Race morning was dark and a little chilly when I parked at Confederation Park in Hamilton. I seemed to be an early arrival so I made my way through the kit pick up very quickly and headed back to my car to get down to the essentials. I did not want to lug too much along on the shuttle. The bus ride went very smooth and I was at the starting line over an hour before the race. This was staged at a high school on the south-east end of the city and the gymnasium made excellent place to stay warm during the pre-race routine of stretching, fueling, etc.
As the minutes ticked away, I decided to check my stuff and go out for a warm up run. Along the way, I ran into a gang of Falcons assembled outside the school. They had taken the time to make the trip to lead the cheering for us and capture the day in photos. This support was a very nice gesture that I know I really appreciated along the course from these great fans. Thanks All!!!!!
When I got out to the street for a jog, I ran into fellow blogger, Tyler Lord, who was also getting in some pre-race work before hitting the line. He looked super prepared and focused for his first marathon experience. We wished each other luck and then finished up our warm ups around 10 minutes before the expected horn. I was also hoping to find some of the other guys from FMCT who had plans to run around the same time for this race.
Just as I reached the starting line, I finally ran into Brian, Marko and Richard from the club. I knew these guys (except Brian who was running the half) were aiming for a time pretty close to my goal so I wanted to get up to the front of the crowd with them. When the start was declared, we all headed along the outside of the parking lot for a lap of the school lot before heading out to the main road. I knew right away that my legs were feeling fresh but I wanted to be patient during the first few kilometres and not bolt out with the front runners, as per my usual tactic.
When we reached the first km marker, we were just under 4:00 which was a little fast but not too bad considering the excitement of the race. Marko had already pushed out with a faster group at this point and Richard was running to my right side on the edge of the pavement. It seemed like it would be easy to run as a team but with everyone having unique styles, it seldom works out this way once the event starts.
For much of the first 15k, we headed along very flat, country side roads that were nice and quiet (except for some corners where there were some very helpful fans!). There was a slight wind hitting us face on at this point but it wasn’t a huge factor. I was running around a 4:06 average pace with a small group of athletes during this stretch. There was not much communication between us so it appeared everyone was happy going about their business alone. I, on the other hand, was interested in saving some energy, even if it was the smallest of effort in the light wind.
With this in mind, I tucked in to draft for a short period among the others around me. I held this for a few km’s and then, when I felt an extra boost, I headed forward to see if anyone was ready for some team work. Nobody followed along so I put in a quick surge to catch up to the next small group of two runners about 50 metres ahead. One of them was aiming for 2:53 (I had heard him mention this at the start when another person had asked about pacing) and was a very efficient runner, holding his spot on the centre yellow line. The other was over to his right wing doing his own thing so they were not exactly going about it together.
My fear was that 2:53 was much too quick for me but the pace they were currently hitting was not too taxing so I stayed close. Up the road, I could see Marko’s Falcon jersey among a group around 750 metres but I did not think it would be very wise to try to catch him solo. For some reason I did not feel confident looking back so I was not sure if Richard was still in reach. I think I was afraid of breaking my rhythm by twisting to look.
Thanks to the pre-race announcements, I knew that we would turn just after the 15k marker and have the wind to our backs. By this time, I was trailing the 2:53 “Pace Bunny” by a few metres and we had lost the other member of our group. It was around this spot that my confidence was growing and, to be honest, I seemed to zone out for a while before reaching the downhill stretch waiting after the half way point. I really do not remember too much about the next half an hour other than a flag pointing in our direction at a public prayer building (not sure which religion) that confirmed the hardest part was over.
When it was time to hit the parkway, around the 22k mark, I was slowly catching up to Marko who seemed to be favouring his sides. Once again, paying attention during the pre-race instructions paid off as I remembered that the water station entering the 6k long run on the Red Hill Valley Parkway was the only one until we came off the expressway. I was not really thirsty but knew I would need a little bit of energy during our speedy decent so I reached out for a drink and carried on where I received a visit from Shanta, who was riding along keeping all the Falcons’ spirits up. I told her that I was feeling great and pointed out Marko ahead. She rode up to talk to him and then came back to say he felt OK but she suggested I catch up to keep him company before she headed back to check on the others.
I then looped around the twisting entrance ramp to the expressway, amazed by the view from this height of the road. This part of the run was pretty neat as we had the rule of the entire eastbound lanes leading through the valley. It was a dramatic downhill section where I was making up roughly ten seconds per kilometre on my previous splits. It was a little tempting to go faster but I knew that may lead to some sort of disaster as some of my muscles are not use to the constant pounding of downhill running.
As we flattened out before our exit, I reached Marko and asked him how he felt. He mentioned that things were not staying down. This leads to many problems and I knew he was going to have a hard time keeping his pace. I felt really bad leaving him behind but he was very thoughtful and offered up his gels knowing I was clipping along on my goal time. I was already well stocked and did not want to leave him empty just in case he recovered a little down the road.
Next, was the climb up the exit ramp to the city streets where I started to recognize the familiar roads that made up the Around the Bay track I ran in the spring. I was still feeling strong and hitting my splits but I also knew, from ATB, that I had one more overpass to negotiate.
With less than 12k to go I could see the potential result in my calculations but was also aware that my legs would start to suffer at some point soon. I was still running very close to the pacer from way back in the race and we stayed side by side heading up to the last incline leading to the lakeshore road and trail. There were not many other marathon runners (lots of half marathon walkers) around us so I did not feel an urge to pass or hold my position which allowed me to remain patient.
Crossing the bridge, my natural hill climbing strength (for a recreational runner) left my running partner a few metres behind. I now started to head in the direction of the massive lift bridge that we would have to travel towards before switching back for the final 8 kilometres or so.
Halfway up this short section, we were split from the other walkers and runners as we had an additional kilometre up to our turnaround. Ahead of me, I could see only two other runners but I really was not too interested in pushing for their spots, although, I was slowly closing the gaps. I knew I was doing much better than expected and it was too late in the race to risk a burn out. By the time I reached the turnaround, I had caught the next spot and making ground on the person in front of him.
I ran a few more kilometres inching closer to another position but my pace was starting to buckle. The curl in my baby toe had rubbed a huge blister that was affecting my stride and this was throwing everything out of whack. I had 5.2km to go with enough buffer to reach the end in sub three hour fashion but my splits were deteriorating and I did not want to just finish after putting in so much effort earlier in the race. I mentally got back into running mode and pictured myself running around the block at home, thinking how short that 4k distance feels. With a little boost in spirits, I had caught up to the next fellow just as we were joined by the second overall female. She was trying to hold off third place and was hoping for a little pacing help from us.
This seemed to perk up the other runner and they started to pull away with only 2k to the finish. I truly did not know what overall place I was running so I did not let it bother me and I just pushed on thinking about the finish line. With approximately 1.5 km left, I saw Brian and Andrew from the club cheering me on and that brought on a nice surge in energy. The last part of the course took us around the back of the parking lot and into the park where I ended up catching the male runner. The second overall female was not too far ahead but I knew it would be very bad etiquette to make a sprint for that spot. As I approached the finish line, I caught site of the official race time and noticed that I was on the verge of breaking 2:55. I turned it up a notch just to make sure I did not miss this by a few seconds. Mission accomplished!
After the race, I wandered around on my tired legs looking for some liquids. I had walked right past the water piled up at the finishing chute and thought they had not supplied any to the runners. During this walk about, I ran into Tyler and congratulated him on an amazing effort on his part, 10th place overall.
I then found the water and headed back to my car to put on some warm, dry clothes before heading back to see the results. I was very happy to see my name in 16th spot overall, 3rd in my Age Group in a chip time of 2:54:41. This was well beyond my dream time!
Below, I listed a list of Falcons and friends that also competed with amazing results! Congrats to everyone on a great race!
10th -- Tyler L -- 2:51:38
16th -- Larry B -- 2:54:43
42nd -- Richard W -- 3:05:01
59th -- Mesfin K -- 3:10:04
97th -- Richard B -- 3:17:18
116th -- Marko D -- 3:20:29
132nd -- Brent P -- 3:23:20
136th -- Jara J -- 3:24:16
153rd -- Jim D -- 3:26:59
154th -- Bill V -- 3:26:59
172nd -- Kelly H -- 3:28:51
228th -- Dan H -- 3:34:02
239th -- Amanda H -- 3:35:07
437th -- James S -- 3:56:12
535th -- Wanda D -- 4:05:12
738th -- Dan M -- 4:49:52
Hamilton Half Marathon
45th -- Brian H -- 1:28:07
128th -- Kirsten D -- 1:37:55
216th -- Natalie W -- 1:44:24
464th -- Manish A -- 1:58:18
I would also like to quote Bill V for the support from those that turned up to cheer!
“Thank you to Andrew H, Angela N, Terri R, Nathalie L, Linda N, Nathalie B (and four footed cookie eating friend), Shanta O and Rick, for coming out and cheering us on. If I forgot anyone, I apologize but again thanks to all of you for your encouraging words.”