The Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope race weekend began for me at 7 AM Saturday, when Ailish and I arrived at Confederation Park, Hamilton, to volunteer at race kit pick-up. We helped out at the 5k table and then at the 1/2 marathon table until 11 AM, but stepped out at 10 AM to watch Keaghan’s 5k race. Despite a short night due to Hallowe’en festivities, first words after being woken up of “I’m never racing again!” and a refusal to eat breakfast, he ran through the rain, snow and wind to a 5k PB!
Sunday morning our alarm went off at 5 AM, but with the time change it actually felt like 6 AM, so it wasn’t as bad as some of our triathlon race day starts! With the kids having slept at Nana and Papa’s, we were on our way just after 6 AM and at Confederation Park by 6:30 AM. The weather forecast was good – nothing like Saturday’s weather.
After a quick portapotty stop, we hopped on a school bus shuttle to ArcellorMittal Dofasco Park on the “mountain” where the race was to begin. We spent the next 1 1/2 hours alternately standing in ever-growing portapotty lines, getting our race stuff ready, and people watching – some runners have quite elaborate warm-up routines, and others, too short shorts or awesome costumes! Even Captain America competed (and beat me).
Before heading outside for the last time, we checked our bags with volunteers, who would ensure that our stuff (extra clothing layers, water, etc.) would be at Confederation Park waiting for us when we finished the race.
The marathon (not our race) started at 8 AM while we were in the portapotty line-up for the last time. Frequent use of portapotties at races can be educational. Yesterday, I learned that despite what you might have thought was a simple concept of forming a line and taking turns, there will always be someone confused by the process. Thankfully, we were at the start line with several minutes to spare before our 8:15 AM start – but not so early that we had to stand there shivering for too long! I decided to line up with runners who would be heading out faster than me, so that I didn’t end up having to pass and weave around lots of runners for the first km or so (very annoying). It worked, except that I was probably one of those annoying runners that others had to weave around!
We decided to follow the suggestion of the race organizers and wear red, white, and poppies in memory of Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent, and all Canadians who have served our country.
My goal for this race was to finish in under 2 hours. My 1/2 marathon PB was last year’s Road2Hope, when I ran it in 2:00:35 (with one pee break!). I intended to run a 5:36 min/km pace, giving myself a 2 min cushion in case I needed to stop to pee (and very likely stand in yet another portapotty lineup!).
Alasdair and I wished each other good luck, but not before I asked the man beside me if he wanted to run holding hands, since our hands kept touching as we waited for the gun to go off! He laughed but that might have been a tough run.
The first 5k
The race start is essentially flat – I started out too fast, but by the time I hit the top of the Red Hill Creek Parkway I was maintaining a pace of just under 5:36 min/km.
The next 7 km’s are all downhill, my favourite part of the course! When I first turned onto the Red Hill, I thought I saw Alasdair just up ahead, but that didn’t make sense – either he would have been running far too slowly, or me far too quickly! Turns out, it wasn’t him. I had a gel at 8k, but nothing else for the rest of the race (just didn’t feel like anything, though I had planned to take one more). I think it was on the descent that I started to fight with my water bottle belt – I must have grabbed an ill-fitting bottle from the cupboard, because at least 5 times it nearly jumped right out of the belt. I had to keep tightening the belt around my waist every 2 minutes (no kidding!) and shoving the bottle back in – thankfully I could do it on the fly. I only drank a couple of sips from my bottle the entire race – being cold out, I just didn’t feel thirsty (but should have had more!). My pace picked up on the downhill, and when I hit 10k, I realized that I had run what was probably my fastest 10k ever – approximately 54:30.
After leaving the Red Hill, the run goes onto Barton street for a very short time (running slightly uphill towards Barton, I was following “pink hat guy” and trying to not let him lose me – motivation to keep my pace up for the next little bit), then onto a trail with a couple of nasty uphills (thankfully, they are very short). It’s when I left the Red Hill that my pace started to fall, and the km with the hills was my first one slower than 6 min/km. I struggled from there to the end trying to speed up again.
From km 12 to almost 17, you run away from Confederation Park, but it is flat! Part of this stretch is also part of the Around the Bay course, but every time I run it as part of Road2Hope I am thankful that I’m nearing the finish and not having to run another 15k! With 8 km left, I realized I had only 42 min left if I wanted to come in under 2 hours, so I knew I had to run sub 6 min km’s (math helps pass time!). With about 5k to go I chucked my water bottle off the side of the path – I couldn’t take it anymore! I did take water from one water station near the end, but didn’t want to slow down for fear of missing my sub 2 hour goal!
Once we turned onto the Waterfront Trail, there were about 4 km’s left.
There were some great signs along here (I think) – “Run like someone just called you a jogger!” and “Why are all those people chasing you?” My all time favourite sign, though, is the one that says simply, “MOTIVATIONAL SIGN.” When I got passed by the 2:00 pacer with less than 2k to go, hope was fading that I’d come in under 2 hours. Someone yelled, “The 2 hour pacer is just up there!” – thanks, but I had nothing left to chase him. I was quite pleased that I managed a fast pace without any side stitches (which plagued me during the 1/2 marathon of my 1/2 ironman in September) and no serious complaints from my legs either – my hamstrings were tightening up but not causing any trouble. In the end though, as usual, it was my cardio limiting me – I just couldn’t pick up the pace.
With just a couple hundred metres left, I started looking for Alasdair, who I expected to be waiting for me near the end – like he always is. I didn’t see or hear him. As I turned the corner toward the finish line, I (think I) picked up the pace a bit, but knew that I could not finish sub 2. As I got closer to the finish line, I noticed that it seemed very congested, and wondered at first if I had finished at the same time as many others. It was unusual. I quickly realized that someone must have collapsed near the finish, and that is exactly what happened. The race medical staff and paramedics were performing CPR on a man who had collapsed 10m before the finish line. Runners had been stopped just before this point, with the finish line (timing chip mat) moved up a bit. I was able to cross the mat but then was stuck in a growing group of people as more and more finished. I was a bit concerned that I had yet to see Alasdair, until I heard that the fallen runner had been wearing blue shorts. I mentioned to a few spectators (just on the other side of our finishing chute fence) that I was so thirsty (normally at the finish line you get a bottle of water, but the water was on the other side – inaccessible to us for the moment). A woman offered me some sliced apples, which I was very grateful to accept! Another runner had some too. Volunteers eventually brought bottled water. It was quite a sombre mood amongst the runners. After a few minutes, we were rerouted around the fallen runner, and my understanding is that before the marathon winner crossed the finish line, the man had been taken to the hospital. I learned later that sadly, he died (see below).
I did eventually find Alasdair, after getting food and grabbing my backpack from the baggage check.
We left right away, hoping to catch the end of Ailish’s first basketball exhibition game of the year.
I did end up getting a PB, but considering I didn’t stop for a pee break, I actually ran slower than last year, because last year I did stop to pee!
I’m hoping to run a sub 2 hour 1/2 marathon in the spring (race to be determined)!
Time: 2:00:31 (PB by 4 seconds over last year’s time)
Pace: 5:44 min/km
# pee breaks: none!!
Age group placing: 61/147 women aged 40-44 (this is a fantastic placing for me)
Gender placing: 392/1005 all women
Overall placing: 893/1707 all finishers
As soon as I saw the photo of the runner who had died, Richard Greidanus, I knew that he was “Rick”, the man that Ailish and I met and volunteered with on Saturday morning at race kit pick-up. He was such a nice man. He asked me whether I was a runner, and we chatted about our goals for the 1/2 marathon on Sunday. I told him my plans and he said to me, “You got this!” So sad.