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Milton, Ontario, Canada

Monday, November 4, 2013

Road 2 Hope Hamilton Half Marathon Race Report

I'm not sure how to even start this one! Let's just say after an entire summer dedicated to getting a certain result (1:45 half marathon finish) and a horrible first attempt at going after that goal, I'm not sure how to put this day down. This day was perfect minus not sharing the end with Sam!

I have run four half marathons this fall (My hometown race, The amazing Picton half, and the above mentioned STWM half marathon). Running the Hamilton Half Marathon was never part of my 2013 race plans, but when Irina told me that she was going to run the full marathon and Sam had the day off, it was a perfect way to finish the race season. Plus it gave Sam and I a back up in case Scotia didn't work out quite as we hoped (guess it was a good plan!).


Sam picked up my race kit so I didn't have to go out to Hamilton on the day before. As it was daylight savings time, I didn't have to get to bed too early. I set two alarms, and was out of bed, showered and on my way (a bit late) to Sam's house with a Tim Hortons stop along the way (digression - I'm loving my new pre-race breakfast - plain bagel with butter and cheddar, small coffee with two cream and an apple juice). Sam was driving Emma, Patty and Amy and we were picking everyone up at Patty's house. Before we knew it we were at the race end, on the bus and at the start. We met up with a bunch of people and hung out trying to defrost our feet! Irina demanded a photo!

Amy, Emma, Irina, Sam, Patty, me
As you can see, I didn't play nice with the #burlingtonskirtbrigade but it turned out I was perfectly dressed. Sam and I decided to hit the outdoor portapotty's and made the exact right timing call as we got out into the start crowd as they were counting down 30 seconds to go. Shouldn't we be on the road up there?

The plan. The start: KM 1-5

My plan (and Sam left it up to me), was to take full advantage of the 4k of downhill on the Red Hill Valley Parkway. Thus, we were going to run 5min/km for the first 5k, 4:45/km for the 4k of downhill and then be able to run 5:05/km for the rest of the race.

What my plan didn't take into consideration is that we'd be so far back at the start due to our long potty wait and the complete lack of corrals at the race (they REALLY need to sort that out!). We were off and on the road. I said to Sam, "Find the holes. Let's go." and we began to pass and weave like mad women. I took the lead and Sam just stuck with me. I realized that my right shoe was way too loose though and I stopped to tie it before we quickly moved along. It was worth the 0:15 of time.

Sam's pink socks behind me.
After four plus races, I finally threw this sweater away.

We finally got out of the weave by 1k and settled in, still passing but things opened up. I recognized things from my past two times running this race and I pointed out the snake line of runners across the farm fields to Sam. We got onto Mud street and things really opened up for us and I begin to anticipate the downhill on the expressway with glee.

Sam ran with a handheld but I did not. Instead I ran through all water stations and took one cup of water at each. This worked out perfectly and I'm going to work on this more so that I can do the same in a 30k or marathon race. Around 4k, Sam gave me the first indication that our Scotia fates might be reversed on this day when she told me, "You may have to leave me." I protested, telling her it was our combined victory lap and we both put it out of our mind. The downhill had arrived.

5:20-4:56-4:52-4:46-4:58. Total: 24:52, pace band: 24:53. 

The Red Hill Valley Parkway, KM 6-9

We hit the downhill and I did my best to keep us to plan. It is so, so easy to get running really fast on this part of the race. It just feels so easy because there is SUCH a huge downhill for so long. Good thing that the wind was pretty relentless which was helping to keep things difficult. Still, from time to time, our pace crept to 4:25 and I had to tell Sam it was time to reel it in.

We tried to draft off of tall men, but that didn't work as the wind was coming from the side; it was not a head or backwind (it never is, right?). Of course I was having a good day, so the wind wasn't much of a factor for me, but the reports I've read on DailyMile suggest that it played a bad role in many a race run. 

Sam struggled here despite the easy downhill running. We heard some people talking about their brush with Krista Duchene at the start line (pfft, we stood beside her in the portapotty line!). That reminded me of how I pull through some runs, when I pretend I'm coming from behind to win the Olympic marathon. In order to take Sam's mind off of what she was feeling, I gave here my play by play (please use British accents):

Allison Curbishley: Well, Steve we didn't expect this!
Steve Backley: Not at all, Allison! Nicole Macpherson of Canada was never expected to be a factor in this Olympic marathon but she's held her own with the Kenyans all day.
Allison: They don't know what to make of her, Steve!
Steve: She'd been keeping pace with the lead pack all day and with just under 10 kilometers to go, she made her move to drop the lead pack
Allison: A risk that paid off big time as she runs the final mile without any challenge
Steve: A true testament to love of running, she won the Canada lotto and dedicated her life to making the Olympic standard and team Canada
Allison: And now at 39 it looks as if she'll bring home the gold for Canada...
Steve: Doing it all in a SKIRT!
Let's just say Sam's laughter wasn't the only one I heard. 

I plowed through another water station and couldn't find Sam. There she was, coming back to me. I saw on the overpass ahead that there was photographer and I pointed him out, "Give us a big smile, buddy!"

Too bad the photog wasn't in on the plan!
By 9k, I knew I needed a gel and cursed myself for not taking one with the last water station. This was the only time I regretted not having my own water. I took the gel anyway and it worked out fine. Things were getting harder and the downhill was over. We were still right on target: "Sam, we have a minute in the bank! Right where we want to be!"

4:45-4:37-4:44-4:43 (gu), split: 18:49, total: 43:41, pace band: 44:47

All by myself. KM 10-15

We hit 10k at 48:40. I told Sam that she just hit another 10k PB and she looked at me like she didn't give a crap about that at all. About anything. She told me again to just go without her. I told her I wasn't ready yet, that we were still running the 5 min per KM required. "But you have so much in the tank." "Uh sure, maybe if the race ended at 11k!" Finally, Sam found the words to get me to go: "Please. I'll feel so bad if you don't go and run the race you have in you." That did it. Thanks for that gift Sam. Next time she faded, I didn't look back. I just kept going.

The first thing I did was put in my earphones. We were getting off of the highway at Barton street and I looked at all of the spectators and had a good chuckle as I recalled this moment from my race with Ali last year (when she yelled at her husband for not being ready to take a photo!). Quickly, we headed up on to the trail and I started to find the running a bit more difficult. No problem Nicole, this is why you have the buffer. Just get going and try to stick with the 5:05/km pace. I was able to run on those weird brick things, but I did have to walk up one paved hill. I only walked the hill and then started to run as soon as possible again. This was somewhere around 13k. 

At this point, I was starting to scan the spectators looking for Marlene who was going to be along the route cheering. I also got a huge boost by getting to the out and back portion and seeing the runners coming back toward the finish. The great thing about having run this race for the past two years is that I knew what was coming. Out and back, on to Beach Blvd and turn around to the end. I saw Marlene and gave a huge wave and high five. I was keyed in and was really watching my pace band at this point.

I knew the goal was within reach.

4:59-5:03-5:10-5:23-4:44 (huge Marlene boost!)-5:04, split: 30:23, total: 1:14:04, pace band: 1:14:39

Hang on. Hang on. Hang on. KM 16-21.1

I get to 16k and know that I just have to hang on. At this point, my stomach is starting to bother me a lot. I think that maybe I should take my second gel, but I don't. I actually focus on my stomach pain. I realize that this is my core complaining about my lack of cross training or ab work. Something I will work on, starting immediately. I kept running and moving. I would look at my watch and try to keep it around 5 min/KM. The wind is not a factor for me at all. My stomach just hurts. You have abs you know! You should give us some love from time to time! I run through the next water station and stop just after to take a quick walk. 10seconds. Let's go.

We hit the turn around and the wind really is a non-factor as we're sheltered. Keep going, keep going. Now I can see the other runners heading to 16k and I start to look for Sam's pink socks. I don't see them, but it gets my through two very fast KMs. At 18k, "I will wait" by Mumford and Sons comes on and this song always makes me think about thanking God for everything. So I spend 18k running with the following mantra: Thank You God. Thank You God. And it's for everything. Everything I'm lucky enough to have in my life. I get these moments while running from time to time and I always celebrate them. What a gift it is.

Someone calls to me just before 19k and I just wave (it was a DM friend, Laura). I see Marlene again and she's on the park bench clearly yelling my name and cheering me on. I go and go and go.

I hit 19k and my watch says 1:34:19.

I've got it. I'm going to do it. 10 minutes. Just. Hang. On.

And all of a sudden, my legs are like: Pffft.

My legs just hurt so bad. The Red Hill Valley Parkway is laughing now. 

Still, I plow through. Hang on. Hang on.

I am with a man in blue and I'm sticking with him. I run and run as hard as I can.

Of course the 20k marker gets hit and its time to take off.

Which is really more like. Hang. ON.

I know this part so well. Uphill. Turn the corner. Race to the finish. 

I can hear the finish and taste the victory. All of a sudden there is a man down in front of me with people all around him. I see them roll him on his back and someone assumes a CPR position. As I run past I think, "I should stop." And think, "They've got it under control."  all at the same time. He ended up in the hospital.

I can't think more then that because its time to turn that corner and run to the finish. I KNOW I have the 1:45:xx. And I celebrate.

5:09-5:16-4:52-4:58-5:03-5:05-1:29 (311m, 4:46 pace), split: 31:52, total 1:45:56, pace band: 1:45:00

"1:45:xx counts" I tweet. And so it does.

Gun: 1:47:23
Chip: 1:45:56 which is a 3min35sec PB from Scotia, two weeks ago!
Place: 471/1750
Gender: 150/1004
F35-39: 34/148


I cross the line with an ugly cry. The man at the finish grabs me and shakes me a little: ARE YOU OKAY?!?!?

I'm just so happy!!!!

He laughs and releases me to get my medal. I get it and my strange hazmat coat and beeline for the finish to watch for Sam. I see her quickly and run to find her. She's super upset at seeing the man who was down and ran an amazing race anyway despite her bad day. We find Amy, Emma and Patty and celebrate them as they each got PBs! Sam drops us all off and I drive home and spend the rest of the day like any other Sunday. Except there was this:

Race season is over. I'm glad I was able to finish with this one. Next up? Three weeks off and then Boston Training begins!


  1. CONGRATS!!! What a fantastic day for you. Enjoy those off weeks!

    1. Its all wine and chocolate this week, Emma!

  2. 1:45 baby! YOU DID IT! So glad to see you out there and be a small part of this milestone day!

    You are so well positioned for a solid Boston qualifying training cycle!! Enjoy the rest then time to work. (me too) :)

    1. Man. I can't even tell you how watching for you kept me going through some tough bits there. Then when I came back along and you were jumping and so clearly cheering for me... it was just awesome, Marlene!

      Here's to the next round of training!

  3. Fantastic report Nicole, and congrats on the PB! You always give the best race finish pics! So happy for you!

    1. Thanks Amy! You had a great day yourself! Can't believe you did Mississauga alone! Not next year!

  4. Congratulations Nicole, nicely done!! Sounds like you had a great time too. Nice to have the course support for sure! Congrats!!

    1. Thanks Robin. What a huge difference from two weeks ago. When you have a good day, you have a good one, eh? Hope things are a touch better for you. <3

  5. Great race Nic, you executed this perfectly. Congrats again

    1. Thanks B! Can't wait to read your write up.

  6. Loved the British accent play by play. I'd love to have that 'running' commentary if I could ever run anywhere near 4:45 min/km!

    It's scary to hear about Ted collapsing like that.

    But most importantly, congratulations on the PB! You tamed those demons from the Scotia Half and triumphed!

    1. Thanks Paul. You can tell I was having a good day, eh? It was scary to see him and I really hope he's much better now.

  7. PS: I guess you need to update your record on the sidebar on the right!!

  8. You should have posted the pic with the pony tail! LOL Great job Nicole! I'm glad that things happened for you on Sunday! FYI, I'm racing you at Chilly. LOL

    1. I have to look again - was that your pony? And, are you dropping the gauntlet for Chilly? Is it ON? Are you going to pull the John Stanton trick?

  9. Loved the report, really took me with you, which are the best ones. So proud, great work and get some rest and sleep before your next training cycle.

    1. Thanks Kenny. My hardest challenge will begin at the end of the month so resting up is a good idea. But as I said above, wine and chocolate this week first!

  10. Congratulations on your PR!! Way to end the season!! Enjoy your rest :)

  11. "Ted" here to let you know I'm home in Toronto and on the mend. I won't be running for a while: my heart stopped 300 metres from the finish line and, after being in a medically- induced coma for two days, I had a coronary bypass at Hamilton General. As my sister's cardiologist-friend said. Your brother ran to the best place to have a heart attack. I hope I didn't slow your pace :)


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