Annnnnnddd I did not do.
After having a great time with my friends Mike and Dave at the Chilly Half-Marathon I found myself being encouraged/challenged/goaded to join them at this year's running of the oldest road race in North America, the Around The Bay Road Race in Hamilton, Ontario. By adding this to my spring race schedule this season has turned into one for the ages, knocking off three of the biggest events (Chilly Half, ATB and The Boston Marathon) in the front half of the year that I could possibly have tackled.
But this time it was the race that did the tackling.
Once again I was the benefactor of a (legitimately) transferred bib - but that also meant that this wasn't a race that I originally had factored into the training schedule. As such I incorporated it into a normal-ish 110k week with a minor bit of prep (including a Western Aussie carb-load and abbreviated doses of beet juice) to try to be able to lay out a half-decent effort. What had proven to be the real difference-maker in the lead-up week was the fact that our family was working hard to renovate and stage our home to put up on the real estate market ... and this turned into a lot of added stress, manual labour through the evenings and weekend as well as shortened hours of sleep each night. Anyone who knows me well knows that these days I'm a solid eight-hour-per-night sleeper, usually crashing at around 9:30pm to be up for 5:30am workouts.
Yeah, that didn't happen.
With all of the extra-curricular craziness going on in my household I couldn't even park the time to make it out to the expo - which I would have very much like to have done. Mike, Dave and their friend Carol (from whom I received the 30k entry) went to check it out and picked up my race kit for me, and I carpooled with them to Hamilton on race morning.
Aside from the non-training induced fatigue being a concern for race day there was also the looming threat of nasty-ish windchill conditions. The forecast all week had been for a semi-cloudy Sunday with a raw temperature of -5°C coupled with 25-30 kph winds that would drop the mercury to feeling closer to -12°C. Of course that affects everyone (and everyone's performance goals) to the same degree but in my head it just didn't bode well when it came to hoping for a strong result.
Our expedition to the storied ATB Road Race began at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning here in Barrie. Initially when Mike had told me that that was our planned departure time I wondered to myself "why so early?", but as it turned out the road conditions north of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) warranted it. The highways were trackbare and on the slick side - we even had a car who passed us at a decent rate of speed wind up on the wrong end of a tussle with the guardrail a scant few minutes down the road. Could it be that on this day slow and steady would win the race ...?
We still posted an early arrival in downtown Hamilton by 8:00 a.m. - a full 90 min. before the start of the 30k (with the start of the 5k - which Dave and Carol were running - 15 min. after that). The plus side of being the early bird meant prime parking in one of the exorbitantly priced downtown lots (even though the signs indicated "$4 all day" the premium pricing was in effect and we forked out $20) and we had plenty of time to incorporate a walkround and multiple trips to the washroom.
I was particularly glad for one of those washroom trips (uh oh ... where is this going?) as there was a lineup in the men's facilities for the stalls and during the waiting process I had the guy behind me interject into a conversation I was having with Dave by saying "are you Patrick?". Now my wife knows I'm notorious for meeting people I know in the oddest places (e.g. I ran into a college friend while visiting the British Museum on my honeymoon in London, England) and this ranked right up there - but I was most glad for it, because it was my social media pal and athlete extraordinaire Mike Cooke. While tracking with and rooting for each other in the blogosphere and on Strava we'd never actually met in person although did have the intention to somewhere at the Boston Marathon in a couple of weeks' time. It may have seemed like a strange place to finally make live introductions but it was great all the same to finally talk to him in person.
Mike and I lined up in our 'red' corral (for those planning to finish in 2:15 or less) - it was definitely convenient that the entry point into the corral was situated just behind the caution tape strung across the chute to separate the elites from everyone else as Mike was looking to lay down a sub-2hr race in order to get the specially-designated 'gold medal', and the 2:00 measurement was based on gun (not chip) time.
With Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne serving as one of the official starters for the 30k (she would later run the 5k im 28:40) the horn blew and we were off - rather I should say that Mike was off and I began my little jaunt around the Hamilton water's edge.
I'd read Kenny Yum's blog-guide on race strategy for ATB and found it extremely helpful - so taking his advice I approached the race in thirds. The first 10k was all about settling in - trying to find a comfortable pace and (at least for this year's conditions) a small pack into which I might tuck. So it was serendipitous that at around the 3k mark I spotted a bunch of Longboat Runners including Roger Moss (the guy who towed me in at the Chilly Half)! I identified myself to him and he said something along the lines of "great, you can pull in with us", which is exactly what I did. There were about five other Longboaters in his group so I was the outsider - but that was fine given that I was just trying to dial in a decent rhythm so that I could save my strength for the next chunk.
First 10k split: 41:39
One of the things that my buddy "Fast" Bill had given me the heads-up about was the undulating nature of the front half of the race as you do traverse a few overpasses ... I tried to conserve energy as I climbed up onto the bridge sections and then use gravity to glide downhill (knowing that the time lost/energy expended in climbing is not neutralized or overcome by time gained/energy saved in descending). So I constantly found the 'elastic' between the Longboaters and I stretching and contracting as we negotiated our way across these minor elevation changes, but managed to keep the imaginary elastic from breaking.
At least until the 18k mark.
Have you ever had the concrete legs feeling?
I'd written earlier about how I felt that I'd been dancing close to the overtraining line these past few weeks and I think that at 18k is where it caught up to me. I looked on with dismay as my pace-per-kilometre ballooned up from 4:18/km to 4:47/km over the next few miles ... and I seriously contemplated just putting myself out of my misery and jogging it in the rest of the way. The reasons that I didn't succumb to that temptation were (1) it would be one long and demoralizing jog; and (2) I felt too much pride (wearing my Skechers racing kit) to give up. It would have been different if I felt like I was injuring myself, but the only damage being done was to my ego - so on I plodded.
Kms 11-20: 42:56
Things didn't seem to get much better during the final third of the race - besides losing sight of the Longboat Runners altogether, I had my friend and fellow Skechers Performance athlete Erin sneak up at around the 23k mark, grab me by my shirttail and yell "gotcha!". Don't get me wrong - it was great to see her, and I even thought that maybe her catching me would provide a bit of a boost that would help pull my act together. Alas, it didn't and I watched her power on ahead and eventually out of sight. My morale probably hit it's lowest point at the 25k point when I could hear the encouraging chatter of the 2:10 pacer and he shared some home-stretch strategy with his group ... and they scooted beyond my best efforts to latch on to them as well.
Now anyone who has caught wind of any ATB lore has heard about the climb near the end of the race - and even though for a second year in a row the vaunted ascent of Valley Inn Drive has been removed thanks to construction, runners had been forewarned of hills at 21k and 27k. From my vantage point there was a bit of extra effort required around the half-marathon point, but at 3k from the finish I could not tell that there was any real elevation challenge. What there was was the presence of Stan Wakeman, the little person with the big boom box who blasted Queen's "We Will Rock You". I was told (by my RunNinja partner Jason) that Stan is a fixture at the race, being a huge running fan and making his presence and encouragement known for the past 18 years or so - and as it's said that a high-five to Stan is good luck I made sure to slap some skin as I weebled-and-wobbled my way past him.
As I had for the Chilly Half I made a plan to try to pick it up for the last few kilometres ... and since everything after the 27k point looked like a steady descent toward FirstOntario Centre I mustered what little resolve I had left to increase my leg turnover. Slowly but surely I began closing in on and passing the runners who had passed me and now figured to be targets on my horizon. I managed to bring my pace down from 4:36/km to run a final 3:54 kilometre, catching runner after runner and not being passed in the process. The crowds lining the course began to thicken, and within the last 800m I spotted Mike Cooke waltzing along with his gold medal (awarded to males who complete the race in under 2:00) and goodie bag - and I thought "not too shabby for a guy who just hoped to finish somewhere under 2:10".
As I turned the penultimate corner down the zamboni entrance into the stadium I spotted the 2:10 pacer and resolved to clear him as my final obstacle. The last right turn opened my view up to the finish line clock which cued up the last-ditch-effort kick - and I managed skim past the pacer to a finish of 2:09:55.
This is the one pic where I have half-decent running form ...
Eat my dust 2:10 pacer ...!Kms 21-30: 45:19
It really was quite a unique atmosphere in the FirstOntario Centre with runners beginning to fill in the stadium seating, creating a bit of an audible buzz as they watch for their family and friends to cross the last timing mats. I progressed through the finishing chute to claim my silver medal (as designated for males finishing between 2:00-2:15) and then wondered how in the world I would find Mike, Dave and Carol since we didn't have a pre-determined meeting point. So I wandered my way up to the concourse level where in and amongst the milling crowds whom do I see but my pal "Fast" Bill! He was there spectating and cheering on numerous friends, and it was while I was connecting with him that Mike, Dave and Carol found me - and to my absolute delight I saw Mike sporting his own gold medal! He had just cleared the 2:00 mark by less than 30 seconds - but gold is gold! Dave also set a new PR in the 5k and Carol put in a strong showing coming off of a winter layoff.
Moi, Carol, Dave and "Gold Medal" Mike
After the requisite set of post-race group photos I had one last memorable moment at ATB, and that was as we exited the FirstOntario Centre. I happened to hold the door open for the person coming through behind me and a quick glance and moment of recognition became my opportunity to echo what was said to me earlier in the day in the men's washroom. "Patrick?" I said, knowing full well that the person I'd held the door for was Patrick Brown, the former MP for Barrie and current leader of the provincial Progressive Conservative party. I'd had an opportunity back in 2013 to interview Patrick as part of a local conversation series with community leaders, and I knew that among other things he was a fairly competitive runner. To my surprise he recognized me responding "sure, and you're Patrick from Barrie". Beyond pleasantries we shared a quick exchange about the day's event and Patrick let me know that he was battling a chest cold which made the race hard on him but otherwise a great day to be out.
After all was said and done I did enjoy the vibe surrounding the ATB race - it was well organized, delivered on its promised attractions and offered me a solid tempo workout if not strong race result. I was pretty pumped to find out afterwards that Josh Bolton (another star Skechers Performance athlete) won the ATB 5k earlier that morning - it helped sweeten the day to know that a number of my running colleagues had made good on their opportunities to shine.
Bucket list race - check!
Race gear for the 2016 Around The Bay Road Race:
- Skechers Performance Division racerback singlet
- Mizuno featherweight tight
- Skechers GOMeb Speed 2
- Running Room no-show socks
- Garmin Forerunner 305
- Saucony Drylete arm warmers
- MEC core shot l/s
- Original Buff headgear