This past weekend I had the opportunity to run in the BMO Okanagan Half Marathon – or as John Stanton, founder of the Running Room so kindly called it, the Full Half Marathon.
On Saturday morning I flew into Kelowna and went directly to the race expo. It was well set-up. There were lots of exhibitors and the place was alive. This was in part because there was a 3k warm-up fun-run, a 5k run and the kids run all happening that morning – so there were lots of people around and the atmosphere was energized for the race. My dad even commented had he not been sick he would easily have registered to run the half marathon with me.
The race package pick-up was very smooth and well organized. Just like any other race – you find your bib number on the wall and then go to the pick-up area to claim your package and then double-check your chip at the chip-check area. There was lots of coffee, fruit and snacks on hand too. Even all the sponsors were out in full-force.
John Stanton gave a great morning welcome to the group and provided some helpful tips for the participants to get ready over the next 24 hours for their big day. This information was a great friendly reminder and was well received by the crowd. The Race Director then went over the entire course and set expectations. He explained how they worked closely with the City of Kelowna to come up with the new course.
The next morning we arrived about 15 minutes before the half marathon began. It was very easy to find street parking in Kelowna – we parked about 5 blocks from City Park – which would have been impossible had we have been in a larger centre like Vancouver.
I was all hyped up for the run to begin. I went inside the race expo tent and picked up my complimentary BMO race gloves – which would prove to be invaluable throughout the duration of the run. I handed my backpack to my dad, got down to my race clothing and off I went to the start line to meet my 1:45:00 race bunny.
About 4 minutes before the run began the skies let loose and it began to pour rain. Sure, it had been forecasted, but it’s the Okanagan and usually it’s just a passing shower. Not in this case. The majority of the run it was either raining or sprinkling; I’m not saying it was a bad thing – I’d much rather run in a sprinkle of rain than have it 33′c like it was for the Underwear Affair this June in Vancouver!
Overall my comments on the race route was that it was well marked. My dad and I had tried to drive the race route based on the map that was provided but honestly, the map was so confusing we got turned around at least 3 or 4 times – and I was born in the Okanagan and spend a lot of time in Kelowna- so this wasn’t new territory for either of us. My recommendation for next year – work out a better route map with clearer markers and more landmarks.
Again, on race day the course was extremely well marked. There were pylons lining the street and volunteer course marshals were on every corner. On the busier intersections there were RCMP officers with marked vehicles along with volunteers – ensuring all the participants knew where to go and could cross major intersections safely.
I’ve run many larger races in the past, so it was odd being on a longer, spread-out course with only 3,500 people. I paced the second half of the run with two very beautiful girls ahead of me. They were my motivation for sure! I owe them a big thank you!
What makes every single run memorable and worth every moment are the people who line the streets and cheer for the participants. About every 3 or 4kms there were people on the corners holding big black signs with pink writing that said, “Stay Strong” – this was so encouraging. The families who lined the street cheering for friends and family, the volunteers who clapped and shouted words of encouragement, and the cowbells that rang – all were appreciated!
The part that honestly almost made me cry with deep emotion were the four lovely ladies I saw along the race route who proudly wore their Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games “blue coats”. I was a volunteer at the Vancouver 2010 Games and I can attest to the importance of volunteers – and as each time I saw one one along this course I remembered the strength our Canadian athletes gave at the Games and it made me feel proud and encouraged me to keep going even harder.
There were also plenty of water stations along the route. It was my understanding there was only supposed to be one Gu-Gel station along the route but apparently there were three or four – which was a pleasant surprise. Next year I would like to see Power Bar as a major sponsor of the BMO Okanagan event.
Along the course there were many photographers. I could not tell which ones were official so I had to pose for them all. It would be nice to have obvious markers for those that are official race photographers and which are media – so we, the participants, can be prepared when we need to ‘strike a pose’!
The end of the race was not my favourite part. Once I crossed the line the BMO staff member should have smiled and proudly placed my finishers medal around my neck – instead he almost seemed to be embarrassed to hand me my medal and I had to put it on myself. It wasn’t the warm, friendly BMO finish I had expected.
Once I had my medal I was greeted by a huge crowd lining the end of the very, very short finishers line. I walked out and immediately tried to find some water. My dad’s wife found me, congratulated and hugged me, and then my dad came and did the same. All I wanted was a bottle of water – which I knew my dad had with him because I had packed a bottle of Vitamin Water in my backpack he was carrying.
I changed into some dry clothes, took a moment to catch my breath and then went back into the race expo to find some water. All I could find was coffee, fruit, cookies and chips. Not a drop of water. Out front of the tent – just apples. I had to ask another race participant how to get water – which was apparently in the finishers area. I went back inside to grab water and observed there were only four people inside – three handing out medal and one handing out water from four large skids that had been placed in the area.
Next year I would highly recommend the finishers area be extended by at least 6 – 9 times the length and include tables with pre-poured water. Water should be supplied in a more eco-friendly way – such a Britta in paper cup, instead of handing out bottled water. As runners complete their run they need an area to continuously walk, re-hydrate and catch their breath before being congratulated by family and friends.
The race expo also needs to be parked further away from the finishers gate. This year upon exiting the finishers area the race expo entrance / exit was within 20 feet – which meant there was a large crowd of people to fight through to get around. The area was just too congested.
My final note, and not that it would normally have been a big issue, but because of the rain my iPhone was non-stop shorting out and I couldn’t listen to music constantly, but the larger races have bands and music along the race route and I would have appreciated having the same along this route as well.
Overall my feeling was this was an extremely well organized event. Everything was pretty much as expected. The course really want flat and fast and I would recommend others to run this event in the future. Sure, there is areas for improvement, but doesn’t every event have that?
My BMO Okanagan Marathon finishers medal has now been officially added to the collection and I look forward to collecting more medals in the future. Maybe next time I can get my dad out to run the full!
I tracked the entire run route using RunKeeper. You can view my run here.