Around the Bay Road Race 2018

Posted: April 1, 2018 in My Story, Race Reports, Travel
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Around the Bay

Older than Boston‘ is the tagline of Hamilton’s Around the Bay Road Race, which celebrated its 124th anniversary in 2018. I registered for Around the Bay 30K back in November, combining it with a visit home. As it turned out, Around the Bay was timed perfectly with my training cycle for the upcoming Eugene Marathon. Throw in perfect (if chilly) running weather, the enthusiasm of an entire city, and I couldn’t have asked for a better race – went off without a hitch!

When we decided it was time for a visit to Ontario, I looked up what races were happening nearby. Around the Bay Road Race seemed ideal – the timing in late March was just right and the Hamilton location well-suited to visit family and friends. Also, with Eugene Marathon just 5 weeks away, the 30-kilometre distance easily took the place of what would otherwise have been a 30k training run.

I was intrigued by the history of Around the Bay. The race started back on Christmas Day of 1894, three years before the first running of the Boston Marathon. Canadian runners of Around the Bay went on to win the Boston Marathon in the early 1900’s, and the race gained a reputation among long distance runners. You can read more about its interesting history on the website.

Pre-Race

We arrived in Ontario midweek, providing ample time to get over the jetlag and 3-hour time difference. On Saturday morning, my Dad joined us as we drove from Barrie to Hamilton to pick up my race package. The Expo was held at FirstOntario Centre (formerly Copps Coliseum) in downtown Hamilton.

Around the Bay

Inside the main doors, we trekked up a long flight of stairs to the Expo at the concourse level, which wrapped around the perimeter of the Coliseum. There were lots of booths and vendors promoting gear and races, but I only stopped to buy some nuun Hydration (and receive a Toronto-branded water bottle for my dad) and to purchase a long-sleeved grey souvenir shirt for just $5!

Around the Bay Around the Bay

At the far end of the concourse, we reached bib pickup. I had my bib, timing chip and race shirt in hand within minutes, received a bag with some promotional material, and completed my timing chip check. Pushing aside a curtain, we could see the floor of the Coliseum far below, where the race would finish the next morning!

Around the Bay

Then, the long walk back around the concourse…all the way to where we had come in. For security reasons, I understand why they had locked every other entrance, but the fact that we had to retrace our steps was a minor annoyance.

Nonetheless, we were now free for the remainder of the day. We met friends for lunch and then headed to nearby Dundas to stay with my aunt and uncle, who graciously put us up for the weekend. As per my training routine, I went for a 5k shakeout run in the residential area around the house.

Around the Bay

By nightfall, the wind had picked up and it was bitingly cold. As I laid out my gear for the next morning, I wondered how much I would truly need to wear.

Around the Bay

Race Morning

I knew it would be below zero. But when I checked my weather app and saw this:

Around the Bay

Well, I shuddered.

After much internal debate, I donned three layers on the top and two layers on the bottom, including tights. Toque (bright orange BibRave BUFF!) and gloves, plus a neck-warming BUFF. And sunglasses, because it was a brilliantly sunny morning!

Start time was a perfectly civilized 9:30am, so Dad and my honey dropped me off about a kilometre from the start line around 8:30am. My warmup run was windy and brisk, and then I did a few drills to get myself into the swing of things. Fortunately, Jackson Square Mall (next to FirstOntario Centre) was open, so I slipped inside for a bit of warmth and a washroom break.

Then, to the start line!

Around the Bay

With a loose race goal of 2 hours 45 minutes, I had seeded myself in the Green corral, ahead of the Relay runners. I took a gel, and waited for the starting gun. The announcer did a general welcome, but then they seemed to have trouble with the sound system. Suddenly, with no gun and no fanfare, the 2018 Around the Bay Road Race was under way!

Here’s a screen grab from the start line video – found myself!

Around the Bay

On the Course

Here’s a map of the route:

Around the Bay

Part I: Industrial Hamilton

The race headed out along York Boulevard but soon took a sharp left turn onto James Street, and we headed towards the lake. This is a historical part of Hamilton, lots of old buildings and storefronts. Outside of Christ’s Church Cathedral, the priests and some church members were cheering and waving palm branches (it was Palm Sunday), and the church bells were ringing. What a great and enthusiastic start to the race!

We reached the waterfront at 3k and headed east. The wind was blowing the flags on the ships straight out. It was cold. I was glad for my many layers.

For the next 8 kilometres, the race headed east into more and more industrial sections of Hamilton. The city – known as Steel Town – is home to major steel manufacturers. We were graced with some unique smells along the way. And while it wasn’t particularly scenic, the sun was shining and the route was essentially flat, with one small overpass to climb.

As instructed by Coach Tony, I took it easy during this first 10k and maintained a consistent, controlled pace. I felt strong.

Part II: Across the Bay

The first relay exchange at 10k was at the top of an on-ramp loop, and we veered north toward Lake Ontario. The road here overlapped with the final kilometres of the Hamilton Road2Hope Half Marathon, which I ran back in 2016, so I was in familiar territory.

Onto Beach Boulevard, heading slightly northwest along a narrow strip of land – with the whipping waves of Lake Ontario on the right, and the waters of Hamilton Habour (aka Burlington Bay) on the left. Many local residents were out cheering us along, a few banging pots and pans, and one rattling a pot along the bars of a metal fence.

Right after the 15k relay exchange point, we crossed the historical Burlington Canal Lift Bridge and knew that the race was halfway done!

Around 18k we turned left again and headed west on North Shore Boulevard in Burlington.

Part III: Rolling Hills

The final third of the race was by far the most challenging – both mentally and physically. The scenery on the north side of the bay included tree-lined streets and charming homes. We passed the Burlington Golf and Country Club. We could see glimpses of the lake. In exchange? Undulating hills. Gradual ups and downs that provided variety, but also struggles. At the same time, I shouldn’t overstate how hard the hills were; none too steep or especially memorable. Except for one…

We passed two cemeteries on our left overlooking the bay – the residents of these ironically having some of the best views in the area. The Royal Botanical Gardens on the right. The bells of West Plains United Church ringing as we ran by.

Then a steep downhill, across a foot bridge…and a guy yelling: “There is no hill.”

But there was a hill. 

It’s the Valley Inn Road hill – and at the 26k mark, it’s tough. But there was tons of encouragement, people in costume, cheering spectators wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags. Here’s a video of Around the Bay’s own ‘Heartbreak Hill’:

Finally things flattened out on York Boulevard. Unexpectedly, I heard my name called – it was Sandra, the one person I knew running this race! She had spotted by orange toque!

Alongside the Hamilton Cemetery, the Grim Reaper was handing out ‘low fives’. I spotted myself in the video at 1:01 (watch for the orange toque behind the pace bunny!)

I caught up with the 2:45 pace bunny at this point. I still had energy. I picked up my pace and felt confident that this race would be a success.

Crowds were cheering on both side of the finishing chute. My honey was there to catch me mid-stride:

Around the Bay

A final sharp turn, down a ramp into the Coliseum, and a sprint to the finish on the floor of FirstOntario Centre. The race was done ahead of my goal with a time of 2:44:07!

Around the Bay

Post-Race

I caught up with Sandra for a selfie at the finish line.

Around the Bay

We headed out together to collect our medals, and fill our bags with goodies: banana, Rice Krispie square, energy bar, apple juice…and much-needed water. Up and escalator and back out into the cold and sunshine. Around the Bay 2018 – what a great event!

The rest of the day was spent with family, celebrating the imminent birth of a new baby cousin – the perfect way to end the day!

Final Results

Chip time: 2:44:07
Average pace: 5:28 min/km
Overall place: 1330/3924
Place in age category:169/356

Click here for complete race results


Quick Recap – Around the Bay Road Race 30K

Social Media: Around the Bay Road Race has heaps of information on their website, and provides plenty of information via email leading up to the race. Oddly, while they are active on all social media channels, they only mention Facebook on their website.

Other social channels:  Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Packet Pickup: As mentioned, the Expo encircled the concourse of FirstOntario Centre. We had to climb some steep stairs to the concourse level, and walk almost the entire circumference of the building to reach bib pickup, and then retrace our steps to get out again. I had my dad in tow, and felt bad for making him walk so far. I kind of wish there had been an exit at the far end. Nevertheless, there were lots of great vendors and a positive vibe.

T-Shirt/Swag: We received a long-sleeved slightly-darker-than baby blue technical shirt, but even the small was a bit big for me. Fortunately, my honey recommended picking up a grey souvenir shirt for $5, which I absolutely love! The finisher medal is iconically Canadian, and a solid piece of bling.

Course: The first 20 kilometres are essentially flat, taking runners through industrial Hamilton and then alongside the waters of Lake Ontario. Things are more scenic, and hilly, during the final 10k. I enjoy the loop course, ending where you start, because it provides a great sense of fulfilment. Finishing on the floor of the Coliseum to the cheer of crowds is also invigourating!

Post-Race: We got a decent selection of food at the finish line, and a bag to carry everything in. As far as I can tell, there isn’t really a post-race ‘party’, but I didn’t stick around to find out because I had a baby shower to attend!

Would I Run It Again? The 30k distance is great – pushing limits beyond the half marathon, but not busting up your body like a full. It was great to be back in a familiar part of Ontario, with the chance to connect with friends and family. I’m tempted to run next year’s 125th Anniversary race, so you may just see me on course again!

Around the Bay

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