Let the training begin!
Call it temporary insanity, but something possessed me to register for the Around the Bay race here in Hamilton. I’ve done it in the past – 9 times in fact- but there is a reason why it has been a few years since running this 30km road race. It sucks.
The Around the Bay race, which by the way is OLDER than the Boston marathon, making it the oldest road race in North America, is run in my home town of Hamilton, Ontario. We are very proud of this race here in Hamilton. The race attracts world class elite athletes and has grown in numbers every year. In fact, if you haven’t registered by the end of January, you probably aren’t getting a spot. A few years ago they started a relay option so that those who don’t necessarily want to run all 30 km, do run it as a team of 2 or 3 and still feel that they have been part of the excitement. The Bay and Back 5km is also available for those who enjoy the fast paced blast of a 5km run, or those who are just starting their running or walking routine and want to get involved in a road race.
The Bay race (if you want to sound like a local), isn’t pretty. Not that my city isn’t pretty, but the race itself isn’t. The race starts not far from the finish at our minor hockey arena, The First Ontario Centre (formerly Copps Coliseum). From the start, the route has changed over the years and over the 9 times I have run it, I have done a few variations of the first 10 km. This year, the route takes us down James Street North, which is the art centre of our city, so that should be a nice bit. Then we make our way to Burlington Street. Not much can be said about this part. The first year or two I ran this race, this stretch went down Burlington Street, which houses the industry that our city got its nick name of ‘Steeltown’ from. So, luckily, it is in the first 10km of the race and hopefully we are feeling good enough to blast through this part fairly quickly. We make our way over to Beach Boulevard, which by name gives you the location of where we are running, right along the shores of Lake Ontario. This street that runs along the beach is lined with beautiful older homes that were once summer houses and cottages. The resurgence of this area has been a wonderful addition to our city. Crossing the lower bridge, we make our way into the City of Burlington and over to North Shore Boulevard, which is technically a section of the town of Aldershot, although the border line is melted with Burlington. This is where things get a little crazy. The first 15 km of this race is fairly flat. The second half, not so much. North Shore Boulevard is nothing but rolling hills, through which is thankfully a really nice neighbourhood, so your mind may be distracted by the beautiful homes and park land of this area. The rolling hills, especially in this section which ranges from 18km mark to the 26km mark is brutal; at least it is for me. Placed in the section of the race where your body is beginning to tire, you have to dig deep to find your way up the hills, only to get you to Valley Inn Road.
My history running the Bay race has always included the Hill at Valley Inn Road. The last couple of years, it has been under construction so the lucky people running it the last few times have been diverted around it. According to the 2017 route map, it is included again. So should I be happy about that? I sort of am. It may not feel like the Bay race without it to me. The Hill at Valley Inn Road is likened to Heartbreak Hill at the Boston Marathon. Placed at the 26km mark, it is placed strategically to bring you to the Hamilton Cemetery not far from the top. There at the cemetery entrance is the Grim Reaper, waving you in as you contemplate your fate and whether you can do the last 4 km. The last 4km are weirdly enough, the most fun. As you make your way down York Boulevard towards First Ontario Centre, the crown support is huge. You can see the entrance to the arena where you cross the finish line inside, and it feels like forever that it takes to get there, but once you get inside and hear your name called over the loud speaker, you realize you have completed one of the hardest 30km anywhere.
What Makes it Hard?
I’ve put together a short list of why this race is tough. I know it isn’t a full marathon, and I have never ran a full marathon before, but if I had a dime for all the times I have heard from those who have ran The Bay and a marathon who have said it is just as hard, if not harder than a full marathon, I would be rich.
- Training in the winter. The race is at the end of March, so do the math.
- Race is at the end of March. In Ontario. In Canada. You could potentially run through a blizzard. No joke. I have ran in conditions ranging from 25C and sunny to -20C and wind chills. I have ran in driving rain for 3 hours. I have ran in very temperate and sunny conditions. So you just never know.
- The wind could be your demise. Seeing as you run a really good portion of this race along the shores of Lake Ontario, you just never know how the wind will play a factor. You just hope for stillness.
- Hills. I have gone over this point but it is so true. Rolling ups and downs the last third of the race is one that you have to train for.
- The Hill. No explanation necessary. It is big. It is steep. It is at 26km mark.
So what did I just do that for?
I am seriously questioning my sanity after registering. BUT…there is just something about the Bay race. Yes, the training sucks. Yes, the race day can be brutal. But there is no feeling quite like crossing the line (in hopefully sub 3 hours) and getting your medal. There really isn’t. I know I am preaching to the converted for some of you. Heck, there are some who have done ultras that will be reading this and saying ’30km? I just did that last weekend.’ I totally admire you and maybe one day I will join in the fun of an ultra, but for now I have 12 weeks of training ahead of me.