Hamilton Marathon race report Road2Hope

HamiltonFinish(Apparently I wrote and forgot to publish this race report) I just completed the 2019 Hamilton Road2Hope marathon. This post will give you a runner’s perspective on the race so you know what to expect if you go.

Why run it?

Hamilton advertises itself as Canada’s #1 Boston qualifier, so it’s a popular destination for those trying to get that elusive BQ or Personal Best. in 2019, 22% of the runners qualified for Boston (myself incuded.)

Is it a fast course?

Let’s talk hills

Hamilton has a reputation as a fast course because of the long downhill from 22 – 28 km.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that makes this an easy course. Let’s be clear: there is no such thing as an easy marathon course. Don’t underestimate those little bumps at the start of the race

ElevationProfileHamilton

Yes, from an elevation perspective this course has the potential for a fast run. You get through all the big climbs early in the race when your legs are still fresh. You get a nice long downhill to carry you through 22-28 km and all you have to do is hold on for a very flat final 14 km.

The first 12 km is NOT flat. It’s basically rolling hills. 15 – 20 km is flat. 22 km – 24 km is a fairly steep downhill along the highway. 24-28 km is still downhill but not quite as steep.

The rest of the race is flat. Be warned, that long downhill can take a toll on your quads! If you do this race without any hill training (including running downhill) you could have a pretty rough time in the last 14 km!

There is a tiny climb in the last 50 meters just to remind your legs they are tired

Let’s talk wind

There are a lot of stretches on this race where you are very exposed. So if it’s windy that’s going to be a factor. The route does not have a lot of turns, but just enough that whatever direction the wind is blowing you are going to have tailwinds, headwinds and crosswinds.

If you total the distance in each direction you get approximately

  • 12 km North
  • 3 km East
  • 5 km South
  • 8 km West
  • 4 km Northwest
  • 5 km SouthEast

In 2019 the wind was 23 km/h WestSouthWest. We felt it most when running West. Unfortunately that included the stretch from 14 – 21 km along the escarpment which is very exposed. I also noticed it on 31 – 36 km to the turnaround onto the Waterfront trail. Of course that means when we did turnaround we had a tailwind for 37-42 km.

Outside of that how is the course?

This route is VERY different from the other big Hamilton race: Around the Bay.  It’s got some beautiful views in the first 15 km or so. The downhill stretch is kind of cool because they close one side of the highway for the runners. I’ve never run down a major freeway before. There’s a short stretch around the 29 km mark along a dirt path which includes two 20 meter stretches with these concrete squares with holes in them designed to prevent erosion which are a trip hazard. The last 5 km along the waterfront trail is quite beautiful if you have enough energy left to appreciate it 🙂

What can spectators and family do?

Races for everyone

There is a half marathon Sunday that starts and finishes at the same location as the full marathon. The half marathon starts 15 minutes before the full marathon. so you can travel to the start line together.

Saturday they have 1 km, 5km and 10 km races.

Things to do in the area

IMG_20191102_144451Got some time to explore Saturday or Sunday after the race?

  • Hamilton is along the Niagara escarpment which is Ontario wine country. There are no shortage of vintners in the area offering tours and tastings.
  • Niagara falls is only an hour’s drive away.
  • Grab a coffee and donut at 65 Ottawa St N at Dunsmure – the first Tim Hortons.
  • The Canadian Football Hall of Fame is open Saturday from 9 AM to 12 PM at Tim Hortons Field, 64 Melrose Avenue.

Tracking runners

In 2019, the app for tracking runners was not published to the store, but registered runners  received an email with a link to install the app on Android or Apple phones. You have to create an account to track runners, which is a little odd. Because bib numbers were not assigned until you picked up your race kit, you couldn’t see your runner listed until late Saturday. But, on race day the app worked beautifully. My husband was able to track my sister and I easily. There were timing mats every 5 km, and the app showed our projected time and location on screen

How about the race logistics?

The race expo

It’s a small race expo, but you’ll probably find any last minute items you need on site. The local running store Runners Den was on site selling running essentials and some nice Hamilton marathon race shirts and tops. The Runners Den booth is also open on Sunday after the marathon finishes.

Kit and bib pick up

You pick up your race kit and bib in the finish line area Friday or Saturday in a tent. In 2019, they didn’t assign bib numbers until you arrived at the expo. Shirt pick up was in the back of the expo. The race shirts included with registration were well… pretty ugly (sorry Hamilton organizers, I really didn’t like them), so I splurged and bought a really nice race long sleeved shirt from the Runners Den that has become a regular shirt in my workout rotation.

They did not provide any sort of drawstring back for gear check, so you need to bring your own.

Getting to the start line

The closest parking by the start line is at the Starlite Drive-in a 400 meter walk to the start.

Most runners park at the finish line and take advantage of the free shuttle buses to the start line so they have immediate access to their cars when they finish the race. The bus only takes about 15 minutes to get from the finish line to the start line. I recommend trying to arrive at the finish to park and catch your shuttle no later than 6:15, there will be a long line of cars. The volunteers do a good job directing everyone to parking spots and keeping things moving, but there is only one road into the park, so you can’t avoid a line up. They did run the buses past 6:45 AM in 2019 because there was still a line of cars coming into the lot at 6:35 AM.

The volunteers did a good job trying to make sure everyone loaded efficiently, managing hiccups like buses loading at the wrong locations as needed.

The start area

One of the awesome things about this race is your access to a school gymnasium at the start area. This means you don’t have to worry about staying warm and dry before the race starts. You can literally walk out to the start minutes before the gun goes off. This also means indoor bathrooms! As is typical there was no line for the mens, and a massive line up for the ladies. They also had port-a-potties outside which had noticeably shorter lines than the ladies room.

Bag check is in the gymnasium, so you can wait until the last minute to decide what to wear. NOTE: This is the first race I’ve run where you can be disqualified for throwing away your gear outside designated areas on the route. You can throwaway clothes for the first km, and at aid stations.  Not an issue, just important to know!

Pacers

JulioandSusanFinishThey don’t have pacers for all the Boston Qualifying times, but they do have pacers for 3:20, 3:30, 3:40, 3:50, 4:00, 4:15, and 4:30. But keep in mind this is a smaller race with volunteer pacers, by sheer bad luck, in 2019 I was planning to run with the 3:40 pacer who was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, by sheer good luck, a Montreal runner who was completely capable of a 3:40, had run the Hamilton marathon before, and had experience as a pacer was planning to run with the 3:40 pacer. When he couldn’t find the official pacer at the start line he decided he would take over pacer duties and led a pack of at least 15 runners off the start line. He crossed the finish at 3:39:58!  Thank you Julio (for the record I didn’t run 3:40 but only because in the last 2 km I let him go, I finished in 3:40:29 a PB for me and Julio played no small part in that PB)

Corrals

There are no corrals. In 2019, there were only 677 runners, you could easily get into the corral and the pace bunny signs give you an idea of how far back to go.

Water stops

In 2019, they had Nuun and water approximately every 3 km. There were a few spots where water stops had to be a little early or a little late since you are running on a highway and that limits locations volunteers can access.

The crowds

This race has less than 1000 runners, so there really isn’t much in the way of crowds along most of the course. Because you have an out and back near the finish you get a cluster of spectators around the 31-33km and from 40km to the finish line which is a nice boost.

The finish area

FinishLineI love races where I can see the finish line from a distance. There is a little hook at the very end of this race, you might want to walk that last km when you pick up your bib. You see the finish from about 100-200 meters away. I found the flow across the finish line to get your medal, water and food moved along nicely. There were lots of photographers and background for you to stop and get a picture with your medal if you so choose. I had my medal, a bottle of water, a banana and a bag of Old Dutch Chips (a personal favorite) in short order. The walk from finish line to the meeting area was blissfully short compared to other races I have run (Notably New York who torture you with long walks uphill to the exit)

The weather

This is a late fall race so heat is unlikely to be an issue, but you could run into cold or wet.

  • 2021 partly cloudy low 2 C and a high of 16 C
  • 2020 sunny low -2 C and a high of 4 C (race did not run this year, but this was the weather first weekend of November)
  • 2019 cloudy with sunny breaks low 3 C high of 6 C
  • 2018 cloudy with sunny breaks low -1 C high 6 C
  • 2017 rainy low of 6 C high of 16 C

Summary

If you are curious how my race went, check out this personal race report, all in all this is a small but well organized race and a good place to try and run a personal best. If you found this helpful, you may want to check out some of my other running posts including additional race reports, gear reviews, and more.

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