Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
OLIVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — When I recount my experiences participating in the Half-Corked Marathon, the reaction from my listener is often the same: First a look of incredulity that such an activity exists and then an excited exhalation of “I want to do that!”
The “race” is an 18-kilometre (13 miles) saunter through the vineyards of the southern Okanagan Valley, a fun run unlike any other you’re likely to ever encounter. First organized nine years ago to promote the Oliver-Osoyoos Wine Association’s member wineries, the Half-Corked Marathon has turned into a Canadian tourism success story. In 2016, it was the runner-up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer tournament for the national Event of the Year, an award presented by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada. The Half-Corked Marathon’s tickets are in such high demand that a lottery determines which 1,200 names out of the more than 4,000 applicants receives an invitation to race.
While hardcore runners do show up and hurry through the course, which includes stops at about 16 wineries, the majority of participants come in costume — sometimes elaborate and zany creations that can put Halloween to shame. There is no prize for first place, but there are multiple awards for costumes, with contestants parading before judges just before the first winery visit on the route.
As the race progresses, runners amble up to one wine-tasting station to the next, consuming tiny samples of reds, whites, rosés, sparkling grapes and even some sangria. The first wave of runners departs at about 8 a.m. and many take three or four hours to complete the course as they linger at their favourite stops, eating sweet and savoury nibbles of food that are also offered by some of the wineries.
In 2016, my first year running the Half-Corked, I trained for a month, dreading injury or the embarrassment of not being able to complete the race, thus needing to be rescued by the event’s Sag Wagon, the bus that picks up participants who have dropped out and shuttles them straight to the finish-line party.
My worries, it turned out, were unnecessary. For most participants, finishing the course is achievable, even for the less fit. This year, I went with limited training and although my time was about an hour slower than my 2016 pace, I enjoyed the race even more — getting decked out in a gladiator’s outfit (to honour the Ottawa Senators, my favourite hockey team) and sipping samples at every station. I savoured the spread at Silver Saje Winery, which was located near the halfway point of the course and generously fed the runners with sausages, cheeses, breads and fruit.
Although one tough hill on the course — leading to beautiful Montakarn Winery, where its namesake owner served Thai pork satay — challenged me and others, the well-planned route meanders through mostly flat terrain, running along roadsides, riverbanks and between those luscious vines of precious grapes.
Most telling of all is the finish line, where participants have saved so much energy many are able to sprint the final few dozen metres full force to the end. And then do what they’ve really come here to do — grab a glass and head to the tasting booths to sample more vino from Canada’s elite wineries.
In that way, the Half-Corked Marathon reveals itself for what it is: A cultural celebration of the Okanagan Valley and its unique contribution to the nation’s food and drink scene. A fun destination, whose annual race is just an indication of the laid-back temperament you’ll find in this delightful area in the heart of British Columbia’s interior.
More About the Half-Corked Marathon
How to Participate: Hopeful participants must register on the Half-Corked Marathon’s website and a random draw selects the approximately 1,200 runners who will run the race. Runners are encouraged to come decked in a costume and enjoy the wine, instead of competing with others to cross the finish line first.
Ticket Cost: The entry fee to run the race is $165 per person (plus tax). Non-participants can still enjoy the festivities at the finish-line party ($20) or at the Primavera dinner ($90) on the eve of the race.
More Coverage on Vacay.ca: “Full-on Fun at the Half-Corked Marathon” — Adrian Brijbassi’s story on the 2016 event won Bronze at the North American Travel Journalists’ Association annual awards. Read the story here.
More About Visiting Oliver-Osoyoos Wine Country
Where to Stay: Spirit Ridge at NK’Mip Resort offers exceptional accommodations as well as pleasant pool-side lounging, fine dining, golf and a First Nations cultural centre. The resort’s entrance and lobby is also adjacent to NK’Mip Cellars, where you can taste some of the award-winning wines of North America’s first Aboriginal-owned winery.
More Coverage on Vacay.ca: “10 South Okanagan Wineries to Visit” — Adrian Brijbassi’s article features notable winery tours in the Oliver-Osoyoos Winery Association.