Kelly Arnott, the organizer behind Burlington’s Chilly Half Marathon, says the first Saturday in March is one of the most rewarding days in a lot of runners’ lives.
“Runners can't believe the accomplishment,” Arnott said, “They can’t believe how great they feel at the end of something like running a half marathon.”
The Chilly Half Marathon, a 21-kilometre run along the Burlington waterfront, has been one of the region’s premier events for more than a quarter-century. Now, with a few weeks before runners hit the route, Arnott said she wants people to get motivated to join the 3,000 other participants in a positive, energetic event.
“The Chilly Half Marathon is serious. It's a certified course, but it is a friendly half marathon,” Arnott said. “There's a lot of smiles.”
That’s the kind of camaraderie Arnott likes to see in runners, especially as people get accustomed to participating in group events after a couple of years of pandemic-induced solitude.
“There's spectators at the race cheering them on, there's the half a dozen water stations, or four or five water stations that are trying to take care of them, too,” Arnott says.
“Then there's more people cheering runners as they get close to the finish line. And then when they go through that finish line…imagine people greeting you and calling your name, and putting that medal around their neck, while your friends look on.”
“It’s just an incredible feeling.”
All in all, Arnott says, the race feels like a homecoming for a lot of the runners, a place to catch up (sometimes literally!) with the extended running family.
“Over the years we’ve had people with various, interesting stories,” Arnott says. “I’ve heard of people that were very overweight, but after they started training, they've lost, maybe 100 pounds, and now they are running their very first half marathon, and it's saved their life.”
“Another lady we raced with called herself a ‘grief runner,’” Arnott says. “She wrote a story about how her partner had died. And it was so hard for her to get up every day, and train. “
“But when she finally crossed that finish line, she said she could feel him there.”
Stories like that could be what makes the Chilly Half such an attraction for people from all over. A large contingent, Arnott says, makes the annual trip from Toronto for the race. Participants from northern Ontario have also been known to show up.
Arnott said once together, the racers share a unique camaraderie as they bundle up and race together against the chilly air. Fortunately, the Chilly Half Marathon has a history of having comfortable enough weather for seasoned runners.
But even if the clouds form or a chill blows in across the lake, Arnott says race organizers have you covered.
“We put a lot of time and effort and money into the race clothing,” Arnott says. “We give participants a technical fleece-lined race shirt.”
“This particular shirt, you could wear it when the temperature drops to zero degrees, you could wear that with just a bottom layer underneath. And that's all you need, because it's a warm shirt. It's fantastic.”
Previous racers have also shown a preference for the Chilly Half Marathon branded shirt, which seems to be a crowd-pleaser.
“This year we’ve chosen a red shirt from New Balance, but we’ve also got an Asics option so people can choose between the two.”
Organizers also did something unique for this year’s event:
“For this race we created a 10-inch stuffed pepper bear,” she said.
“They’ll also earn a metal that's specially designed by me. It’s one of a kind, because we create something different every year.”
The community involvement and generosity extends beyond the racers, Arnott says.
“Grocery chain Longo’s gives runners water and fruit at the finish line,” she said. “We also have Muskoka Brewery giving us beer to hand out.”
Other sponsors include Stagg Chili, who will have their product at several locations on and near the marathon route.
“We go above and beyond other races, as much as we can,” Arnott said. “We rent the gorgeous Burlington Arts Centre that's heated the morning of the race, and participants have a shuttle bus that will drop them off at the GO Station or the hotels or the Performing Arts Center.”
“They can go in, stay nice and warm, check their bags, and then we do the end of race awards in there.”
“So we go above and beyond, and we will continue to do that.”
To register for the Burlington Chilly Half Marathon visit their web page by clicking here.