fitness · race report

Relay, Relay! Around the Bay a different way

IMG_0003

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!

IMG_0009
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…). 🙂

running · training · Uncategorized

Around the Bay Countdown

around the bay race logo -- around the bay road race with 30K in a red maple leaf in the lower left cornerThank you to everyone who commented not too long ago on my post “Hitting the Winter Running Wall.” Your comments all made me feel supported and actually kind of badass.

Betty and Jessica both said I was tough.  Steph said she was in awe. Caitlin said she was impressed. And a whole bunch of people offered suggestions (like existentialangst’s suggestion that maybe runners in Saskatchewan, on the prairies, could help me dress for the cold) and tons of encouragement (“it’s almost over” and “stick with it”) and commiseration (“I’m right there with you” and “winter running is so hard”).

The result: I stuck with my plan last week and got out there on Wednesday night and Thursday night — both with windchills in the high minus 20-range — and again for my long run on Sunday. And it all felt great.  If it hadn’t been for the support and for my public declaration that I would stick to my plans and attend all clinic runs last week, I would not have stepped out the door on Wednesday night or Thursday night.

I also have some incentive: I signed up for the Around the Bay 30K and it’s less than one month from now, on March 29th.

The Around the Bay Road Race is steeped in history. It is the oldest race in North America. Yes, it’s older than Boston by a few years:

Hamilton’s Around the Bay Road Race is the oldest on the continent, first run in 1894, three years before the Boston Marathon. Rich in tradition, it has been won by the best from around the world, including Boston Marathon winners and Olympic gold medallists. Become part of the continuing tradition by running this challenging course around Hamilton’s natural harbour!

The race director came to talk to the clinic last week (another reason I went out at all — and I was still reserving judgment about going for the run, but once you’re there, and everyone else is going, and it’s only 6K anyway, and you dressed for it, and the blog post…).

He told us some of the race’s venerable history. Canadians just love a thing that distinguishes us among Americans. It’s like that when you’re north of the most powerful country in the world, ten times your population. So of course he told us this:

In the early 1900’s, Jack Caffery and William Sherring battled it out and won two “Bay” races each. Caffery went on to stun the Americans at the Boston Marathon in 1900, by being the first Canadian to win Boston.

To add insult to injury, Hamilton’s William Sherring and Fred Hughson placed second and third, behind Caffery, making it a Canadian sweep. Caffery rubbed it in even further by coming back the next year 1901, to win Boston again.

Not to be outdone by Caffery, William Sherring went on to win the 1906 Olympic Marathon in Athens, Greece, making him a Canadian hero.

Tommy Longboat

That same year, Tommy Longboat, an Onondaga from Six Nations near Caledonia, won the “Bay” race and the next year in 1907, surprised everyone by winning the Boston Marathon. Hamilton’s James Duffy also went on to win the 1914 Boston Marathon, after two Consecutive Bay wins.

So that’s the race history. It’s also supposed to be a tough race. They say if you can do ATB, you are ready for any marathon.  I’m afraid to ask why exactly, but it has to do with hills. The race has some rolling hills, but it also traditionally has a super tough steep hill in the last 5K.

But not this year. Road work has forced a detour. So the hill that breaks more hearts than Heartbreak Hill will not be on this year’s course. That fact has divided the pack: 50% are relieved as all hell (those are my people) and 50% feel ripped off that they’re not getting the full challenge (who are you people?).

It’s just a few weeks  until the race. I started training specifically for this event with a Running Room group back in November. It’s a long commitment, but doing a clinic that culminates in a particular event is the best way for me to make it through the winter without bailing.

My training schedule got interrupted by that blasted knee injury (if you care, you can read about it in my post “Re-Connecting with Chi Running: Chi Marathon Training”), which coincided with snow, frigid temperatures, and the dreaded “wind chill factor, and then a vacation where it was a lot easier to kayak than to run.

So far I’ve maxed out at 26K.  I scaled it back a bit about a month ago, but I’m ready to test things again on Sunday. Last week I stayed cautious. I chose fartlek over hill repeats on Wednesday because my physiotherapist recommended against hills (confession: he also recommended against speed work but what’s wrong with a few fartleks? It’s Swedish for speed play, not speed work).

Come Sunday, I opted for 15K with Anita and our friend Julie instead of the 28K everyone else was doing. Anita signed up for the ABT two-person relay (15K each). Julie and I were lamenting that we had not. And now it’s too late because the relay is all filled up.  So we’re doing 30K whatever else happens!

With those training runs last week I experienced no difficulties with the knee (I am touching wood right now).  So this week I went back out for the speed play last night.  I need to try squeezing in a 6K today but I’m not sure that will happen.  And on Sunday I may just take a very, very slow 28K with the group.  My actual plan was for 20K, but if I feel okay and am not having any knee pain, I’m going to do 8 more.

The end of winter is kind of in sight. Not that it’s really warmer. We had some reprieve yesterday where it actually went above zero, but as I sit here all cozy in my bed with my laptop right now, it’s -17C outside and Environment Canada says the mercury is only creeping up to -11C today, but there’s a windchill of -25C for this morning. Yes, it’s as cold as it sounds.

But it’s March. And usually by the end of March the snow has all melted. Sometimes on St. Patrick’s Day the students have massive parties outside where people who have painted themselves green stagger around in “kiss me, I’m Irish” t-shirts and drinking green beer and getting arrested.  That’s always a good sign of the end of winter too.

And I’ve gone and done something so brazen that I can hardly believe it myself: on May 3rd I’m doing my first full marathon. So it’s not as if I can just let up on my training once the Around the Bay race is over. I need to keep it up, even add mileage, so I don’t crash and burn when I do the Mississauga Marathon.

I am Canadian and I will tough it out for the rest of this brutal winter! Winter training does have its perks. I’ve met new people and really bonded with them, the way people do in times of adversity. I’m a stronger runner than I’ve ever been, despite the difficulties I’ve had with the IT band and the knee.  Taking this time for myself each week has also been good for my mental health because when I am out there running, I don’t worry about any of the day to day bullshit — the crushing workload, the unpacked boxes, the extra furniture piled up in our condo that I haven’t had a chance to get rid of yet, the bins of motorcycle gear that I’m supposed to put on kijiji to sell for the spring riding season, etc.

If you have a race coming up early this spring that you’ve been training for all winter, yay for you!  Enjoy! And if you’re doing Around the Bay, see you there!