The Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope – 4th November 2018

The Hamilton Road2Hope has the potential to be the fastest marathon in Canada; Dave, Virgil, Emrys and Adam from our team took on the Full Marathon, and Jenn took on the Half.

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Jenn – The reviews were right, the course was fast and there was a lot of downhill.  In fact, the half marathon was several kilometres of downhill.  Slightly boring and empty highway mind you, but still downhill.

Getting to the race by car was very easy.  Save for a line-up to get into the parking lot which had us rushing to make the last of the buses, it was easy to find and parking was ample.  Once we were off the bus, bag check at the start was very simple and there were lots of porta potties. 

Then we were off!  The crowd for the half was quite small so I was across the starting mat in no time and my first several kms went by very fast.  The volunteers at the aid stations were really upbeat and made sure you got all the water or electrolytes you wanted.  And I must say that although this is a small race on quiet suburban streets, paths and highway, there was still a fun smattering of people out to cheer us on. Even on the highway!  At one point we were on a trail that turns onto a pedestrian pathway and there was still the odd person popping up to support us.  However, even with the speedy start, this was not the PR I had hoped for.  I slowed down dramatically in the 2nd half and after taking stock of my aches and pains I decided to finish, but to take it easy and enjoy the sunny day.  

Once we got to the waterfront the crowds grew.  So many people were out to cheer and offer up orange slices (yes please).  It was a very scenic route to the finish where a bowl of hot veggie soup was waiting and very welcome.  They also offered fruit, chips and pizza if you fancied. 

Overall this event was a lot of fun and one I would enjoy giving another go in future.  The volunteers were exceptional and did not want you to go hungry or under-hydrated!  And afterwards we all got free race photos to download, which was cool. Well done, Hamilton Marathon!

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Adam – Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope is a great way to close off the race season. As Canada’s fastest Boston qualifier, last year 22% of runners reached this goal. Race weekend is broken down into a 1km kids race Saturday with 5k and 10k options for adults and the half and full marathon events on Sunday.

The marathon begins at ArcelorMittal Dofasco Park on Green Mountain road in Stoney Creek. This is a point to point run with parking at Confederation Park, the finish (you can park at the start but will need to arrange post race transportation). Shuttle service begins early race day with the last bus leaving shortly before 7 am. The marathon has about 800 people running so there is plenty of room to move freely through the park and start area and bag check is available for free inside the main building which doubles as a warm up space.

The half marathon began at 7:45 am sharp. Jenn was ready and she rocked it. At 8:00 am the marathon began. Virgil and I decided to start together and run just a head of the 4.30hr pacers. David and Emrys started a bit a head running for faster times.

Temperatures were cool but not out right cold. The sun began warming the sprawling landscapes as my body began to loosen up. Having just recovered from a bad lung infection, I was grateful to start out nice and easy. I’ve gassed twice before on this race. Soon we reached Ridge Road which overlooks Hamilton and Stoney Creek then out to Lake Ontario. From there more picturesque autumn scenery, farms, vast fields and transitioning trees. The first 10 km peeled away pleasantly as we began rolling hills. Careful here, these may gas you early.

At 15 km my body felt strong enough to want to open up a little. Unlike usual, I took lots of nutrition early, grabbing water at the many aid stations. I said goodbye to Virgil. The next 5 km flew by and brought the race back into residential Stoney Creek. A section of the road was missing and soft clay/gravel, a reprieve from the concrete. I know both Dan from the Runner’s Den (a local sponsor /planner) and others worked diligently to have the area groomed just days ahead of the race to keep it open. Around 22 km brought us onto the Red Hill Expressway and a strong head wind. This is without a doubt a highlight of the race. I let my legs go and maintained a strong pace. Having gassed lots during this decent previously, I focused on my breathing, practicing gratitude for my health and the spectacular scenery. 

Eventually the road flattens at 28 km and here is the only official aid station with nutrition. I grabbed a bunch of Cliff gels and pushed for the beach. Kilometer 30 brings you over the QEW on a pedestrian bridge and to the Beachfront Trail. Then the next 12km are basically and out and back to the lift bridge and back to Confederation Park. These kilometers go slow!! Pace, pace, pace. 

I tried to maintain single minded focus and stayed fixed on finishing strong. At 36 km runners knee, an old enemy, exploited some under training of mine. I knew running faster would actually help alleviate this. Typically this part of the race eats up my heart and crushes me. Not this year. I gathered all I had and ran hard right through the finish. 4hrs 20 minutes, which was a marathon best time for me.

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Post race there is lots to eat, free massage, free coffee and the best ever vegetable and rice soup. Lots of space to keep warm and stretch.

Take away – The Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope is a well planned and classy event. Local high school kids ran the many water stations, local police and medics extended their services and cheered on participants, the weather was perfect. The race directors know how to put on an event.

All in all the Road2Hope gives runners a chance to run fast. With 400 meters of decent, cool breathable fall temperatures, and lots of flat course, a Boston Qualifier or Personal Best is very achievable on this course. I will return next year and beat my time for sure.

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Virgil – The Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope is considered Canada’s fastest Boston Qualifier with its large net elevation drop onto the Red Hill Expressway and late season cool temperatures. 

Driving down from Toronto was a bit of a challenge as the Gardiner was closed from the DVP to the 427, necessitating a local drive for part of the trip. Once parked, we hopped onto the shuttle buses and was swiftly whisked to the community centre where the start line was. A quick washroom break and baggage check in and we were ready for the last run of the year.

The half marathon started 15 minutes before us, so we had some time to take in last minute nutrition and try to stay warm. Eight o’ clock came and we were off! I ran a conservative pace with Adam for the first few kilometres. There were some scenic vistas as we were high up overlooking the city. It seemed like the water stations had pretty weak electrolyte drinks prepared, several times I was offered a cup and it seemed to be filled with plain water. Good thing I brought some electrolytes of my own to supplement. Adam headed off to run his own race after 15 kilometres and I was doing well until just before the 20th kilometre, when my knee started acting up.

That made me drop my pace just before the race ran down the highway ramp, where the full brunt of headwinds hit. I have to admit, running on an empty multilane highway never gets old! This stretched for about 7 kilometres before exiting and heading down towards the Red Hill Valley Recreational Trail. Thankfully it wasn’t too windy running along the waterfront section, including the loop along Beach Boulevard. After what seemed an eternity, we approached the turnaround to run back to the finish at Confederation Park.

The last kilometres of any marathon are the most difficult, and this race was no exception. It seemed that some of the walkers on the course were moving just as fast as my fatigued jog/run/walk combination. At the finish I collected a large maple leaf medal and a space blanket. In the tent was some squares from a local pizzeria and some great tasting hot vegetable broth soup. The last marathon of the year was finally put to rest. That doesn’t mean that the running is over though. In fact I signed up to do a 50 day run streak challenge to raise awareness for sharks on Facebook. It’s been nearly a week later and I’m happy to report that the extra running has become less of a chore and has become easier to do, especially after the legs have had a chance to recover! Best of luck on your fitness ambitions, and we’ll see you in 2019, stronger and faster!

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Emrys – For the past 2 years, the Hamilton Road2Hope race weekend has been a consistent highlight of my autumn season. Last year, I ended up finishing my first ever marathon alongside Dave with a solid time and a podium for my age group. A few months ago, Dave asked me if I wanted to return, so I signed up and was looking forward to see what I could do this year.

I left my house at 5:15am on race day and drove down to Confederation Park. Tip–it’s best to use the bathrooms at the park before taking the bus up to the start of the race!

The bus ride is always fun. You can see the sun rising through the foggy windows, everybody is excited and it’s a good vibe all around. Once at the starting area, all the runners hang out in a gymnasium to stay warm before the start. The bag drop is a huge plus, as it lets you keep an extra layer on until a few minutes before the start of the race.

At the start, the runners line up over 30 deep, most people keeping an eye on the pace bunny holding a sign with their goal time. I placed myself near the back to start conservatively. I had gotten very busy the last two weeks so my training hadn’t gone well, and my knee had been hurting a bit. I hoped that I had given it enough rest to keep it quiet during the race.

We set off, surrounded in the huge crowd of athletes, and had to walk occasionally through the bottleneck in the first 200m. After that, everyone dispersed and it became increasingly easy to maintain pace. Aid stations signaled the completion of each 3km interval and like clockwork I drank a cup of water and Skratch each time. Unfortunately, I had been feeling my knee since the gun went off.

As an endurance athlete, you learn to distinguish between pain that matters and pain that doesn’t. Racing is inherently painful, and you have to gauge where the threshold lies between toughness and stupidity – the threshold beyond which you can’t recover quickly, and could injure yourself. As far as I could tell, my knee didn’t seem to be getting worse so I decided to keep rolling.

I enjoyed the phenomenal views of the lake from the escarpment, the yellow leaves on the trees and the colorful file of runners stretching out in front and behind me. Lots of spectators come out to watch the race and encourage, even out in the countryside sections of the route. Police are stationed at almost every intersection to keep athletes safe. I focused on breathing well and maintaining good form.

At the 18th kilometer, my left leg suddenly seized up. I almost tripped over myself, and realized I might have arrived at the aforementioned stupidity threshold. I stretched it out, and decided to walk for a while.

I hobbled to the 21st kilometer, stretched out for a bit, and accepted that if walking hurt, my race was over. I hung out with the volunteers for a bit, very friendly locals who worked at a nearby supermarket and had come out to provide drinks at the aid station. The first responder team were so friendly to let me warm up in their ambulance until a race organizer arrived, who ended up taking me back to the finish line at Confederation park.

I met the rest of the crew there and we enjoyed some hot soup and a massage. I was pretty disappointed in my performance and the fact that I had to drop, but in the end it’s important to have perspective. I still had a great day, enjoyed a nice, warm fall day with friends. I’m setting my sights on some spring races, and hope to be back in Hamilton in a year to crush my previous best!

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Dave – I find Hamilton tricky; it has the potential to be a very fast marathon yet being in November, it’s at the end of the season and no matter how careful I am with my taper I don’t seem to get it right. This year was no different. The weather was near perfect for a fast race, about 0C when we started out, with sun. No real wind to speak of for the first 15km or so, when the route covers the high ground. Incredible views out over Lake Ontario, I really enjoyed it. My pace was good, I was on for a sub 3hr PR.

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Then we hit the highway heading down to the lake and the headwind was strong enough to take any advantage away that the downhill had promised to offer. By the time I hit the lakeshore I was down to a 3:13 finish time, way off my best. This wasn’t the marathons’ fault, really, it’s just so late in the season that the accumulation of all those races and all that training that many of us do meant I was just tired. My advice to anybody running this race in 2019 is, if you want a fast time, build it into your schedule, starting now! Plan to have a couple of months off racing from August onwards, train smart during that time, go into the race with a rested body. And take your own running fuel, as the aid stations are old school – water, electrolyte, gels at the 28km stage – so you’ll need to top that up.

The course sets the stage for a PR, it’s up to you to prep right for it, and I didn’t do that this time. But I still had a good time. Before the race, I looked back over the season and realised that the highlights were the moments before a race – when you have all the anticipation – and the moments after, when you’re chilling with your friends enjoying the feeling of a tired body and good company. So I went into Hamilton determined to enjoy both of those aspects of the event, and so came away with a great feeling. I may have missed a PR by 10 minutes but I’d had a good day out with great team mates, at a very friendly race organized by super friendly people. I couldn’t ask to end the season in any finer way.

If you’d like to discover about the Hamilton Road2Hope race weekend check their website out!

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