The 12 Mile Creek Half Marathon is a small race that takes place in the city of St. Catharines. It is organized by the St. Catharines Road Runners and Walkers club. This year it took place on June 2nd, and it was my second time running the race. This entitled me to have my name printed on the back of the shirt, which lists all returning runners. This race is actually my favorite, and I’ll be going back there year after year.
There are few reasons why I like the race so much. It is a fairly small event, with only about 100 participants. The race takes place on single-track and gravel trails, in a fairly scenic environment along 12 Mile Creek. Most races have a defining landmark, and this one is no different. The landmark I’m talking about is Hydro Hill, a 600m uphill portion at the 11 mile mark of the race. The payoff is at the top of the hill: great view of the whole region down to lake Ontario, and a strong feeling of accomplishment.
I decided to do this race on an empty stomach, and did not carry any water or gels. More explanation on how this affected me at the end.
Here is a summary of the various stages of the race:
Stage 1 – Start line and run around the bagpiper: The race starts on Lockhart Drive, heading West toward the Windermere Road intersection. At the intersection, we do a turnaround heading East, trying to get as close as possible to the bagpiper that plays at the start of each race.
Stage 2 – Head on downhill, mind the rocks: The second stage of the race starts right after the piper, and it is mostly downhill, continuing East along Lockhart Drive (paved), past the finish line, and down the single-track off-road trail through the woods. This year the race took place after a very rainy day and the track was really muddy and fairly treacherous. I made it through without any injuries though, and stopped at the first water station around the 1.5 mile mark for a quick drink.
Stage 3 – Gravel, gravel everywhere: The third stage is the longest as you wind your way on the Merritt Trail along the river. The first 2 miles are rolling, but nothing too extreme. At around the 3 mile mark there is another water station and the trail goes over the 406 highway. The flyover is pretty long and somewhat steep, so pace yourself. The next three miles are rolling, mostly downhill, but there is a mile long gentle uphill section right up to the turnaround point, where runners are treated to alcoholic beverages in addition to water. There is another water/snack station before the turnaround, at about the 5 mile mark, where they have chocolates, fruit, and other light snacks. I did not partake this year.
Stage 4 – Deja-vu: Basically the same route, but backwards, a few more uphills along the highway, but the flyover is now downhill, so carry on. Pee breaks may be had in the woods adjacent to the trail, but beware people walking their dogs. Also take care not to go off on the side trail at the bottom of the flyover. It can be easy to lose track of which way the course is heading.
Stage 5 – Not this again: At the 9 mile mark, we are headed back onto the single-track trail, going mostly uphill this time, which is a bit safer with all the mud. The trail ends at Lockhart Drive and there is great temptation to just call it quits as you pass the finish line on the way to Hydro Hill.
Stage 6 – Still uphill: Hydro Hill is pretty grueling, but not impossible, so run or walk your way to the top, while you enjoy the fresh air and great views to the North.
Stage 7 – Brock University and another single-track: At the top of the hill, you turn left towards Brock University on a trail that eventually ends at University Road West. A short jaunt on asphalt is in order to the end of University Road and Alphie’s Lane. The next trail starts around here, but make sure you follow the signs. The track through the woods is mostly downhill, but caution is needed as there are lots of exposed roots and rocks. It is tempting to get lazy here and let gravity carry you, but keep at it and you’ll come out of the woods safely.
Stage 8 – Downhill to the finish line: Once out of the woods, you meet Hydro Hill again, except this time you’re headed downhill. Feel free to embrace gravity and let ‘er rip. I gained two spots this way, from people who didn’t have enough in the tank. Turn left on Lockhart Drive, which is also downhill, and you can almost smell the finish line. If you’re slow like me, you’ll be seeing people that are finished and leaving. Don’t forget to smile and wave. The finish line is on the right in a field, and it is a sweet sight. Give ‘er all you got and finish. Snacks, beverages, beer, and entertainment await the successful finisher, along with complementary towel to wipe off the salt deposits.
That’s about all that I can say about the race itself, but here are some personal impressions. I used the Vibram Five Finger shoes for this race, but they proved to be a pretty poor choice. They had little traction in the mud, and my feet were fairly sore when I finished the race due to lack of cushioning in the sole. I don’t know if I would wear regular running shoes though, I just have to find a better model of VFF meant for trail running, or other minimalistic shoes. I also ran on an empty stomach until mile 11 where my dear wife was waiting for me with a gel. I’m glad I didn’t take it with me because I would have consumed it long before I really needed it. I was hit with a loss of energy around mile 8, which cost me a few minutes, and I was relying on the water station having Gatorade, which they didn’t.
My time was around the 2:30 mark, which is 9 minutes faster than last year. The official race results below say that I finished in 2:28, but when I went past the finish line the clock said 2:30. I don’t know why there should be a 2 minute discrepancy, keeping in mind that we were not wearing chips to track time, and the there was no delay at the start. Overall race results are below.