Waterfalls of Hamilton

I am incredibly lucky to live along the Niagara Escarpment in the Hamilton Area. As noted on the Bruce Trail website, “[t]he spectacular Niagara Escarpment encompasses farms, recreation areas, sweeping scenic views, 1675 foot cliffs, clear streams, wetlands, pebbled beaches, rolling hills, pristine waterfalls, wildlife habitats, historic sites, villages, towns and cities.”

The geography of the Hamilton area means that there are many gorgeous waterfalls, both in the City of Hamilton itself, and within four of the cities and towns that were amalgamated into Hamilton years ago: Waterdown, Dundas, Ancaster, and Stoney Creek.

All of the waterfalls are easily accessible without having to cover too much distance on foot. I’ve been exploring close to home lately, and in the last couple of months (February to April), I have run to all 12 of the waterfalls! Many are on the Bruce Trail main trail (Iroquoia section), others on Bruce Trail side trails or not far away.

The City of Hamilton’s Waterfalls Guide will give you all the information you need to plan your visit. Note that reservations are required during certain times of the year to visit Webster Falls and Tew Falls. In some places, you will need to pay for parking.

February 19: Borer’s Falls

I ran 7k from the Sydenham lookout in Dundas East along the Bruce Trail to Borer’s Falls and beyond (and back).

Borer’s Falls

March 12: Sherman Falls, Tiffany Falls, Canterbury Falls, Hermitage Cascade

I ran 12k from Artaban Road to Sherman Falls and Tiffany Falls along the Bruce Trail and a side trail, and then through Dundas Valley Conservation Area to pick up the Bruce Trail again to see Canterbury Falls and the Hermitage Cascade.

Sherman Falls
Tiffany Falls
Canterbury Falls
Hermitage Cascade

March 29: Webster Falls, Tew Falls, Dundas Peak

I ran 11k from Crook’s Hollow to Webster Falls along a trail beside Spencer Creek, then along the road to Tew Falls, and along the Tew Falls side trail to Dundas Peak (and back).

Webster Falls
Tew Falls

April 1: Smokey Hollow Falls

I ran through Waterdown to the falls.

Smokey Hollow Falls

April 5: Felker’s Falls, Devil’s Punchbowl, Albion Falls, Buttermilk Falls

I ran 18k, from Mud Street along the Mud Street side trail to the main Bruce Trail East to Felker’s Falls and the Devil’s Punchbowl, then West past where I parked to Albion Falls and Buttermilk Falls.

Felker’s Falls
Devil’s Punchbowl (upper)
Devil’s Punchbowl (lower)
Albion Falls
Buttermilk Falls

All of the waterfall pictures were taken with my iPhone – I was running, after all! I guarantee that each one is more spectacular in real life!

Looking for more waterfalls? Here’s an incredible map of the waterfalls and cascades of Hamilton (thanks Mary T for pointing it out!).

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Running the Bruce Trail End to End: Getting Started + Iroquoia Section

At some point last year, my husband Alasdair decided to run the entire Bruce Trail, so I thought it would be fun to take on the challenge too, knowing that it would take us several years, and that we would do some parts together, and some parts separately. We each downloaded the Bruce Trail app, and started tracking our runs.

What’s the Bruce Trail? According to the Bruce Trail Conservancy website, the Bruce Trail is “Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath. Running along the Niagara Escarpment in southern Ontario from Niagara to Tobermory, the Bruce Trail spans more than 890 km of main Trail and over 400 km of associated side trails.”

There are 9 sections of the trail. I live in the Iroquoia section just 2 km from the trail – lucky me! You can learn more about all the sections here:

Niagara – Queenston to Grimsby (Maps 1-5) (read summary here)
Iroquoia – Grimsby to Milton (Maps 5-11)
Toronto – Milton to Cheltenham (Maps 11-14) (read summary here)
Caledon Hills – Cheltenham to Mono Centre (Maps 14-19) (read summary here)
Dufferin Hi-Land – Mono Centre to Lavender (Maps 19-21) (read summary here)
Blue Mountains – Lavender to Craigleith (Maps 21-24) (read summary here)
Beaver Valley – Craigleith to Blantyre (Maps 24-28) (read summary here)
Sydenham – Blantyre to Wiarton (Maps 28-35)
Peninsula – Wiarton to Tobermory (Maps 35-42)

I was strictly a road runner until a couple of years ago when I started orienteering, which got me running on and off trail looking for controls (checkpoints) in the woods. However, it wasn’t until I started this end to end goal that I became a regular trail runner! I love it. It is so much more peaceful than running on the road, and way more scenic. I’m hooked.

I had previously hiked many different short bits of the trail over the years, but I’ve been enjoying rediscovering sections that I’ve been on before, and running on sections that are completely new to me. So far, I love the waterfalls along the trail the most.

As the parts of the trail that I need to cover get further and further away from home, things will get more complicated, and will definitely require some overnight trips. For now though, I’ve started close to home!


Started the Iroquoia section: October 27, 2018

Finished the Iroquoia section: December 26, 2018

Note: While I completed the Iroquoia section, the part of the trail that runs through Kelso Conservation Area in Milton was closed, so I ran the rerouted section along Appleby Line instead. I’ll go back in the spring to do the Kelso section.

Run details

  • October 27, 2018 – Rockcliffe Road, Waterdown to Borer’s Falls, Dundas – 14.3k
  • October 28, 2018 – Rockcliffe Road, Waterdown to Grindstone Falls, Waterdown – 5.7k
  • November 2, 2018 – Borer’s Falls, Dundas to Davidson Boulevard, Dundas (with a side trip to Tews Falls) – 22k
  • November 4, 2018 – Mount Nemo/Walker’s Line, Burlington to No. 8 Sideroad, Burlington – 10.8k
  • November 14, 2018 – Grindstone Falls, Waterdown to Highway 5, Burlington – 12.4k
  • November 24, 2018 – Highway 5, Burlington to Mount Nemo/Walker’s Line, Burlington – 10.2k
  • December 1, 2018 – No. 8 Sideroad, Burlington to Crawford Lake, Milton – 11.8k
  • December 8, 2018 – Crawford Lake, Milton to Hilton Falls, Milton – 13k (northern end of the Iroquoia section)
  • December 14 – Davidson Boulevard, Dundas to Filman Road, Ancaster – 12k
  • December 16, 2018 – Filman Road, Ancaster to King’s Forest Golf Course, Hamilton – 16.2k
  • December 22, 2018 – King’s Forest Golf Course, Hamilton to Millen Road, Stoney Creek – 19.5k
  • December 26, 2018 – Millen Road, Stoney Creek to Elm Street, Grimsby – 19.7k (southern end of the Iroquoia section)

Run stats

  • # runs: 12
  • # solo runs: 5
  • # runs with my husband Alasdair: 6
  • # runs with friends: 1 (Laura – yay to having similar running paces!)
  • shortest run: 5.7k
  • longest run: 22k
  • average length of run: 14k

With Laura at the Hermitage, Ancaster

Run highlights

Hardest section to run: between Millen Road in Stoney Creek and Elm Street in Grimsby, because of the abundance of wet and loose rocks

Albion Falls, Hamilton

Most waterfalls: between King’s Forest Golf Course in Hamilton and Millen Road in Stoney Creek – Albion Falls, Buttermilk Falls, Felkers Falls, and the Devil’s Punchbowl

Most scenic: see most waterfalls!

Scariest moment: while running through the Royal Botanical Gardens in Dundas, I encountered an illegal hunter in full camouflage carrying a bow and arrow, standing just off the trail and looking down the hill into the woods – I said to him, “Whatever you do, please don’t shoot me!” to which he replied, “I won’t.” (I made a report to the police, the Ministry of Natural Resources, and through a friend, to the RBG.)

After the hunter incident, on my next run I wore a reflective safety vest, a flashing light on my leg, and a bear bell on my foot! Since I ran through Dundas on this run, several people turned and wondered what all the jingling was about. One kid started singing Jingle Bells.

Wildlife sightings: 2 close-up raccoons (separate runs), and a salamander at Crawford Lake, which my husband nearly stepped on as he ran – we placed it gently in mud close to a log, covered it in leaves, and wished it well!

At Crawford Lake, Milton

Favourite run: the waterfall run!

Most memorable encounter with other hikers/runners: a little girl hiking with her parents, who said as I passed, “She runs so FAST!”; a couple carrying pruning shears and a saw to do trail maintenance; the hunter

Neat finds: caves just East of Twiss Road in Burlington; Devil’s Punch Bowl Market & Bakery for post run treats!

Cave off Twiss Road, Burlington

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Race report: Raid the City 2018 (brand new urban orienteering race)

This year Don’t Get Lost added a new race to their calendar, Raid the City, a 3-hour urban orienteering race with a twist in the city of Hamilton! Here’s how it differed from other orienteering races:Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 4.04.58 PM

Just like in other races, checkpoints varied in point value depending on their difficulty (in general, checkpoints that are further away or harder to access are worth more points).

Two maps, and one apple to keep them from blowing away.

It was completely up to individual teams to decide which checkpoints they wanted to go for. After registering and getting our two maps, Alasdair and I made our plan. We decided to go for all of the black (difficult) and double black (expert) checkpoints, as well as all the blue (intermediate) ones if we had time. We didn’t think we’d go for any green (easy) ones, except our first checkpoint on the way to our first blue.

Ready to go!

After a short pre-race meeting, we were off!

While checkpoints were marked on the two race maps, the Goose Chase app had additional information about each one (e.g. plaque about X, or Gate 1 at Tim Horton field). There was also a picture of the spot we were looking for – which was also what our own pictures should look like, with at least one team member (with race bib visible) in it!

We quickly found our first checkpoint – a plaque in a park – but I didn’t realize until we got to our second checkpoint that taking a picture isn’t enough – you actually have to submit it as well!

Second checkpoint we found, but first one where I successfully submitted a picture as proof! [Fail on the “race bib visible”.]

The rest of the race saw us visiting checkpoints at Tim Horton Field, Gage Park, the Chedoke Radial Trail, Auchmar Mansion, another historical plaque, a park at the top of the Jolley Cut, the Bruce Trail, and the Dundurn Stairs. We did really well on the navigation, only backtracking once when we overshot a wood wall along the Chedoke Radial Trail.

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“Oskee wee wee!” When we reached this checkpoint just after Craig and his teammate from Get Out There Magazine, we watched them videotape themselves doing the Ticat cheer!
Along the Chedoke Radial Trail.
Top of the Jolley Cut on Hamilton mountain.

To get up the Hamilton Mountain, we climbed the 500 step Wentworth Stairs. What a climb!

That white squiggly on the rock to my right was key to this checkpoint.

It was after the checkpoint along the Bruce Trail on top of the escarpment that Alasdair and I didn’t agree on where we should go next. My running pace was slowing, I had been fighting a side stitch, and I knew that if we went to the final double black diamond checkpoint at the top of the Dundurn Stairs (which was to the West, while the finish was to the South-East), we would be late and would lose points (20 points per minute late). Alasdair was sure I could make it, and even if we went over the 3 hours, it would still be worth it to get the 150 points. I was convinced that we would lose those points and then some, but agreed to try.

No more stair climbing! Luckily, we were descending at this point, down the Dundurn Stairs.

At the base of the Dundurn Stairs, we only had time to head straight back to the finish. My side stitch got worse, so we had to take some walk breaks. Alasdair underestimated the distance from the base of the stairs to the finish – it was nearly 6km of straight running!

Heading for the finish line.

We ended up being 20 minutes late, meaning that we lost 400 of our 1,040 points, finishing in 23rd place out of 32 teams with just 640 points – we ran 22.15 km! Instead of earning 150 points for that last checkpoint, we lost 400. Had we not gone for it, we may have been able to find other ones on our way back to the finish line.

At the finish line, Patrick (one of the race organizers) asked us how it went. “We’re still married!” was Alasdair’s response.

During the race, I checked a couple of times how we were doing relative to the other teams. At one point, we were in 11th place. For a while, we were in 7th place. It was fun to see how we were doing. Of course, the app didn’t know we were going to be so late…

Turns out only one team finished after we did!

This race was super fun, and I highly recommend it. It’s great for those who are new to orienteering, because you don’t need to know how to use a compass. You can look for checkpoints that are close to the start/finish, and run (or walk!) only as far or as long as you want to. You definitely don’t need to cover 22k!

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Race report: Don’t Get Lost Icebreaker Adventure Run

Was I the only one thinking of the Norwegian story The Three Billy Goats Gruff during the Don’t Get Lost Icebreaker Adventure Run? While crossing the many bridges in the “Trolling for Trolls” section of the course, I was relieved to know that the troll had long ago “disappeared under the rushing water, never to be seen again”. 

Before the 2 hour race began, I marked out my planned route with an orange highlighter, which might not have been the best choice of colour (keep reading). All controls were optional – you could go for as few or as many as you liked. They ranged from easy green ones (20 points) to intermediate blue ones (40 points), to advanced black diamonds (75 points) and expert double black diamonds (150 points).

I decided that I wouldn’t go for the dog bone controls this time (a dog bone is 2 controls that have to be done in sequence), despite them being worth quite a lot when you factor in the bonus for getting the dog bone (in addition to the points for the individual controls). Instead, I decided that after the “Killer K”, an approximately 1 km run to an optional control that you had to do first if you did it at all, I would tackle all of the controls in the golf course.

Anne, Ailish and I pre-race. [Photo courtesy of Barb C]
My first 3 controls would be the same ones as my daughter Ailish was going for, but after that we would split up. And we would do just the first control with our friend Anne.

If I had time after the golf course section, I would tackle the “Deck the Corridor” part of the map, which was essentially an unmarked path that you had to follow to find 3 unmarked controls (see map below).

Scan 43

There were a few other interesting ideas for controls in this race: “Nav4Rav4” could only be found between 10:30 and 11 AM, “Whiteout” had features on the map near it removed to make it more challenging, and “Trolling for Trolls” entailed 4 bridges and 8 controls under them, but you had to find the 2 that were “real” controls and not “dummies” (i.e. you needed the ones with the computer units within them, meaning that you had to visit each one until you found the 2 right ones).

At 10:15 AM the race began!

We’re off and running! [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]
No navigation was required for my 1st or 2nd controls, because I wasn’t at the front of the pack! But after that, my map (and eventually compass) was needed. When Ailish and I split up, I headed for the “Whiteout” control, following a creek (or where there would be water had it been spring) right to the control.

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Ailish on one of the bridges of the “Trolling for Trolls” section of the course. [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]
Next I headed for the bridges of the “Trolling for Trolls” section. I approached it from the east, checking underneath one end of bridge D (no troll there!), running up and across the bridge, checking under the other end, and then heading for bridge C. After checking one end, I heard some kids say that the control at the other end was a dummy, but I felt that it would be cheating  if I didn’t check it out for myself, so I did, and they were right. At bridge B I debated stepping on the rocks in the creek to cross over to the other side, but I suspected that the gap between the rocks was too large and I would fall into the cold water, so I scrapped that idea and headed back for the bridge. I found one of the real controls at bridge B, and the last one at bridge A. I tried 7 of 8 locations to find the 2 controls!

Running while looking at the map works less well in the middle of a forest. [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]
I found 6 more controls easily before heading for the first one that was in the woods away from the golf course. Looking at my map a few days after the race, I noticed that I hadn’t followed my own plan because the orange highlighter wasn’t obvious – I missed 2 easy controls that I had planned to get.

When I was in the woods heading to #31, I ran into my daughter, who had given up finding it. We searched for it for a while, certain that we knew where we were, and unsure why we couldn’t find it. I was determined to find it, given that it was a black diamond and worth 75 points. But the longer it took, the less sense it made to keep trying. After 30 minutes, we gave up. After the race, I chatted with two 2nd place finishers who did find the control (Heidi and Barb), and learned from them how I could approach a similar control in the future. Lessons learned: you might not be where you think you are, go for the easiest approach, use the road or buildings.

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 9.08.16 AM
What confusion looking for control #31 looked like.

I found 2 more controls easily, then debated trying to find the Deck the Corridor controls, but I was doubtful that I had the time to follow an unmarked path while rushed, and even more so when a fellow competitor (Oliver) pointed out how far he thought the loop was. So instead I headed for one end of a dog bone and found that, running into my friends John and Kristin in the process.

I thought that I might have time to do one more control, but didn’t want to go over the 2 hour limit, so I scrapped that idea and headed for the last control and then the finish line. Running up the hill to the finish I asked Barb if she had found #31, and she told me to run for the finish (never give up, you never know when someone in your age group might be just behind you) and then we could talk about #31! Since she finished 2nd in her category, I should clearly listen to Barb’s advice!

Nearing the finish line. [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]
In the end I covered 10.3 km and finished in 1:53:05, with a total of 790 points, which put me 15th out of 22 women in the open age group. My race went really well except for that darn #31! The weather was fantastic for an early December race.

After the race, I ran into Oliver, who jokingly said that he would have done the Deck the Corridor with me had I gone for it. Next time Oliver!

Still smiling after the race.

It was great to see so many kids out racing with or without their parents, as the Adventure Running Kids ARKFest marking the end of the 12-week fall session was happening at the same time.

Even after the race was done it was hard leaving without having found #31. I really should have just gone back to look for it!

Can’t wait for the next race! My strategy: use a different coloured highlighter, go for the dog bones, and if I can’t find the control, approach it from a different angle!

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Race report: Don’t Get Lost Icebreaker Adventure Run 2016

There’s nothing quite like starting a race by running right up the Niagara Escarpment! Today’s race had hills, stairs, mud and burrs – and was a blast!

My friend Rebecca and I signed up for this morning’s Don’t Get Lost Icebreaker Adventure Run as a way to practice for the Snowshoe Raid in January, where we’ll be racing as team “DEFINE LOST” in our very first race on snowshoes! Unfortunately, Rebecca was sick today so I headed to the Chedoke Golf Course in Hamilton on my own.

I arrived just before the 9 AM race kit pick-up, and joined a very small line to get my map and timing chip. Unfortunately, I realized that I’d missed the waivers on the way in, so had to leave my spot in line, fill out a waiver, and join a much bigger line! Eventually I got my 2 maps, instruction sheet, plastic cover for the maps, and timing chip and found a spot on the floor to get organized.

This race involved 2 maps and an instruction sheet.

It took me way too long to figure out where I was on the map! Once I did that (yay me), I plotted out a route, aiming to find only green (beginner) and blue (intermediate) controls. I would skip the black diamond (advanced) and double black diamond (expert) controls.

Studying the map and planning my route pre-race. [Photo by Steve]
At the Raid the Hammer half, which I participated in a few weeks ago for the first time, I learned that writing things down on the map pre-race would save time during the race, so I worked out which controls I would look for, in which order, and worked out compass bearings for each leg. I wrote these on my instruction sheet, which made it much quicker to change my compass bearing after finding each control.

For this race, the idea was to find as many controls as you could within 2 hours (if you went over 2 hours, you lost 10 points per minute). For the most part, you could find the controls in any order you wanted to, with the exception of 41 (you didn’t have to do it, but if you did, it had to be your first find), the last one at the finish line, and a few that were linked together (e.g., you had to do 34, 36, 40 in that order, or as 40, 36, 34). This is where reading the instruction sheet is key!

Studying the map and planning my route pre-race. [Photo by Steve]
After I felt ready, I chatted with a couple sitting beside me, and one of them (Steve) was kind enough to take a few pictures of me.

At 10 AM there was a pre-race briefing, and then everyone headed for the start line, which was a little ways along the Chedoke Radial Trail. This was slightly confusing, as the map made me think the start was at the building. It wasn’t until I was home again after the race that I spotted the triangle on the map denoting the start! I was mistakenly looking at the finish! I decided to start with control 41 (the one you had to do first if you did it at all), which I thought was just up the hundred’s of stairs nearby. But then I realized that you had to run a 1 km marked route on the map that ended at the top, but started with a climb up the muddy escarpment, down again, up again, down again, then up the stairs! With the majority of people heading that way when the race started, I decided to do it too! This would be my only black diamond control of the day (classified as such not for the navigation required – that part was easy – but for the demanding approach to it!). Some ran up the hill and stairs, and others did a run/walk combination like me. I saw one woman wipe out at the bottom – it was very muddy, with leaves making it even more slippery. Nearing the top of the 289 stairs, I heard a little guy (probably around 8) standing at the top of the stairs yelling at his dad, “C’mon dad!” (as in, can’t you go any faster? dad was catching his breath). “Can I just run to the road?” he asked. And then, “Oh no! I dropped my timing chip over the fence!” I found the checkpoint, headed back for the stairs, and saw dad holding the boy upside down over the Niagara Escarpment to grab the timing chip – okay, so it wasn’t as dangerous as it may sound!

I headed down the stairs and in the direction of the western section of the golf course, where I planned to go for checkpoints 34, 36 and 40 in that order. I encountered a man and a woman who it turns out were also looking for 34, so we worked together to find it. We were all looking for 36, so worked together again. At this point, I learned that the man’s name was Mauro, and I immediately realized he must be Mauro from my Monday 5:30 AM coached swim sessions. How many Mauros could there be? I was right! Turns out Lisa is also a Fighting Koala! For the rest of the race, we worked together as a team of 3. This was their first orienteering race, having just learned online how to use a compass. In fact, they both read my recent blog posts about orienteering! We started to see many kids on the course at this point, and Mauro was very encouraging cheering each one of them on. Some replied with a “Thank you! You too!” Very cute.

At some point during the race, someone asked us if we were doing a treasure hunt. There were quite a few dog walkers, stair climbers and others out for a stroll, many of whom must have been wondering what we were doing!

We overshot 40, but after finding it, we fairly quickly found 32 and 37. This is where my pre-race plan differed from Mauro and Lisa’s. I had planned to head for the eastern part of the golf course and controls 33, 38, 39, 35 and then the finish, but we had lots of time left, so instead we were going to try to find 35, 33, 38, 39, 42 and 43 (42 and 43 had to be done in this order, with no other controls in between), 50 and the finish. Control 35 was a quick find, and control 33 was easy because I had seen it driving in to the golf course. We quickly found two more – 38 and 39. Then we headed along the Chedoke Radial Trail and part way up the escarpment, where we made our way to 42. When we descended, it was so steep that it was easier to slide down on our backsides! Lisa mentioned later that she considered sliding down on her plastic map bag!

Mauro (sliding) and Lisa (back on 2 feet) on the way down the escarpment (stairs are for wimps).

We then picked our way along the escarpment rather than climbing back down and running along the trail, which was a mistake for 2 reasons: 1) it was steep, rocky, covered in sticks and logs – and leaves that hid everything – and was slow going, and 2) we reached 50 before 43 and Lisa put her timing chip in before realizing it wasn’t the one we were looking for. So Mauro and I didn’t put our timing chips in, instead heading for 50. We split up and attacked a wooded area from 3 sides – I spotted the control first, and called to the others so they could find me (and it)!

From this point it was a simple run along the trail back to the finish line, with no more map and compass needed. And just like that, we were done! According to Lisa’s watch, the distance we covered was 10 km.

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Heading for the finish line. [Photo by race photo-grapher]

Lisa, Mauro and I at the finish line checkpoint.


Done! [Photo by race photographer]
It was so great to see so many kids participating in this race and in the shorter ARKfest, the culminating event of their Adventure Running Kids program!


Time: 1:41:47

Controls found: 14

Time penalties: 0 (finished within the allotted 2 hours)

Points: 565

Placing: 16/26 women (44 and younger)

The full results give a breakdown of the controls each participant found, how many points they earned for each one, how long it took to find the control, and the elapsed time since the race started.

Here are my full stats: control #, point value, time to find it (elapsed time)

  • 41, 75p, 13:04 (13:04)
  • 34, 20p, 9:10 (22:14)
  • 36, 20p, 3:15 (25:29)
  • 40, 40p, 11:12 (36:41)
  • 32, 20p, 4:25 (41:06)
  • 37, 40p, 2:20 (43:26)
  • 35, 20p, ? (?) *
  • 33, 20p, 13:33 (56:59)
  • 38, 40p, 2:28 (59:27)
  • 39, 40p, 2:19 (1:01:46)
  • 42, 40p, 9:25 (1:11:11)
  • 43, 20p, 14:52 (1:26:03)
  • 50, 150p, 4:49 (1:30:52)
  • 31, 20p, 8:48 (1:39:40)

* When the results were posted, I noticed that I hadn’t gotten credit for finding control 35. I emailed Don’t Get Lost, and found out that others had had issues with that control too. Apparently low batteries and cold temperatures can wreak havoc on the units! The results have now been updated – I received credit for finding that control, but there is no timing information for it.

Lessons Learned

  • Working out compass bearings for my planned route and writing them down pre-race made for faster turnarounds between controls – I just had to quickly change my compass bearing and was good to go.
  • Descending the Niagara Escarpment, running along the Chedoke Radial Trail (part of the Bruce Trail), and climbing up again would have been faster than attempting to pick our away along the steep hill with rocky footing and deadfall all over the place.
  • Orienteering races are much more fun to do with friends (or new friends) rather than alone!

Race report: Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope 1/2 marathon

After last year’s 2:00:31 half marathon at the Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope (my 1/2 marathon PB), I was hoping to break the 2 hour barrier this year.

I spent Friday afternoon volunteering at race kit pick-up, working the 1k and 5k events. I gave out race bibs and bags, and then sent people to get their shirts (nice long-sleeved ones this year, in black, red or pink for women). Last year’s t-shirt was incredibly ugly, but makes a great shirt for biking (it’s bright). I grabbed race kits for Alasdair (running the 10k), Keaghan (running the 5k), and me while I was there.

Saturday morning I was back at the race site before 7 AM, volunteering again at the 5k race kit pick-up. Alasdair arrived later with the kids, with Keaghan’s 5k starting at 10 AM, and the 10k starting at 11 AM. This year (Keaghan’s 3rd time doing the race), he ran with his friend Luke, which was much more fun for him. I ducked out of the registration tent to watch the 5k race.

Wearing my volunteer hat and t-shirt.

The boys ran together and sprinted the last 100m to the finish line! Keaghan beat Luke by 1 second, with finishing times of 25:09 and 25:10 respectively (apparently the sprint was because they didn’t want the girl in front of them to beat them!). They were 23 and 24 out of 57 boys aged 10-14. They did great!

Keaghan and Luke starting the 5k (smiling without being prompted).

I went back into the registration tent to volunteer for a few more minutes, then finished so that I could watch the 10k race. Let’s just say Alasdair was so fast I missed getting pictures of him! He finished in 2nd place out of 25 men aged 40-44 (a shock for all of us and his best recorded 10k)! He’s going to stick to 10k’s for a while…

Check out that 2nd place medal!

Last night I made sure all my stuff was ready to go this morning, and even got breakfast things out. I turned the clocks back, set my alarm for 5 AM, and went to sleep. When I got up this morning, got dressed and went down to the kitchen, I was shocked to see that it was after 6 AM. I had planned to leave the house at 5:30 and be at Confederation Park in Hamilton before 6 AM to catch a bus to the start line, but clearly that wasn’t going to happen! Alasdair figured out later that what actually happened is that I rolled my alarm clock back 2 hours instead of 1! In any case, I essentially walked around the house eating my bowl of oatmeal while I finished getting dressed, put on my shoes etc!

I was sitting on the shuttle bus when a woman asked if anyone was sitting beside me. “Just the invisible person!” I said. She laughed and sat down. I arrived at the race start location (ArcellorMittal Park on the Hamilton Mountain) just after 7, and headed for the gym where I hoped to meet Kristi from Ottawa, a blogger who writes Blog for an Average Runner. Despite the gym not being too full, we never did find each other! My multiple trips to the portapotties might have been a factor.

Here I am with Laura, who I played soccer with for many years!

I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt for the race, since it was 12 degrees Celsius and partly sunny, with a low probability of rain, but others had several more layers than me! Unfortunately, the winds were expected to be 30 km/h SW gusting to 60! I was cold waiting in the portapotty line, but knew I’d be fine when I started running – I was! I heard several people during the race commenting that they were overdressed!

Just before 8 AM, O Canada played and I listened from – you guessed it! – the portapotty lineup. The marathon started at 8, but I missed it because I was still in line. I wanted to see the woman who was running backwards and going for a Guinness record (she got it!). I made it to the start line with about 5 minutes to spare, lining up just behind the 2:00 pace bunny. We had a moment of silence for Rick Greidanus, who died while running the 1/2 marathon last year (you may remember that Ailish and I volunteered with him at race kit pick-up on the Saturday – very nice man!). The countdown began and we were off! It was incredibly crowded at the start, but I kept my eyes on the very little pacer with the red ponytail (hard to see her when she didn’t hold her sign up). I felt good at the start and had no trouble staying with her. Thankfully it didn’t take too long before the runners spread out and it wasn’t so congested. In the first km or so, there were big orange pylons in the middle of the road, where runners (including me) would yell “pylon!” so no one crashed into one. I ended up running a little ahead of the pacer in the first few kilometres, and decided to leave her before the 5k mark. It worried me that she didn’t seem to be running fast enough. I needed to maintain a pace of around 5:35 min/km to finish under 2 hours. I never did see her again. It was also at the 5k mark that I ditched my water bottle (as I had to do last year!). This bottle works fine normally, but I think my faster pace had it constantly jumping out of the holder! I had to keep tightening my belt every minute (no kidding) and pushing the bottle back in. I left it at an aid station and decided I’d just get water from the volunteers!

Running down the Red Hill Parkway for 6+ kilometres is my favourite part of the race. I held a pace of 5:15-5:27 and felt great (the wind may have been a factor). For the first time since I started running this race in 2010 the drummers who normally set up under an overpass weren’t there. It was disappointing! We exited the Red Hill at Barton St. (where I had my gel and some water at the aid station), and continued down a recreational trail, which is nice except for the 2 short steep uphills. When I reached the Waterfront Trail, there were lots of people cheering for the runners.

Did I mention the wind?! Oh my goodness it was tough at certain points, and in particular towards the end as we were running away from the finish line along the Waterfront Trail. At least once during the race I thought my hat was going to blow off my head. When I hit 15k and saw that I had only 30 minutes to run the next 6k to finish in under 2 hours, I knew I couldn’t do it. I don’t run that fast! I was disappointed but determined to run as fast as I could. I was running out of steam.

With about 1k to go, I spotted Alasdair with his trumpet, where he serenaded me by playing “… I will be right here waiting for you…” (Richard Marx). It was the first time he’s been able to play for me while I was racing. For everyone else, he played the theme song from Rocky, Superman, Battle Hymn of the Republic, Chariots of Fire, Hurts so Good, King of Pain and others!

In the end, I finished in 2:03:41 (5:55 pace), which was disappointing, but considering the wind, maybe not surprising. Next time! My time was good enough for a 58/137 placing amongst women aged 40-44, 309/809 women overall, and 752 out of all 1445 runners. This is a great result for me! And for once I had a running race with no side stitches!!

If you were at the race site on Saturday, you might notice that there are significantly fewer balloons at the finish line today in all that wind!

I received my race medal, and then was funnelled into the food tent with all other finishers. Runners were given apples, bananas, cookies, pizza, bars, and soup. I had made a shake to have after the race, which in my haste forgot this morning, but Alasdair brought it for me. We found each other not long after I got my food, and after staying for a few more minutes, we left.

I like the smaller medal this year.

The Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope is phenomenally well organized and is also a fundraiser for various charities (it’s not too late to contribute). We made a donation to the FAB foundation, “helping young girls become strong women”:

  • Our passion is helping young girls become strong women.
  • Our focus is reaching youth girls in lower income communities.
  • Our goal is to inspire youth girls to dream big, live big.
  • Our strategy is to build their self confidence and goal setting skills.
  • Our vehicle is our FAB Girls 5 KM Challenge.

With 1k, 5k, 10k, 21.1k and 42.2k races, there’s something for almost everyone at the Road2Hope! This year there were food trucks, and even a Timmies truck, where donations were made in exchange for coffee, and all money raised went to the charities for which runners fundraised.

Road2Hope, we’ll be back!

Race report: Boxing Day 10-Miler

“It is not so much that I began to run, but that I continued.” – Hal Higdon

Unfortunately, this year’s Boxing Day 10-Miler in Hamilton fell at the tail end of a (seemingly never-ending) cold, which lingered by way of a congested chest and had me coughing up a lung in the night. I decided to run anyway, because really, I was fine during the day, though slightly lacking on the cardio front. I knew that realistically, a PB was not within reach this year, but I was going to try to run as fast as my recovering body would allow me!

This was to be my 2nd running of the Boxing Day 10-Miler, and Alasdair’s 1st. We brought the kids with us to the Hamilton YMCA (“race central”), and left them to shoot hoops in the gym or read while we ran (membership privileges!). After multiple trips to the bathroom, Alasdair and I headed over to the Hamilton GO Station, which had additional bathroom facilities and was conveniently located at the start line!

At the start line

Apparently the weather for this race was the best it had been in 10 years – the roads were dry, there was a forecasted high of 5 degrees Celsius, and there was sun (we’ve been a bit lacking lately). It was perfect running weather.

At 12 noon the race started. I ran beside Alasdair for the first few seconds, and then he was gone. Once again I had to do quite a bit of weaving around people, but eventually the pack spread out and I settled into a steady pace. I wasn’t overtaken by a running talking Christmas tree this year (I think he started ahead of me!). And I never did see the running penguin during the race either (only afterwards). It wasn’t long before I removed my gloves and flipped the ear parts of my headband up. I was wondering if I had overdressed! It seemed to be taking a while to reach the 1 km marker, but then I saw the 1 MILE marker (this was the 10-Miler after all, though I had forgotten from last year’s race that this was how the course was marked) and I was relieved, knowing that I had already run 1.6 km and wasn’t plodding along as slowly as I feared. I had RunKeeper going on my phone but I couldn’t hear it, so I struggled the entire race knowing exactly where I was – I didn’t notice all of the mile markers, don’t know my pace per mile anyway, and am convinced that there wasn’t a marker at every mile. I soon heard two runners discussing their pace, and when I heard it was 5:33/km, I knew I should slow down.

The first 5k went relatively well, and it was somewhere not too far after this point that the race leaders zoomed by me going in the opposite direction. The man running just behind me yelled, “Awesome!” As he got closer to me I turned and said to him, “Awesome and depressing!” to which he replied, “We’re not all paid to run!” So true.

Race course

Just past 7 km there was a very short out and back section, and then a climb up a hill into Westdale. I hate that hill. But as I ran it, I thought (and almost said to those around me) “This isn’t heartbreak hill!” (from the Around the Bay race) so really it should be easy! It wasn’t long before I realized that I must be half way done the race, and though I felt that my pace was slowing, I was still moving along at a pretty good rate. I ran across a timing mat and figured it must be the 10 km marker. Turns out it was the 6 mile marker or 9.6 km. Then I saw a young woman who was running while apparently trying to get rid of a cramp. I reached her and said, “You and me both!” to which she replied, “Stupid stitch!” I had cramps for part of the run – the worst around 4 km I think – but they didn’t last long and weren’t too bad.

For the rest of the race, I spent the time knowing that I was slowing down, but determined not to stop running (it’s always so hard to start up again). I did stop to walk once, at around 13 km, for a cup of gatorade at a water station. And then I was back at it, knowing that the end was near. With just over 1 km to go, there is a short-ish, steep climb up out of Bayfront Park. I ran it but many people were walking. I felt like I picked up the pace for the last km, but I’m not sure I actually did. It might have just been an increased perceived effort!

As I approached the finish line, I heard Alasdair cheering for me, and then just like that, I was done! A full 6 minutes (5%) slower than last year, but I’ll take it. And next year, I’ll run for the PB! (It was only once I stopped running that I started coughing uncontrollably!)

Just past the finish line

We headed back to the Y for some delicious canned Campbell’s tomato soup, crackers, a bun, and fruit. (The only negative of the whole experience was the garbage left behind in the gym by some of our fellow – selfish – runners. Cracker wrappers, banana peels, crumbs, water bottles, you name it left all over the bleachers! Disgusting.)

2014 Stats:

Time: 1:36:59

Pace: 9:44/mile or 6:05/km

Women 40-44: 24/41

All women: 148/281

All racers: 461/662

Back at the YMCA

2013 Stats:

Time: 1:31:56

Pace: 9:15/mile or 5:46/km

Women 35-39: 17/44

All women: 111/321

All racers: 357/684

Race medal

Sporting our new (huge) sweatshirts

Alasdair had a great race, finishing in 1:19:59. We’ll both be back next year – chasing down PBs!

Race report: Road2Hope 1/2 Marathon

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!

Race morning

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.

Perfect fall running 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).

Captain America after the race.

Captain America after the race.

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.

Ready to head for the start line!

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!).

The race

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 descent

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.

The hill

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.

The out

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!

The back

Once we turned onto the Waterfront Trail, there were about 4 km’s left.

On the home stretch

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.

The finish

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.

Wearing my freebie coat given out at the finish line (to stay warm)

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)!


Race stats:

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

RIP Rick

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.