What a great day and what a great day for a run! Both my husband and I qualified for Boston at this race and although it started out quite chilly (-3deg with windchill), it turned out to be quite a lovely day. Besides, what do you expect signing up for a race in November in Canada?But, I am getting ahead of myself…The road2hope calls itself “A Marathon of Hope for Hamilton City Kidz and The Joy and Hope of Haiti”. There was a lot of fundraising going on and the neat part of this is that I heard (not verified) that if you raised over $100 for one of the charities, that you got automatic free entry into the race. And sheeesh, some races cost more than that for the entrance fee alone and this goes to such awesome causes!The weekend offers a Kids 1k, a Family 5k and a 10k race which are all held on the Saturday morning with the 1/2 marathon and full marathon going on Sunday morning. One nice thing in my opinion, was the staggered start of the 1/2 and full marathon…the half participants started 15min after the full and thus, most finished up before the full marathon athletes got to the finish line. I liked this because you were not pulled along at the start by the halfers who could afford to go out a little faster and as well, they weren’t there near the finish with fresher legs. (Don’t get me wrong, nothing against half marathons-they are actually my favorite distance! I just liked knowing I was with running with/against full marathoners).
The expo was not at all what I expected. It was held in large tent on Confederation Park grounds and seeing as we got there in the last 2 hours of the 2 day expo, there was not much to be seen. No big name vendors which was disappointing as I was looking to pick up a few things that I had seen at previous expos. I guess you can’t expect that much from a race of only 3000 participants. They did not even have any pacebands so we had to scramble to get some printed at the last minute! My husband and I opted to stay overnight at the official marathon hotel (Holiday Inn Express) and I am so glad we did! Hamilton is only a 1.5hr drive from our house but considering the logistics of the start line and the start time of 8:15am, it was a great choice, even if we did have the time change on our side! It was also a nice hotel that catered to the runners with a complimentary breakfast starting at 6am, a shuttle to the park, fruits and water in the lobby after the race and the best part was the 3pm complimentary late check-out. So nice to take a shower (albeit a cold one), after the race (I think everyone else had the same thought!).
You park your car at Confederation Park and catch a school bus up the Hamilton mountain to Saltfleet High School, the start line of the race. Buses were numerous and it was so nice to have a warm place to congregate before the race. Indoor washrooms for pre-race jitters were also nice (Hint: there are many other facilities around the school, so don’t wait in line for the washrooms by the gym entrance). Bag check was user-friendly and fast and also located in the gym. The start line and pace bunnies were easy to get to and find and suddenly we were off! Throwaway clothing (later picked up for charity) was flung everywhere and soon all your could hear was the most wonderful sound of all…1168 pairs of shoes hitting the pavement at the same time!The course is very straightforward and fairly flat (a few rollers) with not many turns (until the end) There is an out and back portion which was my favorite part of the race as it was here you got to see not only the race frontrunners but ALL your running buddies. It was very cool to shout out encouragements to the almost 40 people I knew running there that day! You could also see where you faired in the pack!After circumnavigating the top of the mountain on country roads, it was time to head back into the city and make the trek down the mountain. Yes, 6k of gradual downhill on a closed-to-traffic highway (the Red Hill Parkway). It was very neat to be able to run down this road with cars beeping at you from the other side. I was actually afraid of the downhill as my knees and downhills don’t mix, but this part of the run did not bother me much. Secretly, it was also this part of the run when I knew that I was going to qualify for Boston this race!The parkway soon gave way to under-construction city streets (and a set of train tracks that some racers had to stop for a train for a duration of more than 2 minutes). The last part of the course was part of the Around the Bay route to the bridge and then back to Confederation Park along the waterfront trail for the last 7k. By this point, all of my running buddies that I started out with were left behind (I am so grateful to them for keeping me on target for so long!) so it was up to me to make it to the finish line on time! I tried to take in the beauty and the vastness of Lake Ontario and thought about how lucky we are and where we live to be able to have a nice trail along the waterfront, but blah blah blah, my body was so fatigued!The hardest part of the course is when you have to run past the actual finish line, around the waterpark on a gravel pathway to bring you back into the parking lot where the finish line is. But finally, there it was! A 3:41 finish, qualifying me for the Boston Marathon! Unfortunately for me, it was actually kind of anti-climactic for two reasons: Boston sold out early for 2011 meaning that I can not actually go run Boston until 2012 and also that not one of my running buddies or friends saw me cross the finish line. I walked around for a good 5 min until I saw someone I knew so I did not really get to share my glory until a little later. Then my best running friend and my pacer for 34k came across the line and I spotted my husband, who in his first ever marathon, ran a 3:09 to also qualify for Boston. Then the celebrations began!All in all, I was quite impressed with the course, the water stations were well spaced out (thankfully as it was my first “fuel-belt-less” marathon) and the volunteers and spectators were very enthusiastic and supportive. I was impressed with how many Running Free jersey’s were worn proudly that day- you would have thought that Running Free was the sponsor! Many of my running friends enjoyed BQ’s and PB’s that day as well (helping the road2hope marathon live up to its reputation as the #1 Boston Qualifier in Canada), and even if they didn’t, it was one great run!