Trek and Run were supported during this event by;
Photos by Virgil Cheung and David Waters
First, to give you a firm idea of the event, here’s a short video Dave shot as he took part.
The Hamilton Road2Hope Marathon is a fast, BQ marathon event occuring about halfway between Toronto and Niagara Falls. Here’s what our team thought of the event.
Dave – I’ve made the film, which hopefully shows you a little of the course and how my own race went. I think I can say that all of the team had a tough run, even though the course is mostly either flat or downhill. There are a few gentle, rolling hills during the first half but really, they’re nothing to worry about. I think that perhaps the reason we all had tough races was partly it was the end of the season, and that’s always testing for anybody unless they’ve saved themselves, and partly because the downhill part of the course is so inviting we all ran it hard, and perhaps harder than we would have usually done, and therefore suffered towards the end. It’s so difficult not to go all out when the weather is perfect – about 8c and sunny – and the slope is with you. I can’t explain it any other way. This is definately, potentially the best course I’ve run for Boston Qualifying, and whilst I did run a 3:13 and achieve that goal, I was way off my personal best time when really I should have beaten it easily, all things being considered. So, my advice to runners is to train on long flat and downhill stretches, so as to get your muscles used to that, and to try to run a technically perfect race. To be sure, the course is your friend at Hamilton, it’s scenic and offering you every chance of hitting your time goals, but you’ve got to work smartly with it. Train hard for this race and it will give you everything you want.
Virgil - The Hamilton Marathon was the last marathon on my race calendar, and I was pretty excited to close out my busy season with a new race. I had heard about its reputation as a fast, scenic marathon course and was eager to experience it for myself. We arrived in Confederation Park and the shuttle buses were ready to whisk us to the start of the point to point race course with military precision. The community centre was filled with people and the anticipation of the race got us all excited. We picked up the race kit and checked in our baggage. The start line was just outside the centre, and before I knew it, we were off.
Since I didn’t run since Scotia Marathon three weeks ago, I knew I was in for a rough run. In fact my shins were tight and feet felt heavy right from the start. They loosened up after the 5k mark, but I knew the 25k marker would tell me how the day would go. The weather was hovering around 7-8 degrees Celsius, which was perfect weather for running. The drink stations were plentiful and volunteers were cheerful. Being a smaller race, there weren’t as many spectators on the road, but the ones that were there were very much appreciated.
Around the 22k mark, we ran down a ramp onto the highway, which was an interesting experience. The downhill course continued for about 6k and it was a good run, albeit against the wind. It was around this time that I felt more fatigued and my pace dropped a notch. The highway road was sloped around the turns, and this unevenness took a while to get used to. The views into Hamilton were very nice. We exited the highway and went along a short trail section that was a welcome change from the sloped highway, then ran out to a residential road parallel to the waterfront trail. I saw the 3:45 pace bunny running with his group in the opposite direction, and I knew it would be a slog to get to the turnaround point. At the turnaround, there was the only timing mat on the whole race course. I wished there were more timing mats so that I could get more split times.
The run back along the waterfront was very scenic, with the waves crashing on the beach and rock piles creating erosion barriers along the beach front and marking progress. You could hear the announcers from a long way as I rounded the corner into the parking lot and into the finishing straight. The announcer called out my name as I crossed the finish line. I picked up the large medal and picked up some food and drink. I took a group photo with my race group and we all went out to a vegan restaurant to celebrate our accomplishments.
It was a very well run race for the organizers and had the high potential to be a PR race course for those looking to sharpen their times. The race bag was a little skimpy on things, but the race shirt was nice – I particularly appreciated the long sleeves and understated design of the tech shirt. Sign me up for this race again next year!
Tim - If there is a race that is slowly transforming my relationship with the marathon distance, it is the Road2Hope Hamilton Marathon. While 26 miles may still be my least favourite race distance, it is starting to grow on me a little thanks to this race. That’s not to suggest that this is an easy course. Sure, it is Canada’s top rated Boston Qualifying race, but I’m realizing this is a course that can chew you up if you don’t respect it. The long stretch of downhill just after the halfway point, as you run down the Red Hill Valley Parkway, can lull you into thinking you are going to crush the second half, only to find you are the one feeling crushed at the bottom. The course manages to be tough on both the quads and the hamstrings. I watched as my pace went from a possible PR by 15 minutes at the half, to barely hanging on to try and come in under my best marathon time by a minute. In the end a seized up hamstring with about 500 meters to go was my undoing, and despite the fast course, a PR was not in the cards on this day. But for the first time, I think I started to like racing marathon distance a little bit. This is a well run race, the volunteers are helpful and always enthusiastic, especially on the bus ride up to the start line. There are large numbers of medics on hand throughout the race and to check on you at the finish. The warm weather made the pizza and hot soup at the finish a little less amazing this year, but an early November race in Canada that ends with soup is always a good thing. If you only do one marathon a year and want to go for a personal best time, or want to try and qualify for Boston, the Hamilton Marathon is the race to pencil into your schedule. Just don’t take it lightly.
Emrys - I offered to crew for Dave at the 24h running national championships in London last September, and was moved by his determination and strength during that race. So when Dave offered me the opportunity to run the Road2Hope Hamilton Marathon, I was stoked and agreed to enter the race. This year I’m swimming on my school’s variety team and have spent very little time running; additionally, the furthest I ever ran was in 2015, and that was just 22km. So I figured the marathon on no training would be a fun way to test my limits.
The day before the race I bused down to Hamilton and stayed there overnight. The morning before the race, I met the Trek and Run team before the start and warmed up. I started at the back of the pack, and my plan was to conserve and start slow.
The first 22 kilometers clicked by effortlessly. I focused on maintaining a relaxed breath and staying in the 130 bpm range. The hills and fall colors made the run a real joy, and my favorite section was between the 8th and 9th kilometer, where runners get a spectacular view of the city from high up on the escarpment. Tim and I ran side by side, ticking off the half marathon in 1:58 without breaking a sweat, but a few minutes later I noticed that my legs felt very heavy. I let Tim go and I stopped for a bit to stretch out my legs. It was at this point that I realized I should have taken some food with me.
I knew that that to continue the run I would have to pretty dig deep. Doubts started piling up in my brain, and I remembered that I would have to show up to swim practice on Monday, after which I’d write a calculus exam. As much as I love to get into that zone, I decided that it might not be the best idea given the circumstances. So at the next aid station, I dropped out of the race.
I was taken back to the start by a very friendly volunteer, where I met Dave and waited for Tim and Virgil to finish. I was a bit disappointed to take the DNF (my second in over 70 races), but I knew it was the right choice. Overall, the Road2Hope Hamilton Marathon was a fantastic experience and I plan to be more prepared next year so that I can give it a proper effort.