The 2014 Around the Bay Road Race was really my first chance to see where I was at since my PB in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October, 2012.
I haven’t run Around the Bay in two years, and I haven’t run a real race since the fall of 2012. I ran a half and full marathon last year, but I didn’t put in the training for either race since the spring half came just six weeks after my elbow surgery and the fall marathon was done on just eight weeks training.
Leading up to race day, I didn’t think too much about a time goal, but I did want to do better than my 2:43 AtB personal best (2:43). I’d come close to 2:45 for 30km in a few training runs this winter, so a new PB was well within reach.
Start to 5km
The course was a bit different this year to avoid crossing a set of train tracks that held up a good number of runners last year.
We started in front of FirstOntario Centre as usual, but made a quick left north on James St. That section was congested and Miguel and I kept things in control, but started picking off runners as we ran north towards the lake.
A good first kilometre, slowed a bit by traffic, but about what I had planned to run.
The next four kilometres reveal nice consistent splits as we continued to make our way through the traffic and past some of the big pace groups. I started behind the 3:00 pace bunny so we had to get through them and a 2:45 group that spread wide across the road.
Burlington St. to 10km
The new route features a trio of decent on-ramp hills that take you up onto something like the Gardiner Expressway – an elevated highway through some of the worst industrial areas of Hamilton. It smelled, and the road was not in great shape.
But I ran well through here, passing another pacer with a wide gaggle of followers (I think the 2:40 group). I let Miguel go a bit here as he picked up the pace and I held back a bit up a long climb around 8km.
To the lakeshore!
I took the 360º offramp just before 10km very smartly, hugging the inside to avoid running any extra distance. I had almost reeled Miguel in by this point, taking advantage of some downhill running to up the pace a bit heading to the first split mat and the first relay exchange.
I passed Miguel around 11km and didn’t look back.
The gel I took at about 8km kicked in and I felt great running along Beach Blvd. Much better than the last time I “ran” it during the Hamilton Marathon last November.
I was continuing to pass runners and saw a few familiar faces including Quinn who was running great.
Lift Bridge to the left turn
The 15km mat came and went, and we crossed the lift bridge and the weird metal surface felt weird underfoot as usual.
I was still running great here and I took my second gel around 16km. I worried that maybe I waited a few minutes too long to take the gel, but it kicked in nicely and the legs felt great again.
There was a bit of wind around 17 or 18km as we exited onto North Shore, but not too bad all things considered.
And now, the hills
It’s always a great feeling to make the turn onto North Shore Blvd. because you are finally heading towards the finish. It feels like you’re making the turn to home.
But it also signals the start of the hilly section. Gulp.
I was still running well at this point, and the hills weren’t bothering me much. The run up to Lasalle Park was good and I really enjoyed the DJ and cheering section through this stretch. Great energy!
Now for the tough part
Here’s where it really gets hilly and where you need to push hard to maintain your pace and earn your PB. I grabbed a half of a banana from some awesome people here and ate it heading up the hill. I thought about skipping my last gel because of this, and then admonished myself for even considering it. One of the three keys I posted the night before the race was “Don’t forget the gels in the latter stages.” I took the gel at 24km.
@yumke My keys: 1. Go out strong, but not too fast. 2. Stay within myself through 10-18km. 3. Don’t forget the gels in the latter stages.
— James Koole (@jameskoole) March 29, 2014
All that remained now was the big hill, and the 4km run to the finish.
We Will Rock You, “The Hill” and the Grim Reaper
Down the hill to the cemetery, and I high fived the little person on the chair playing “We Will Rock You”. Around the Bay is a race full of tradition.
I looked across the valley to peek at the big hill on the other side, and then re-focused on the task at hand. I ran across the little bridge and resolved to run up and over the hill. I hadn’t walked a single step yet, not even a slow down through the water stations and I had no plans to change that.
I ran up the hill, under the rail bridge, passing dozens of runners walking on either side. The crowd really helps here, encouraging you to keep running. I felt pretty good but I also paid special attention to my heart rate and breathing to make sure I didn’t push too hard.
I crested the hill and backed off the pace a bit to regroup through the left turn onto York towards the finish. I felt tired for the first time and started running some numbers in my head. 2:30 was out of the question, but a PB was still easily attainable assuming I kept up a good pace to the end.
Two kilometres to go and I had a huge PB locked up. The only question that remained was whether I could beat 2:35 and finish strong. The crowd was amazing, lining the street over the last kilometre to the finish at the FirstOntario Centre. I started thinking about making that turn, and coming down the ramp.
I moved over to the left side of the road and swung out wide to reduce the tightness of the turn before running down the ramp towards that last right turn and the 50m finish sprint. I love this part of Around the Bay – you emerge into this loud, bright arena like you are a rock star. I found higher gear and ran across the line.
Looking back at my keys to the race:
- Go out strong, but not too fast. ✔
- Stay within myself through 10-18km. ✔
- Don’t forget the gels in the latter stages. ✔
I started smart, and ran my race through the first 10km despite Miguel running a bit faster than me and the ever present temptation to try to bank some time early.
Through the flat middle section I ran a quicker pace, but never too fast. I banked a minute or two here to use in the hills and at the finish, but made sure to save enough energy for the last 5km.
I took my gels, and added fuel to the tank as required. While I faded a bit in the last 5km, I still had enough to run 5:30/km through the finish to grab a 10 minute PB.
Looking forward to the BMO Vancouver Marathon in five weeks, I’ll probably shorten up the time between gels just a bit to avoid the touch of fatigue I felt at 15km and again around 25km.
Other than that, it was a perfect race for me and one of the best runs of my life.