Hamilton ½ Marathon – By Cathy Putman
This was it! This was my goal road race of the season! The Hamilton Half Marathon. A New York Marathon qualifier. I needed a 1:37 half marathon to qualify for the 2012 New York Marathon. Did I do it?!?
It all started back in the spring after some particularly tough marathons that my friend Meghan and I decided we were done with the marathon scene and would solely focus on the half distance. A still-respected distance, but not as tough on the body and day-timer! The problem is, it seems, that to be a respected half distance runner, you have to be fast! We hatched a plan to try to qualify for New York 2012 with a fast half time. Yes, I know, another marathon, but this would be a “fun” marathon (you see, our plan changed to only doing destination marathons).
Well, after a summer of training with some minor injury setbacks and some other goal races out of the way, race day was finally here! Now, I know I always could have trained harder or better, but I was especially happy with last few weeks of training with fast tempos, hard hills or stair workouts and speedy speedwork! Although I still usually get a nervous belly in the start coral of every race, it had been a very long time since I felt the nerves in the week(s) leading up to an event!
Hamilton Road 2 Hope Marathon is a weekend of events trying to raise money for City Kidz and Haiti. They host a kids 1k, a family 5k and a 10k run on Saturday and then the Half Marathon and Full Marathon on Sunday. There is a race expo (held in large tents at Confederation Park) where you pick up your race bib. It is quite a small expo (not a lot of merchandise or deals) but kit pick-up is fairly easy and you can pick up kits for other runners with no problems at all (no consents or ID needed). This year, they forced heat into the tents, making it a better experience too! On the Saturday there were all sorts of jumpy castles and food vendors making it a fun, family event. My only complaints were that the race shirts for ALL races were the same and you could pick whatever colour you wanted (red, white or black; short sleeved), meaning they did not have enough of the rights sizes to go around. Also somewhat disconcerting was that the race bibs for the half and full distances were the same colour (the marathon #’s seemed to be below 1000 and the halfer’s seemed above that number) and the post race medals were exactly the same for ALL the races.
The Hamilton Marathon is dubbed “The #1 Boston Qualifier in Canada” and a lot of people believe this is due to the almost 6k worth of downhill section (starting at 4.5k of the half and approximately 21k of the full). I personally think that this is a very tough course DUE to the downhill section. I believe that it chews up your quads without you even realizing it, only to pay for that later on in the race. There was a lot of strategy and talk on how to traverse this downhill. Cruise down and rest your legs or “give’r” down and pick up some time. Meghan and I had our whole race planned out. The goal was to start a little slower for the first 4k to be able to settle in nicely for our run. Then we would speed up slightly on the downhill and try to hold on for the rest of the course. We also planned to do a salt pill at the water station at 4k and then walk for a few seconds to take a gel at the water station at the bottom of the hill (11k). We also had a pact to try to stick together but also to run our own race. Everything went as planned for the most part!
Since there are no corals at Hamilton, the start of our half marathon was a little rocky. We started a little ahead of the 1:40 pace bunny and near the start line. Well placed, or so we thought. Well, the first 3k entailed us deeking in and out of joggers (yes, joggers) and slower runners in front of us. I even lost Meghan for a few moments in our effort to stay on pace. I would definitely recommend a corralled start or at the very least a gentle reminder to the runners to seed themselves accordingly using pace bunnies as guidelines. This portion of our run was very disappointing as it took way too much effort away from our attempt to start slower. I even had to politely yell at a wall (about 6 wide) of people in front of us out for a leisurely jog (or so it seemed), asking them to let me through. Not fun and definitely played with the psychology of my race.
So now, everything was going according to plan. The weather was gorgeous, a sunny 6 degrees or so and I was perfectly dressed, tossing my gloves at about 4k. I didn’t even need a throwaway shirt or garbage bag standing around at the start of the race. It was a tad windy, but that was at our backs until we got onto the waterfront pathway! The waterstations were ok. The eLoad (yes, eLoad!) was very weak and always 2nd behind the water (which is opposite in most races I have been to). The crowd throughout the course was minimal but that is ok too.
We were right on pace and all was going according to plan. I could tell Meghan was struggling around 16k or so but I was fighting demons of my own, conjuring a lot of self-talk to stay the course! The problem was that this was the longest either of us had ever run this speed (we made a slight mistake with our training over the summer, not realizing that our race pace was actually a 4:34 not a 4:44 until it was too late, but that is a whole other story). I remember telling Meghan “I need you” and “We’ve trained to hard for this, we don’t want to have to do this all again another time”. But in the end, we each ran our own race.
The finish line this year had two big changes from last year (I ran the full marathon last year). First, it was pretty much the correct distance! (I heard last year was way long and by my Garmin it was over 800m long last year and only 60m long this year)!. And, there was no crazy-uphill-gravel-around the waterpark- right angled turns-to-the-finishline! Just one hairpin turn and a 100m sprint to the finish. A way better finish in my mind!
And my time, you ask? A huge PB but frustratingly, only 20sec more than my goal time!