andrew burke





Not Since Moses

Posted on: 2023-08-04

I am up in the Parrsboro / Five Islands area of Nova Scotia today, along the wildly varying shores of the Bay of Fundy, one of the most beautiful parts of the province. I'm here for a unique event, something that brings people here from all around the world: The Not Since Moses race. It's a 10K or 5K run along the stunning coastline here.

The run can only happen at very specific times on very specific full-moon dates, since it is only possible at the lowest of tides - because the run is on the ocean side of the shoreline, on the sea floor.

runners on the low tide seafloor of Minas Basin

This is the fourth time I've run the race. Due to the rocky and muddy course it's not the kind of race where you're going to score a personal best, but it's always an amazing time, equal parts breathtakingly beautiful and ridiculously hilarious.

The 10K starts in a little cove, perhaps one of the loveliest starting lines in the racing world, with red sea stacks and caves all around.

the beautiful starting cove of the Not Since Moses race

This is the only run I know of that includes a geology lecture at the start line, to let you know what to look for out on the course.

damp runners getting a geology lecture at the starting line of the Not Since Moses race

The course starts on rocky shores, occasionally crossing little streams. You have to watch your footing on the barnacle-encrusted rocks.

rocky seafloor running course near Five Islands Nova Scotia

It passes in front of increasingly impressive cliff faces, weathered into swooping lines, like art-deco battleships.

Shoreline cliffs near Five Islands Nova Scotia

Shoreline cliffs near Five Islands Nova Scotia

Shoreline cliffs near Five Islands Nova Scotia

Shoreline cliffs near Five Islands Nova Scotia

Some years it's bright and sunny and some years it's damp and foggy, but the view is always striking.

Running by sunny orange cliffs at the Not Since Moses race

Running by foggy cliffs at the Not Since Moses race

You must be able to run the full 10K, since walking it doesn't leave enough time to avoid the powerful rush of the incoming tide. This means the 10K crowd is pretty small, only a hundred or so people. For a good-amateur-but-not-expert runner like me, it also means I'm often out almost on my own, with the other runners far behind or far ahead.

Runners far ahead by misty cliffs on the floor of Minas Basin

It's too easy to lose AirPods in the mud, so I'm left to listen to my breathing and the wind over the bay and the squelching of my shoes.

Running alone on the empty ocean floor near Five Islands

As you near the final quarter of the run, you pass the midway point of the 5K course. It's a boat they row out and anchor at high tide but which now lies on the ocean floor.

The 5km midpoint marker boat in the Not Since Moses run

The sparse 10K crowd now meets the large numbers of 5K participants who are walking, making the course suddenly much busier. Whether it's a different part of the shoreline or it's just because of all the extra traffic, the final stretch is almost entirely a slog through thick mud.

Runners and walkers squelching through the ocean floor mud at the Not Since Moses run

When I ran this in 2017, I jokingly referred to this section as "The Passchendaele Centennial Memorial Family Fun Run". The mud is thick and has a strong suction in certain parts. It's easy to lose a shoe if you linger and let yourself sink in too much. Falling in is common, and you often pass people just rolling around in it like toddlers in a puddle. Nobody wears expensive new gear on this race - I still have running socks with a slight orange tint from previous years in this mud.

Muddy shoes after the Not Since Moses run
Cleaned but still muddy shoes and socks after the Not Since Moses run

I've found the best way to make progress is with a skating sort of motion, sliding smoothly across the mud.

The mud may be messy and hungry for shoes, but I also find it strangely appealing: the texture and colour reminds me of light chocolate fondue. I can tell you from experience though that it doesn't taste anywhere near as good!

Shoes in the mud of the Minas Basin

The most treacherous part is crossing the mouth of a river that feeds into the bay. The later you are, the higher the water is. This almost turns into a biathlon.

River crossing near the end of the Not Since Moses run

After that though there is a final stretch along a rocky beach, where you can actually get back to some normal running speed for a mud-splattered photo finish.

Finish line of the Not Since Moses race at Five Islands

At the finish line there is live music, recuperative food and drink, locals selling oatcakes, blueberries, and dulse.

Dulse for sale!

There's even a guy dressed up as Moses for photo ops.

Posing with Moses at the Not Since Moses race

The race didn't happen in 2020 and 2021, since even though the running is all in the wide open, everyone needs to pack into buses to get to and from the start and finish lines. The run is now managed by the same people who do the Bluenose Marathon in Halifax, and I had signed up for it in 2022 but last-minute emergencies kept me from making it. This is the first time I've done this race in 4 years! I hope to do it many more times in the future.

(Note from the future: unfortunately, bad weather forced the organizers to cancel this year's race)

If you like a unique running experience by some of the best-looking coastline in the Maritimes, maybe I'll see you there next year?

Beautiful coastal scenery near Five Islands Nova Scotia

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