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.
• 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.
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!
Quartet Photos: @joshteewhy