Sunday was the Around the Bay 30K in Hamilton, Ontario. It’s a road race famous for a hilly final 10K, unpredictable weather conditions, and, as it’s slogan reminds us, for being “Older than Boston.” Anita and I have been prepping for this all winter, though we followed different training plans.
I adjusted my distance training for intensity after I got back from India. I blogged that I was nervous about that approach, but I stuck with it anyway, trusting my coach, Linda. Anita stuck with the distance plan, doing super long Sunday runs up to 28K. We went to Hamilton the day before so we could pick up our race kits and take it easy (hotel with a hot tub!). We met up with Helia, another friend who was doing the 30K with us.
Both Anita and I were surprisingly relaxed about the event. I didn’t feel a single bit of nerves or fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Anita’s goal was just to finish. Helia wanted to finish “without dying.” I was a bit more ambitious, wanting to beat my previous time (from 2014) by almost 10 minutes to come in at 3:30 instead of 3:40-ish.
The weather forecast kept changing–going from 6 degrees C down to a high of 2C by the night before, and when we woke up it had snowed overnight. As we walked to the race start (about 2K from our hotel), I predicted that the person with the most optimistic attitude (me!) would probably end up either complaining first (in fact, none of us ever complained) or falling behind (which I did).
It’s one of those races with a big buzz at the start line because there are something like 30,000 people gathering to do a thing that is one of those bonding experiences.
My strategy for any race is to divide it up into sections. For a 30K the most obvious division is into 3 10Ks. The course literally does go Around the Bay for 30K, taking us out of the city into the industrial areas that remind you that yes, Hamilton is a steel town, along the highway, through middle class then super wealthy residential neighborhoods, up a mean hill, then back past the start and into the First Ontario Centre Arena where the finish line awaits. Because it goes around the bay, the wind changes quite a bit, and it can get kind of chilly at times.
But despite waking up to snow, the roads were dry the full distance of the course and though it might have been cold at times without my running jacket, the jacket was just enough to keep me from getting cold in the wind. It’s always a relief to have dressed “just right.”
So, back to the 3x10K idea. Really, the first 10K was over before we knew it. I ran along at a comfortable pace, mostly with Anita and Helia, who were quite chatty for that first 10K. I try not to talk too much because it takes my energy away. But I ran just a few feet ahead of them and listened to their conversation for quite a few kilometres. A couple of times Angie, the clinic leader from my first Running Room Around the Bay Clinic in 2014, caught up to us and ran along for a bit until she stopped to take a photo. (her strategy was to have as much fun as possible). Then she would catch up again, run ahead, and we’d pass her taking more photos along the course.
Things got quieter at about the 15K mark, but we still kept up what felt like a reasonable pace. I didn’t have my Garmin with me, but I hit start on the chrono feature of my Timex, so if I wanted to, I could check how long we had been out. I mostly didn’t check. At about 20K, we entered some swishy residential neighbourhood, and that’s when the rolling hills started. They’re really not so bad, especially after the majority of the previous 20K being flat, and for every up you get a down to catch your breath. I stuck to my training plan of not walking up the hills even if it meant taking it to a slow jog.
It all felt good up to about 25K. Just before that point, Helia, who is a bit younger and a bit faster than us, finally decided to break away (I was encouraging her to do it sooner but she worried that if she turned on the turbo too early the hills might defeat her). At about 25k, there is a gradual up hill on a major road. It’s long, but not steep. It was there where my legs started to tighten up and I told Anita to leave me. I knew I had to stop and stretch it out because my quads felt as if they were going to seize right up at any second. It was a new feeling for me and I didn’t want to leave it unaddressed or make Anita lose her momentum on my account.
After stretching, I made it to the top of that hill without walking. Everyone always talks about the final hill in Around the Bay as the killer. The last time I did ATB. road construction changed the route and took that hill out. So I had not experienced it before. When I got to it, I didn’t realize I was there yet. I saw Anita up ahead, walking, so I gunned it (in relative terms!) to catch up, but as soon as I got there she was about to start running again, and I was having those “quads-about-to-seize-up” feelings in my legs again. So we said hello-good-bye. Anita disappeared up the hill and into the tunnel. I stopped and stretched again. And I basically had to give up my running up the hill thing at that point. I walked to the top. Maybe it was on account of being dehydrated, I thought. So I took some water. Or maybe I needed food. So I popped a chew.
The last 3-4 K are bit of a blur. I passed the Grim Reaper at the graveyard just near the 3K aid station where I slowed down to take some water and Gatorade. At that point my legs were pretty much done but I remembered Linda’s advice to keep to at least a jog. My cardio strength felt great. If my legs would have cooperated, I would have been able to go in to high gear for the final 3K. But the most I could do was keep moving.
Linda is big on counting rhymes as motivators. I couldn’t remember any of hers, so I made up my own, which I basically repeated for the final 3K. It went like this: “1-2-3-4, I CAN do more! 5-6-7-8, my legs FEEL GREAT!” It was simple and motivating, even though I did debate with the last part a few times. The internal dialogue went, “they do NOT feel great.” And then “shhhh…they feel great considering you’ve run almost 30K.” And then I started the rhyme over again. And again. And again. I didn’t have to contest the first part. I knew for a fact that I could do more, that I could finish that 30K without having to walk into the arena. Instead of listening to music, I stayed present to the event and that helped me stay focused rather than zone out.
The final stretch of ATB is flat and not especially picturesque. But you can see exactly where you need to go. It’s the only course I’ve ever done that ends inside. You approach the arena and then run down a fairly steep ramp and the next thing you know you’re inside, entering the arena, crossing the finish line. It’s kind of amazing how when I do these events I have just enough in my tank to get me that far. After that I was sort of staggering around, a little bit confused, maybe with a silly smile on my face because; DONE! and… FOOD.
The first thing they do is give you a bottle of water. Then someone handed me an empty grocery bag and then I entered the food area where they threw all sorts of things into my bag. And suddenly, I was really hungry and there was nothing I wanted more than that banana. Well, maybe I wanted to lie down a little more than I wanted the banana, but I knew I wouldn’t make it back up again, so I ate the banana as I was going upstairs to find Anita and Helia at our appointed spot.
I found Anita, or she found me. I desperately needed to stretch. We found Helia and her family sitting in the stands. Thankfully her husband drove the van to the venue because I do not think I would’ve made it the 2K back to the hotel if we had to walk.
We basically spent the rest of the day eating and not being able to walk. All in all, it was a brilliant event and though I had a tough final 5K, I call it a strong finish because I finished mentally more strong than ever before.
And not just during that final 5K. I was telling my friend Tara last night that I literally feel like a stronger person today than I did on Friday. When I do these things, like Around the Bay, that aren’t for anyone other than myself, it reminds me that I am strong and capable and confident and even sort of fearless. I loved my attitude throughout the race. I think this is the first time that I was with people and didn’t complain even once. Even when I had to stop and stretch I didn’t complain. I just got pragmatic about what I needed and took care of it.
I wouldn’t take this to mean that I’m rushing out to do another Around the Bay 30K (even though, since I beat my previous time I could actually get a 10% discount if I register for next year). I shuffled around today, having some difficulty getting up out of chairs and so forth. I have decided that my favourite distance is 10K. I like training for it and I enjoy the 10K events. I’m happy enough do to the occasional half marathon too. I mean, Sunday’s race didn’t feel difficult until the 25K mark, so if it had been a half, ending at 21K, I could have turned up the volume for that final bit.
This week is for rest and recovery. Stretching. Physio. Baths. Yoga. Gentle running later in the week. Sleep. Doing what makes sense this week also helps me feel strong.
What’s your definition of a strong finish?