Race Report: 2012 Hamilton Road2Hope Half Marathon

I haven’t done a big race report in a while and I also haven’t run a half marathon in a while (since May, 2011). So I’ll break both of those streaks with a rundown of my race in Hamilton this past weekend.

As mentioned, I haven’t raced 21.1km in a long time (Ottawa 2011 – 1:44:08 which was my PB) and while I’ve done a ton of runs over the half marathon distance, I figured it would be a good way to end the 2012 season by seeing what I was capable of over that distance.

In the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to get down under the 1:40 mark, and with a fast course, the Hamilton Road2Hope Half Marathon offered a nice opportunity to go for it. I figured out the required pace (4:44/km) and amped up my training after the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon to get the feel of running that pace.

Race Day

Race day arrived and after the short bus ride up to the start, it was a waiting game while the full marathoners started their race. At about 8:25am we set out to run the half. I was totally relaxed, feeling more than ready to run a good race in some pretty decent weather.

The temperature was about 3ÂșC with light winds from the northwest (that factored in later). Tights, two t-shirts and my new arm warmers were the perfect choice.

Off the start I noticed right away that this was no ordinary field of runners. This was a fast group! I was running fast and so was everyone around me. The first kilometre ticked by in 4:33. Solid! But maybe too fast? Kilometre two was run in 4:29 – probably a bit too fast and I knew it. I was breathing a bit hard and experience told me to ease back a touch. The next three kilometres were a bit slower – 4:37, 4:35 and 4:36 – as I backed off the early pace a wee bit.

I about died after trying to eat an orange slice right at 4km – the juice went down the wrong way and I was a coughing mess for thirty seconds. It’s really hard to breathe when you are choking, so that cost me a few seconds while I recovered.

Red Hill Valley Parkway

Then the big hill – alright! Let’s bank some time! 4:31, 4:19, 4:23 and 4:29 got me through 9km. I was planning to run 4:20’s down the hill, but I wasn’t really paying much attention to my pace. Instead it was about running comfortably fast when the course allowed it.

4:34 for kilometre 10 and 45:00 through 10k. Just 25 seconds off my 10k PB set at the 2010 Sporting Life 10k.

4:32 and 4:38 in kilometres 11 and 12 got me through to the end of the highway portion and onto the trail section. The 4:38 included the uphill section off the highway and over the highway on Barton St.

Trails, Wind and Cheering

The next bit was tough – a short, steep downhill, and uphill unpaved trail section. I slowed up a bit, especially on what turned out to be the biggest hill on the course. That’s assuming a 4:51 is considered slowing up.

Then it was over the QEW on the pedestrian bridge – this marked the first appearance of the northwesterly wind that reminded me it was cold out and that there was still work to do. 4:40, 4:43, 4:44 and I was down along the lake on the trail, and out onto Beach Road. Crowd support in that section was great and I saw the lead half marathoners heading back towards the finish.

The next kilometre was the toughest – heading away from the finish, into the wind and running out of energy. 4:43 and 4:48 got me through 17 and 18km and past the turn to head for home. I passed Alex who was struggling with cramps and kept running, knowing I had a PB for sure and a really good shot at a sub-1:40 time if nothing bad happened to my legs.

Big Finish

I ran a 4:43 for kilometre 19 and at this point I knew that I had my sub-1:40 for sure. I saw Rich heading the other way and watched the marathon leaders fight the traffic along the narrow trail with slower half marathoners not realizing that the top runners were trying to pass.

Crowd support was great along this stretch and so was my pace. I ran a 4:55 for kilometre 20 and kept pushing hard to get the best time I could. It would have been easy to relax and cruise home to a 1:39 and change, but I wanted the absolute best time possible and I kept pushing as much as I could.

4:56 for kilometre 21 and it was just the last turn, up the hill and then down the 100m finish straight. Boom – across the line in 1:38:25.

Running every kilometre under 5:00 was a big accomplishment. Not walking a single step was a big accomplishment (I sailed through all the water stations without even thinking about stopping as I was carrying a half bottle of Q Energy Drink). Running strongly through the finish was a big accomplishment.

Setting a huge new half marathon personal best by almost six minutes was a huge accomplishment.