Oak Island Marathon 2023

The Oak Island Marathon

Just after new year's 2023, I saw an ad for what looked like a really fun marathon in Oak Island, North Carolina. I know that I had the 2023 Coast Guard Marathon just 2 weeks after Oak Island, but I thought it would make a really fun way to do my last long run before the Coast Guard. I also thought it would make a really great valentines gift for my wife Mercedes who loves run tourism as much as I do. So I signed us up, me in the full and Mercedes in the half.

The race course is super flat except for a bridge at 22 miles (35 km) that crosses over the intracoastal waterway. That bridge is a surprisingly tough climb that you do outbound and again inbound! Following the beach partly and going through some amazing quiet neighborhoods and passing the historic lighthouse, the race provides a lot of amazing sights.

Although the race is mostly on road, there were sections where we were made to run on the sidewalk! I was surprised to find this out, and Mercedes mentioned a runner had tripped on the uneven sidewalk and fallen. I also didn't like the fact that traffic was allowed to mix with runners on the east loop although under the control of the police. To me as a race director I would close half a lane and leave the other 1.5 lanes open to traffic. Using cones to divide the race from the cars would make it a lot safer. The turnaround for the marathon was before the turnaround for the east loop half as well. I myself added a short extra 20 meters or so before realizing marathon turns there. There was no sign or volunteer at all, only a spray painted semi circle arrow on the pavement. If you are not looking down at your feet you will miss this turnaround. Lots of runners missed this!

Criticisms aside, the after party was good with some BBQ and a beer. Lots of good people and conversations and war stories! The organizers are great people and I was happy to collect 1st place in my age group and get an extra medal for that. Overall the race was well done and the volunteers were fantastic. I truly want criticisms mentioned to be taken as constructive and I'm sure that next year these things will be rectified.

Race day - Lining up!

Our AirBnB was just a block from the start/finish of the race. This made it so easy to make sure we had all our bathroom business, small breakfast and coffee and everything else done before showing up. No potty lines for us! Our host Barb was an amazing genuinely warm person who has one of the nicest places we have stayed in yet!

By 6:35 we were at the line 10 minutes ahead and the music was pumping. The sun wasn't up so it was chilly with about +2C temperature and I was happy to be Canadian so I was fine in shorts and my tech running shirt. After the anthem we were off promptly at 6:45. Because the east course half marathon was starting at the same time as us, I got to run with Mercedes for a little bit until things spread out.

The Race

This course promised to be really flat and fast and the first 10K did not disappoint! We ran through some early morning chill in the local community as the residents awoke and cheered us on.

After running through residential areas we opened up onto the road that follows the seacoast out to a beautiful historic lighthouse. The lighthouse is the only 100% volunteer managed lighthouse in North Carolina.It is a relatively young lighthouse being completed in 1958 and stands 169 feet above the water's surface at the tip. Tours are available: http://www.oakislandlighthouse.org

The course swings around and back south along the water to pass the starting point just after the half point. It is a little psychologically unnerving to pass the finish line knowing you have to run out away of it and do what you just did in terms of distance all over again, but that is marathon running, a mental game.

I chose to simply enjoy the ocean breeze and ran along the coast pass vacation homes that sit next to the beach. After a long time we turned around and went back along the same route with the course remaining dead flat which was great.

35 km  is usually a very mentally tough point in any marathon for me and I'm sure many others. It is at this point in the race that we turned left onto the road that takes us to the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway. I've run a lot of hills in mountains in trail races so hills are part of the deal for me, however to have this bridge/hill come at 35 km into a marathon was a little tough mentally and physically. When trying to qualify for Boston, every minute counts and I'm sure my time would have been 5 minutes faster had the bridge hill not been part of the race. I think that the organizers could have easily avoided this by simply extending the turnaround point further out West Beach Drive. I feel it would also be less disruptive to traffic.

After climbing the bridge outbound, turning around, and climbing it again coming back it was back to Beach Drive for a few final kilometers to the finish where we had started earlier in the morning. The finish was epic because I was determined to push hard at the end having lost some time to the bridge and worried about my BQ. I fell into Mercedes' arms 5 minutes under my BQ ready for BBQ and beer!

The Finish

The cool but super sunny race day had warmed slightly and the finish area park was fun with some folks sticking around for a little bit. There was a small sample of BBQ and a beer which was a nice treat. Not a 4 beer/Irish stew live band type of deal like Shamrock Virginia Beach but I understand as a race director that smaller events are different and the economics dictate things. It's not easy organizing a road race and the costs are high so I have to give kudos to the race organizers.

Having won my age group I was pleasantly surprised to receive a 2nd medal commemorating that. And as for the participation medals, they were epic! A giant surfboard medal that will look good hung at any tiki bar was the prize!


The Oak Island Marathon/Half Marathon/10K/5K/1 mile has a distance for everyone! There is even a tongue in cheek "ultra" option of 2024 which is approximately an extra 0.1 mile to make it slightly longer so it can be called an Ultra. The half marathon can be run as an east course or west course race so that either of the 2 half of the full marathon can be run as a half. This is a great option for those who wish to avoid the dreaded bridge hill.

The after party I'm sure would be hopping for longer had the weather been warmer, but it was good with a DJ, BBQ and beer.

Oak Island itself is definitely a nice getaway mini vacation. Mercedes and I love to do run tourism and we always explore the places we run. There are always new restaurants, hiking trails, beaches or whatever the area has to offer. On this trip we explored Bald Head Island after a ferry ride from the mainland.

Bald Head Island is a beautiful little island where no cars are allowed so it's all golf carts! There is another little lighthouse on it, several marshy hiking trails, a marina, some little restaurants and more! I highly recommend making the trip to Bald Head.

Definitely run this event in 2024.

On the ferry at sunset heading back

Bald Head Island Marina

Looking back at Oak Island lighthouse from the ferry

Old Baldy Lighthouse

2022 Coast Guard Marathon

The Coast Guard Marathon

The Coast Guard Marathon came on the scene in 2022 with an inaugural run. The event features a full marathon, half marathon and a 5K providing a race for all abilities and inclinations.

The event takes place in the small waterfront town of Elizabeth City where the Pasquotank River joins Albemarle Sound which is itself sheltered by the long linear Outer Banks. It makes sense that the Coast Guard would have a base at such a sheltered place that also has ocean access. It is a Coast Guard town and to me a great partnership exists between the town and the Coast Guard.

Mercedes and I are run tourists and often plan a mini getaway around a race over a long weekend of 2 to 3 days. The Coast Guard Marathon for us came up as a possible destination race because of a number of factors. Besides the perfectly flat course, there’s the cute town of Elizabeth City with it’s restaurants, brew pub, unique shops and waterfront. If staying longer it’s witching a short distance to Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills where we first took flight, and the rest of the Outer Banks. I’m quite sure there is a lot more than that to explore given enough time.

Starting line

Race day - Lining up!

On the morning of the race we left our hotel and made it downtown to the ample parking and found no trouble getting there in a timely manner. After a short walk we lined up at the starting line.

After the usual announcements we had the anthem and a flyover by a huge C-130 Coast Guard airplane in formation with a helicopter! The excitement built and I said “see you later” to Mercedes who was running the half marathon. I had no expectations as to my time having had a cold prior to the race but I felt great and was ready to go.

The Race

When the gun went I found that I was able to get right into my desired pace without the long stretches of walking and slower running you need to do in larger races. We ran out smartly and encountered the only “hill” on the course which I say tongue in cheek because it was a barely detectable gentle rise over a short bridge. From there…total flatness!

The first few miles of a marathon for me are sort of a settling in period. My cardio comes up slowly and by about 5 km or 3 miles, my breathing settles into a nice easy rhythm. My goal is to start off at my target race pace in a way that is efficient and relaxed. Last thing I want is to flirt with lactate threshold early.

The race around mile 2 is close to the water from then slowly turns inland. By mile 5 we are entering the Coast Guard air base where we pass the active runway! By the way, in the 2023 version we actually run on the runway on the way back so that’s an improvement I can’t wait for!

After the base we went back close to the waterfront through some scenic residential areas and did some loops around them. The mid-point of the race route takes runners around one of the last standing WWII airship hangars, a 20-story tall, dome-shaped structure on the waterfront! I found this to be a very interesting sight that really shows how huge these early airships were.

On the way back we run through the campus of Elizabeth City State University, a historically black college and the only four-year collegiate aviation education program in North Carolina. I can say that the steps of the buildings ew passed were full of some of the most enthusiastic cheering students ever! The energy was infectious and comes at a point in the race where you really start feeling it and cursing yourself for entering.

The last bit going back downtown comes at the time where you feel your worst because it’s almost over but still a few km to go. We ran through some neighborhoods where the residents cheered us and clapped and yelled encouragement all the way. The level of respect they showed for our efforts was heart warming. You push and push through these last blocks until the last right turn at the waterfront where you first see the finish arch!

I sort of knew that my goal time of sub 3:40 that I needed to qualify for Boston was not going to happen. The chest cold during the weeks leading up to the race may have been a factor but at the end of the day I just wasn’t up to it on the day. I was still happy to reach 3:42 on the clock at the finish. All in all a good day’s work.

After the Race

We were impressed with the coast Guard displays and booths staffed by active duty Coast Guard members. There were equipment demos, boats, educational conversations and more.

The awards were nicely done and I was honored to receive first place in the 55 to 59 age group. Being 59 at the time put me towards the high end of that group so I was surprised. Thanks!

Mercedes had run a great half marathon and joined me for the food and beers at the finish line which was also a very nice touch.

Overall this felt like a nice sized race without some o the madness of the big races where there is barely room to sit down after. We really enjoyed the after party!

Exploring Elizabeth City

Mercedes and I love to travel to races not just for such awesome races themselves, but to explore each new place we run in! Elizabeth City had som great scenic places to walk by the water and some great dining and shopping opportunities.

Our favourite place to grab a pint and relax is 7 Sounds Brewery. The waterfront location, great building, great beer and good people make this a relaxing place to visit.

2023 Coast Guard Marathon Medals

Starting line

The 2023 Coast Guard Marathon

As an ambassador for 2023 I'll definitely be back March 2-4, 2023 for this amazing weekend! Use code Nick15 for a 15% discount when you register!

Let’s Run this Runway! Introducing The Coast Guard Marathon. You will be SOARING with excitement when you experience the newest race route addition… You will be RUNNING the RUNWAY! The in-person 26.2 and 13.1 routes include running the historic, active, airstrip thanks to Air Station Elizabeth City. Register today for YOUR chance to take flight!

Some Amazing Facts!

  • The Coast Guard Marathon is one of the flattest road races in the world.
  • The Coast Guard Marathon is the ONLY sanctioned road race of The United States Coast Guard
  • This event is a USA Track and Field-sanctioned event
  • The 26.2-mile course is a Boston Qualifier
  • The race weekend takes place in Elizabeth City, North Carolina which is home to one of the largest Coast Guard Bases in the Country and a designated Coast Guard City
  • The race weekend offers a Full Marathon (26.2 miles), Half Marathon (13.1 miles), 5K (3.1 miles), and Semper Paratus Challenge.
  • In 2022, runners from all 50 states and 4 countries participated in both in-person and virtually.
  • Hosted in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, the marathon and half marathon courses will run along the Pasquotank River and through the U.S. Coast Guard Base and Air Station with a rare chance to traverse the military airstrip. Along the way, runners will see Elizabeth City State University, a Historically Black College and the home to North Carolina’s only four-year college aviation education program. The marathon route also features a loop around one of the U.S.'s last standing WWII airship hangars, a 20-story tall, dome-shaped structure on the waterfront. All race routes being and end in Elizabeth City’s historic downtown district where a post-race celebration will greet finishers.


Race Website: https://coastguardmarathon.com/

Registration Website: https://runsignup.com/Race/NC/ElizabethCity/CoastGuardMarathon

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CoastGuardMarathon/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/coastguardmarathon/

Strava: https://www.strava.com/clubs/coastguardmarathon

Official Store: https://coastguardmarathon.company.site/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC00PraxciZNEen99AQDQA3Q

Pema Tshiri Sherpa

As of this writing, Pema is the only trek leader who has personally walked every kilometer of the Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) "the highest feasible trekking route going from the eastern border of Nepal to its western border."

Pema was born in the low Solu Khumbu village of Hill, the fourth of ten children. When he was 16 years old he saw many trekkers going through his village and felt called to join them on their journey. His parents were reluctant, since they had never been involved with trekking themselves. One day he went down to the marketplace and found a trekking group there; he asked if he could get a porter job with them, and joined them on the way to Mera Peak

He had no trekking equipment, no shoes, and no warm clothes, so was sent back and paid in chocolate, a t-shirt and a few pencils given to him by the trekkers. He returned to his village and gave the little bit of money he had earned to his parents, who were very happy and gave him permission to pursue his dream. He headed off to Kathmandu and spent two years working as a porter, advanced to being a kitchen assistant for a year, then was promoted to being a camping Sherpa for two years.After that he became a trekking cook (one of the most responsible positions on a crew), obtained climbing training and became a climbing guide. For five or six years he led individual private groups, and started Pema Treks as an incorporated business in 2008.

For Information on Pema Treks: https://pematreks.com

When Robin Boustead was looking for a trek leader for the GHT project he chose Pema. Robin conceived the Great Himalaya Trail as a way to decrease environmental strain on over-used sections of Nepal bring the benefits of Eco-tourism to more remote areas and connect previously isolated villages. Until this expedition, most trekking in Nepal would head for one specific destination, travel north up a valley to the higher mountain areas and then retrace their way south. There were no clearly mapped trails which ran throughout the high mountains from east to west. In heading to Kanchenjunga in the east and then staying as high as possible as they traveled to the western border, Pema and Robin were often in areas known only to local people and had to rely on finding local shikari (hunter-gatherers) who could show them a way known only to them which connected previously isolated trails. Robin used GPS to map the route, relying on Pema and his crew to communicate with the shikari, blaze trails where forest and jungle obscured the way, secure fixed ropes and get the crew (and trekkers) over the technical portions of the high passes, and find local food sources when supplies ran short. As a result of their work, the Great Himalaya Trail.

  • 2003 -  Basic Mountaineering Training (Nepal Mountaineering Association, Alpine Association of Slovenia)
  • 2006 - Basic Mountain Rescue and First Aid (Nepal Mountaineering Association)
  • 2007 - International Advanced Course in Mountain Medicine and Rescue (Institute de Formation et de Recherche en Medicine de Montagne, IFREMMONT)
  • Member, Nepal Mountaineering Association since 2005
  • Member, Trekking Agenciesâ™ Association of Nepal (TAAN) sine 2009


Website: https://pematreks.com

Tara Portelli

Life has been an accumulation of craziness that has brought me here, to this point, writing this blog. You are probably asking yourself who am I to write a blog about nutrition and health?? Well….let me give you a little glimpse of who I am and where I have come from….

For the last eight years I have spent my life working as a Paramedic. In this job I see the worst of peoples health and most of the time I get there when it is to late. I pursued this career to help people..but how am I supposed help when I get to people after the damage has been done?? So my search has continued…searching for a way to help people become better and take control of their wellbeing. My passion for health, wellness and nutrition has been my drive…leading me down a path that has inspired me to certify as a Personal Trainer and complete my education as Certified Holistic Nutritionist with Alive Academy. I strive to live my own life as holistically as possible, treating my body as a temple and my health as a gift that will allow me to live an amazing life. With the knowledge I gained from my education as a Personal Trainer, alongside hard work, dedication and self discipline, I was able to achieve a lifelong goal of competing in a fitness competition, placing 2nd overall. A few years later, with my studies in Holistic Nutrition under my belt, ironically enough I learned that such extreme competitions are detrimental to my health. With my years of trial and error, educating and re-educating, I feel not only can I help you to prevent chronic illness and disease but I can also help you to feel empowered just as I do to give your body everything it needs to promote a long, healthy and prosperous life. I am grateful that life has brought me here and I am now able to help others feel in control of their health too.

Thank you for reading my blog, I hope you enjoy it as much I will writing..

Twitter: ‎@nudemush

Web: https://nudemushroom.com/

The Canadian Death Race

The Canadian Death Race

The Canadian Death Race in Grande Cache, Alberta has a long storied history stretching over 20 amazing years. I was curious to find out what it was all about based on accounts from friends who had completed the race. Also I had been a five time veteran of Death Race director Brian Gallant's Sinister 7 race in the Crowsnest Pass. I knew that besides being heinously difficult it would be well organized so it was time to check it out!

With 125 km (77 miles) and a cumulative elevation gain of 5,181 metres (17,000 feet) in a 24 hour time limit, I knew this was nothing to take for granted. Sure it's not 100 miles, but given the location of the race - Grand Cache Alberta, you would be hard pressed to find more rugged mountainous terrain in any race.

Divided into 5 legs, the race ascends and descends 3 major mountains, Flood Mountain, Grande Mountain and Mount Hamel. All three of these peaks are above 1,800 metres (6,000 feet) above sea level with the highest point on top of Mount Hamel being 2,129 metres (6,986 feet) ASL. Bring your best lungs and red blood cells to this one because the air is thinner up there.

The legs although traversing remote mountain wilderness have a nice way of coming back to civilization so you can lick your wounds, get support, fresh clothes or shoes, calories and fluids before heading back into that wilderness. The start and finish are also in the same location which makes crewing a little easier.

Feel a little unsure about this adventure? There is also a trail marathon event that lets you experience some of the course and get your feet wet before coming back for the full adventure.

The town of Grande Cache is friendly and the people very welcoming of this insane weekend and I think take tremendous delight in seeing us come to play and suffer in their back yard! 

Then there are the other racers. It's the people who count and some of the most wonderful tough, resilient, giving people I've ever met make up the "usual suspects" list at this event. They can be seen at other ultra races with sometimes ominous names like Sinister 7, Black Spur, River's Edge, Lost Soul, etc. They are like family thanks to mutually overcoming adversity, but also just because they are wonderful people!

Race Day

Leg 3

I set out on 3 with my heart buoyed a little by the brief interlude of sun. I wasn't sure how long it would last but I was happy. 

This leg is fairly benign as it doesn't have much vertical change and follows the Smoky River. I mean it has some elevation for sure but with it's net loss it feels like a break after the horrors of leg 2. 

This year (2019) there had been some sections that were a little washed out from a super wet summer and as a result we ran the side of the road for a section along the highway. I didn't mind at all and took the breather before the Hamel assault to try and recharge.

Upon reaching the end of 3, I met up with Angie Z who was waiting for Hiro and helping crew me as well and she was a welcome sight. She is so experienced at crewing that she knew precisely what to say and do and how to keep my tired brain on the proper script.

Hiro had arrived shortly and we regrouped to prepare for the assault on Mount Hamel. This meant packing up lots of calories, my wind and rain proof jacket and headlamp and other assorted safety gear. Being close to supper time meant eating a lot of calories to prepare.

Leg 4

At the bottom of leg 4 it was a nice balmy temperature for Grande Cache of something like 15 C as Hiro and I departed for the Hamel assault. What we found was a switchback filled with mud and lush vegetation. This part went on seemingly forever as we kept climbing. 

After a relentless forest climb we opened out to a clearing and a road. This gravel road continued to climb. The views were getting more amazing around every bend.At one point I was flowing along so I looked back at one point and Hiro was not there. Given his experience I was sure he was fine though and continued upwards. It was so great seeing him later on getting his washer at the summit!

Eventually above the trees the final switchback appeared and as I went ever higher, the wind gradually picked up and the temperature gradually fell. I reached my wind-proof jacket out from the pack and put it on.

On one of the last switchbacks right at the summit I looked out to the west at the surrounding mountains just as the sun was about to set. I think that was the most epic view of the race. It definitely made my day to see clear skies and a beautiful orange sunset from the summit.

On the summit, it had to have been sub-zero wind-chill and the wind was so powerful that it buffeted me several times off the trail. Some of the small pin flags marking the course were shredded down to a pin with a ragged edge of plastic where a flag once was. 

Then came the sick joke played on all of us of going out along a ridge to pick up a washer and bring it back to the marshals! Nice one! I put my head down and pushed into the gusting high winds as dirt caked my face sticking to the sweat. I smiled at the absurdity of the whole affair.

After passing the prayer flags and stopping momentarily to remember those who were lost and contemplate the meaning of them, it was off down the other side of the mountain. 

I noticed immediately that my energy came up higher than it had been. This as partly because of the fact I like to run the downhills but also because the trail was rocky but dry and it was considerably less windy and cold.

After a really long descent and back into the trees, I came upon the next cruel joke... The Ambler Loop! I had filled my stomach with salty hot broth and some other calories from the amazing aid station so there was that small grace, but then we were directed out towards this swampy loop that was psychologically trying I found. Not sure why, but it got to me.

After Ambler came the Beaver Dam road. This was not steep but went on for a super long time. I think that may have been because of the level of fatigue I had at that point. This road would take us close to the end of 4 and the 100km mark. I made a conscious effort to just keep one foot after the other going.

After reaching the end of 4 and the 100 km mark, I pulled into the checkpoint. If you run any of the Sinister Sports events you will find that Solo runners are treated like rock stars and the cheers that went up when I arrived were truly heartwarming.

To my surprise Steve Bridson (my Ontario Ultra buddy) was there and happily provided me the support I needed. Steve was crewing our friend Grant Monette and it was great seeing him there.

After fuelling and getting sortedI got an ominous reminder about the remote wilderness aspect of the race from a course marshal. We were being warned that it was a good idea to go out on the last leg #5 with other runners. There had been cougars reported stalking runners out there so it was best to travel in numbers. No argument here, I made some friends quickly and got ready to head out for the final 25 km.

Leg 5

The money leg that takes us home was going to start with a cautious run with bear whistles out and eyes peeled. It was about 8 km into the leg that we heard distant yells "hey cougar!!!" which was a warning from runners ahead on the trail that they had a sighting. They continued to make a lot of noise to scare them off and we continued with occasional loud blows of our whistles.

This single track leg was actually quite pretty in the night and featured a narrow rock gap to squeeze through prior to arriving at the river. 

I can't remember but I think it was about 10km into the leg that I felt what seemed like a bee sting in my left knee during one of the descents. I couldn't figure out what it was, but the pain got worse and spread down the outside muscle of my shin. 

We had finally reached the river and the boatman of the dead! With a blacked out face and outstretched hand the figure stood silently to allow only those who had kept their precious coin without losing it along the course of the race thus far. I jokingly gave the outstretched hand 5 and the figure just shook it's supernatural head. Just kidding... Here is your coin.

After passing the boatman at the river's edge, my leg was so painful that the boatmen had to help me get the leg over the side of the boat and get in. After a freezing super fast, short trip we were on the other side! 

What followed was more forest and more hills and more fun! My leg was very grumpy with me but I ignored it, embraced the suffering and went on. 

As the very first light came into the forest I was almost at the road. A road that takes us, uphill of course, to the neighbourhood where we climb up to the main street and the community centre to finish. I was hurting but so over it that I sped up and ended up running quickly into the chute and finish arch... It was done. 

In the end I looked at the clock and had finished 125 km (77.7 miles) and climbed 5,181 metres (17,000 feet) of vertical crossing 3 mountains and dealing with the most heinous muddy conditions possible. It was technical, the weather varied considerably and it was every bit as trying as a similar 100 mile race.

A short time later Hiro came in and we stood there smiling and swapping war stories holding our craft beers with our times stamped on them and our immense belt buckles! What an incredible feeling of accomplishment and relief. As much as it's about enjoying the journey there is nothing like the feeling at the finish.

It was great to see Angie, Monique, Brandy, Sherri and all the others at the finish and also great to hang out and watch the kids race. 

All in all I have to give kudos to race director Brian Gallant and his entire team of volunteers who make it so incredible. It was a super well executed event and I'll be back next year for the Sinister Triple! (Sinister 7, Death Race and Black Spur!)

Without Whom

I have to say thank you to Angie and Hiro for hosting me in Edmonton, driving me to Grande Cache with them and all the fun stuff we did in Edmonton. Thanks Angie and Sherri for helping me at the transfers. Thanks for being such great friends.

Thanks to Jim Chernichen for the lift back to Edmonton.

Thanks to Sherri and Dennis for meeting us in Edmonton for such a great dinner. 

Thanks to Sarah and Brian Gallant & team for these amazing races. 

Great to hang out with Debbie and Brian Wallace and what a great dinner we concocted!

Thanks to Steve Bridson for being there for me at leg 4/5 checkpoint.

Grant Monette pulled off a heroic OTL finish refusing to quit and I have so much respect for you buddy!


Canadian Death Race Web: https://www.canadiandeathrace.com/

Quite an Experience

As is usually the case when you try a race for the first time there is a mixture of excitement and a little apprehension when you show up at the start. In my case I know I'm going to be out there for a long time as in all day through the night. Upon seeing the weather patterns in Grande Cache and having had a disastrous bout of trench foot at Sinister 7 race a month earlier, the apprehension seemed to be winning out. 

I looked over at my friend Hiro and he looked as unflappable as ever. Looking at Hiro is to look at a man who has had so many rodeos that none of the bulls scare him anymore. It's like a quiet confidence he has that I was trying to emulate.

Leg 1

Before I had too much time to ruminate on these thoughts, it was go time. Just like that we were off and running and being cheered on by the amazing Grande Cache supporters lining the first road section. I felt like it was a good thing to provide some sort of spectacle to the local folks who happily gave us a venue to come out and play. 

Before long after descending a section of road we were into the forest for the first taste of muddy trail. While leg 1 is a relatively benign one without too many serious changes in elevation, it made up with it by throwing puddle after puddle at us. They were deep and wide, leaving us with the option of just running right through or trying to skirt them and falling in potentially. I chose a combination of these and arrived relatively unscathed at the transfer point a little faster than I probably should have at 1:56, emerging from the trees to follow the rail track into the transfer. 

Leg 2

Heading out on 2 it occurred to me that now the race was going to bare it's teeth and show us some nasty climbs. This was a warm up climb at first with a steady road climb that seemed to never end. Before long it changed to trail and steepness. 

The trail became quite steep on the climb to the top of Mt. Flood switching back many times through the treed sections, emerging to an open area and a checkpoint. The volunteers were yelling "welcome to Flood" as we arrived and I could see what they were so enthusiastic about, the view! It was the first high vantage point of many and definitely afforded a great view of the valley and everything below.

Lest I become too Euphoric, the race dropped us roughly 1,300 feet into Washy Creek and immediately the next insane climbing began. This was the part that took us to the summit of Grande Mountain.

I should mention that this leg has some of the most technical and heinous terrain in the race. Names like Slugfest and Stairway to Hell leave little to the imagination. Stairway to Hell was basically a river of vertical mud to climb. It's a sick sadistic leg that made me smile thinking how ridiculous it really was!

Getting back to the subject of Grande Mountain, it followed some really muddy sections but opened up near the top with an amazing view looking across at other mountains near the summit. It was a gravel road that provided a brief respite form the mud and technical trail. Following that climb, the summit of Grande to me was even more spectacular than Flood had been.

After enjoying the views and the fact that rain had held off, it followed inevitably that it would rain on the descent. Of course it was no ordinary descent either. Powerline exceeded the tales of terror I'd heard for sure. People were falling ahead of me onto their butts and then sliding as if on some giant slip and slide. It was literally so slippery in the muddy trail and slick grass that anything less than shoes with giant cleats and you would be sliding potentially a long way on your butt.

I was so happy about my shoes having helped negotiate Powerline without falling that I counted my blessings and ran the grassy embankment beside the road back to the neighbourhood leading to the end of 2 which was the starting area.

This checkpoint being the race central was fully stocked with what I needed and I was happy to see Sherri Donohue there who helped me get the broth in and food. I sat there just long enough to take in the food and some dry clothes just as the weather started to clear up a little.

Niagara Falls International Marathon

The Falls!

In all my years of running marathons and all sorts of other distances, I had never run the Niagara Falls International Marathon. It's been on my radar ever since high school when back in my graduating year of 1981, my cross country and track coach Dave Knox ran a 2:23 in what was then called the Niagara Skyline Marathon. So when race directors Diane Chesla and Henri Ragetlie asked me to come down and run it there was no way i was saying no thanks!

The concept is pretty awesome because it highlights our long lasting friendship with our American neighbours to the south. The race starts in the USA in Buffalo and ends on the Canadian side in Niagara Falls directly in front of the Horseshoe Falls. When else do you get to cross the border on foot without stopping, no questions asked?

As much as Niagara Falls itself has dramatically changed since the mini vacations I took there with my parents as a youth, some things remain the same. The crazy haunted house carnival they call Clifton Hill has not changed much with it's flashing lights, barrel over the falls, believe it or not atmosphere! It's a Vegas like carnival with rolller coasters, go carts, mixed with restaurants, hotels, everything you can think of on one crazy strip. 

As far as what changed is concerned, the skyline which used to be dominated by two observation towers is now rows of hotel towers of a similar height. Gone are most of the low to the ground motels with pools, replaced by casino hotel towers. It's the Vegas of Canada.

It's a beautiful city where the business is tourism centred around one of the natural wonders of the world, the falls!

The Expo

Many races feature expos. These are usually quite similar from city to city and you could walk into the expo in one city and not be able to tell which city you are in! They typically consist of vendors of everything running related and of course other races have a booth as well.

Where Niagara Falls International's expo differs is in the ideas that go beyond the basic vendor booth format. Yes there are vendors of many things and races, but race director Diane Chesla added workshops, speakers and interactive yoga and massage to the mix. 

I attended some of the speaking sessions which gave wonderful advice on injury prevention, a debate on various diets and running, conditioning, and the amazing keynote speaker Ray Zahab! Ray has traveled the world running every desert on the planet, Siberia, Antarctica, and all the cold deserts too. His hour flashed by quickly and at the end I found myself compelled to join him on one of these extreme adventure.

As a vegan ultra runner I was very happy with some of the food options at the expo and then I discovered a vegan food expo right next door! Awesome! 

Another feature you might not see at other ones was clearing customs! When I picked up my bib I had to pre-clear Canadian customs to allow the continuous non-stop run back into Canada from the USA. This was efficient and friendly.

To sum up the expo, great mix of vendors of running products and some not exclusive to running such as organic jams, and CBD oil! The added workshops, speakers, debates and art pieces present gave it a flavour unique to this event. Well done Diane!

The Race

After a weekend well spent so far, it was race day! I had laid out my flat runner in the hotel the night before and all I had to do was stagger out of bed and put it on bib and all! I'm not a morning person.

I ate a small carb loaded breakfast, got my coffee and drank a litre of water. The time had come to jump on the bus and shuffle off to Buffalo! 

At the border the busses stopped at a processing centre because although we were pre-cleared back into Canada, we still hadn't cleared our way into the USA! After quickly showing our passport, no questions asked we were ushered back onto the bus to continue to Buffalo.

My seat mate on the bus was a woman named Mercedes who was looking for a marathon finish for it's inspiration as well as it's ability to take you to new heights emotionally, physically and mentally. I really enjoyed the conversation and when we arrived in Buffalo at the starting line I vowed to wait for her and see how she made out. I told her to run as fast as a Mercedes! 

At the starting line we reached our assigned time corrals and yet more conversations ensued in the friendly mix of Canadians and Americans. After the anthem was sung, some energizing music began and the gun went! Just like that we were off.

The Course

The course at first was a tour of some nice residential areas in Buffalo. The crowds were cheering us on and I felt that not too many people were annoyed with any sort of delay caused by our passing by. 

We ran out onto a parkway and headed for the bridge! Look out Fort Erie here we come! I had never crossed without a visit to the customs booth and at least stopping to answer one or two questions. We ran the bridge which presented one of the only "hills" in the entire course. It certainly has potential to be a super fast course.

Soon after we took a turnaround that later afforded us a great view of the Buffalo skyline across the lake. After doubling back on our path we were able to cheer the outbound runners on as we returned.

This led to parkway section which parallels the Niagara river which ultimately leads to a plunge over the falls! This is a long section, but very pretty with the river view, nice neighbourhoods and several tiny bridges that cross the small rivers and canals that feed the Niagara River.

The aid stations along this section are staffed with the most amazing supportive people. I never felt in the middle of nowhere. It was like every few km I got another cheering section! 

After this long river following section came a downhill to the finish.

My Race Report Video


Niagara Falls International Marathon: https://niagarafallsmarathon.com/landing-page/ 

My Active Lifetime Youtube Channel: https://bit.ly/32Ct7xJ

The Finish

After a wonderful downhill that lasted for over a mile, you round the bend to the sound of thunderous water from the Horseshoe Falls as well as a lot of cheering and music!

I had not really gone into the race with goals but can comfortably run a 3:40 just on residual fitness from running ultras. However I was propelled along by the enthusiasm and taking photos and videos to the point where I lost all sense of pace and ran far too fast for the first three quarters of the race. I ran 1:44 half, 2:58 for 35 km then realized how hot and exhausted I was and dialled that back in a hurry. I would highly recommend that anyone running this race stick to their goal pace because it is a fast course that propels you along!

At the finish there was a good amount of bananas, oranges, muffins, electrolyte and water drinks, massage and of course the cooling mist from the falls descending and cooling! What an atmosphere!

I recovered and hung our with my friend David Wise who had really done well with a 3:28. It was really great hanging out with a fellow plant based athlete and always an interesting conversation.

After some time had passed I moved over to the finish line to wait for my new friend Mercedes whom I had met on the bus to Buffalo. I began to get concerned then heard "Mercedes Martinez" come over the PA system and there the was! So good to see people complete a marathon. Everyone is really only racing themselves. So many reasons and so many goals and I give full kudos to all who undertake the distance. She was emotional in a positive way and I was honoured to be part of the experience Congratulations Mercedes!


The medal was quite nicely designed and the results and photos were available not too long after. This is a really well organized event with lots of scenery, positive encouraging crowds, art installations along the course, all the nutrition and hydration products you ever need and you finish in a cooling mist from one of the largest waterfalls in the world!

The expo was engaging with more than just swag and products. It had useful presentations, speakers, debates and interactive things like yoga and massage. Oh and it's very own customs clearance department!

I will be back for sure.

Stephanie Bales

Stephanie Bales is a 37 year old, mom to a 17 year old son and two step sons. She has been a nurse for 13 years and Emergency Nurse for 6 years. She has been running since 2008 and running ultras since 2012.

Stephanie is the host of Running Divine Podcast, telling ultra runner stories with a special focus on sharing female athlete stories.

Some highlights include running in Iceland, Scotland, Slovenia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Vietnam, Colombia and all over North America. With second place finishes at  Brookvale 50 k (2012) Haliburton 100 mile (2016), Ultra Africa Race (2017) Ultra Asia Race (2018).

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/runningdivinepodcast/

Web: http://runningdivinepodcast.com

Salomon Fellraiser – Most Comfortable High Traction Trail Shoe Ever

Vivobarefoot Primus Trail SG - Barefoot trail running revisited

I ordered the Salomon Fellraiser online with a fair degree of confidence knowing how Salomon products fit my feet.

Salomon trail shoes seem to fall into two types of toe box and one or the other will be ideal for an individual depending on the shape of their feet. The skinny one that squeezes my toes a little too tightly is more the Salomon Speedcross type of toe box.

The Fellraiser falls into the rounder more roomy category that suits my toes better. I’m referring specifically to the Salomon Speedcross shoe which I also run in which has a narrower toe box..........

Click Here to read the full review on RunRepeat.com

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