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25 Years of the Chilly Half Marathon
Today is the first Sunday of March, which for many runners has come to mean one thing - kicking off the spring racing season with the Chilly Half, Frigid 10K & Frosty 5K! 
25 years ago on the first Sunday in March of 1997, over 500 runners took part in the first ever Chilly Half Marathon and Frosty 5K. Since then, thousands of runners across Ontario and beyond have come to know and love Ontario’s premier half marathon event. Although we cannot celebrate in person today, we hope you enjoy the 25 year story we have put together and that you learn a bit more about the race and the history behind it. 
How did the Chilly Half Marathon and Frosty 5K come to be? 

Kelly and Mark Arnott of Burlington, ON co-founded the Chilly Half Marathon. At the age of 22, Kelly Arnott opened a high-end shoe store under her father’s company, the Ted Hendry Group. The store, which was called Sabrina Shoes, was located in Village Square in Burlington. Mark Arnott became involved with Hendry’s Sabrina shoe stores and managed the store in the Burlington Mall. An economic downturn in the ‘90s forced the Hendry stores and many other companies out of business. At the time, Mark had developed a strong interest in running and he and Kelly decided they would open a running store. 
Mark Arnott started running when he was 29 years old. He quickly developed a passion for the sport and before he knew it, he was racing almost every weekend and qualified for the Boston Marathon. Mark ran multiple marathons and became an Ironman many times over. When Mark ventured into the world of running, Burlington was not the running community that it is known to be today. There were no running specific stores in Burlington or the surrounding area. 
The lack of running stores prompted Kelly and Mark to open Burlington’s first ever running specific store under the name of Village Runner, located in Village Square in the downtown. Running was still a fairly new sport in the early ‘90s and Mark and Kelly put a lot of work into making sure the new store was a success. They would venture around town and if they saw someone running they would present them with a bag of goodies with a coupon for the Village Runner. They started weekly Wednesday night meetup runs and clinics and the store quickly became a hub where runners would meet and connect. Customers quickly became friends and a new community began to grow. The Village Runner store was so successful in its early years that Kelly and Mark decided to open a second store in Oakville. 
After the success of the Village Runner store, Kelly and Mark wanted to start a race series. At the time, there were very few organized events in the Golden Horseshoe. This prompted them to create another company called VR PRO Inc. which would oversee the racing side of the business. The race series kicked off with VR Pro Inc.’s very first race titled the ‘Downtown Dash.’ The 5K race took place downtown Burlington in 1994. 
A few years after the racing businesses kicked off, Mark and Kelly decided to put on a half marathon. They wanted the race to be something that runners could participate in as a last long training run before the Around the Bay Road Race. They decided that the race should be exactly three weeks out from the Bay Race, which was the first Sunday in March. Since the beginning of March is still quite cold, they decided to call the race the Chilly Half Marathon & Frosty 5K. For the first few years of the race the Chilly Half Marathon route started at the Village Runner store in Oakville and ended at the other Village Runner store in Village Square. In the early years, anyone who wanted to register for the race had to mail in or drop off a paper registration form at one of the Village Runner stores. 

About 500 people participated in the first ever Chilly Half Marathon and Frosty 5K. In the early days, the crew was small and Mark and Kelly, along with a small group of volunteers, did most of the grunt work. The small and dedicated team worked extremely hard to advertise the race and raise money for local charities. In the first year of the race, they raised over $5,000 for Halton Women's Place.

A few years after the racing business took off, the Village Runner stores were shut down, and Mark Arnott was then hired by the Running Room to oversee their events in Ontario. The Running Room became a sponsor of the Chilly Half Marathon and has been a valued partner ever since. 
How did the race grow into what it is today? 
Becoming involved with local charities has helped to grow the race into what it is today. A few years into the race, the Chilly Half Marathon began raising money for local hospitals including Hamilton Health Sciences and Joseph Brant Hospital. One year the race raised enough money to buy an MRI breast coil for Hamilton Health Sciences. In the following years, the Chilly Half Marathon began to raise money for Joseph Brant Hospital and agreed to a $250,000 fundraising commitment. Working with the charities in such a big way helped to get the word out about the race. To date, the Chilly Half Marathon has raised nearly $700,000 for local charities, including Joseph Brant Hospital, Hamilton Health Sciences, McMaster Children's Hospital, Halton Women's Place, and Carpenter Hospice. 
When Kelly and Mark were asked how the Chilly Half Marathon grew into the race that it is today they said that it was the result of “a lot of hard work, good customer service, and paying attention to the details”. Kelly and Mark both work hard to keep runners happy. If mistakes were made, which they were in the early years, they would make sure they did not make the same mistake twice. Runners took notice of this and positive word of mouth helped grow the race into what it is today. 
As the race has grown in popularity, Kelly and Mark have added more events to race weekend. The race now includes a pre-pasta party the Saturday night before the race, with live entertainment, guest speakers and of course, pasta. In addition to the pre-race pasta party, there is also a post-race celebration. After the race is over, runners are invited to stop in at participating restaurants for a free beer and a bowl of chili to celebrate their accomplishments. 
What about the chili? 
From the very beginning of the Chilly Half Marathon and Frosty 5K, chili was served at the finish line of the race. For the first few years, the VR Pro team cooked all of the chili for the runners. As the race started to grow and by-laws became stricter, it got to be too much. Kelly decided to approach STAGG® Chili about sponsoring the race. STAGG® Chili loved the idea and became an official sponsor of the event about 10 years ago. 
(Krista DuChene speaking at the 2020 Pasta Party) 
When STAGG® Chili began to sponsor the race, Kelly invited local restaurants to get involved with the race by serving the STAGG® Chili to runners. This took off a lot of the pressure off the race organizers and also supported local businesses by driving traffic into their facilities. There are currently about 12 restaurants who are involved in the race. 
Who is the chili pepper? 
Every year, runners waiting to start their race get some “Pepper Power” from the Chili Pepper mascot. Many people have come to associate the Chilly Half Marathon with the iconic Chili Pepper mascot. But who is the person behind the costume and how did the Chili Pepper mascot come to be? Mark Sullivan is the man behind the Chili Pepper costume. Sullivan has been providing services to Mark and Kelly Arnott for a number of years and would regularly participate in the Chilly Half Marathon as a runner. After one of the races Sullivan mentioned to Kelly that it would be great to have an icon or a mascot for the race. Even though they were spelled differently, Sullivan recommended a Chili Pepper as the icon for the race. 
“The original chili pepper design was a little more detailed than the current one, and people really liked it,” says Sullivan. The Chili Pepper logo really took off, so in 2006, Sullivan began dressing up as the Chili Pepper. When Sullivan was asked what made the Chilly races so special for him, he said, “What makes it special for me is the same for everybody. It’s just the atmosphere - you are there to run and you are there to have a good serious race, but it’s just so much fun.” Sullivan says that this race comes early in the year and it is “this fun celebration of coming back to racing; it is a big 21KM party.” 
Impact on tourism and the local economy 
The Chilly Half Marathon attracts thousands of runners and tourists to the City of Burlington and surrounding area every year. About 5 years ago a survey was done to determine the economic impact that the race has on the city. The survey determined that over $1 million was brought into the city every year as a result of the race. 
Runners often invite their family and friends to support them on race day. Many of the out of town runners and spectators stay in hotels for a few days around the race, with many people staying longer than just one night. The local restaurants are packed full of runners and spectators on the Saturday and Sunday of race weekend. When people participate in the Chilly races they typically stay at a hotel, eat at local restaurants, shop, and visit local businesses. In 2016 Kelly Arnott was awarded the Burlington Tourism Ambassador Award in recognition of the impact that the race has had on the City of Burlington. 
(Pictured at left: Kelly Arnott receiving Burlington Tourism Ambassador Award, 2016)
What does the race mean to the runners? 
Runners across Ontario and beyond are drawn to participate in the Chilly Half Marathon. Many runners see the Chilly Half Marathon as a big celebration of the start of racing season. For others it is the power of the running community and the personal victories that keep them coming back. At least that is the case for runner and blogger, Pam (   For Pam, the Chilly Half Marathon is much more than a race, it is a place to connect with fellow runners and be a part of a larger community. 
“The running community might be a bit crazy, and might drink a bit more than non runners, they might think paying money to run in sub zero temperatures for a technical t-shirt, a timing chip, and a finishers medal is totally normal, but I’ve also found this community to be caring. [They] don’t actually care how fast you are. They care that you did well for you. They care that you feel proud of yourself. They care that you made the day a busy, successful one, cheered others on, and cheered for yourself through the tough kilometres, through the sore ankles” (Pam, Grief Runs). 
In 2019, runner Scott Matheson suddenly went into cardiac arrest at the finish line. Matheson was unresponsive for almost 10 minutes as medical staff performed lifesaving CPR. He was transported to Joseph Brant Hospital and a few days later had surgery at Hamilton Health Sciences. He was eventually released from the hospital to recover at home. Matheson has made an incredible recovery and has returned to running and racing. He is happy to have a second chance at life and to be a part of the running community once again.  
Everyone has their own story and reason behind why they are running and the Chilly Half Marathon is a great way to celebrate those reasons. Whether you are doing your first 5K, 10K or 21.1K or your 100th, there is no better way to celebrate than at the Chilly Half Marathon. 
Scott Matheson (pictured above right in the centre) surrounded by the medical team and VR PRO staff.
Facts and figures from the Chilly Half Marathon, Frigid 10K & Frosty 5K 
The Chilly Half Marathon, Frigid 10K & Frosty 5K is known for attracting some of Ontario’s fastest runners each year. 
The fastest men’s record for the Chilly Half Marathon is held by Olympian Reid Coolsaet who set the record in 2015 with an impressive time of 1:03:36! 

The fastest women’s record for the Chilly Half Marathon is held by Olympian Krista DuChene who set the female record in 2015 with an outstanding time of 1:14:00! 

The fastest men’s record for the Frigid 10K (which was introduced in 2018) is 29:34 and is held by Phil Parrot-Migas who set the record in 2020. 
The fastest women’s record for the Frigid 10K is 37:31 and is held by Allison Drynan who set the record in 2020. 
The fastest men’s record for the Frosty 5K is 14:44 and was set by Barry Britt in 2016. 
The fastest women’s time for the Frosty 5K is 17:01 and was set by Erin Mawhinney in 2020.
Thank you to all of our volunteers
Without the help of volunteers, the Chilly Half Marathon simply would not be possible. Every year hundreds of people sign up to help out with the race. From setting up pylons to handing out water at aid stations and everything in between, the race would not be what it is today without the help of these incredible volunteers. 
Kathy Coffey has volunteered at the Chilly Half Marathon since day one. Kathy started participating in weekly run meetups and clinics at the Village Runner store and quickly became connected to the running community that Kelly and Mark built. Kathy has volunteered at every single Chilly race as well as countless other races hosted by VR Pro Inc. Roland Kreisig has also volunteered at the Chilly Half Marathon since the beginning. In the first few years of the race, Mark and Roland would take care of all of the race logistics.
(Left: Kelly Arnott and Kathy Coffey at a dinner for money raised from the Chilly Half for Joseph Brant Hospital ) 
The future of the Chilly Half Marathon, Frigid 10K & Frosty 5K 
As the Chilly races grew in popularity over the years, changes were made to make the race better and to adapt to the larger crowd sizes. The race route changed a number of times and is now known for being fast and flat. The Frigid 10K was added to the list of events in 2018 creating three distance options. 
Little did anyone know that the 2020 Chilly Half Marathon & Frigid 10K & Frosty 5K would be one of the only in-person races for the year. The pandemic has posed a whole new set of challenges for race directors and organizers alike. However, Kelly Arnott is passionate about keeping people motivated and healthy throughout the pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Kelly has organized many virtual races to get people out the door and exercising safely. We are hopeful for a bright future full of in-person races and look forward to the day when we can welcome all of our runners back to the start line. 
On behalf of Kelly, Mark, and all of the staff and volunteers at VR Pro Inc. we want to thank everyone who has supported our races over the years and continues to support us through our virtual race offerings. 

Stay well, stay safe, and stay healthy so that we can see you at a start line in the near future.