Around the Bay has been around a long time. Longer than the Boston Marathon, in fact, and so I was excited to take part in this epic foot race that happens to be located right in my own backyard – Hamilton, ON. With decent weather, thousands of participants, and a great course, I knew this was going to be a fun run.
Around the Bay started for me when I went down to pick up my race kit at Copps Coliseum. There are quite a few vendors, with The Running Room having a whole store set up. I wandered around trying to find out where to pick up my kit, finally arriving at the right spot. I got my number off the wall and proceeded through the line (which was not long) and got all of my stuff. With my wife waiting in the car, I didn’t want to take too long, so I only peeked at a few things on my way back ’round to get back to where she was parked.
With my usual oatmeal and banana pre-race breakfast out of the way my wife drove me down to the start line with enough time to take it easy on the way to the start line. Amazingly I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen since high school (which was a long time ago) who was running as a tag-team with someone else. It was neat to chat and catch up, so I was glad I had the time to do that. It’s always fun seeing people you know at a race with so many people.
I continued to the starting area, stopping along the way to do my “Biggest Loser” warm-up, and nestled in close enough to the front that I wouldn’t be tripping over people, but far enough back to not seem presumptuous about my abilities. I always find it a great feeling to be packed together at the start of a race waiting for the start. So many people together trying to accomplish their goals, it is really electrifying.
As we left the start line with a leap I had an odd feeling – with the race being 30k it’s a bit of an odd duck – more than a half, less than a full, it’s hard to anticipate what can be accomplished (even if you do trust McMillan’s Running Calculator). I was hoping to make it in under 2:15:00 to ensure a silver medal. A gold required a finish of under two hours, and I knew I wasn’t there yet.
[blockquote align=”left”]As we started down Woodward and headed down to the Bay and across the bridge I was really amazed by how great the weather was and how beautiful the city is.[/blockquote]
I found it difficult to find my pace, ducking and weaving between the throngs of people who “think they can” but really can’t and end up slowing down after a few kilometers. For unseasoned runners I can imagine that pacing is a difficult thing to accomplish. Without experience, it is quite difficult, especially if you don’t have any gear to help you out.
The course is quite scenic, and there are always people standing on the side of the road cheering you on. There’s a very real feeling of community as you pass people by, waving hello, high-fiving the little kids as you go by. Some people, sitting on their porches with coffee cups in hand, have a look that says, “you must be crazy!” but they smile and wave as well.
I found the run enjoyable, and settled into a pace I felt was manageable. As we started down Woodward and headed down to the Bay and across the bridge I was really amazed by how great the weather was and how beautiful the city is. Most people think of Hamilton as some kind of dirty, smokey city, but it really isn’t, even when you’re down in the steel district. Between the 10k and 15k mark I fell in with a couple guys who were a bit older than me that were nailing my perfect pace, so I asked if I could join them, to which they enthusiastically agreed. I stuck with them for the better part of 10k, leaving them somewhere on the hills of North Shore Blvd to push a bit quicker. I had taken my headphones out to enjoy the sights and sounds of the race – people on the sidelines, the rock’n’roll music being played out of someone’s truck at the entrance to a cemetery, people honking as we ran by.
[lightbox url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ATB2011_1.jpg” group=”1″ title=”The Crowd on the Run”]The Crowd on the Run[/lightbox]
[lightbox url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ATB2011_2.jpg” group=”1″ title=”The Band”]The Band[/lightbox]
[lightbox url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ATB2011_3.jpg” group=”1″ title=”Starting Out”]Starting Out[/lightbox]
[lightbox url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ATB2011_4.jpg” group=”1″ title=”Up the Hill”]Up the Hill[/lightbox]
[lightbox url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ATB2011_5.jpg” group=”1″ title=”Finish Line”]Finish Line[/lightbox]
[lightbox url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ATB2011_6.jpg” group=”1″ title=”Inside the Coliseum”]Inside the Coliseum[/lightbox]
[lightbox url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ATB2011_7.jpg” group=”1″ title=”Getting the Medal”]Getting the Medal[/lightbox]
[lightbox url=”http://runbydesign.com/images/ATB2011_8.jpg” group=”1″ title=”The Shirt”]The Shirt[/lightbox]
Though many people had warned about the hill on Valley Inn Rd as being the “Heartbreak Hill” of the race, I found that the rolling hills preceding it along Northshore to be more daunting. It’s about 4k from that hill to the end, and even though it’s quite steep, it’s also quite short. Visualizing the climb is an easy task – what you see is what you get – while the other hills sometimes wrapped around a bend, leaving you to wonder if you were going to be running uphill forever, however low the grade of incline there might be.
Once up the hill it was smooth sailing. Signs along the Hamilton Cemetery – yes, the third cemetery you pass along the route – warned us of the end being near. In these last couple of kilometers I decided I needed to kick it up a bit. Having settled in for more of a training run (I was prepping for the Waterloo Marathon, not the Around The Bay race) I didn’t want to push myself too much, but decided that I would do what I could at the end.
[blockquote align=”right”]It’s really an awesome thing to finish a race that way, and if you ever have the chance to finish in a stadium I highly recommend it.[/blockquote]
And the end comes fast. The streets are lined with people cheering, which is great, but then you turn down the steep drive into the Coliseum. With winter still in the air there was some salt and sand on the ramp, and I was afraid I would wipe out, but held onto my footing to turn into the open area of Copps to see tons of people in the stadium, cheering. It’s really an awesome thing to finish a race that way, and if you ever have the chance to finish in a stadium I highly recommend it. However, there’s not much time to revel in the moment as the finish line comes up on you quite suddenly. I managed to squeak in under 2:15 and was amazed at the precision of the team at the finish as one of the people ran across with a line separating those who’d finished under 2:15 from the rest of the finishers that came in after. I was given my medal right away, and though I strained to see my wife it was difficult with so many people there. Going out of the main stadium area to where there was some food to pick up I took the time to stretch out before getting a bagel and some yogurt to get back some of those burned calories.
I really enjoyed this race. With so much history it’s not hard to believe that they’ve got things working like a well-oiled machine. That’s not to say that there couldn’t be some improvements made – like putting up some signs to tell you where to get your race pack – but all-in-all it’s pretty locked-in as a major race with excellent volunteers, staff, and support. The course really is great: from the downtown core to the beautiful view at the Bay bridge and along the manors of North Shore Blvd, this is a great survey of Hamilton. The city of Hamilton comes out in droves to support the runners all along the course. Choral robes Plains Rd Whether or not I run the race again is undecided at this point, simply because of the timing, but I highly recommend running this historical run.
The Short Story
Around the Bay is a must-run for any Canadian who’s into running. The history alone should be enough to draw you to the race. The scenery, great organization, fun crowd throughout the route, awesome shirt and medal, and finish inside Copps Coliseum make this a must-race with great value.
[info_box_1 title=”Race Stats”]
Weather: Clear, Cold
Swag: Long-sleeved Tech T, Medal
Terrain: Roads through the city, long downhill portion
Shoes: Brooks ST Racer 4
Fuel: Oatmeal, Banana, GU Energy Gel
Overall Place: 325/5884
Gender Place: 295/2967
Age Group Place: 48/284