Relay, Relay! Around the Bay a different way

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Sunday was the Around the Bay 30K road race in Hamilton, Ontario. It’s a road race that prides itself on being the oldest road race in North America, older even than Boston. In 2015 I did the 30K. You can read about that challenge of mind and body here.  At the time, it was the furthest I’d ever run. And though the Grim Reaper didn’t take me down, I didn’t have an easy time of it.

Flash forward to this year. With a full marathon and several half marathons behind me, I felt ready to do Around the Bay again, but the “lite” version. Namely, the two-person relay. I talked Julie into it one after back in November and before she could bail I signed us up an collected her registration fee. We chose our team name: Steady She Goes. And we had the whole winter to train (oh joy! winter training).

15K seems eminently reasonable. Before long, we’d recruited some company — Anita and Violetta formed their own team, Hippy Chicks. You can also do a three-person relay for ATB. My running coach, Linda, signed on for that.

From right to left Tracy (short blond hair) in pink running jacket, Anita (with black ear band) in burgundy running jacket, Julie (with long blond hair, loose) in blue running jacket, and Violetta (with long brown hair, loose) in black winter coat. Everyone is smiling, standing arm in arm in front of a red Clif banner at the bottom of the stairs in First Ontario Centre. Other runners in the background.

Each relay is limited to just 250 teams. And that’s why you have to make an early commitment. The real buzz around the race is of course the 30K. There are literally thousands of people running the 30K, as opposed to just 500 runners doing 15K each on two-person teams, and 750 runners doing 10K each on the three-person teams.

As we like to do on the blog when we’ve pulled a group together to do an event, we’re going to give you a little taste of what each of us experienced that day. Anita and I ran the first 15K for our respective teams, meeting Julie and Violetta at the 15K mark to change timing chips so they could carry on for the rest of the race. So we’ll each tell you how it was for us, and Linda will give us her thoughts on her 10K as the first runner of her relay team.

Tracy (Team Steady She Goes, Runner #1)

I felt relieved, so very relieved, that I wasn’t doing the 30K. Despite that, by the night before the race I’d already thought I might like to do the 30K next year. I don’t know how these things happen to me, but I get caught up and next thing you know…

It was a cold, windy, grey morning on Sunday. Thankfully, the rain that had been forecast earlier in the week didn’t materialize or else it would’ve been totally miserable. Julie, Anita, and I left our Air BnB a little late to find decent parking. But as we approached downtown we got jazzed up listening to Kelis sing “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.” I don’t know what it means, but it got us into a good mood.  We drove around to several lots until we finally arrived at one where we felt scammed, but less than we’d have felt at the first lot we tried.

After some phoning and texting, we hooked up with Violetta just inside the First Ontario Place (formerly Copps Coliseum). The finish line is inside the arena, the start on the road outside the arena. The whole place was teeming with people. Thousands. We paused for our mandatory photos. I almost lost Anita on our last bathroom break before the race start. I’m so glad I found her in our plan B meet-up spot because we helped each other stay on task through the race.

The first 15K of Around the Bay helps to drive home the point that Hamilton is, indeed, a steel town. It takes you through industrial areas and on the highway, with its overpasses and ramps. There’s nothing picturesque about it. Windy and dreary with lots of ups and downs.

Anita and I had the goal of doing it in — wait for it — 1:45. Okay, I know that doesn’t make us speedsters. But it seemed reasonable to expect that we could maintain a 35 minute 5K pace for 3x5K in a row.

And we did. In fact, we did even better at 1:43. Not only that, I felt amazing the whole time. Linda sent some excellent advice about how to strategize the different segments of the race — when to go easy, when to pay attention, when to pick up the pace, and when to really pick up the pace.

Instead of our usual 10-1 intervals, we went to 10 minutes running and 30 seconds walking. But we skipped quite a few of the walk breaks because we had a good rhythm going and didn’t see the point of interrupting it. All that paid off. And for the last 3K we didn’t stop at all. We pushed the pace for the last 1K, reminding ourselves that we had no need to leave anything in the tank for later. I felt really pumped knowing we were coming in under our goal time. Next thing we knew, we caught site of Julie and Violetta at the side of the road. We ran over the timing mat and met them on the other side.

They were freezing from waiting. Julie could hardly feel her hands so I swapped out the chip, fixing it to her shoe. I gave her a big hug and sent her on her way for the last 15K. Much prettier, but also a constant stream of rolling hills. I’ll let her tell you about that.

All in all I felt good about our time. But being the first of a relay team isn’t all its cracked up to be. There is no mechanism for meeting your team mate at the finish line. They get both medals and just hand you yours when you manage to meet up in the stands after. And there’s a lot of waiting around. Kind of anti-climactic if you ask me. So that might be enough to spur me on for the 30K next year, even though 15K is a great distance. On the upside, I have a year to prep!

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Tracy (right) and Anita (left) on the bus after their 15K, feeling pretty good about it all.

Anita (Team Hippy Chicks, Runner #1)

I was pumped to do the first half of the 30km relay this year. Previously I did the second half, and it nearly killed me, but I’d heard that the first half was easier. And 15Km! we do that all the time!

My biggest worry was the halfway mark where I had to give the timing chip to my partner, Violetta (and Tracy had to do the same with Julie). First there was the actual getting the chip off my shoe and attaching it, flat, to Violetta’s shoe. Fortunately last time I learned a neat trick: use safety pins to secure the chip rather than trying to tie it to your laces (too much time!). (It was still a bit difficult on account of my fatigue and her frozen fingers). Then I had to pack a bag of stuff that Violetta could give to me as I finished my part of the relay. It was a bit stressful anticipating everything I might need at that moment (sweatshirt, food, jacket, phone, money, health card…).

But the most stressful part was that I knew, from past experience, that actually finding your partner as you come running towards the hordes of relay partners could be problematic. I raised this issue…but no one was taking me seriously. I suggested that Violetta hold a balloon so I could spot her quickly. My kids suggested painting our faces to see each other in the crowd. Another suggestion was wearing a distinctive hat, but unfortunately we really couldn’t anticipate the weather. In the end, we relied on Violetta’s bright pink jacket, and Julie’s quick thinking as she waved a pink blanked up and down with full force as we came down the road.  And with that, we did our quick exchange of tags and bags, and away they went.

All in all it was a great race for Tracy and I in that we beat our anticipated time by 2 minutes (yeah!) and for the first time we felt in control of our pace throughout the whole race. In fact, we were all awesome – Team Steady as She Goes and Team Hippy Chicks rocked it!

Violetta (Team Hippy Chicks, Runner #2)

I’ve always said that a 15k race would be the perfect distance, of course, that was when running a half marathon and so needing to run 6 more kilometres after getting more or less comfortably to the 15k mark.  So when I heard that about the Around the Bay relay, I couldn’t say “no”.  When I told some friends who had done the ATB before, they immediately asked if I was doing the second half.  I didn’t know it but the second half is all hills, mainly rolling hills but one ridiculous monster hill.  But that isn’t the only thing that made this run tough.  The weather was incredibly cold—this didn’t register so much if you checked the temperature (which was 2 Celcius) and not even if you noticed that there was a windchill factor (-4 Celcius).  What would actually be beautiful scenery on a warm day, running along Eastport drive with the bay on one side and Lake Ontario on the other was the most challenging bit of the whole run.  The winds were blowing and the waves were crashing and I literally covered my face to make it through.  Maybe I’m a suck but that was probably the least pleasant 10 minutes of running I’ve ever done.  Psychologically, I’m thinking maybe it was helpful because after that, even Heartbreak Hill was easy (ok, maybe not easy, but certainly doable).

Outside the weather, there were two other things that made this run challenging.  The first was my too-laid-back training regime.  In contrast to how seriously I took my half marathon prep, I just figured I’d be able to get away with much less for a 15k.  I think I was ultimately right about that but I wasn’t as confident going in.  The other challenge was that I was going to run this race alone for the most part.  In the past, I’ve always run with my friend Diana and we’ve talked and encouraged each other throughout.  This time, I started the run with Julie but we parted ways after a few kilometres because she does the run/walk whereas I run continuously.  Thank goodness she was there at the beginning for the hard part!  While I still prefer to run with a partner, I did prove to myself that I could do it on my own.

It was a little surreal crossing the finish line which is inside Copps Coliseum full of supporters cheering.  I was happy to meet up with Tracy and Anita and compare stories.  But the cherry on top was being surprised by my husband and daughters who were actually there!  It was one of those moments where I felt proud of myself and content with my life—and that is worth more than the medal I got.

Julie (Team Steady She Goes, Runner #2) (written by Tracy)

Julie didn’t get her report in, so I’ll summarize her experience. After waiting Violetta at the 15K mark for me and Anita to arrive, Julie was freezing. She had a fleecy pink blanket, but that wasn’t enough to keep her warm for almost two hours.

Also: Julie hates running alone. And her two main training partners, me and Anita, were running the first half. And Violetta doesn’t do 10-1s, which is the mainstay of Julie’s approach. She lives for the 1 minute intervals. She did find a woman who she was pretty evenly paced with, but instead of running together, the two of them kept apace without making an explicit commitment to stick it out together. I got the impression at lunch that if she had to do it over, Julie might have reached out more directly to that woman.

And then there were the  rolling hills. The second half of ATB is all rolling hills. Until the final hill, which is deceptive and brutal, Deceptive in that it looks as if it’s about to be over and the you round the bend and boom, more hill. Brutal in that it just goes on and on and on.

Between the hills and running alone, Julie found it hard to stay motivated to keep running. She admitted at lunch that she took more walk breaks than she probably needed, just because there was no one to keep her going, to pace her, to encourage her to stay with a plan. You see, Julie doesn’t care that much about time even though, really, she’s inherently faster than either Anita or me.

Maybe her desire to run alongside someone will be enough for me to convince Julie to do the 30K with me next year when Anita is in the UK.

Linda (Team Awesome, Three-Person Relay, Runner #1)

Training for a race is easy compared to that tricky decision: What to wear on race day? I dislike feeling cold and yet I perform best when I can dissipate the body heat created when racing. ‘Linda’s Race Dress Rules’ to the rescue:

  1. Above 0 degrees C, it’s shorts. (Underdressed beats overdressed.)
  2. Keep the body warm prerace.

Sunday I headed outside early for an easy ‘wake up the body’ jog. My tunes woke up the brain. Overnight ‘race elves’ had erected white metal barriers, orange pylons, and portapotties, transforming the city streets into a race course. Things looked good; things felt good. Liked that a lot.

As first runner on the team, I lined up in the Start corrals downtown.  Loud cheering arose as we passed a gigantic Canadian Flag overhead. Start! About 2.5K I tried to toss my arm warmers to the sidelines. Instead the wind took charge and flew them to parts unknown. The long-sleeve tee and vest got unzipped. Yeah, right choice in clothes.

My goal for Sunday was to run a 10K tempo with a controlled pace. My focus on rhythmic breathing, quick turnover, and relaxed body put me in the zone, the process. ‘Landing lightly, Osprey fly, Fast feet, Fast feet, Through the sky’. Didn’t’ matter to me that the only birds I could see were the seagulls zipping by in the NE 33K wind. Lucky seagulls—they had the wind at their backs. I didn’t. Nevertheless there was an exhilarating freshness to the strong spring gusts.

Before I knew it I was approaching the finish. That’s when I misjudged the exchange location and started my 800m sprint too soon. Holding my pace while climbing the long overpass gave me an opportunity to see what I could do. Did it. Waved my partner goodbye. Smiled knowing I had run well and had made an excellent contribution to the team–Team Awesome! Yes we were.

If you want to enjoy the energy of the Around the Bay road race but feel that 30K is too daunting, consider trying one of the relays. And if you do, it might tempt you to try the 30 next time (as it has tempted me for 2018…). 🙂

About Tracy I

Writer, feminist, vegan, triathlete, sailor, philosopher, sometimes knitter.

5 thoughts on “Relay, Relay! Around the Bay a different way

  1. Crave_Life says:

    Congrats! It is funny how the 30km race really pulls at you doesn’t it? I know. I have done it 9 times and this year was supposed to be number 10. Trained for 3 months and the week and a half before the race I blew out my IT band. Never happened to me before. I decided to forego the race but went down to cheer on friends who were running. The atmosphere is great and I love/hate this race. lol

    If you are looking for a great run for the fall, give the Run for the Toad a try in October. It is a 25km trail race in Paris, Ontario. The run is awesome and the swag is really good too! lol

    All the best in your training for ATB 2018! Hope to see you there!

    Like

    • Tracy I says:

      Sorry to hear about your IT band. What a bummer. I think everyone has a love-hate with ATB. For one thing, 30K is a long way. But also, the weather is so unpredictable. I’m sure over your ten years you’ve experienced all sorts of conditions! Happy healing!

      And thanks for the tip about the Run for the Toad. 25K seems like a good distance but on trails it would be a long race (I’m assuming trail running is slower).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. klyse3 says:

    Good job, ladies! It’s neat to hear about the different strategies and experiences all from the same race. 🙂

    Like

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