Race report! My first race of the season was this past weekend in Hamilton, the Around the Bay 30K Road Race…oldest road race in North America, this being the 123rd anniversary. This would be my third time doing the race.
I had signed up to take the bus down with the New Balance group, who provide bib pickup as well as the bus to and from the race for only $30…the only way I will ever do this race! Michelle, my Mum and I caught the bus at 5:30am Sunday and we were pulling into Hamilton shortly after 7:00. The race didn’t start until 9:30 so we had a bit of time to relax and enjoy the warmth (and toilets) of First Ontario Centre while we waited. Once the race start was near we all headed off to our corrals to begin the race. I ran into a few familiar faces I hadn’t seen since last season and said my hellos to Zindine, Brad and Luke. I was at the start line with Brad and Luke but knew that their opening pace would be a bit rich for me as I had wanted to hold back a bit at the start. The horn (a train horn since CN was the presenting sponsor) signaled the start of the race and we were off.
The Out (1K-10K, 4:00/km)
The first 10K of the race was through the Hamilton downtown and then out into a more industrial area as we headed towards Lake Ontario. There was a pretty stiff headwind all through this section and that knocked my pace down a wee bit. I was moving along well but just wasn’t able to find a good group to tuck in with to hide from the wind…everyone that I came up on was going a little too slow for my liking. I made sure to not push too hard in the wind and tried to hold the pace around 4:00/km. I came through the first 5K in 20:03 and began to run side by side with another guy and we held a similar pace through to nearly the 20K mark. We were holding our own on the flat sections and every overpass we came to we bounded pass other runners. Looking good for the hills on the back half, which I knew I needed to save the legs for. We hit the highway offramp and looped around to the 10K mark in 40:03 to begin the next stretch of the race.
The Across (11K-20K, 3:54/km)
As we crossed the 10K timing mat we were also turning out of the wind…it was still there to be sure but it was a much more manageable crosswind. This is the section of the race where I knew I could bank some time, yet being careful to keep enough in reserve for the hills. I found a group to run with this time and stuck right on the heels of a woman that was absolutely dialed in to her pace. We cruised along at around a 3:55/km pace and it was feeling relatively easy after the headwind on the first 10K. There was another woman a little bit up the road from us and I commented to my new running buddy that she was reeling her in…she just chuckled. We were certainly closing though and it wasn’t long before we passed her, and good for her too as she ended up placing as the 10th overall female. We came across the lift bridge and made the turn towards the neighbourhood hills and began the swaybacks with the wind assisting us for the first time all day…
The Hills (21K-27K, 3:56/km)
This section is the meat of the course, where the rubber really hits the road. It starts out easy enough with some gentle rollers and builds up to a few really tough hills and ends with the Valley Inn Road Hill, the signature climb of the course which was returning after a 2 year hiatus due to construction. The hills in this section quite simply will make or break your race. I managed to hold my pace steady through the first couple of rollers and then I saw a familiar sight up ahead. There was Luke, chugging up a hill. I came up behind him and made a lame joke about using the force, then proceeded on my way. Luke was using this as a training run for Boston in 3 weeks, it is a really great pre-Boston course as there are plenty of similarities. Up on the next hill I recognized another runner ahead. This time I was pretty sure I knew who it was because of their form and I was right…it was Trevor, the young kid that I ran almost my entire Ironman Mont Tremblant run leg with, along with his mom on the bike beside him. I pulled up beside him and said, “Fancy seeing you here.” He just looked at me funny and said, “Do I know you?”, to which I just replied “Tremblant”. “Mike!” he shouted, “Hey Mom, it’s Mike from Mont Tremblant!”. He was pretty stoked and I think it was a nice little boost for him to see a friendly face out there at a tough point in the race. Again I was off though, bounding up the hills and on to the final big Valley Inn hill. I used the big downhill approaching it as much as I could and then proceeded to chug my way up the other side. Head down, lean forward, pump the arms. I chewed the final hill up and spit it out at the top. I could hear some heavy breathing from someone that was right on my heels the whole way and once I crested the top I just stuck my fist out for a fist bump and it was my female running buddy from earlier…she crushed the hill too. In fact she nailed it so well that she took off once we were at the top and left me in her dust as she flew towards the finish. Beast.
The Back (28K-30K, 3:53/km)
The final 3K stretch after the hills back to the finish is all downhill, so you can really hammer it home. Unfortunately the wind had other ideas on this day…yup, the headwind was back. I knew how close I was though and I pushed the pace with everything I had left in my legs…I was now chasing a sub-2 hour run which would net me a gold medal. I ignored my screaming quads and kept the pace rich, passing people all the way back to First Ontario Centre. As we neared the finish there were cheers from the spectators and we made the turn into the arena to the finish. I crossed with a bit of time to spare for the gold, official time 1:58:25.
Brad and a couple of his buddies had just crossed the line and both Trevor and Luke were in just shortly after me, so we all congratulated each other and got some pictures together. Then I was off to the bus to get changed and have a couple of beers before Michelle and my Mum finished their races. I cheered on some runners and saw the ladies cross the line and then before long we were back on the bus heading home to London.
Oh, one other cool thing…on the way to the race there was a clipboard passed around the bus for people to guess their finishing times. Michelle decided that she would guess my time and went with 1:59:16, only 9 seconds off of my actual time. Turns out I was closest to my guess and I won a $25 New Balance gift card! Sweet!