Time for the Marathon?

The Around the Bay Road Race

After the Niagara Falls Half-Marathon in October 2013, I took some time to rest and enjoy the remainder of the year.  Of course, I also decided what race I would do next.

I decided that I had two options, 1) either continue to push myself at the half-marathon distance to see how fast I could do one, or 2) try a longer distance.

I decided that the second option was the way to go, and signed up for a well-known race, the Around the Bay Road Race.  Around the Bay is run, um, around the bay, and covers 30 km in Hamilton and Burlington, Ontario.  It is the longest running road race in North America, and this would be the 120th edition.  It is run in late March or early April of each year.  In the first year I ran it, it was held on March 30th.

Being held in March, of course meant (well, of course if you live in Ontario, Canada as I do), that I would either be spending a lot of time on a treadmill (boo) or braving the elements.  I chose the later.

I headed to my local Running Room and got myself set up with my first pair of running tights (they just started to develop some holes this winter, 3 years later, so kudos to New Balance).  Clearly a necessity in the -20 degree temperatures I would find myself training in.  On a side note, on the whole “is it OK to wear shorts over tights argument?”  I say yes, for warmth, and practicality, as I had no pockets in my tights.

After discussing some footwear options for running in snowy/icy conditions, I settled on the recommended pair, the Brooks Cascadia 8.  These shoes were awesome for many, many kms.  Excellent traction as they are meant for the trails.   This past winter, I upgraded to the newest edition.

So with my new gear, I was ready to hit the roads.  I’m fortunate that our city does a great job of clearing some of the multi-use trails in my favourite park, Springbank Park, and the neighbouring Greenway park.  A complete loop will get you about 13 kms of running with pretty awesome footing given the weather.

Apart from the odd “soaker,” and couple of slips, the winter running went pretty well.

Prior to training for the 30 k, the longest distance I had ran was the 21.1 of a half marathon.  In training for halfs, I generally topped out at 18 km, because I always thought the races themselves were anti-climatic if I had covered the distance in training.

Obviously, to cover the 30 k distance, I would have to ramp up the training.  I put in a number of runs around 26 kms, and topped out at one running of 30.  I needed to prove to myself before race day, that I could do 30.  I recall not feeling so good after that one.

Running through the winter had its advantages, as I am not a fan of running in the heat.  More accurately, my body is not a fan of running in the heat.  I’ve alluded to the heat exhaustion issues I suffer from in some previous posts, and I will get more into those in future articles.

Doing really long runs was new to me, and I was still not fully committed in that I still liked to socialize on the weekend, rather than commit to a long run on Saturday or Sunday mornings.  I usually tried to fit in my long runs on Friday nights so I had the rest of my weekend.  I remember one in particular where I ran in the aforementioned Springbank Park on a Friday evening and did 25 k in -25 degree Celsius weather.  I had the stereotypical frost-covered beard face after that one.  It was also the only time in my life I have been alone in Springbank Park.

During my training, I also started toying with the idea of running a marathon for the first time.  I figured I’d see how Around the Bay went, and then figure out the marathon.  I contemplated signing up for the Buffalo Marathon in May if things went well.

My wife was also doing the race.  So we headed down the highway to Hamilton and picked up our race-kit at the First Ontario Centre.  This is a hockey stadium, which also houses the finish line of the race.

We picked up our gear (the New Balance shirt is still my favourite running shirt) and headed to our hotel.  After a nice dinner at a restaurant recommended by a friend (La Cantina) we settled in for the night back at the hotel.

We were greeted in the morning by pretty decent weather conditions.  We managed to park not too far from the start of the race, and made the walk over.  It was kind of cool that the race photographers were out taking pictures of the runners as they made their way to the start area.  My wife and I got a really nice one done (of course, they still charge ridiculous amounts for these, so we never bought it).

The race starts outside of the First Ontario Centre, but runners are allowed inside prior to the start of the race.  This is great, as you can stay warm, and use the indoor bathroom facilities.  Your friends and family also have literally thousands of seats to choose from as well if they want to see you finish.

If you don’t want to tackle the whole 30 k distance yourself, you can also do a 30 k relay, or, participate in a 5 k.

The race has a corral system.  I was in a different one than my wife, so we headed off to our respective areas after wishing each other good luck (this was also my wife’s first attempt over the half distance).

There is a well known (and wise) piece of advice about the running game: Don’t try anything new on race-day.  So, even though the weather was pretty good, I still wore my hat, heavier shirt, tights, and gloves, along with my Brooks Cascadia 8s, even though the roads were clear and dry.

My goal setting out was of course to finish.  I also had hopes of dipping under the 3 hour mark.

The race is bit of a mixed bag as far as the course goes.  The first section once you leave downtown is industrial, you pass along the water, and also go through some nice neighbourhoods.

The course is famous for the Valley Inn Road hill, and it is a bit of a monster, especially as it looms around the 26 k mark.  However, a lot of people overlook the rolling hills of Burlington which proceed the infamous hill.  Train on hills my friends!

I warmed up as the race progressed, ditching my toque at an aid station along the way.

I progressed through the rolling hills, and made it up the dreaded final hill (without walking any of it!).  Shortly after the top of the hill there is a cemetery, and you will pass the legendary Around the Bay Grim Reaper.

The big hill occurs around the 26 k mark, it was after this hill that I really started to feel the effects of the distance and difficulty of the course. This was the first time in my running “career” that I felt the dreaded wall.

I can remember my internal dialogue going something like this “body, if you get me through the next 4 kms, I promise you this is the last time we will ever run this far again.  No marathon, I promise.”

I took a sip of Gatorade at the final rest station and plodded along back towards the First Ontario Centre. I knew that the finish was inside the arena.  You can see the arena off in the distance for quite some time, which is both comforting, and frustrating.  As, if you are spent, you know the finish is near, but at the same time, it seems like it may never arrive.

There is strong crowd support to push you down the final outdoor stretch before you make a right-hand turn and descend a ramp into the arena (at this point in the run, 29 + km, this small ramp does not feel good).  You will quickly find yourself approaching the finish line in front of a few thousand spectators.  A pretty awesome finish experience.  I realized my goal of completing the 30 k, and just missed out on the time goal, finishing up in 3:00:13.5.

Another interesting twist to this race is that they award different medals based on your finishing time.  A nice incentive for you speedsters out there.

After the race, I felt pretty spent.  I took my time collecting my medal, got my picture taken, grabbed some snacks and headed upstairs hoping to catch my wife’s finish.  Soon after, she crossed the line, and we both headed for our pre-arranged meeting spot.

We made the walk back to the car, talking about our race experiences.  I can vividly recall telling her, “if I ever talk about running a marathon again, punch me right in the face.”

I recall posting on Facebook about my experience something like this: “after training for and running a 30 km race, I have discovered two things, 1) running more than 26 km is not that fun, and 2) people who run marathons are insane.”

All in all, a tough race, but one which is definitely worth the trip to Hamilton.  It is very well run, you have good support, and it’s been going on for over 120 years.  You also get the added bonus of the arena finish.

I would return in 2014, but more on that later (oh, I never did sign up for that Buffalo Marathon).

Personal Best Streak: 8