First off: I’m so, so sorry. I’ve been a terrible blogger. What makes a terrible blogger, you ask? Being so very late to the game. How late? Well, considering this is an Around The Bay recap and the race was held in March, I’m very late.
But if you can forgive me for a few moments to read, I promise it’ll be worth it. Because I have nothing but good things to say from here on in. If you’re thinking of running this race next year: do it. Just sign up.
First up: starting line!
So last fall and thru the winter I was briefly keeping you up to date on my training for Around The Bay. In short, it was a long, brutal winter that may or may not be over yet (it’s dipping down to freezing again overnight this week) and we all ran and we all complained and we all gave everything we had so that we could arrive prepared at the start line in Hamilton. And you know what? After training through all that ice, snow, and freezing rain, it turned out to be an incredibly gorgeous and sunny race day.
M and I took the train (1st class – we used our Air Miles to splurge so I could have extra leg room and eat all the free carbs) from Ottawa to Toronto in the morning, arriving in Toronto early afternoon. We then hopped on a Go Bus Hamilton-bound and arrived just over an hour later to:
…BEAUTIFUL DOWNTOWN HAMILTON! (I’ll be spending seven days and two sensuous nights at the beautiful Hamilton Motor Inn, overlooking absolutely nothing).
After wandering around a city I’ve never been carrying a backpack with two weeks worth of vacation items (the race was our trip kick-off), we found the convention centre, picked up kit, elbowed our way out swiftly and hopped on a bus toward the Visitor’s Inn hotel.
*Props to Hamilton here: when I asked the check-in clerk if it was wise to pre-book a taxi to get to the start line the next morning, he suggested I walk outside the front door and take the bus. What? What kind of convenience is this? Coming from Ottawa, I’m just not used to having the luxury of buses that run on a regular basis on a Sunday. Let alone buses that run every 10 minutes to places you actually need them to go. Novel! Cheap!
That night we wandered around the Westdale Village area, had a great dinner at the Bean Bar, and headed back to the hotel where I did all the usual compulsive pre-race things like set my alarm, set it for a minute from now to make sure it worked, set it properly again for the next morning, looked at my clothes, watched some TV, looked at my clothes again, lined up my morning food, drank a litre of water, changed my clothing line-up again, checked my alarm again to make sure it was set for a.m. not p.m, and finally…went to bed.
The next morning we headed to the hotel restaurant area and found a table amongst all the other runners. Since M was my solid support and wasn’t running, he put up with me talking over and over about changing my race outfit because of the forecast. And from what I could overhear at other tables, this was pretty much the topic of conversation all around. Coming from Ottawa where we still had over a foot of snow on the ground, it was a shock just to arrive in Hamilton and see bare pavement!
In the end I decided on too many layers: 2 layers on top, 2 layers on the bottom. I considered a just throwaway shirt on top of a long sleeve but after standing outside for a few minutes after breakfast I decided the wind was a bit much. So I went with a light, long sleeve base and light fleece sweater – pretty much my uniform for all conditions over the winter. Socks, Sauconys and a few snacks in my pocket and I was set! I don’t run with music anymore, but I decided to carry my phone with me so I could message M when I got to the finish. Since we weren’t very familiar with Hamilton we didn’t really pre-set a place to meet, save for a section of the arena.
After breakfast, we took the bus to the start line area and just took some time to look around & use the washrooms. M’s plan was just to walk around town and explore for a few hours until I was finished – what a patient guy! So after we parted I made my way to the corral and did some sprints, stretches and just warmed up to kill the time. Soon enough, people started to fill in the gaps and so I took one last photo before putting my phone away for the duration of the race. As much as I’d like to show what I saw along the way, I’m not one of those runners who can shoot/run at the same time. Also, I had a goal I wanted to make and I hate breaking up pace.
I knew two things about this course: pre-hills and post-hills. I devoured race recaps, watched videos over and over, and heard first-hand from someone who ran the race previously. In my mind the hills were mountains. The were the peaks I climbed in the Adirondacks. They would have me crawling. I kept this in mind as I set off. The crowd didn’t take too long to thin out and I found my pace right away. So until I ran the hills I tried to keep a steady pace and not push myself too hard. I knew I wanted to run under 3 hours. Since I’ve started running without headphones, I just tried to focus on settling in my mind for the 3 hours. I took in the surroundings and conversations around me. I ran past the small city storefronts, and past the gritty, industrial areas, over and under highways. I ran past other runners. I ran past bagpipes, ran past where the air changes near the lakeshore. Ran past people in lawn chairs on front yards, past parks, past beautiful waterfront houses slightly run down with time. Past Hamilton residents with pots & pans clanging. Entire families out to make noise. I ran up & down the rolling hills into Burlington, the great suburban houses and kids cheering from trees. Then, I ran up the biggest hill rumoured. And you know what? The crowd at the bottom cheered us up the hill and the crowd at the top cheered us home. It was over before I knew it. I ran up because I had been putting hill runs at the end of all of my long runs in the winter. You know what? That really, really sucked during the winter and it really, really benefitted during this race. And then I heard the words: it’s all downhill from here. And so I ran faster than I had all morning. I ran with my heart set on seeing the one thing on the entire route that would be familiar to me: the Grim Reaper. I had heard about the Grim Reaper at the cemetery gates. Every year he makes an appearance, and this year would be no different. Since I had no support on the course save for in the arena and I didn’t know the city, when I saw the Grim Reaper I made a mad dash for him and gave a high five. Then, I ran hard. As I closed in on FirstOntario Centre I could see the clock flip to 2:59 – I would just make it under the 3 hours gun time.
M just managed to grab this accidental shot of me coming into the finish, right under the banner – nice timing!
I ran the race and went over in my mind all of the miserable days it took to get to where I was. All of the cold, dark nights. And what was so incredible about race day was that the sun was shining and it was just the complete opposite of every training run I had leading up to that point – what luck we all had. I think there was just a moment when it felt like ‘ok – the hard part is over. This is the reward.’ And then, I was gliding.
After the race we went for patio pints and nachos in the sun at Lazy Flamingo, walked back to the hotel (hey, what’s another few KMs…) and after a quick changeover walked back downtown to find some fun. What we did find was the perfect little Winking Judge pub – craft beer & a live Celtic traditional band on a Sunday evening. Turns out one of the band members had actually walked the 30K race that morning himself!
Personally, I think the most nerve-wracking experience of the event was everything leading up to it: hoping my train arrives in Toronto in time, so I can get to Hamilton in time to pick up my kit. Finding my way around Hamilton. Getting to and from the hotel in a timely manner. Finding pre-race comfort food in a new city. Getting a good night’s sleep in a new place. Making it to the start line in time. Basically, all of the seemingly uncontrollable things that are, essentially, within your control to a degree. Except Via Rail – that’s roulette right there at times. Luckily, the city of Hamilton and Around The Bay staff and volunteers handled everything smoothly, in my opinion. It was a great event in a friendly city and I’d absolutely take part again.
Once I set foot on the start line I felt everything else wash away – I was in control and I new what I wanted the outcome to be. Also, the race really gave me the confidence I need to start training for my first marathon at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October.
All it took was for me to keep running. That I could do.
Gun Time: 2:59:26
Patio pints post-race. Because: sun.