Race Recap: Maritime Race Weekend

Rolling hills, scenic vistas, cool sea breezes and pirates: this was the backdrop for my 7th half-marathon and a season’s best performance at Maritime Race Weekend.

This well-organized and spirited event takes place in Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia, just outside of Dartmouth. The course is one of the most beautiful I have ever run — and I have run through many stunning places in the Maritimes. It starts off at Fisherman’s Wharf and weaves along the coast. The weather was absolutely perfect, around 18 C, but very sunny — I wish I had my sunglasses.

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I went into this run without any particular goal in mind. Life has been moving at a hectic pace and I have managed to get in my training runs but not much more, so I wasn’t expecting a PR. Still, I have felt strong the past few weeks, which really is to be expected at this point in the season, so I knew wouldn’t fall flat on my face.

Mark, Silas and I packed up and left for Dartmouth on Friday morning, making the four+ hour drive. We stayed at the same hotel where race kit pick-up took place, which made everything easier. Silas was immediately impressed with the pirate theme.

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We got to bed early and prepared for a 6 a.m. wake-up on Saturday, race day, which we thought would give us plenty of time to get to the start line in time for the 8 a.m. race.

Sleep was so-so with the two-year-old waking up at about 4 a.m. and tossing and turning next to me for the last couple hours of the night. I’m not blaming him for anything though because I had typical nerves and wasn’t sleeping the greatest anyway.

We woke up and I set straight into my typical race morning routine: chug water, eat English muffin and peanut butter, hotel room coffee, bathroom and get dressed. My watch and iPod were charged and ready to go. My two cheerleaders were moving a little more slowly than me.

I sent them down to the 7 a.m. breakfast buffet to pick out a couple items for the road while I finished up in the hotel room.

Instead, I went downstairs to see them seated in the dining room. I started to sweat. We still had a 15-20 minute drive ahead of us (in unknown terrain), plus we needed to find parking and I had to get to the start line. Finally we got into the car even though all Silas had eaten was a quarter piece of toast and a couple of Cheerios. The car was stocked with fruit and other snacks so I knew he would be fine and eat eventually.

As we arrived in Eastern Passage, the two-lane road soon became lined with parked cars. We started looking for a parking spot and ended up having to turn around and drive farther away from the start line. Eventually I got to the right place with less than five minutes to spare. Problem was, I needed to use the port-a-potty one last time (as many runners know this is crucial on race morning!). I figured I would have just enough time, but as I made my way to the crowd, I realized there was still a huge line-up and the crowd was packed. I tried to move up toward the two-hour half-marathon pace group but couldn’t get anywhere near them. I settled for the 2:20 group and figured I would just have to catch up.

As the gun sounded, the crowd didn’t move. It took a good 2-3 minutes before I crossed the starting mat. I tried to take it easy, thinking this conserved energy would help me later but I couldn’t help but feel anxious. I wanted to go, but I was stuck in the crowd. I weaved as best as I could, but there wasn’t a ton of room. I spent most of the first 5 km of the race like this. The up side was I didn’t go out too fast. (First 5K – 28:55)

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The first few water stops had port-a-potties but at least one person was waiting outside and it wasn’t an emergency at this point so I continued to hold out until the 5 km mark. The outhouse was hiding in behind the water station and no one was in it. Score! I paused my Garmin and managed to get in and out within 1 minute.  I hit the course again and caught up to the people I was chasing before in no time.

Around the 8-10 km mark I realized I was making great time, in fact it was the best pace I have been running all season around 5:30 to 5:45 min/km. Part of me worried I would run out of steam but I tried to focus on effort rather than the number on my watch. I enjoyed the scenery and relaxed. I was having so much fun! I took a GU gel at about 8K. (10K – 57:54)

Around this time we hit a few bigger hills. I slowed down but didn’t stop, trying to steady my heart rate. Cresting up a hill always guaranteed a beautiful view. While I was feeling good around the 13-14K mark, something weird was happening in my shoes. The smaller toes on my left foot seemed to be overlapping each other. I’m not sure what caused this, but it really started to hurt. I told myself some weird things like, Who needs baby toes anyway? Focus on the big toe. When I walked, the toes were fine. I can’t explain why this was happening. Hope I haven’t developed some kind of weird gait issue.

Around 15 km I told myself I was going to hold back a bit then boost the pace for the final 5K. I wasn’t sure if this was a goal I could sustain, but I wanted to try. I have always wanted to get negative splits (faster last half than first half) and I thought it might be possible this time given my slow start.

Lucky for me, as I rounded a bend, a person directing traffic yelled out, “Last 4K, all downhill!” and I practically fist-pumped. I got my second wind and really pushed it down a big hill. I saw this photographer and jumped in the air but looks like he just captured my goofy grin after the fact.

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For the final few kilometres I continued to push the effort even though I knew I wasn’t going to break the coveted 2-hour mark. I didn’t really mind because overall, I felt the strongest I have all year, and I knew I would come close. I continued to “go fishing,” reeling in runners ahead of me and picking them off one by one. Did it ever feel good to finish with a bang.

I rounded the final corner and saw 2:06:xx on the clock, but my Garmin (which I paused for the bathroom break) said 2:02. Awesome! I was so happy. Official time was 2:03 on the nose. And I did get the negative split I was looking for — the last half was three minutes faster than the first.

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I crossed the finish line and the first thing out of my mouth was “Where’s the beer?” I was directed to a small building where the after-party was taking place. I drank up rather quickly because I was anxious to find Mark and Silas. After grabbing a banana and an orange and some water, I wandered around for a bit and found my guys. They had spent the past couple of hours enjoying the scenery and throwing rocks in the water, one of Silas’s favourite things to do these days.

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We also ran into Anna from Piper’s Run! I was so happy to meet a fellow mom/running blogger from the Maritimes, and it totally happened without planning. So great to meet Anna and her husband Saï, who both took part in Maritime Race Weekend. Runners are great people! Go check out her blog. I love her honesty and can truly relate to how difficult it can be to balance chasing running goals with life as a working mom.

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Hard to believe I have now run seven half-marathons. And of course, I can’t wait for the next one. My body is definitely used to this distance and I know I could beat my PR from 2013 of 1:59:54 with better race morning punctuality. I’m tempted to sign up for another one this fall but taking it easy is also appealing.

Thank you Maritime Race Weekend for showing us “Good times in the Maritimes!” We will be back!

7th half marathon in the books in beautiful Eastern Passage, N.S. @maritimeraces

A post shared by April Cunningham (@aprilacunningham) on

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Baby’s first trip

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Our little family has just returned after spending a few days with my family in Ontario for my sister’s beautiful wedding.

The trip marked Silas’s first time on an airplane and first time sleeping away from home. Both seemed to go off without a hitch. Aside from a few messy diapers (with messes that would not stay in the diaper), we didn’t encounter any major issues. Our little man – who is now 14 weeks old – has been a little fussy the past couple of nights but I chalk it up to him being a little overtired from the trip.

Planning a week-long excursion away from home was daunting for me, even though it was just at my parents’ place. I worried that Silas wouldn’t nap, or that he’d be up all through the night. He actually seemed to sleep better than he does at home. And he barely cried (except when he was hungry or tired). Instead, he gazed around and took in his surroundings. He seemed to love looking at all the people.

A few things I learned on the trip that may help other new mamas about to take the plunge:

  • You are not supposed to breastfeed on take-off and landing, even though it’s what doctors recommend to stop the baby’s ears from popping. Apparently it’s a safety issue (with Air Canada at least) and you’re supposed to hold your baby over your shoulder. Silas cried a bit on the descent but didn’t seem to be in pain.
  • A baby carrier for the airport and other places you are carrying multiple bags was a must. I travelled alone with Silas on the way to Ontario and needed my hands for one suitcase, the diaper bag, my purse and camera. Add a baby to the mix and, yeah, you need a baby carrier. We invested in an Ergo for the trip. I love it but he doesn’t always like feeling confined. On that way back to New Brunswick, Silas started protesting the Ergo while we were waiting to check bags. I ended up taking him out and carrying him normally, but luckily, my hubby was able to help juggle our belongings.
  • Borrow stuff. We borrowed a car seat and didn’t bother bringing a stroller. Also, there was a playpen at my mom’s that Silas slept in.
  • I tried to stick to routines but knew everything would get thrown off. We gave Silas a bath most nights, but obviously not the night of the wedding. He was usually ready for bed early but I tried to keep him up a bit so he wouldn’t be confused by the one-hour time difference. And, when we were out at my sister’s wedding, it was amazing how he just slept right through the noise.
  • Keeping calm in dicey situations is a must. Silas has couple major diaper explosions in public places, but both times, I acted quickly and managed to get things cleaned up in no time. It’s amazing what wipes can do.
  • Accept help. Since I was a bridesmaid in the wedding, I couldn’t be with my baby at all times. I’m not used to that! But when Silas was upset and my husband needed a hand, help wasn’t far away. My aunt, grandmother and sisters-in-law were great.

Travelling with a little one is not easy but it’s doable. Now travelling with two young kids, that, I can not fathom.

Colour me crazy

“How did the wig stay on?” my sister wrote on Facebook after I posted this pic on Saturday morning:

Julie, Jen, Amy, April and Katie before Run or Dye
Julie, Jen, Amy, April and Katie before Run or Dye

A group of girlfriends and I had dragged ourselves out of bed, threw on some fun, colour-themed costumes and met up with our Halifax-based friend Katie to take part in Run or Dye. It was in Windsor, Nova Scotia, on the other side of the Bay of Fundy in the Annapolis Valley. We had driven more than four hours the night prior (after a very full day at work). We were tired.

We should have known after we heard there were between 5,000 and 7,000 participants to expect traffic jams around the single-lane backroads leading to Ski Martok.

As soon as we left the main highway, the line of cars was several kilometres long. We started to worry we would be late (and worse, run out of gas). But our mighty and mohawked driver, Jen, got us to our destination with time to spare. The only problem was we lost Katie, who was in another vehicle with her work buddies, along the way.

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By about 10 a.m., we walked a short trail to the starting corral. Colourful powder was everywhere. Tutus abound.

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Very energetic DJ-type guys were in a tall stand at the starting line. They did their best to hype up the crowd, throwing more colour on runners who might already have been buzzing from free Red Bull that was provided in our race packs. They released packs of tie-dyed runners in groups of 50 or so. Finally it was our turn to run.

With all the pent-up anticipation, we were ready to rip. But the trail was muddy, narrow and full of walkers. It was hilly and difficult to navigate. Our pack of four stuck together not too worried about our pace – the event was not timed.

Several colour stations were situated throughout the trail. Bursts of yellow, green and purple popped through the morning air. It got kind of addictive. It made you want more and more colour – on your face! on your arms! on your clothes! Give me more!

And yes, the wig did stay on over my mop of hair.

Before long, we had made it the end of what felt more like an obstacle course than a race. Someone said the 5K trail was actually 3.8K. It definitely felt short.

Scores of colourful runner were hanging out on a big lawn after the race. A stage was set up with a DJ pumping up another crowd. We took in the sights, grabbed some more fun photos, and headed out for Halifax.

Amy and April
Amy and April

The traffic wasn’t as bad on the way out. It also helped that we found a short-cut down another back road.

We were happy to get an early check-in at our Halifax hotel. We were not as happy about how much scrubbing was required to get the gunk off our skin. Yesterday I was still finding purple bits on my q-tips.

But we managed to get ourselves presentable again, and head out for a night on the town to celebrate Amy’s birthday. We also reconnected with our friend Katie. We hit up Lululemon, a few other stores, and then dined at the Wooden Monkey.

April, Amy, Julie, Katie and Jen at the Wooden Monkey
April, Amy, Julie, Katie and Jen at the Wooden Monkey

Overall, an excellent girls weekend, and a running experience I won’t soon forget.