and tricks
- Look for Myles the mascot at the finish line. He loves to take pictures with excited sweaty runners!
- Bluenose offers an option to do two races where you get to earn a special second medal. Sometimes it’s the double double and sometimes its the double up. If you choose this option your bib will have a special marking on it but you may have to make it a point to head over to a station at the Sunday finish line to find your second medal.
- You can discard clothing as you warm up on the course and pick it up later. If you don’t pick it up it will be donated.
- If you happen to park on the course you won’t be able to get out until the crowd clears. That means not at all on the 5k course, it could be a long wait on the 10k course but it won’t really be much of an issue on the half or marathon courses.
- Unless there are extenuating circumstances that year the marathon is not just two loops of the half course.
- If you have a finish line cheerer instruct them to wave and cheer for you as you cross the line and then meet up on the floor of the Scotiabank Center inside. After you cross the line you really can’t stop again until you are inside.
- Each race and year overall carries the name if the specific sponsor that year. This changes and switches A LOT though so don’t include the sponsor name in any searching you are doing online.
I hope this helps you know what to expect from your Bluenose Marathon Weekend experience year to year. I’ve done the 5k once, the 10k four times and the half twice there and had a great experience every time, even during the pouring rain! If you want to read more about any of those experiences the race recaps are listed below. Have you done Bluenose? Is it a dream race for you? Leave it in the comments below!