In four short years, the Half Corked Marathon has become one of the hardest tickets to get in the entire province, which says an awful lot about how much fun the participants are having.
“We’ve quickly become the fastest-selling race event in North America,” said Tim Martiniuk, the president of the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association, which is the official sponsor of the event, which attracted 650 competitors from across British Columbia and a few more from Alberta to this year’s event this past Saturday.
“We have three registration nights … one for men, one for women and one for teams and they sold out literally in the blink of an eye in less than three minutes each night. We are simply amazed at how fast this event has grown and how many people want to be a part of it.”
The event involved competitors gathering at Hester Creek Winery near Oliver and embarking on an 18-kilometre –which is three kilometres short of a half-marathon – journey through wine country between Osoyoos and Oliver.
A total of 29 wineries participate in the event with competitors urged to stop at as many as they like along the route to taste wine and eat some great food, said Martiniuk.
The local winery association was looking for an event “during shoulder tourist season” to attract people to this region and decided to copy itself from the famous Marathon du Madoc in France, which features a very similar format, said Martiniuk.
While there are some serious athletes who use the event to train, the vast majority of competitors enter as part of a team and having fun is the only goal, he said.
Most of the competitors in the team competition also dress up in costumes, many of them wild and wonderful.
Standing at the finish line early Saturday afternoon, members of the public cheered on competitors dressed as super heroes, pirates, hippies, and one couple dressed up as life-sized Barbie dolls Ken and Barbie.
“We used some computer analytics and found that roughly 40 per cent of those entered will race in one or more events within the same year, but that leaves 60 per cent who come here strictly for this event and they’re here strictly to have a good fun, drink some good wine and enjoy the atmosphere.”
The Half Corked Marathon has come a long way from having 230 competitors sign up in 2010.
The number of competitors is now almost three times that amount and the demand to get into the event is staggering, so organizers are thinking about expanding the field, but don’t want the event to become too big, said Martiniuk.
“We have had discussions about getting a little bigger, but we started as a grassroots event and we would like to keep that small town feel,” he said. “Because of the overwhelming demand, we are going to talk about getting a little bigger and we’ve talked about maybe getting up to 1,000 competitors, but I can’t see us ever getting much bigger than that.
“I think a big reason the Half Corked has become so popular is because it’s such a friendly event and it’s an opportunity for a group of friends to compete in a fun event where they get to meet a lot of other people. We don’t want to get so big that we would lose that small town appeal.”
For newly-arrived Osoyoos resident Jody Schwindt, competing in the Half Corked Marathon for the first time was something she’s not going to forget for some time.
She competed with another local woman, Melissa McGuire, and four friends from Vancouver Island.
“I can honestly say this is the best day I’ve had since I moved to Osoyoos back in May,” said Schwindt, who is originally from Saskatchewan, but has lived in the Okanagan Valley since 2002. “I had heard about this event last year and really wanted to be a part of it, but all the tickets sold out in a matter of minutes.
“Because I heard it’s so much fun, me and a bunch of friends decided we would work together when tickets went on sale and one girl got through and managed to get our group of six in. We were thrilled because tickets go so fast, but here we are and we’re having the time of our lives.”
Running under the team name “Running for No Good Riesling”, Schwindt said it’s amazing to see so many people having such a good time.
“It’s a phenomenal event because everyone’s here to have a good time and the scenery along the route is simply stunning in such a beautiful setting,” she said. “You don’t really know where you’re going, but you get to travel from one great winery to another and enjoy some amazing wine. It’s so much fun.”
McGuire, who is the villa manager for Hester Creek Winery, echoed the same sentiments are her teammate.
Their four good friends from Vancouver Island – Heidi Nottelman, Melissa Drolet, Flora Stanley and Bonnie Tidswell – were very impressed with the camaraderie, scenery and overall enthusiasm participants share in this event, said McGuire.
“Our friends came all the way from Vancouver Island just for this race, but they had heard how much fun it was and we are all really amazed at how great it really is,” she said. “It was so much fun and we kept saying to each other during the final kilometre that we should turn around and go back to the wineries because we didn’t want it to end.”
McGuire said her team has so much fun that they plan on returning for the Half Corked Marathon next year and are even considering travelling to France to participate in the Marathon du Madoc or another event in California in the next few years.
Following the race, many of the competitors gathered at Tinhorn Creek Winery near Oliver for dinner and to take in the concert by Vancouver band Brickhouse, which kicked off the Tinhorn Creek Canadian Concert Series for 2013.
Special to the Chronicle