Location: Hamilton, Ont.
Date: Saturday and Sunday Nov. 5-6, 2016
Races: Marathon, half-marathon, 5K and 10K
It’s hard to ignore a moniker like “Canada’s fastest Boston Qualifier.” But hundreds of past participants as well as the website marathonguide.com claims that this course is exactly that. The annual late-season event has the highest percentage of qualifiers in Canada and is often among the top 10 in North America. In the past five years, the percentage of participants earning their BQs in Hamilton have been 19, 25, 26, 31 and 30 percent, meaning that between 1 in 3 and 1 in 5 people qualify for Boston at this event.
The main reason for that is the course (which note, was changed slightly for 2016). The marathon is a point-to-point, net downhill course that offers a substantial amount of downhill running, some 180 metres in total. The race begins at Dofasco Park in rural Stoney Creek and the first half traverses pastoral country roads with most of the crowd support coming from local livestock. Just after 22K, participants take an on ramp to the Red Hill Valley Parkway and literally descend for almost 10K, some of which is done on trails. At 31K participants begin a lengthy out-and-back section on the perfectly flat Waterfront Trail, first heading northwest and the returning southeast toward the finish in Confederation Park.
Better still is the weather and conditions at this time of year which are often ideal for running fast. Temperatures are typically in the low single digits, skies are often overcast and the winds–although sometimes problematic–have been known to occasionally offer a generous tailwind.
Point-to-point courses challenge race directors, but Road2Hope organizers have risen to the challenge of transporting everyone from the finish area to the start on school buses and then hauling the baggage back to the start. Throughout the course, there are aid stations every three kilometres, but be warned that there are no aid stations on the long Red Hill highway section, so stock up on fluid before you hit it. The post-race food at the finish is also exceptional and in addition to the usual bananas and bagels, there is hot soup, coffee and pizza.
Despite attracting about 1,000 runners in the marathon and running celebrities like Reid Coolsaet and Simon Whitfield, the race maintains something of the casual, easygoing atmosphere of a small event, with many of the runners hailing from local clubs. The crowd support was enthusiastic but spread thinly along the course, especially in the first half but is particularly good near the finish in Confederation Park. Hopefully, as word gets out that this may be your best chance in Canada to qualify for Boston, and the race inevitably grows, this pleasant atmosphere will persist.
Anyone looking for a speedy downhill course to set a new PB or elusive BQ should definitely consider this as one of the best options around. There is also a half-marathon–which uses the same speedy downhill section as the marathon–on the same day as the marathon, and 5K and 10K races the day before. Other attractions in the area include Niagara wineries, fall hiking on the Bruce Trail–perhaps to one of the numerous waterfalls–and the Hamilton Art Gallery. Restaurant and hotel options are also plentiful.