I’ve been very fortunate to combine travel with racing over the past couple of years. Last year, I ran the Ottawa Half Marathon (which also runs through Quebec), and combined the trip with a visit with my Dad. Way back in April of this year – very likely in order to take advantage of the earlybird discount – I signed up for my second ever race in Ontario. I was able to meet up not only with Dad, but also with extended family and some friends I hadn’t seen in many years! And that race was the Hamilton Road2Hope Half Marathon!
I’ve already detailed some of the activities surrounding the race weekend, including my runs in Barrie, in my November – More Running than Writing post. So in this post I’ll focus on the race experience. It’s a long one, but bear with me – it was a darn good race!
Because Dad had some commitments at home on Saturday morning, we didn’t get on the road until after lunch. The traffic was fairly light, but it still took nearly 2 hours to make the trip to Hamilton. The race expo was taking place at Confederation Park at the far east end of the city. The expo was open until 4:00pm, so we arrived in reasonably good time at about 2:30pm.
One of the first things I thought was – how would runners who didn’t own a car get here? I checked Google maps, and it would take at least an hour to get their by transit from downtown Hamilton. I realize most Ontarians own cars, and that most visitors would rent – but the out-of-the-way location was a bit of a surprise.
The expo was set up in multiple tents near the finish line of the races. It was windy, but sunny. Saturday was also a race day, with 5k and 10k races having finished that morning. The place wasn’t packed, given how late in the day we arrived. I went to pick up my bib, and it was my name on the front of the box! Good omen, perhaps?
We were directed through the expo, wending past multiple vendors (some of whom were already packing up) until we reached the t-shirt pickup.
We were informed that they had run out of men’s (black) t-shirts. They had a few women’s shirts left over in a few colours (red, blue & maybe pink?) – so I tried one on. It was XL – that’s all they had – and the v-neck would have revealed more of my chest hair than anyone would want to see. Declining the women’s shirt, I was instructed to write my name and address down on a piece of paper. I dutifully did so. At time of writing, I have yet to receive anything in the mail.
Nevertheless, I was excited about the race!
We turned around and drove to Dundas – all the way at the other end of town – where we were staying with my aunt & uncle.
I went to university in Hamilton – or, at least, in the former suburb of Ancaster. Having not visited Hamilton for a number of years – with the exception of a very quick visit for my cousin’s wedding last year – it was time to catch up with some friends. Hubby and I headed out to meet the gang for dinner, and maybe one glass of wine. It was a wonderful evening.
Back in Dundas, I laid out my gear for the early Sunday morning alarm.
Awoke to a dark but warmer-than-expected morning. My aunt had laid out the fixings for oatmeal, and prepared the coffee maker for me:
Dad, hubby & I piled into the car, and headed off. The start line for the race was on ‘the mountain’, but also quite far east.
Wait – what? There are mountains in Ontario? Well, no, not exactly. Here’s just a wee bit about the geography of this area (because it has an impact on the race itself)…
The Niagara Escarpment is basically a ridge/cliff that runs east-west from upstate New York to southwestern Ontario. It’s the reason that Niagara Falls exists. The City of Hamilton developed along the Escarpment, with the downtown built between the ridge and Lake Ontario. The upper part of the city is known as ‘the mountain’ – and that’s where the race started!
The boys dropped me off at the Starlite Drive-In…
…and I followed the crowds for a short walk to the start line at Dofasco Park. Shuttle buses were also arriving from the finish line – since this is a point-to-point, folks had the option of parking at the end and shuttling up the mountain. Once again, however, I was struck how inaccessible this place would be without a car!
Although it was a bit chilly, the weather was nothing like I had expected. I had brought tights, a thermal shirt and gloves on this trip – none of which I required that day. Fortunately, there was a warm indoor space at the recreation centre. I lined up for the washroom, but after a lengthy wait realized that I was in the line for the women’s washroom. Since I really had to go – more than ever before I race – I bolted to the men’s line.
Thankfully, things moved quickly and I made to the start line in time!
The half marathon and full marathon started together. With relatively little fanfare, the countdown was on and we headed out. I had seeded myself just ahead of the 1:50 pace bunny, with hopes that I could come in slightly faster.
We exited the park and headed south for 2 kilometres, and then turned right. For the next 4.5 km we were running along a straight, relatively flat rural/suburban road. There were a few local folks out cheering, but not too much activity otherwise. I was feeling a bit dehydrated, so I took advantage of the first couple of water stops as I passed by.
At 8km, the fun truly started! The Hamilton Road2Hope Marathon is known as one of the best Boston qualifying races in Canada, and here’s the reason why…remember the Escarpment? Well, for the next 6 kilometres we were running on the Red Hill Creek Parkway – a gentle, gradual downhill with the ability to spread across the width of the highway, and run the tangents easily. By the time we exited the Parkway, our elevation had dropped by over 100 metres.
About this time, the 1:50 pacer caught up with me. He and one of the runners were having a loud, breathless conversation (maybe about politics?), so I forced myself to speed up in order to get away from them.
At 17km, we hit the waterfront, and made a sharp left for our out-and-back along the Lake Ontario shoreline. Although the wind was strong by the water, the cheering of the crowds had intensified and provided inspiration. It was also one of those moments where you see the faster runners and feel a rush of adrenaline.
A little over a kilometre later, the turnaround. Now, the full marathoners (who had also added on a bunch of distance at the beginning) were not turning around at this point. But there was an enthusiastic volunteer keeping an eye on the bibs, and directing the halfers around the pylon and back again. A guy just in front of me – head down and soldiering on – didn’t see the turnaround. He was a big guy, but the volunteer literally grabbed him around the waist, swung him 180 degrees, and sent him on his way with a “This way, buddy!” Awesome moment!
Nearly there! Just a few more kilometres. Sun! Wind! Cheering!
In the last few hundred metres, a sharp turn and I was in the finishing chute!
Both hubby and Dad were there, snapping photos as I ran by. And then – just like that – my 30th half marathon was over!
The food was great – in addition to the standard bananas and energy bars, we were given pizza and soup (both with vegetarian options)! Such great comfort food after a half marathon!
In the midst of #22Pushups, I took advantage of the post-race surge of energy and beautiful weather, and banged them out right then and there!
Because I didn’t know anyone else running, we headed back to the car and headed home for a shower and change, before venturing out for brunch with a few friends.
That evening, we celebrated with a big family dinner – thank you, Aunt Shannon! – and capped off things off with a few (too many, on my part) drinks. The perfect end to a perfect race weekend!
Chip time: 1:47:07
Average pace: 5:02 min/km
Overall place: 335/1343
Place in age category: 28/73
Quick Recap – Hamilton Road2Hope Half Marathon
Social Media: The Road2Hope running series Twitter account is fairly active, particularly during the race weekend. All of the free race photos also showed up on their Facebook page, so overall I was pretty happy with their social media. They also sent emails as regular intervals (enough, but not too many) to keep us posted on race information.
Package Pickup: Because we arrived fairly late in the day on Saturday, things were fairly quiet at the race expo. A few of the vendors were starting to pack up, but we had already been driving for a couple of hours so didn’t really want to linger. The expo was set up in a series of tents at the race finish line in Confederation Park. I wonder what it would have been like if it was raining?
T-Shirt/Swag: As noted in my blog post, they had run out of men’s t-shirts (and all but XL women’s shirts) by the time we arrived, and I wrote down my address on a piece of paper. I still haven’t received the shirt, although I know it is black and long-sleeved. The medal, on the other hand, is probably one of my favourites! It’s GOLD, which is rare – and makes me feel like a rock star!
Course: Starting on Hamilton ‘Mountain’ – the first 7-8km are relatively flat, running on long, straight roads – not especially scenic, but not bad either. In the middle, we had the long, slow descent on the Red Hill Creek Parkway, which helped with my overall time. The final few kilometres along the shore of Lake Ontario were beautiful, if windy. On the whole, I really enjoyed this course!
Post-Race: Pizza and soup! Perfect for a chilly autumn morning (although the weather this year was pretty spectacular!). They gave us a plastic bag to carry out fruit and energy bars, as well. We didn’t stick around too long, but I imagine they had massages and some other festivities.
Organization: With the obvious miscalculation regarding race shirts (maybe a lot of day-of registrations?), I felt the race was well organized. At the start line, there didn’t seem to be enough toilets, but then I was at the indoor washrooms. Maybe they had lots of porta-potties outside? I didn’t want to lose my place in line, so I didn’t check! Excellent volunteers along the route and at the finish line. Figure out the shirt situation, and two thumbs up!
Would I run it again? Given the location (in Ontario, plus very inaccessible even within Hamilton), I probably wouldn’t prioritize this race again. Having said that, I think it’s a great race for anyone living in the area – and, as one of the top Boston qualifying races in Canada, probably a great opportunity for marathoners aspiring to that goal! A great event – really glad I got to experience it!
What’s your favourite race in Southern Ontario?