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Bridgetown pharmacist has best time for Blue Nose women

Heather O’Donnell crosses the finish line in 3:11:24.9 to take first place for women in the Blue Nose Marathon Sunday in Halifax.
Heather O’Donnell crosses the finish line in 3:11:24.9 to take first place for women in the Blue Nose Marathon Sunday in Halifax.

BRIDGETOWN - Heather O’Donnell didn’t run track at high school in Middleton -- she was too busy studying. Sunday she won the Blue Nose Marathon.

The Bridgetown pharmacist finished in 3:11:24 to become the top female and 14th overall among the 278-person field of marathon runners. She shaved about seven minutes off her finish two years ago when she placed second. She came in ahead of New Brunswick’s Elita Rahn who finished in 3:19:44.

On the men’s side, Bryan Hipson of Yarmouth finished the marathon with a time of 2:46:39.

“I didn’t really have any expectations,” O’Donnell said about going into the race. “I was just excited to be involved in the event and to be there Saturday morning to see my niece run the 2K and Jenn’s nieces and nephews run the 4K and 5K.”

Jenn is Jennifer Coolen, O’Donnel’s partner who also ran the marathon finishing in 3:48.

“There was also a group from town running the 5K – so we cheered them on for that,” O’Donnell said of the weekend in Halifax.

When it came to the 42.2-km full marathon, she only realized she was going to finish first for women when she crossed the finish line. “You never know how things will go in the last few kilometres of a run,” she said. 

The Bridgetown pharmacist finished in 3:11:24 to become the top female and 14th overall among the 278-person field of marathon runners. She shaved about seven minutes off her finish two years ago when she placed second. She came in ahead of New Brunswick’s Elita Rahn who finished in 3:19:44.

On the men’s side, Bryan Hipson of Yarmouth finished the marathon with a time of 2:46:39.

“I didn’t really have any expectations,” O’Donnell said about going into the race. “I was just excited to be involved in the event and to be there Saturday morning to see my niece run the 2K and Jenn’s nieces and nephews run the 4K and 5K.”

Jenn is Jennifer Coolen, O’Donnel’s partner who also ran the marathon finishing in 3:48.

“There was also a group from town running the 5K – so we cheered them on for that,” O’Donnell said of the weekend in Halifax.

When it came to the 42.2-km full marathon, she only realized she was going to finish first for women when she crossed the finish line. “You never know how things will go in the last few kilometres of a run,” she said. 

Heather O’Donnell seen here with her father and former running buddy Craig O’Donnell after she won the women’s side of the Blue Nose Marathon in Halifax Sunday.

Perfect Conditions

O’Donnell described running conditions Sunday as perfect.

“Leading up to the weekend, it had looked like we might get some rain on Sunday,” she said, adding that she’d rather the rain than the heat Saturday runners endured. “But in the end, the weather was great.  A little overcast to keep it from getting too warm and the rain held off until after the marathon was finished.”

Coolen ran with Mike Peters, a running buddy the couple train with. He was to keep Coolen on track to come in under four hours. But O’Donnell hadn’t planned out the run.

“I didn’t have any real strategy,” she said. “It usually takes a few kilometres to warm up and get into a good pace and then after that I just ran a pace that felt comfortable and enjoyed all the fans out cheering people on.”

Cheering O’Donnell on was her father Craig O’Donnell who started running with his daughter years ago.

“I’ve always been active and involved in different sports,” said the 35-year-old O’Donnell. “My Dad and I ran a 5K race in Halifax when I was in pharmacy school, around 2007, and then we started building up to the marathon distance and ran a few marathons together.”

When she won the Blue Nose Sunday, he was right there. One of the handful of photos taken was of father and daughter and the winning medal.

The Marathons

Heather O’Donnell has done the Valley Harvest Marathon, the Johnny Miles, the Blue Nose several times, and marathons in Ottawa, PEI, Chicago, Greece, and the Disney Goofy where you run a half-marathon one day and a full-marathon the next.

Besides her father, O’Donnell said the running community in general inspires her. “There’s a huge group of runners in Greenwood,” she said. “And everyone has different goals, distances, paces, stories – but they all encourage each other and are super excited for the accomplishments of other runners.”

She said it seems like all runners have a bond.

“I also love the feeling of being out in the fresh air and the rush that you get after you finish a good run,” she said.

O’Donnell and Coolen run with a great group of people, she said, including their faithful running buddies Mike and Laura Peters – and sometimes with their three border collies on 10K runs.

“We trained some through the winter to get ready for the Disney marathon in January,” she said. “So we just tweaked a few things to get ready for the Blue Nose.”

 

Extra Hills

They actually cut back their weekday runs to three times a week but did some biking too.  “And we kept our weekend runs at the longer distances,” she said. “The biggest change we made to our training was adding some extra hills because we knew Halifax would be hilly.  I can’t even count the number of times we ran up Tremont in the last few months.”

The Blue Nose involves elevations ranging from sea level to up to almost 80 metres – twice.

When O’Donnell crossed the finish line Sunday, she was happy with the result.

“And excited to get a drink of chocolate milk and get back to the finish line to see if Jenn, and her ‘pace buddy’ Mike, were going to finish in her goal of four hours – and she ended up crossing in 3:48.”

O’Donnell was a winner Sunday, but she was also raising money for a local charity – the Annapolis County Municipal Housing Corporation.

“We have a close relationship with Mountain Lea Lodge and The Meadows ARC,” said Bridgetown Pharmasave owner and Pharmacist Kirk Lycett. “When we learned that they were going to start a foundation to support their residents, we saw it as an opportunity to help them get the foundation started.”

The money was raised through a bake sale at the pharmacy, individual donations at the cash register, and donations from some of the pharmacy’s suppliers. In total they raised about $2,500.

 

Supportive

Lycett did more than wish O’Donnell good luck at the Blue Nose, according to O’Donnell.

“This year Kirk paid the registration for a group of us participating in the Blue Nose -- 11 of us,” she said. “He’s very supportive of any activities that encourage healthy living.”

In fact, in 2014 he helped her raise $6,100 so she could go to Greece with Team Diabetes and run the marathon there.

“He’s also very involved in running himself and has done many marathons – as well as coming along for group long runs on the weekend. And most importantly, he doesn’t give me a hard time when I’m five minutes late for work from trying to squeeze in a morning run and walk our three dogs all before work.”

Heather O'Donnell on the Blue Nose Marathon route Sunday in Halifax.

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