Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My First Around The Bay

Around the Bay is the oldest running event in North America. “Older than Boston” as their shirts imply. While only 30 kilometers (18 miles), the last third of the course, with its rolling hills takes the same physical toll as most marathons. The added challenge to this event is that it is usually cold and very wet. This year was a bit different, as the wet was replaced with some extra cold. On the plus side there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the sun was extremely bright.

This was my first time running Around the Bay. The bus left at 6:30 in the morning from London and we arrived at Copps Coliseum just after 8am giving us pleanty of time to get organized before the 9:30 start.

The temperature at the start of the race was about -10C (14F). There are no corrals for the 6000 participants, so we took about 6 minutes to cross the timing mat at the start. The first kilometer took just under 6 minutes, as Rebecca, Gillian, Karen, and myself bobbed and weaved through the pack. The second kilometer was closer to my goal pace of 5:30/km.

The Rebecca’s plan was to maintain a 4:00 marathon pace (about 5:40/km). She’s running Boston in about three weeks and this was a training/tune-up event for her. My plan was to also keep to about a 4:00 pace but I knew I’d have some issues with the hills so. I’d adjust my pacing to maintain about a 5:30 average for the first 20 km and see how I much of the cushion I could carry through the last third of the course.

I had lost contact with the “girls” by the 5km water stop. I also wasn’t paying too close attention and found myself on the opposite side of the road. Originally, I wasn’t going to run with my Fuel Belt, but had a change of heart after looking at the thermometer. I drank from my fuel belt for the first two water stops.

On our last long training run I, tried running in less clothing than I’d traditionally wore on colder runs. My legs, in particular, my hips got very cold in just a pair of tights. More importantly, my lower back got extremely cold wearing just a running shell with a couple of tech shirts underneath. This time, I wore a wind shell pant, with my Zensah calf sleeves, and wind brief on the lower body and swapped one tech shirt for a light jacket to keep my core warmer. I considered wearing my fuel belt under the shell, but found it awkward to get in to the pockets with my gels. I figured that if I put the Fuel Belt on over top of the shell, I could prevent any cold air getting up the back side of my jacket and protect my lower back from getting too cold. For the most part, this strategy seemed to work.

The first 8km was right in to the sun. It was blinding at times. Another choice I made was not to wear a running hat with a brim, but stick with a thin toque and thermal headband to keep my ears warm. I also wore dual layer gloves but had two spare pairs of gloves with me, one thin pair in my pants pockets and a fleece pair in the back pocket of my running shell. With the wind at my back, I was getting quite warm and wondered if I might be a bit over dressed. I pulled off the headband and wrapped it around my wrist. That helped, regulate my temperature, I could now feel how cold it was on my ears after them being protected.

I completed the first 10 km in 54:14, and switched to the lighter gloves in my pants pockets, this also helped cool me down as they had no insulating properties. This is also the point on the course where not only do you change direction, but the wind has a chance to find you across the open water of Hamilton Harbour. Now that the wind was no longer behind me, any thought of being overdressed evaporated. The prerace admonishment from the Public Address speaker about the wind over parts of the course was ringing true.

This is also the part of the course where I think I may have been too aggressive. Between kilometers six and eleven my pace was considerably under 5:20 with too many averages in the 5:10’s.

I dialed things back , the 15km mark rolled 1 second under 1:22:00. I was on pace at 5:30/km, but by that time I was starting to feel a bit chilled but carried a more consistent pace through to the 20 km mark arriving in 1:49:38 and preserving the 5:30 pace.

The first hill at 20 kilometers didn’t seem too bad, and there was a bit of time to recover. I had been making sure to hit every water stop after missing the first two. I’d occasionally sipped from my own bottles and stayed with the plan to have gel every 8km. My last two PoweBar gels were Strawberry-Banana with 25mg of caffeine to help get through the hills. I hit one a bit early, knowing I had one in reserve.

There is no amount of coaching that can prepare you for the relentlessness of the “rolling hills”. I consider myself a good hill runner. What I hadn’t considered was the lack of training for hills this late in an event. I was conservative, walking in a couple of spots, knowing I had a bit of a cushion. I was in great spirits, hearing the chorus of Queen’s - We Will Rock You coming down the hill by Woodland Cemetery, sitting on a chair at the bottom with his boom box was “the Dwarf”. Tradition says, you must high (low?) five the little person as you pass. I happily became part of that tradition, and as I made the turn (somewhat out of control from being in an unusual running position) felt a minor twinge in my left calf. I didn’t panic but knew that I’d need to stop goofing around and stay focused.

At the 25 kilometer mark, was “The Hill”. Bobby Sox gave me the 411. It’s the same mother of a hill as Port Stanley’s Reach the Beach. Only at Port Stanley it’s a mile in to a three mile race. From my first Port Stanley experience, I knew walking it was going to be almost effective as running it. I pulled over to the side and walked as briskly as possible to the top. Karen passed me mid way up the hill, looking strong. I figured, that I’d hunt her down at the top.

Once you reach the top, it’s only four kilometers to the finish. Two miles, no problem. The worst of everything is behind you, all downhill so to speak. Yeah right.

Another Around the Bay tradition is the Grim Reaper waiting for you at the top of the hill by the entrance to Hamilton Cemetery. Again this year there were two Reapers, business must be good. My energy was flagging, and my calves had started to go. I high-fived to taller of the two reapers and that was the end of my ability to run. Not only had I hit the wall, my calves were gone. I’d started to cramp up.

Again, I’d though that I’d busted this demon. Ok, I know the drill. In my “medical” pouch I had a couple of leg cramp tablets. I popped two under my tongue and struggled on. Even with the leg cramps, I’d walled out, the same feeling as trying to finish the GoodLife Marathon in the fall.

I commented to one of the Cops, a costumed runner ran by, “I think I just got passed by a rainbow.”

Copps Coliseum seemed just out of reach, never had three kilometers seemed so long.

I finished, that was never in doubt. I’ve proven twice that I can hobble 20 kilometers to finish a marathon.

My time was good, 2:52. For some reason I seem to have a mental block and type it as 3:52 (even had to edit this line while typing it in the word processor).

I waved to my wife and blew her a kiss after finishing.

I inhaled a bottle of water, picked up my post race goodie bag, had my medal draped around my neck by an unenthusiastic teen who was probably trying to get their community service hours credit.

I took the escalator up to the 100 seating level. Well sort of. First one leg locked up in a massive calf cramp and then while trying to steady myself the other leg went as well. I wanted to go down, people just looked at me, as I tried to figure out how to get off the escalator as it approached the top. I was clinging on to the hand rail for dear life. Somehow I made it off and got just out of the way. There was a podium of some sort at the top, it wasn’t bolted to the floor and I almost knocked it over I was leaning on it so heavily. Another runner, I woman my age asked if I was OK, she saw what happened on the escalator. Thankfully, she offered to stay with me as I waited for the cramping to subside. Maybe five minutes, it felt like forever. I saw Marc, Victoria, and Shane head down the stairs to the exit. I called and whistled to see if I could get their attention without any luck.

As time passed, I felt confident enough that I was stable enough to head back to Section 120 to meet up with my wife and the rest of the group. It was interesting walking down the aisle stairs, particularly when the railing ended midway down but I made it to my seat and didn’t move much for the next 45 minutes.

Now that I’ve had some time to analyze this race and compare it to what I’ve been reading and the other races where I’ve experienced cramping I have some observations that I’ll put in to my next blog post.

1 comment:

Katie said...

wow. sounds like such a tough race. nice job.