69.1 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Around the Bay 30k
Place: Hamilton, ON
Miles from home: 2582
Weather: 20-30s; Sunny; Windy
Some races I study meticulously and some I barely look at prior to running them. The latter usually only happens when I have no particular time goal or when I just happen to be a tad too busy to put forth the energy. I was most assuredly busy in the days leading up to the Around the Bay 30k. A hectic travel and work schedule (including a 12 hour expo book signing before running the Cooper River Bridge Run on the day before this race) left me with little time to delve into the minutia of this particular course. The CRBR had left me uncharacteristically wrecked in my legs. While the race was tough, it was merely 6.2 miles. I also hadn’t run anywhere close to hard enough to warrant the soreness I felt in my quads. But nonetheless on the plane ride to Buffalo, NY, my quads were destroyed.
Fortunately for me, a great deal of the race morning planning was being handled for me. I was the guest of Kris Graci, one of the 17 women featured in my book, Running With The Girls. Suffice it to say that you should get the book if only to read about her incredible story. But for me, it meant that I didn’t have to find where the race was, find parking or everything else one has to do on race morning. This was the exact opposite of the day before in Charleston, SC for the CRBR. That had been a fiasco of parking, shuttles, running back to my car, and getting back to the hotel so I could drive to the airport o fly to NYC then to Buffalo and then drive to Canada.
Unfortunately for me, I neglected to remember (or ask, I forget which) whether Kris had any pets. She had three very friendly cats in her lovely home. The problem is, allergies do not care about the disposition of that to which you are allergic. I found out I had no medicine to treat myself either and given the late nature of my arrival had no way to get any from any store. Hopefully, I would not be too affected before the race.
Kris and her boyfriend Manfred, an Austrian by birth who has been in Canada most his life, took me to the start of the race. Kris was also running the race, as was a litany of her friends. We joined some 11,000 of our closest friends in the FirstOntario Centre where they play hockey (natch) and hold other events. This would serve as the holding ground for us before the race as well as the finish line afterward. It was going to be a chilly day for sure which the temperature hovering right around 25 degrees (or -4 Celsius for my Canadian friends. Side note: I absolutely love Canada. I think it is just a marvelous place and have never come back from a trip there unsatisfied. I would love to spend a month there learning and living with the people and seeing how we, separated by the thinnest of borders, and looking so much alike, are so very different. But I digress.)
I met Kris’ friends and watched all the others milling around dressed like they were Floridians dealing with 60 degree mornings. Why were they wearing so many layers? This is Canada! I was wearing a simple pair of Skins shorts and a short-sleeve Skins top. I had a Craft long sleeve half-zip on that I fully intended to throw off right before the start. However, I assumed the Canadians knew more than me about their own weather and looking around at all the heavily-clad runners decided I should keep it on. This later revealed to be a painful mistake.
Corrals were loaded with people by their estimated time, snaking around the block. By the time I got to my intended area, the race was just some three minutes from starting. I had been given an unseeded corral bib which I intended to honor until I saw the thousands of people in front of me in that corral. So, I did what I normally detest of others and moved as far ahead as possible in the corral after everyone else was in place. I found the pace group for the time I was quite sure I would have no problem running and filed in about 20 meters behind them. I looked back at all the people I had passed, and most of those still in front of me, and knew I was still far too back. Runners may be the biggest hypochondriacs out there outwardly to the world (“Oh, I am so sick and this is so sore and I am so out of shape!”) but they seem to be irrationally confident when it comes to correctly placing themselves in race corrals. I definitely was not in the wrong place.Alas.
At the precise time when the race was supposed to start, the gun was fired. Go Canada!
First 5k: 20:38
I realized quickly there would be no mile markers for this race, only kilometer. Not to tax my brain too much I decided to only keep track of my 5k splits. That was something I could do math around to see I was on target. As these first three miles took us out from the stadium, through the slightly rundown neighborhoods surrounding it, and then out onto a four lane highway, I was feeling very good. My first kilometer was in 4:04 which meant as much to me as a trombone playing a sandwich does to rhino astronauts. But then I did the math to equal five of those kilometers and I thought: “Hey, not bad.”
The next km was even faster and I was feeling good. I was also feeling hot. I had already rolled the sleeves up of the long sleeve shirt. A kilometer later I undid the zipper. Now, as half zips are wont to do, one of the lapels was rhythmically slapping me in the chin and neck. So I took the collar and tucked it inward.
Kris had advised me the first few miles had a series of overpasses to go over. As I did no reconnaissance on the race, I was hoping she remembered correctly and there were only three. The bright sunshine lit our path as the empty streets and backyards of Hamilton, ON industry were our only spectators. Occasionally a few people would dot a bridge we ran under but for the most part we were out here on our own. The first 5k went by much faster than expected and I felt good in spite of my quads still more sore from the previous day’s 10k race than they had been after running 26.2 miles at the Phoenix Marathon a month prior.
10k: 20:35 (41:16)
On our way to the first 1/3 of the race being over the race was more of the same. Lonely, not-so-pretty streets with little to look at. I say that because people sometimes care about scenery in a race. I personally could not care less. As I said in 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss, a beautiful and majestic moose on the green hill above, eating daisies and playing with the birds on his antlers does not make me run any faster.
Kris had correctly remembered there were three overpasses and for that I was grateful. We did, however, have one onramp to take us up and over the street we were on at the 10k to deal with. Prior to that I was playing cat and mouse with a slew of runners. On the flats sections I would fall back. On the uphills (never my specialty but something that still allows me to put distance on many runners) I would push by them. Then on the downhills, I would put even more distance between us. After that, the flats would allow them to catch up to me again and we would rinse lather and repeat.
I was shocked to see I ran this 5k faster than the first and only 12 seconds slower than the entire 10k race the day before. I didn’t know exactly what that said about my effort today or yesterday exactly but it sure was telling about something. If only I knew what.
15k: 21:21 (1:02:35)
The next 3.1 miles can basically be summed up as one long, flat stretch where the houses appeared, a few spectators came out, and I fell into a little bit of a funk. I found it hard to maintain pace and was generally tired. I simply tried to concentrate on my stride and focus inward thinking only about how at 15k I would be halfway done.
Every kilometer was marked with an inspirational quote or saying. It was a nice touch out here especially where there weren’t many crowds to motivate you. One of them said:
”You can learn everything about yourself by running a 30k.”
I turned to the group of guys next to me, nodded at the sign and said “What if I am not that curious. Can I just stop at the halfway point?” The muffled laughter made me feel a little better about myself and jolted me out of my slump. Right at the halfway point, passing over a grated drawbridge helped even more. I freaking love bridges.
I saw if I repeated the same time for the second half I would run 2:05:02 for the race. That would have pleased me. So I settled down and concentrated doing just that. I have run a faster pace for a marathon than that but that is not where I am right now. Accepting where you are right now and not being too discouraged about it is the key to getting through running. Or life, really.
20k: 21:49 (1:24:25)
When racing I have an impeccable memory. I remember street signs, spectators garb, quarter mile splits and a slew of other information. That said, I cannot, for the life of me, remember much about this 5k at all. I know I was happy with my split at the halfway point. I remember running down the little ramp from the cool bridge and I remember finally turning off the little slice of land which protected the Hamilton Harbour. But that is about it. I knew I was getting tired and I just wanted to get to where I had 6.2 miles of running left. I vaguely recall the nice houses on our right with Lake Ontario behind them. There is the smallest recollection of the Harbour on our left and me occasionally passing and then being passed by some of the same runners as we played cat and mouse again. But other than that all I have is vague memories. To be honest, it is a little weird for me.
One thing that sticks out fervently, however, is right as we approached the 20k mark, I remembered Kris telling me this was the section which had rolling hills in it. For some reason, I had a feeling she was not properly painting what these hills felt like.
By now, also, I was drenched in sweat, with my sleeves rolled up, and the zipper down on my long-sleeve. In fact, I had tucked the unzipped collar inward before even hitting the 5k. The painful mistake I mentioned earlier was that the zipper rubbed my collarbone raw. I learned this later in the shower. Ouch.
25k: 22:55 (1:47:20)
A big to-do was made about how this year, due to construction, the biggest and hardest hill of the race was not part of the course. Undoubted to return next year, it’s removal made some feel cheated. People might not like obstacles but they appear to want them in their way so they can brag about having overcome them later. I was more than happy to find out this news.
Unfortunately, because so many were focused on this big hill being gone, they neglected to mention that series of undulating beasts that the course still contained from 20-25km. No less than 4 of these sat between me and what had been promised to be nothing but flat or downhill for the final 3.1 miles.
Each one of these hills took more and more out of me. Not knowing they existed, how long they were, and how much they climbed, made my legs weak. In a beautiful area around Hamilton Harbour, with homes which had to cost many a loonie, I normally would have at least glanced around to appreciate what was there. But today, as the road twisted and turned, hiding the summit of each of the hills, my already tired legs failed me. On more than a few occasions I walked. But each time I did so, I was buoyed by the fact that I caught and passed all those who had passed me when I was walking. Of course, if I had been running the pace I wanted or had been earlier, they shouldn't have been around me in the first place. But when we flag or waver we reach for small victories.
I knew I was in no way going to get a 2:05 anymore. But I thought perhaps a 2:08, the equivalent of running the pace of a sub-3 hour marathon, was still in the cards. With the hills finally behind me and a nice long gradual downhill promising to help sweep me into the finish, I knew I just had to run a 21 minutes final 5k to do just that. Not impossible but not easy.
Unfortunately, while the hill might be gone, the wind was not. A stiff breeze which had swirled a bit earlier in the race, and had been blocked some by those very same hills I cursed earlier, was now full on in our face as we turned to head home. A group of guys numbering at least 12 went by me working together. I fell into this pack knowing I did not wish to fight the wind alone. But their pace was too quick. I had to internally debate whether I wanted to slow down and fight the wind alone or continue to run harder than I felt I could in order to stay sheltered. I decided too late to ease off the throttle and when I finally slowed my pace, I came to yet another walk. Bollocks.
As I geared up running again, I heard some in the crowd mention the 2:10 pacer was coming up behind me. Double bollocks. I didn’t really expect to be pushing hard to stay in front of him with 4k to go. Sure enough, however, he soon passed me with another group of guys. Like before I fell in behind them. Unlike before, however, their pace was more maintainable.
For the next mile or so I hung tight until the group started to break up. Some fell off the back, others smelled the barn and began pushing for home. As I had started the race behind the 2:10 guy I knew I had some time to spare. As such, if I kept up, I should have no problem breaking 2:10. Hitting the 29k mark I had exactly 5 minutes to go under the desired goal time. I knew that even a slow kilometer was 4:30 and with this downhill finish, I thought I might actually push hard and salvage a 2:08:59.
As the stadium came into view I noticed I couldn’t see where the runners entered for the indoor finish. I looked at my watch and realized this was going to be much closer than it should be. Finally I saw runners turning and heading down a ramp. A clock outside showed me I had only 25 seconds to break 2:10. I gritted my teeth, made the turn down the tunnel and was immediately made blind by the change from bright sunshine to indoor darkness. My Julbo sunglasses adjusted as quickly as one could hope. However, I can see how this could be very dangerous if the smooth cement was icy even if you weren’t blinded. At the bottom of this double-tiered ramp with a flat section in the middle, we had to make another quick 90-degree turn onto the field. I felt I probably had no chance to break 2:10.
I gave it everything I had in the final yards and hit my watch well after the finish. It showed 2:10:02. I knew I had some leeway but I didn’t know how much. When I finally got the official results I found out it wasn’t enough. My time was 2:10:00.4. Oh well.
Given I have never run a 30k, my positive spin was this was an instant PR. Or, since we were in the Great White North, a PB (they call it a “personal best” here in Canada, eh.) I finished 268th out of 7,277 finishers. That is a ton of fast people in front of me. I also have a new race to recommend to people.
The volunteers were top notch, the signage on the course was very well-done and the overall logistics of the race were extremely accommodating. Also, I neglected to mention, the Around the Bay race is the oldest road race in North America. That’s right, as it proudly claims, it is “Older than Boston.” In fact, I have no doubt most of the people where were using this race as their final tune-up for Boston. In Pure Bliss, even though I had never once run a 30k I said defiantly that it was the perfect distance to tune-up for a marathon. In the U.S., few runners do anything beyond a half-marathon in the states before jumping to 26.2 miles. I can know unequivocally state my assertion about how a 30k is a great race to test yourself before running a marathon was 100% right. You owe it to yourself, as a runner, to run more 30Ks. I would suggest you start with this one right here in Hamilton, Ontario.
It’s aboot time you did.