Road2Hope: Racing for Hope in Hamilton, Ontario

This was the Sunday when the New York Marathon was cancelled and I think rightly so, because New York City definitely needed to devote its focus and effort to the recovery measures after hurricane Sandy. The races in Ontario were not affected. In fact, as soon as the news of the cancellation of the New York Marathon was announced, many disappointed athletes who had signed up for the New York race immediately switched over to this side of the border to do the Road2Hope in Hamilton. It was very important for them, because they had been training and preparing for this race day, and this would also be their last chance this year in North America to qualify for Boston. Even though I am not a runner, I have been meeting and talking to people in the athletic community long enough to appreciate how much this means tho them.

My friends and I participated in the walking division of the half-marathon at Road2Hope. The was the first time I attempted this race course.

This race is ranked #1 Boston Qualifier in Canada for a good reason. The course is relatively flat and has a significant downhill component, which favours a fast run. However, for the power walker, it poses a different challenge, because the form of a good power walker requires a straight leg heel landing. It demands good technique to maintain the form and achieve the desired speed.

We arrived at 7 a.m. to board a school bus which shuttled us to the start line at Dofasco Park. It was a well-chosen location because we could wait inside the building of the F.H. Sherman Recreation and Learning Centre away from the below seasonal average temperature. There were sufficient toilet facilities both inside and outside the building for the release of some nervous tension.

Anticipation at the start line, and off went the crowd.

It was indeed a fast course: the route was flat leaving the Park, going along First Road East to Mud Street. The wind picked up on Mud Street and it remained windy after we turned to go downhill along the Red Hill Valley Hwy. Half of the highway was closed to traffic for this race. We left the highway ramp at about 12 K and raced along Bartan Street East. There were many volunteers along the way to direct the athletes and police were out to direct the traffic. We joined the Red Hill Trail and there was a short section of unpaved trail, but there was enough room to pass. It did not bother me since I often trained on trails. The route flattened again when we went eastwards along Van Wagner Beach Road, and turned to join the Hamilton Waterfront Trail at Dynes Park. We only had 5K to go. It was a straightforward finish at Confederation Park.

There were bands and drummers along the race course. They always pumped up my spirit and my speed. There were many water stations on the way.Cheering crowds perched on the over passes of the highway to  lend support. More people came out from the local neighbourhood to cheer in the final section on the Waterfront Trail. There were a few mascots on the way too to add some light-hearted components to the day. One could tell who were the hardcore racers and who came out to enjoy themselves, because only the latter would stop for their photo-op with the mascots or take a shot of themselves on the way.

The medal, a bottle of water and a sheet to keep warm were handed out at the Finish Line, and it was only a short distance from the refreshment tent, where bananas, apples, cookies, muffins and drinks were waiting. I headed straight to the hot soup station and found my vegetable soup with a piece of foccacia bread an absolute delight.

The Road2Hope is a worthwhile race in many sense. It is a race to raise money to build schools in Haiti, and to support a Hamilton charity, City Kidz, whose mission is to inspire hope in children who live in low-income families. Hamilton is the city with the largest number of families living below the poverty line, more so than Toronto.

This year’s race had a special meaning on top, because Hamilton played host to many athletes whose hope to qualify for Boston would have been dashed as a result of the cancellation of the New York Marathon. As a Canadian, I felt proud that they had come to such a well-organized race. Everything was seamless–from the transportation to the race, race course support all the way to the finish. Many volunteers came out and they were battling the cold weather just as the athletes. They did it with such grace and generosity of their time. This is a race I would recommend to both runners and walkers. I have no hesitation doing the race again.

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