Race Report: Around The Bay 30K

Around the Bay Road Race 2016 finisher photoOn Sunday morning, I ran the 30-kilometre Around the Bay Road Race in Hamilton, Ont., for the first time ever. It’s the oldest road race in North America, started back in 1894, and it’s one I’ve wanted to run for years but the timing just never worked out. This year, the stars aligned and the race fit nicely into my marathon training schedule.

I used to finish a race and be so tired of the training and the lead-up the the race and the stress of it all that I would put my running shoes away for an entire month afterwards. This time, I’m left feeling quite the opposite—oddly inspired and surprisingly eager to keep training, keep getting stronger, keep getting faster and set some more goals. I had one of those races that all runners hope for. I felt great both physically and mentally, had no serious aches or pains, and I was well rested and in positive spirits throughout, literally smiling the entire way (as evidenced by my race photos that unfortunately you will never see because I just can’t justify spending $30 on one mediocre picture of myself). The weather didn’t cooperate entirely, though it did turn out significantly better than the weather reports had warned. But not even the 20-km/h headwinds and the “feels like” temperature of -13 C could dampen my mood.

My original plan was to treat this as a training run and not stress too much about my finishing time. I’d just see how I felt. I figured if I felt really good I would try to maintain a 5:30 minutes/kilometre pace, which would have me finishing in around two hours and 45 minutes. But I knew races don’t always go as planned and anything could happen, not to mention the hills that this course was known for, so I told myself I would be pleased with any time under three hours.

Despite the crowds (11,000 people ran that day), I was able to find my stride right away, and my legs decided they wanted to run a 5:23 min/km right from the get-go, so I went with it. I realize this isn’t a smart race strategy, and I did worry that this would come back to haunt me later, but I also knew the hills later in the race would slow me down, so I thought it might be best to make up some time while I was feeling up to it.

For the first third of the race, the sun was shining and the winds were calm. Dressed in full-blown winter gear based on what the Weather Network told me to expect, I was overheated and regretting the outfit I had selected. Off came the neck warmer and the gloves, and down went the jacket zipper. I couldn’t take off my jacket, though, because I hadn’t brought anything else to store my gels and phone in, so I knew I was just going to have to deal with being a little too warm. I planned to give my gloves and neck warmer to my friend Johanna who would be cheering from the sidelines around the 13K mark, but just as we turned the bend at 10K and started heading north along Lake Ontario, a bitter cold headwind made me thankful that I had opted to layer up. I put the gloves back on and zipped my jacket back up, and decided to hang onto my mitts for the remainder of the race. The rest of the run was pretty chilly and windy, but all-in-all it was much more comfortable temperature-wise than I expected it to be. I trained through winter’s worst, so -13 C was nothing compared to that NBA All-Star Weekend deep freeze. Thankfully, Sunday’s snow storm didn’t hit until late afternoon.

The hills didn’t really make an appearance until the final third of the race, right when my legs were starting to get really tired and even the slightest incline felt like a struggle—how convenient. But I had done a lot of hill training in preparation for this race, so they only slowed my pace by a second or two per kilometre. I ended up maintaining an average pace of between 5:23 and 5:26 min/km for the entire race, which I’m pretty thrilled about. It proves that my training has been working and those Tuesday night speed runs with the Nike+ Run Club (NRC) are finally paying off.

Around the Bay Road Race 2016 medalI crossed the finish line with an official time of 2:42, which was even faster than my best-case scenario goal time. Needless to say, that made me very happy. This race proved to me that my goal of a sub four-hour marathon next month is within reach, and it even made me believe that qualifying for the Boston Marathon one day, the world’s oldest and most prestigious annual marathon, isn’t totally beyond the realm of possibility. It certainly won’t happen this year, and it probably won’t happen next year, but if I keep up the progress I’ve made, it could definitely happen in the next few. I’ve always considered myself a middle-of-the-pack runner, so to see my pace improving and my strength as a runner improving so significantly in such a short time is pretty exciting. I guess sometimes we can surprise ourselves.

I would highly recommend the Around the Bay 30k to anyone training for a spring marathon or wanting to see if a full marathon might be worth considering. Alternatively, Around the Bay offers a 5K race and a 30K 2- or 3-person relay option for those looking to do a shorter distance. The race was impeccably organized, with ample hydration stations and the friendliest of volunteers. The community support was a huge perk, and it was such a joy to see so many familiar faces along the way—both spectators and fellow runners. It means so much to see people spending their Sunday morning cheering on runners, who in many cases are total strangers. And then to do that in the bitter cold is an act equally worthy of a medal, in my opinion. I really can’t express how much of a difference that support makes to a runner.

What’s next for me? Well, this is technically “peak week” of my marathon training—I’ll be running the GoodLife Toronto Waterfront Marathon for the third time on May 1. While it’s really important to get my miles in this week, I’ll definitely be taking things slow to ensure I recover properly from the tough race I just endured. I’ll be doing my longest training run on Friday morning—a 35K—because that evening I’ll be heading off to Spain for a week’s vacation. Something tells me I won’t have any trouble sleeping on that overnight flight. I’m really looking forward to running along Spain’s beautiful coastline for the week, and soaking up some much-needed sunshine. I’m also really stoked that I’ll be joining NRC Barcelona for a Thursday night speed run. Check back here in a couple weeks to read about it and everything else I get up to in Spain, or follow along on Instagram for updates if patience isn’t your strong suit. 🙂

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