The short version:
A well run event on a scenic course and we had great weather. This course has the potential to be a PB run but you need to train specifically for the downhill section.
The long version:
After doing IM Mont Tremblant in August a fall marathon was not really an ideal plan but the combination of age, gender and experience allow me to be lucky enough to be able to run fast enough to qualify for Boston without having a perfect race. I am already registered for Boston 2017 and I will probably re-qualify there for 2018 but I made that assumption when I skipped running a fall marathon in 2014 and then got hit by a car riding my bike 8 days before Boston. As a result, I just really wanted a BQ in the bank.
I took the train from Ottawa to Toronto which was GREAT! Relatively cheap, totally low stress and no slower than driving. There is a GO Bus from Toronto to Hamilton which looks easy to do but I met two other K2J runners (Chris and Karen) in Toronto and they drove me to Hamilton from there. I am not sure how easy it would have been to get to the hotel in Hamilton with no car.
We stayed at the Quality Inn which is one of the official race hotels. Close to the start with a shuttle to get you there, full of very fit looking runners and they allow runners to check out at 1 pm on race day so you can shower before you get in the car to go home! I am not sure if there was a shuttle to get you back to the hotel after the race but you could have walked if you really had to.
The race expo is held in tents in Confederation Park. It’s relatively small but friendly with food trucks and free coffee and hot chocolate from Tim Hortons. Fun fact: The original Tim Hortons is in Hamilton! We did not make it there but maybe next time! Race kit pick-up was fast and easy but it was disappointing to discover that they only had large women’s shirts left at 1:00 pm when the expo hours went to 4:00 pm. By 3:00 pm they had NO men’s shirts left. There is a $25 fee for race day pick-up.
On course hydration for the race is NUUN and I confirmed at the expo that they were NOT putting PLUS (the carb addition) into the mix. The result is electrolytes only at the water stops which were 3 km apart. There was one gel station and I can’t use most gels anyway. I like NUUN but I rely heavily on the water stations for energy as well as electrolytes. Thank goodness for Endurance Tap which is about the only gel I can use. My 2 cents worth add PLUS to the NUNN and if you don’t you really need to make sure runners know what they will be getting does not have any calories.
It occurred to me at about 4:00 pm that I had completely forgotten to bring anything to eat for breakfast so I made a trip to Walmart and Dollarama. I figured as I had to buy a bowl I would buy one with personality and declare it my marathon morning mug! The Apple & Cinnamon Oatmeal is my standard pre marathon breakfast. Easy to prepare as long as you have an in room coffee maker. Hard to eat if you forget a spoon! I have been driven to using the coffee stir sticks in the past it’s not very effective.
Race morning we drove to the finish area and boarded school buses to the start. The wait was short and the school at the start was open so we did not have to wait outside. Bag check was simple and the bathroom lines were long but that is to be expected. The start line was not fancy but it worked and with less than 1000 runners even though I started too far back I did not get blocked.
The first half of the route is relatively rural and includes some really great views from the ridge down onto the bay.
There are some up hills and some down hills in the first 14 km at that point you turn onto Highland Rd and the course becomes much flatter. It stays that way until just past the ½ way point when you turn onto the Red Hill Valley Parkway (which is completely closed to traffic on the side you run on- kind of cool) and run almost 8k downhill. It’s not crazy steep but it is steep enough to make a difference. The only gels on the course were on the exit from the parkway at about 28k. After you leave the parkway there is a short trail section. The trail was fine, there were a couple of small sections with cement blocks filled with dirt underfoot which require extra care but they are very short.
At the end of the trail you head back into Confederation Park. The finish line is a couple of km to the right but you are only at 31 km so the course goes out and back 10 km to the left. At 33km you leave the path and run on the road until just past 36 km where you turn onto the path along the water and go straight back to the finish line. Overall a very scenic course with enough runners so you were not all alone but you never felt crowded.
My plan was to start easy and see what happened. I knew the course had a reputation for being fast but I also knew I was not in that kind of shape. I started a long way back but that did not really matter because the field was small enough so I could find a comfortable pace and pass people without having to dodge and weave. I ended up running beside a group from the Runner’s Den which included some Ultra Runners. I was enjoying the bits of conversation so I ran with them for a while. The pace was a little faster than I had planned but it was still pretty comfortable. I dropped behind them just before the 15 k mark when I stopped to use the port-a-potty and some guy got to it before I did so I had to wait (they were 3km apart). I felt pretty good at the ½ and I passed serveal runners on the long downhill section even though I ran it pretty cautiously but I knew I was going to pay for all that downhill later. I tightened up a bit once I hit the flat section at the bottom. The trail was pretty but I took the sections with the cement blocks very slowly. Once we got back to the park it was pancake flat. I found the section along the road from 33 km to 36 km passed very slowly. Once we turned on to the path for the last 6 km back. I played try and catch the runner in front of you until I got to the finish line. I caught quite a few but one women passed me and stayed ahead. I finished in 3:28:36 which is a BQ with room to spare and I even won my age group.
Congratulations to Chris Bright who also BQed (way tougher for the guys), Brendan Derry (who ran his first marathon and finished 3:33), Stephanie Dunn ( who finished upright, smiling and 4th in her age group despite falling at 32 km and having enough cuts and bruises to require medical attention at the finish line) , to Monika Kern who PBed, to my SWEET peep Kristi Raz and to Bethany Wiseman who ran the half and then ran out to cheer us all on. A special thanks to Karen Burns who supported us all for the weekend.