Running

Race Recap: Hamilton's 2019 Around The Bay 30K

Around The Bay 2019 is OVER… like—way over. I’m already in the middle of an existential reel as I attempt to figure out my next move.

BUT, I wrote my way through many. Weeks. Of. Training! I owed it to myself to churn out some thoughts on the experience, and to document it—especially for any middle or back of the pack runners like me who are curious but cautious about entering this legendary Canadian race.

Around The Bay RACE RECAP:

all the physical challenge of a marathon without being so far from the finish line you question whether you’ll ever see your family again

1 - 10 KM: The Most Hamilton Race Ever

• This is the race’s 125th year, which is… pretty wicked. Swag in my race kit included a baseball cap, long-sleeved tech shirt, a special ATB magazine and a copy of iRunNation, Aveeno and Roc samples… who care let’s get to the running part.

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• Mid-run thought: Around The Bay is the most Hamilton race that ever raced because you start in the hip downtown, and then run away from the safety of 15 brunch places through the industrial district. Some people poo-poo this part, but honestly, running past the factories and the junkyards in a huge pack of people on a cold, grey March morning made me feel like a character in a dystopian novel. #KatnissEverrun

• The media will tell you this section of the race is flat, but I’m here to give you the truth—ATB keeps it spicy with a few overpasses that you have to haul up and over on your journey through to 10K. A nice little appetizer for your calves and thighs.

• Shout outs to the kid in the lawn chair playing the tuba.

• Overheard in the pack, “I figured if I run 100 miles in a week, why not run 100 miles in a day?” Uhhhhhhhhhhhmovingon.

11 - 17 KM: In Which I Also Feel “Older Than Boston”

• This is the TRUE flat section of the Around The Bay course. The wind coming off the waterfront made it chilly, but some people lined up with signs, or beating pots and pans with wooden spoons to cheer on runners and it kept the cold at bay.

• Was that a castle?

• The course offered lots of water stations. I’m not sure how long they were kept up for slower runners or walkers—people further in the back of the pack.

• Another note, this course doesn’t offer gels. Which is… kind of odd. I figure it’s some sort of “Hamilton is hardy” and “we’re older than Boston” tradition. I should Google this. (I won’t Google this.) BRING YOUR OWN GELS.

At this point I was beginning to resent the relay runners who were zipping by with Fresh Legs(tm).

• Running over the lift bridge at the half way point was dizzying and exhilarating. Not only are you half way to your goal, you’re running on a steel grate over water. So uh… Don’t look down if you have a fear of heights.

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18 - 26 KM: The Hills Are Alive (And They’re Coming To Get You)

• Around The Bay is infamous for its final leg being hills for DAYS.

• Did I mention the hills?

• There are some hills. Even the greyhound-human hybrid whiplash people who I follow on Instagram were complaining about ‘em.

• I pictured vast rolling monsters, but the reality is that many require a long, slow, dedicated ascent that had my calves screaming like Alexisonfire. They do provide some shelter from the wind, and you warm up quickly here after the Beach Boulevard stretch.

• It’s also a bit of a trip to look across the water and see the industrial district you just ran through on the other side of the bay as you run… Around The Bay.

• There are a few more aid stations and spectators along this stretch of the course. Some people had fruit or pretzels, along with the usual water and gatorade—race day angels!

• Heading off North Shore Boulevard, you run past lots of graveyards… just in case you decide finishing just isn’t an option.

• By this point though, you’re close to 25 KM, which is far enough that you can feel the rumble of the finish line in your bones and it starts to drown out any discomfort you might be in.

27 KM - Forever: THE HILL

• A woman at my work has done ATB ten times (literally) and told me once you make it past the Valley Inn Road hill, you’re good to go. She was right. After that point, the course is basically flat and or downhill.

• But here’s the thing.

• You have to get up this hill first… and it’s a HILL, right when you don’t want there to be one.

• Breaking it down: It’s a two parter, an upward grind with a flat section in the middle and then a slightly steeper incline that will have you panting to get to York Boulevard.

• I’ll say this: if you’re thinking about running this race, but you’re hesitant—don’t let the hype scare you. It’s just a hill. It’s got a bottom and a top and it does end. EVENTUALLY. I promise. Take it from another slow runner who doesn’t take any step for granted… you can do this!

• There were plenty of people on the hill to cheer the runners on the way up! (Shoutouts to Rachael and Nick! HEY!)

• Once you make it to the top, there’s a heady sort of delirium that takes over. You pour onto York Boulevard and it’s time to change gears for the last 3k.

27 - 30KM: The Home Stretch

• Heading back into the city you see the Grim Reaper, the gruesome mascot of the race. He had kindly put out signs like “The End Is Near.” He’s also on the race swag which is… pretty cool.

• Should have stopped for a photo. Didn’t stop for a photo. Too busy chugging along to the finish. Guess I’ll have to run it again sometime.

• To cross the finish line you run down a ramp into the FirstOntario Centre stadium, which was COOL. For those of us who never ran in competitions, or who will never make it to the Olympics (sad but true), you get a once-in-a-lifetime feeling of running into an arena full of people cheering for you. IT WAS WICKED.

Around The bay: The Aftermath

• Calves and thighs definitely feeling the work, more than after the Scotiabank Marathon in Toronto.

• John Stanton pulled me aside to interview me in front of the whole stadium, so that’s fun. I follow him on Twitter.

• I had to wander a long way down the finisher’s chute to get it the medal, but it was finally worth it.

• Shoutouts to Merit Brewing for making and giving me a delicious beverage. #Startedfromthebottomnowwebeer

• I would definitely run this race again. Just… maybe not next year, and with even MORE hill training in my program. It’s a challenging, fun run at a middle distance between a half and a full marathon!

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Quartet Photos: @joshteewhy

Around The Bay Training Blog #4: Nine Days and Counting

By this coming Monday morning, I’ll expect to be feeling the early buzz of race week for Around The Bay in my bones.

If it’s anything like my pre-marathon jitters, my nearest and dearest are in for a potentially wild ride. That’s when I decided it was high time to take up sewing, terrified a Running Room employee on the hunt for chews, and sang Freddie Mercury’s AYYYYOOOOOOO loudly in the car on the way to the hotel… and for… the whole night before the race.

This past week I did some work to try and eliminate the anxiety and stress I’ve experienced during training brought on by weather, mental health issues, and good old fashioned race anticipation.

My brother-in-law and I actually went out and drove the course to see just what I was in for (spoiler alert: hills). I’ve never driven a course before, but Around The Bay’s notorious rolling course was becoming mountains in my mind and I had to cut the nightmare off somewhere. The upside: I’m not afraid of the hills! Downside: I realized 30k is like… FAR, y’all.

You don’t realize how far something is until it takes you 30 minutes to drive it.

The next day, desperately craving a change of scenery and wanting a bit of a test for myself, I headed out to the course again and parked at Dundurn Castle for my long run. I plotted to go 8 km out and 8 back, but ended up doing 18 kms in total.

It was wicked. I saw birds of prey and took on the hills, I waved to my fellow trainees—the only other woman I saw running gave me a high five as we passed. Lately I’ve been struggling to keep up with running, and I think running in a completely new location made me realize I’m just… bored. The missing ingredient to the sauce right now might just be changing it up.

This next week, I’ll be trying to take my sleep and nutrition as seriously as I can. The countdown to Around The Bay is on, and I plan to be as ready as I can be for whatever race day brings.

Around The Bay Training Blog #3: Surprise Dogs and Wind Storms

The countdown continues: only 20 days left until the Around The Bay race. I’ve officially entered the phase where I begin to mentally prepare myself for a DNF (Did Not Finish) or at least some physical and mental anguish — this week, training put me through some seriously pained paces.

From what I can tell, DNF’s are a fact of running life when you’ve been out there long enough—not just for middle and back-of-the-pack people, but the human-gazelle hybrids leading the races too. Whether it’s injury or brutal conditions, many frequent racers have probably, at some point, racked up a DNF. I’m not planning on making ATB mine, but I’m trying to prepare for everything. I try not to take any run or any race for granted, just in case.

On to this week’s training recap!

Bark! A Vagrant

In the middle of hill repeats on Thursday, I was interrupted by a huge brown shape bounding out of the darkness into the streetlights, heading right towards me. It moved fast enough that I only saw “dog” and didn’t have time to register anything else about it before I screamed. The big thing ploughed clean into me and I cringed, waiting for teeth in an arm or a leg. All I got was a giant curly brown mop of a dog jumping up on me while his owners called him from the porch. (I wish I could remember the dog’s very human name, but let’s call him “Owen”.)

One of Owen’s owners came to helpfully lead him out of the street and explained the door had been opened at the wrong time and he had bolted when he saw me. I wish I could have snapped a picture with him, but I was still reeling from having not been bitten feeling a little foolish and a little relieved. Note to self: look up dog safety tips for runners. Usually I’m careful seeing large and small dogs when I’m out running—and this incident was definitely enough of a system shock to bring on some research.


A Windy Long Run

Have you ever been on a run so intensely difficult because of the weather that it made you mad at nature? Sunday’s long run was one of those. It was a literal wind storm outside, cold and drizzly. I’m talking 70-80 km gusts of wind that meant giving it your all and going almost nowhere — running in place.

It was resistance training and long run conditioning all rolled into one. I’m not going to lie, with every loop I completed, it was very tempting give up and go inside — but I didn’t. I kept going, even when my legs got tired, when the wind was cutting, and when people warned me they had seen a coyote near the road I was running on. Somewhere in the third-and-final loop, my headphones started conking out, so all I could hear was the wind roaring in my ears and the growing discomfort in my shoes and my eyes watering.

When I finally got inside, my legs were freezing and aching and I honestly can’t remember ever feeling less relieved after a run. The grim satisfaction that I had stuck it out for 24 km—with hills to boot—did not make me feel strong, it made me feel exhausted and grumpy.

I feel like all the joy and momentum I gained after last week’s run kind of evaporated, so I’m hoping to spend the next 2-3 weeks using all my hard-earned grit to push hard, look after myself, and bring back some sterling positivity.

Around The Bay Training Blog #2: The Definition of Insanity

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and blah blah blah—you know the quote. Well, this week, I put this adage to the test as I completed my Saturday long run by traversing the same loop over and over…and over. You know what? It felt great. I got in a decent amount of hill work.

Insanity is underrated.

In other news related to losing my mind, breaking the run into loops actually turned out to be an incredible mental trick. In my last blog, I wrote about the running dread that was shaking my confidence in taking on the Around The Bay race—Saturday’s run gave me a little of that confidence back.

The sky was overcast, the snow was falling in big flakes, and my socks got soaked in the slush and puddles as I went running. The hills on the route got more challenging with each loop but, somewhere in the wet March weather, I found a little bit of my running magic again.

I breathed deeply for what felt like the first time in months. My legs felt strong. I temporarily coached my ears down from their usual winter hunch up by my shoulders. I felt the drain of working hard, but did not feel exhausted.

What’s more, after the run, I felt more sure that I could handle the race’s cut off time. (That’s caused me just a little bit of pre-race nerves since I’ve been adapting and adjusting my training schedule.)

I have plans later this week to go for a drive and see exactly what I’m up against when it comes to the course, and I am hoping that looking at the obstacles first hand will help get rid of that lingering fear. Around The Bay is notorious for close to the last third of the race being ludicrously hill-ridden, which is generally the last thing you want when you’ve been grinding out roughly 20km or so.

I knew about these hills when I signed up for the run back in October, so maybe that was the crazy move on my part.

Current conclusion: insanity got me into this mess, and with a little luck, it’s probably going to get me out.

Around The Bay Training Blog #1: Waiting For Lightning

The Around The Bay race in Hamilton is coming up fast. Thirty days from now, I’ll be pinning on a number for my first-ever entry into this legendary race, older than the Boston Marathon and riddled with hills my calves are already screaming about.

I ain’t ready. I don’t feel ready anyway.

People on social media are crushing elevation for dinner and running 18-milers to prepare. Meanwhile, I’ve been struggling to fit in solid runs with all of the snow and ice we’ve been getting, and my general lack of mental energy.

I had a sturdy training plan all mapped out for ATB, and this winter’s terrible weather has forced me to tactically “wing it”, while my mental health has made believing in myself into a challenge all on its own.

Now, I’ve hit the “I am so very very sick of training” wall at the same time I’ve hit the “I am so very very scared of failing at this race” wall. We’re 4 weeks away from race day.

Cue: freaking out.

This is not how I imagined this training season going.

On the other hand, that’s the cliché “running is a metaphor for life” kicking in right? Things won’t always go according to plan and you just have to show up and do your best. You have to keep reminding yourself that you chose to do this, and you love it. It helps to remember that the worst thing that could happen is survivable. It also helps to imagine hot cups of coffee and tight hugs and tears at the finish line.

More than anything, it helps to remember that I haven’t been lying around doing NOTHING, even if I haven’t been sticking to my ambitious plan.

I’m still running 4x a week, with my long runs building in distance. I’ve been trying to incorporate hill work—last week I unplugged my headphones and ran repeats for about an hour, just me and the road. (This week, I had plans to push it even further and run MORE hills—and then we got 20 cm of snow dropped on us. I did as much as I could. I ran until I REALLY didn’t want to.)

I’ve got four weeks to mentally and physically prepare.

Cue: re-strategizing.

In the meantime, I’m still waiting to be excited. I’m still waiting for lightning.

#Streakcember In Review: Taking On A Holiday Run Streak

From December 1st to December 31st 2018 I went streaking every day.

It was thirty-one days of running from the beginning of the holiday season all the way to the last day of the year. (Even though, yes, I am one of those afflicted souls who thinks Christmas season begins after Remembrance Day.)

Some days of the run streak I finished more than a mile, some days I didn’t want to run at all, and one I almost forgot completely, busting out the running shoes at a late hour to keep the dream alive. Still, at the end of the month I was victorious—and despite the struggle, I think this is something I might keep up every December as long as I’m able.

#Streakcember has become a bizarre framework to my celebration of the holiday season. Where will I end up running my mile? How will I fit my run into the middle of all the festivities? How bad can running be with a mulled wine hangover?

It’s cause to ask me little questions of my dedication. It’s a way to keep the proverbial fire going, even when I’m too busy to put in more distance. Oh, yeah—and a great way to scope out all the houses in the neighbourhood with the best Christmas lights.

Because of Streakcember I’ve dashed through the snow on Christmas day. I’ve run in a Santa costume and also jeans and my old lawn-mowing sneakers when I ended up at my parent’s house and had no gear.

It’s the bizarre determination and utilitarian spirit of the challenge which keeps me coming back for more. You make it work. The distance is small enough that up-and-quitting isn’t necessarily a real option. There’s the fact that when you’re done, it feels like a Christmas miracle and you start the new year off with a little extra pride at what you finished.

#Streakcember, it was a blast. I’ll see you in just about twelve months.

For now, we have memories. And this video—1 second of footage for every day of running in December. So in a way, like… WAY better than memories.