Race date: March 30, 2014
This is by far my favourite long distance race to date. The race starts outside FirstOntario Centre (previously Copps Coliseum) and has a spectacular finish that brings you into the arena with the finish line right at centre ice.
The course is famous for its flat first half and rolling hills through the last half with a huge hill approximately 500m long around the 25k mark. This year, they made a course change to avoid train tracks that had caused many runners last year to lose time having to wait for a train to go by.
After a long, cold winter training cycle, I was looking forward to running the 120th anniversary of this race in what the weather experts were saying was going to be a sunny, spring morning.
We picked up Julie and Stacey dark and early in the morning to head out to Hamilton planning to arrive with plenty of time to secure a decent parking space and give ourselves some time to take in the pre-race activity around the arena. In a state of pre-race jitters, before we left the car I made a last minute decision to change out of my capris and into long winter tights and hoped that I made the right move.
We met up with the rest of our peeps and a good sized contingent from our running community and after some chit chat, race talk and pre-race photo ops we headed out to the start line. Once in the corral, we ran into a few more people we knew, wished them luck and got ready for the gun to go off. Today I was starting out the race with my buddies Ginny, Tricia, Julie and Stacey. As always, the plan was to start out as a group but to run our own races.
The sun was warm and we shed our throw away sweaters as soon as we started out. It was warmer than we thought. The first 10k of the new route was more interesting than the old course, running on streets lined with storefronts and small apartment buildings with people cheering from the balconies. And then we came up against a hill. What? What happened to the flat section of the course? Feeling good, I ran up that hill and enjoyed the downhill on the other side. A short time later I saw another hill looming ahead, and another, and another. In the first 10k there were a total of four hills. Gone was the flat first half of the race.
I had learned in previous races, that for me, it’s better to walk up a hill than run it and tire out my legs. The small amount of time I lose walking up the hill, I make up by not wearing myself out and being able to carry on stronger for the rest of the run. So, I made a decision to run the first half of each hill and walk the rest of the way to top. The sun had warmed up and it felt even warmer than they had predicted. At one point, one of the peeps asked me if I regretted putting the long pants on. “No” I said. I didn’t. I did, however, notice my left ankle was bothering me. I had never had ankle problems before.
The next 10k took us along Beach Blvd. where my right foot started to give me some problems by way of rubbing on the bottom of it. Just past the 15k mark, I stopped to adjust my shoe hoping to stop it. No such luck. By 18k I was obsessing over that rubbing and feared that I might not finish if I didn’t do something about it. So, I decided to stop at the water station and see if the medics had a bandaid I could have to put on the bottom of my foot and stop the rubbing. I watched Ginny, Julie and Stacey as they kept going and knew I wouldn’t see them again until the finish. I told Tricia to go ahead too but she decided to stay back with me. After what felt like an eternity, the medics finally located a bandaid and I quickly fixed myself up and we were on our way. Six minutes lost.
The final 10k is where all the fun starts. Hills, hills and more hills. Of course with the new hilly front half, hills seems to be the word of the day. By this time, it was noon, the sun was high in the sky and I was now regretting changing my pants. It was so hot that we had to stop to shed some top layers and reorganize ourselves. Two minutes lost. At about 24k I could hear the traditional boom box playing We Will Rock You on a loop before I even got there. We ran down the final downhill, across a little bridge and started the climb up that final, infamous hill. At this point, we had caught up to some of the people we had been running near earlier on in the race before we stopped for the bandaid. One lady asked if this was the last hill and was visibly relieved when I told her it was. Someone had actually placed a sign at the top of the hill that said “No more hills!” and people were stopping to take pictures with it.
After taking a moment to catch our breath, we started down the final stretch. We ran past the cemetery where another of the race’s traditions, the Grim Reaper stood taunting runners and inviting them inside. Along this stretch I noticed an older gentleman just ahead of me and written on the back of his shirt was “26th Bay race”. Incredible. With 2k or so left I noticed Stacey just ahead of me. She had slowed down due to some pain she was feeling in her hip. My ankle, still bothering me I had taken a few extra walks in the last few km and took another one with Stacey. Tricia kept going. She was looking strong. I pointed the arena out to Stacey. We were almost there! 200m to go and I spotted Mike cheering us on, taking pictures. Turn off the street, down the dark ramp, around a corner and out into the arena, we sprinted (or at least it felt like a sprint) to the finish line.
Tricia had finished a few seconds ahead of us and after we took a moment to congratulate each other on a great race, we made our way through the finishers’ area to collect our medals and found Ginny and Julie waiting for us.
This is a great race with huge community support along the entire route. Residents ranging from infants right up to the age of 90+ come out for the race and bang pots or cow bells or even shake baby rattles. Whatever they happen to have. As much as this race is a tradition to the running community, it is that much a tradition to the people of Hamilton.
I had some challenges during the race for sure, and my time became secondary to keeping my head in the race and not letting the pain get in my way of finishing. My left ankle was swollen and tender for a few days after the race and that spot that was rubbing on my right foot never did turn into a blister. Other than that, recovery was much quicker this time. My legs weren’t nearly as sore as they had been last year. I think that with the right training plan and the support of my peeps, the marathon is definitely within reach this fall!
Official Time: 3:53:28.5