I went to Hamilton this weekend to finally learn for myself why so many people love this race.
When I had first learned about it back in 2006 as a tough 30k course in Hamilton notorious for wind, rain, and often miserable weather, I think I vowed to myself that I would never do it…
Finally though, curiosity gets the better of you and you need to see for yourself.
What is it about this race that can possibly attract 10,000+ runners every year?? I was going to find out.
I ran with a friend from Ottawa and both of us were training through the race with no plans for any taper or rest before-hand.The plan was to make it a “marathon pace” training run and cover the 30km at a 4:20 – 4:30 / km pace landing somewhere between 2:10 and 2:15 with a negative split despite the hills on the back half.
We started really far back in the pack and took a while to get moving, hitting the first km marker at 5:40… from there, we moved up to 4:30/km and eventually settled into 4:20/km until we were running with the 2:15 rabbit and his (at that time) sizeable crew.
It was also around this time that we realized that we were no longer anywhere near the action at Cops Coliseum, and despite this, there had really been no lonely section of the course. Local residents were out in full force… some of them with their own make-shift aide stations set up at the bottom of their driveways.
Bananas, sliced oranges, and pretzels for all!
Into 23 and 24 kilometres, the support on the course was not letting up… it was still lined with spectators with giant novelty hands and other costumes. The encouragement just kept coming.
It was hard at this point not to realize it… the Around the Bay Road Race has the best thing going for it. It has what most major Canadian road races are still missing; a fully-engaged, proud, and supportive community.
It became very easy to understand how groups of tour buses from cities upwards of 6-8 hours away had come in to participate, and how they’ve been doing that for over a decade.
Shortly after crossing the 20k marker at 1:29 and change, on pace for just under 2:15 we decided to cut ourselves loose from what remained of the 2:15 group and shoot for a negative split. We charged the final big hill with plenty of steam and moved steady on a 4:15 pace to 27k.
With plenty of gas left in the tank we closed the final three kilometres of the race on a sub 4-minute pace, which I suppose would suggest that we didn’t run hard enough at the start…
Or maybe that last bit of energy wasn’t really “on reserve” at all… Maybe that’s one of the things you can gain from running a challenging course with less-than-ideal weather conditions, but with an overwhelming amount of support.
Regardless… I can now say with certainty that “I get it.” And that Around the Bay is most definitely a race well-deservinga of its 10,000+ participants.