On Sunday, March 29th, 2009, I finally experienced the great tradition that is the Around the Bay road race. I have had this race in my plans for the past few years but have always registered too late and been disappointed to hear that the race is sold out.
This year was no different as I went to the website just a couple of days into February and received the same message. For me, it is tough to commit to a 30k race before knowing how my body feels at the start of the training season and this year I felt strong and relatively quick. Therefore, seeing the SOLD OUT sign on the registration page was a bit of a downer. Thankfully, a member of my marathon clinic had a co-worker looking to unload his race number so we arranged the transfer with the race officials and I was set to run my rookie Around the Bay.
Fast forward to the day of the event and I woke up to a miserable rainy mess of a day. As I drove over to Hamilton it continued to pour down rain with wind that never seemed to stay consistent in the direction of origin. This is what I gathered as I drove along the QEW through Burlington by observing the flags along the highway. My ultimate goal, already a very extreme target for my abilities, was definitely in doubt now.
Before the race, I looked around for some of the Canadian Triathletes but the arena was too large of a staging area to find familiar faces. I had also arranged to hook up with Robbie-T from the Running Maniacs as his goal was to go under 2 hours as well. He has been posting very solid results over the past few years so I knew he would be right there no matter the conditions.
After we set out for a warm up we got settled into the starting corral near the 2 hour pace bunny and Team Running Free member Mike Bosch. We timed it pretty well that we only had to stand still for a couple of minutes in the rain before the gun was blasted to send all the runners down the road. The mass of participants made for a slower than usual start for me, which probably allowed me to actually finish the race. When the three of us finally broke away from some of the other runners, we hit our pace of just under 4 minutes per kilometre (3:57 for the 1st KM). As the race continued through the streets of East Hamilton, and towards Lake Ontario, we kept our pace pretty even but I was not feeling as confident in my effort as I was hoping.
Our pack of three stayed together right up to the 10k marker which we hit at 40:08 (39:57 on my watch) on the gun timer beside the road side sign. At this point we hit an overpass bridge and I started to waiver with Mike and Robbie-T starting to pull away as we headed north along the Lakeshore. By the 11k marker they had about a 10 second gap and my energy levels were very poor so I had to let them go.
Along this stretch, I tried to maintain the pace of the other runners in my sight and was able to do a little damage control reaching the half way point less than 1 minute off the 2 hour pace. This was a little piece of motivation as 2:03 sounded a lot better than 2:05 in my mind given the factors of the day. For the next 5k, I was clipping along with a much better rhythm trying to erase the thoughts of saving my body for another day. I think the choice of shorts may have been poor given the lack of running I have done in the cold this year as my quads were aching much more than I can remember from any race in the past.
Anyway, as I headed along the service road in Burlington towards 20k, I felt like I was moving a little quicker but I could not get back to the 4 minute kilometres that I needed. 2/3 of the race were thankfully behind me and I had been out on the course for 1:21:42 so I had lost almost another minute since the last 5k sign and would have to pull off a 41 minute 10k through the hardest part of the race with dead legs to hit 2:03. Not exactly what I had planned for leading up to this event.
Well, to keep the story shorter, I ran the hills as well or better than those around me but I think we were all in the same boat, trying to hit a crazy goal and now paying for it in a big way. Only a few experienced Masters seemed to have the energy to make shorter work of the rollers, among the runners I could see so it would have been neat to watch the quicker guys blow by the hills.
Finally, I reached the summit of the last, and most famous of the climbs. It was here that I knew I would be able to finish so I made my way along the slightly downhill decent to Copps Coliseum as quickly as my legs would move. I had lost even more time to my goal struggling through kilometres 22 to 25 and just wanted to make it respectable. As I made my way down the service ramp at the arena I turned on the jets for one last effort to save a few seconds and move up one additional spot at the line in 2:05:31 on the gun or 2:05:20 for the chip time.
Since I had to get home to get ready for work, I left Hamilton right after changing out of my soaking wet gear. I looked up my times on the live tracker at home where I was originally 85th overall and 12th for my age group. Looking again later in the evening I had moved down to 90th overall and 14th in the 35 to 39 AG. Oh well, I am sure it is very tough to keep track of so many athletes (over 10,000 reported to have participated in the event) so I expected some correction from the live tracker.
All in all, a pretty good experience which really tests your running ability early in the season. I was a little disappointed in my time given all the work I have done in training but also proud that I didn’t quit the race as there were several points where I was ready to after 2 hours was no longer an option. I have a good feeling that my duathlon training is on track as I try to even out my cycling abilities with my running skills.