Tuesday, November 7, 2017

2017 Hamilton Road2Hope Marathon Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

It wasn’t the race that I wanted, but it was the race that I got.

On Sunday I ran the Hamilton Road2Hope Marathon, which is consistently one of Canada’s fastest marathon courses and one of the top Boston Qualifying courses in North America. I was coming into the race with a shorter than ideal training block due to my triathlon season creeping into mid-September…only 7 weeks of actual marathon work. The training went very well though and I was able to get both my speed and endurance up, with only one small hiccup along the way in the form of a minor hamstring strain two weeks out from race day. I took care of the hamstring though and it felt fine during my last hard workouts and heading into the race.

Michelle and I left for Hamilton early on Sunday morning, grateful for the extra hour of sleep that daylight savings afforded us, and also thankful that my buddy Jamie was able to get my bib for me beforehand, which saved us having to get to the start even earlier. It was an easy hour and a half drive even if the fog on the roads was as thick as pea soup. The forecast was calling for rain, a chance of thunderstorms, lots of wind, and mild temperatures. It was cool at the start, probably sitting around 10ºC or so, but the conditions were great for running. I moved up towards the front of the pack to find my starting spot and noticed my buddy Patrick so went to say hi…I walked up to him with a mouthful of Honey Stinger Chew and couldn’t actually say anything at first, but thankfully he saw me as well and we were able to get a quick chat to wish each other well. He was being his usual selfless running self and was pacing his friend. I went back to the line and we were about 5 minutes out from the 7:45 start…then the skies opened up. The rain was cold and sideways. We had all discarded our warm clothes at this point and there was a large group of shivering runners soaked to the bone, hopping around trying to stay warm as best as we could.


The gun finally went off and I went out just behind the lead group of 4 or 5 runners. The pace was quick but I just wanted to get going to warm up a bit. The rain did relent a bit and turned into a steady drizzle and the wind was thankfully at our backs for the first 2K, so it didn’t take long to settle in and get warm. I began to chat a bit with a runner beside me and then realized it was Mitch, one of my Strava buddies. Mitch was second overall in this race last year so that gave me a bit of an idea of where I was currently pacing and I knew it was too fast…I had cruised through the first two kilometres in 3:41 & 3:52 respectively. We made the first turn and we were now feeling the wind a bit more and I said, “Sorry Mitch, the pace is too rich” (see what I did there…ya), so I wished him luck and dropped back to the pace I had trained for. It worked well as the pace felt light and easy, never forced. Even as we turned again and were into the teeth of 30kph+ wind and hit the rolling hills I was feeling really good and the pace just came naturally. I had managed to separate from the group and was running with one other guy who was racing his first ever marathon. We chatted a little but he wasn’t very talkative. I was a nice guy though and went ahead of him in the wind and told him to tuck in behind me. We crossed the 10K mark with a time of 39:50 and around this point I heard a familiar voice behind me…it was my racing buddy Trevor on his bike. He was there cheering on one of his friends and saw me just a little bit up the road (I am hard to miss in my tie-dye jersey and pink sparkle visor), so he zipped up and we chatted for a bit. It was a nice break from the race monotony. Shortly after that my good deed of cutting the wind was rewarded as a couple other runners bridged up with us, including Trevor’s friend John. He pulled up beside me and said, “Let’s get this conga line going!”, and then he took a turn pulling us along. I scooted back around him after my quick break and took another pull and then he said that he would take another turn at the next kilometre marker. We went back and forth like that for 4 or 5K until we made the next turn and the wind was no longer in our faces.


Unfortunately it was around this time that I was becoming aware of my hamstring. It didn’t hurt by any means, but I knew it hadn’t recovered as much as I had thought going into the race. The pack decided to pick up the pace by a second or two per kilometre, but I decided that my best bet was to just hold the pace I was at and not push it. Everything else was still feeling good. The guys took off and were never too far ahead of me, but I was now left to work on my own. Thankfully we were through the windiest sections of the course up on the top of the Escarpment. I went past the halfway point of the race and was clocking in 1:24:50 with everything still feeling great…the hamstring was still lingering but it wasn’t getting any worse. I made the turn onto the Red Hill Valley Parkway, the highway section of the race where we run down the Escarpment towards Lake Ontario, with 115m of descent over the next 8K. Right away my legs speed up and my heart rate slowed down…I was through the toughest part of the race and starting the fast back half. The marathon course had caught up with the half marathon at this point and I was passing lots of people, feeding off of their energy. Then just as I passed the 24K marker disaster struck. I felt like I was shot from behind and my right hamstring just said “Nope.” It knotted up on me so quickly and violently that I almost fell over…I couldn’t even walk. I was legitimately looking at finishing the day anywhere between 2:48 and 2:52 and just like that my race was over. I was stopped in my tracks and tried to stretch it out and eventually managed to get to the side of the highway where I was able to prop my leg up on a guardrail and get a bit of a better stretch while massaging the knot. It was moderately better, at least I was able to walk, so I decided to continue. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was on the side of the highway with nowhere to go I would have quit on the spot. My only options were to continue down the hill to the end of the highway or turn around and climb back up the highway…I decided to trudge on to the end of the highway. Eventually my walk turned into a light jog. The hamstring was no better, but no worse. I was dealing with the pain. Then my jog became some kind of mutated hobble/shuffle run. I was almost at the end of the highway but I was starting to actually, sort of, run. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty, but it was forward progress. I was even passing a couple of people. Off the highway and onto trail, almost at the lake. I started doing some math…I had 11K to go and if I could manage a 5:00/km pace it would at least be enough to get me under my 3:15 Boston Qualifier time. I decided to make the left hand turn and finish the run.

The run along the waterfront was a bit of a boost as there were a lot of runners around with the out and back section…it was nice to see people running well towards the finish. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to cheer many people on, I was just in too much pain. I imagine I had a pretty nasty scowl on my face. At 33K the marathon runners split off as the half made their turnaround and I noticed that I was actually starting to pass people. While others were hitting the wall I was feeling great…all things considered. I had zero fatigue and other than the pain of my hamstring I was doing well. My mental state had improved as I now had a goal to shoot for again. I upped the pace gently and backed off whenever the pain increased and I was able to hold steady right around a 4:40/km pace. We hit our turnaround point and I was greeted by wind and rain…I was finishing the race the way it started, just minus my right leg. I had a lot of time to reflect over the back half of the race and my mind went all over the place. I thought about my kids and how I always want them to give their best and never give up and I was glad to know that I was leading by example. I also thought of Michelle and some of the races she has struggled through but always managed to push until the end to get it done. Racing doesn’t always go as planned and your true character comes out in adversity. I was going to finish this thing and finish as strong as I could.


As I neared the final stretch I emptied the tank and pushed as hard as my injured leg would let me…I heard Michelle calling my name and cheering me home as I hit the final turn towards the finish chute and I kicked out a 4:25 for my last kilometre. I was done with a final time of 3:05:56, well above what I had planned, hoped and trained for but also nearly 10 minutes faster than my BQ. This wasn’t a race to feel sorry for myself, this was a race where I was able to show what I was made of. I set out to prove something to myself and in the end that is exactly what I did…I just took a different route to get there.

I have had some time since the race finished and have reflected on the day…I know that I have the fire in me to go through another marathon build and put in the type of training required to post the times I know I am capable of. I also now know how mentally tough I can be, something I attribute in part to the suffering I’ve put myself through on the triathlon course. Triathlon has made me a tougher, stronger and better runner. I look forward to the next time I get to go out and test my limits. Thanks for reading folks.

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