In popular running, marathons grab all the attention and glory. But the half-marathon has its own appeal. For many, it is the logical progression between the 10K and the full, but for another segment of runners, the half-marathon is itself its own challenge.
The race demands speed, endurance and mental toughness. To run a good half-marathon, you need the ability to hone yourself to the point where you race at the knife-edge of blowing up. The half-marathon requires patience, timing and guts.
Beyond that, the half is usually less expensive than a full, takes less time and doesn’t leave the runner nearly as spent and beat-up. Still, not convinced? Look over our list of half-marathons, a selection of the country’s fastest, most scenic and just plain good. You just might find the next race you plan is a half.
Sunshine Coast April Fool’s Run Half-Marathon
Gibsons to Sechelt, B.C.
Don’t be a fool – do this race.
You’d be a fool not to run this half-marathon on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast. The race began in 1978 when an English teacher named George Matthews bragged to his fit friend Fran Berger that he could run from Gibsons to Sechelt – without training. Berger, a fitness columnist, accepted the challenge and 17 runners made the trek for the first edition of the race. Matthews died of cancer in 2001, but the tradition lives on – in 2010, the April Fool’s Run attracted 601 participants. The race includes a relay, team competition, cash prizes, unique age group awards, finisher medals and a beachfront finish line.
Banque Scotia 21K de Montréal
Race like an F1 car
For the fourth consecutive year, the Banque Scotia 21K will serve as the Canadian Half-Marathon Championships race. The event is also an excellent opportunity for recreational runners to enjoy a traffic-free, dead-flat course that starts in Montreal’s Parc Jean-Drapeau. To really get your heart revving, make sure you cut the tangents on the red-and-white striped corners when the route passes through the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve Formula One track. “Athletics Canada and the Canadian Running Series invite everyone to join us for a great weekend of racing and running on a signature Montreal course,” says race director François Lecot.
Look Matters Gopher Attack Half-Marathon
For the T-shirt.
If ever there was a race you simply ran because of the great race T-shirt, this is it. The race boasts a flat, fast course and a race T-shirt with a frothing, angry gopher. Started four years ago by Regina runners who just couldn’t wait for the marathon season to begin, the race features all the attractions of much bigger events, including online registration, chip timing, medals and a post-race banquet. The course is Boston-certified and in 2010, a whopping 38 per cent of runners qualified for the famous spring marathon.
The Big Run 2011
Feel the burn at Bowness.
Fresh after the snow and cold of a Prairie winter, The Big Run half-marathon will help shake off the snow and cold of a Prairie winter. Starting in Bowness Park in Calgary and running along the Bow River, this chip-timed half-marathon provides an early chance to see how your winter training has gone. Runners get finisher’s medals and race T-shirts, plus awards for the top 3 male and female finishers. Proceeds support two local charities, the Diakonos Retreat Society’s family camp and Theatre Calgary.
BMO Vancouver Half-Marathon
The BMO Vancouver is one of Canada’s largest half-marathons and has an extensive history since its inaugural marathon in 1972. The event has had participation from athletes from around the world – 38 countries in 2008. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the event and will feature a T-shirt designed by a runner. The course starts near GM Place in downtown Vancouver and spins through Chinatown and the famous Stanley Park.
Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) Half-Marathon
For the pancakes.
In 2003, Winnipeg police officers shaved their heads bald in a show support for a local boy suffering from cancer, which eventually led to the birth of a race. In its seventh edition, the WPS half-marathon serves as the Manitoba Half-Marathon Provincial Championships, it’s chip-timed, has prize money, awards and pace bunnies. This spring run for a cause rewards runners with a post-race pancake breakfast. Last year, the race collected more than $120,000 for the Manitoba division of the Canadian Cancer Society
Quebec City International Half-Marathon
Quebec City, Quebec
For the race breakfast.
History, scenery and great food – Quebec appears to have it all, especially the latter. Capped at 2,500 participants, the race begins on the Plains of Abraham and guides runners past heritage buildings and along the St. Lawrence River. That’s all fine and good, but finishing provides the real treat. First of all, you receive not only a medal, but a beanie. But better still, organizers know running 21.1K builds up an appetite and they make sure it’s satisfied, offering crepes, French toast, eggs, ham, cheese and coffee.
Downtown Inc. Fredericton Half-Marathon
Fredericton, New Brunswick
Flat and fast.
Runners hammer out a quick couple of loops of the downtown before they set out on an out-and-back course on crushed gravel trails that follow the St. John River. The half features virtually no elevation except near the end when racers cross a pedestrian bridge that can be slippery when wet. New Brunswick marathon veteran Alex Coffin holds the men’s course record with a 1:13 win in 2003.
Run Wild Half-Marathon
St. Albert, Alberta
Show your stripes.
This new road race set northwest of Edmonton is part of a full spread of events, including a marathon, a 10K and a 5K. Funds raised from the half-marathon go towards Edmonton’s Zebra Child Protection Centre, which offers programs for those affected by child abuse. Instead of pace bunnies, pace zebras help runners to a spring PB. The half-marathon course winds through the city’s trail system and countryside just outside and finishes in a downtown park.
GoodLife Fitness Toronto Half-Marathon
Fast course, nice finish.
Join nearly 5,000 other runners on this point-to-point, net downhill course through Canada’s biggest city. The race is in the spring this year instead of the usual fall date, after the GoodLife race and the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon negotiated a change in season to avoid a conflict between the races. The pasta dinner before the race features top-notch speakers, including Kathrine Switzer, who helped pioneer women’s’ marathon running.
Woody’s RV World Half-Marathon
Red Deer, Alberta
The read deal.
This half marathon was voted one of Alberta’s top road races by Athletics Alberta in 2010. This year’s race expo features Nina Kuscsik, the first official female winner of the Boston Marathon, as a guest speaker. Race photos are free and runners get bamboo race shirts. Extra incentives include a flat, fast course and loads of door prizes. You can register online at www.reddeermarathon.org or by mail or phone.
Scotiabank Bluenose Half-Marathon
Halifax, Nova Scotia
More than 1,800 people run the Bluenose Half-Marathon. Starting in downtown Halifax, the race loops down to Point Pleasant Park, where runners face a short but steep climb. After that it’s a gradual uphill grade back to the city’s North End, before swinging back to the start. Last year’s winner, a teenager from Hebbville, N.S., gutted out the hilly course to win the race in 1:17. Many first-time half-marathoners are happy just to complete the challenging course..
Run For Water Half-Marathon
For those in need.
If you live near Abbottsford, B.C. or need an excuse to visit, lace up your sneakers for this half. The fourth annual Run For Water Half-Marathon is put on by an Abbotsford-based non-profit society dedicated to staging a high-calibre running event. The directors of Run For Water share the goal of promoting healthy physical activity and community spirit as well as raising funds for clean water development in under-privileged communities. The racecourse brushes the U.S. border and is mainly flat with a downhill grade from the start and a net uphill toward the end.
Scotiabank Calgary Half-Marathon
To test yourself.
People might think of the Prairies as flat, but Calgary rests in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and, as this half-marathon course demonstrates, there are plenty of hills in the area. From kilometres two through 14.5, runners steadily climb and then hit a sharp, long, quad-pounding downhill. If you’re lucky, you might catch some inspiring views of the mountains as you face this challenging run.
To be part of the crowd.
With slightly over 9,000 people running the capital city’s half, it’s hard to seek out the loneliness of the long distance runner. The race is big enough that it features a two-wave start for the half. The course isn’t as flat as people would have you believe; when it heads into Gatineau across the Ottawa River, some hills come into play. Heat can also be a factor in Ottawa, as the temperature has climbed to 28 C at theend of May.
Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon
Toronto, Ont./ May 29 2011
Women lead the way
A women’s race is a great idea whether you just want a the chance to run in a supportive-all female pack or the chance to be the first person across the finish line, not just the first woman to cross it. The race follows scenic pathways in the beautiful Seton and Taylor Creek Parks of North Toronto, and there are fun extras like water stations with shirtless firefighters and an aid station handing out chocolate at kilometre 19. The race fills up quickly, and the 2011 race is already full, so make sure to register early if you want to run it in 2012. Fortunately, Toronto Women’s Run Series has a 10k and 5k on August 27 and an 8k and 5k on Oct 29 which still have openings.
Canadian Air Force Run Half-Marathon
For the aircraft.
Break out of the winter blues and prepare for the summer race season by sporting your colours: Air Force blue. Feeling the need to keep up with their Navy and Army colleagues who already host road races, the Air Force Run began in 2009. The race starts on 17 Wing Winnipeg and winds through the base and across the tarmac that allows runners to spot many of the Canadian Forces military aircraft. Join local runners and military runners who often fly in to run and to show their Air Force pride.
Johnny Miles Advocate Half-Marathon
New Glasgow, Nova Scotia
For the history, the small-town hospitality – and the hat.
The race draws its name, of course, from Nova Scotia runner Johnny Miles, a two-time winner of the Boston Marathon who represented Canada in the marathon twice at the Olympics. You can channel his courage as you complete two loops of the rolling course. The event is always well-organized and has previously included a high-quality technical shirt, a free lunch and, best of all, a different collectible hat every year.
Grand Manan Boys and Girls Club Half-Marathon
Grand Manan, New Brunswick
For the views.
It takes some planning to attend this race as it involves a short ferry ride over to Grand Manan, an island off the coast of New Brunswick and not too far from Maine. The point-to-point race over rolling roads provides runners with breathtaking views out from the cliffs overlooking the Bay of Fundy.
To support the men and women who serve.
From the unique dogtag medals to the cannon used as the starter’s pistol, this run is all about honouring the military. Fees from the race go to the Soldier On and Military Families Fund. The race even includes a military equipment display with soldiers on hand to answer any questions. The flat course allows civilians to test their mettle against army, navy and air force personnel. The run also includes an online “boot camp” with advice, from among others, Dick Hartnett, an experienced coach and head of the fitness and sports program at CFB Gagetown.
Tim Hortons Valley Harvest Half-Marathon
Wolfville, Nova Scotia
For the stunning beauty.
It might be difficult to find a more scenic marathon in Canada than the Valley Harvest. The out-and-back course through Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley reveals one incredible vista after another as runners race over hilly backcountry roads. If that weren’t enough, the race occurs during peak leaf-viewing season in the fall. The exterior beauty will help sustain you through the interior challenges you face while negotiating this tough course.
For the cause and the speed.
Funds raised from this race are divided equally to support children in poverty in Hamilton and in Haiti. Even though the race is capped at 3,000 runners, some $80,000 was raised for the two charities last year. Not only do you get to feel good from contributing, but your finish time ought to make you happy as well. The net-downhill course takes runners down the Red Hill Parkway and provides one of the fastest runs in the country.
Charles Mandel is a contributing editor at Canadian Running and Noël Paine is an Ottawa-based runner and freelance writer.