Arts & Life, Prairie Post

Cold snap can’t keep runners back

Happy (and frosty!) runners display their medals at the finish line

“How many loops are you going to run?” A question shared by many runners as they gathered early Sunday morning for the 11th annual Hypothermic Half Marathon held at FortWhyte Alive. The pristine nature preserve hosted around 450 of the 600-plus runners registered to race 13.1 miles in three waves. The first wave of runners took off at 7:30am as the sun was rising and temperatures were recorded at -33°C, -45°C with the windchill!

Sunday morning’s run proved no cold snap could chill the enthusiasm of winter-loving runners in our prairie icebox. Nor that of the amazing volunteers who smiled and laughed while bouncing for warmth and drinking from the endless supply of hot coffee provided, keeping the runners on course and safe by alerting them of early signs of frostbite.

The abysmal deep freeze forced Race Director Rachel Munday to change the traditional long scenic park route due to safety concerns for both runners and volunteers. The new, much shorter course plotted by Munday and her crew gave runners the option of running a shorter 4.6-mile loop once, twice or three times with gusto for the hard-core winter runners who completed a total of 13.8 miles (technically longer than a half marathon by 0.7 miles).

The decision also spared runners from having to face a 2.5-mile open stretch along Grant Avenue, a challenging section veterans of this race tend to dread.

“Late Saturday night, due to the extreme weather forecasted for Sunday morning, we decided to alter the course. Instead of sending people way out through Assiniboine Forrest to Assiniboine Park and back, we decided to keep the race within the confines of FortWhyte,” explained Lorraine Walton, Manager at the Kenaston Running Room. “We wanted to keep not only the runners safe, but the volunteers safe who are standing out there.”

The solution seemed ideal; both runners who were determined to run the distance and those who were concerned about the weather conditions had their needs met. Safety first and responsible self-monitoring were the standout themes of the event.

While nearly all participants recognized the benefit of the shortened route, many runners, like veteran hypo-half runner Marie-Claude McDonald, struggled with the temptation to quit. “I am very happy (to have finished the race)! It was hard doing the loops because it was tempting to finish early,” said McDonald, “but after I finished the second loop, I decided to drive to the finish line.”

This is the first year the Hypothermic Half introduced official timing chips, but they were somewhat ineffective at determining winners because runners completed a variety of distances before crossing the finish line. Results will be posted on the Running Room race site Monday afternoon. All proceeds from the race support education programming offered at FortWhyte Alive.

And they’re off! The first wave of runners heads out at sunrise