01 April 2018

Race report: The Around The Bay Road Race 2018

I believe that the applicable word is "terribler".

Whether or not you'll insert that into your spell-checker is inconsequential ... it's been added to my vocabulary list now.

The last time that I participated in the Around The Bay Road Race was in 2016 and it's taken me a few years to try to shake some of the bad taste in my mouth that resulted from my run that day.  What stood out for me was (a) how mentally dis-engaging the first half of the course was and (b) the disappointment of clocking what I perceived to be a sub-par effort for the condition that I felt that I was in at that time.  However, eager to press out a sub-3 marathon this spring I felt like pairing the Chilly Half-Marathon and ATB this year would be a solid pre-season prep that would ready me for a PB kind of effort.

Instead what I learned was that I either have to learn a serious lesson in humility or accept the fact that age is taking its toll on me.

I had signed up for this race just shy of a full year ago as I wanted to take advantage of the earliest of the earlybird registration rates - which means that I had 365+ days to mentally prep for the event.  And I would say that as I approached race day I had just about every box checked off in terms of being psyched to run well ... from customizing my shoes for the day (more on that in a future blogpost) to taking full advantage of all my possible placebo-effect advantages (i.e. loading up on beet juice, wearing compression socks, having my favourite racing toque on my head) to resting up the day before (as my friend and fellow RunNinja Rick was willing to pick up my race kit from the expo).  The only things that I didn't feel that I had going for me were a solid half-marathon result at Chilly a few weeks prior and the fact that I was failing to hit my prescribed training paces during the workouts that my coach had assigned to me over the last month or so.  Still, all things factored in I felt like I could surprise myself on this day.

On race morning I followed all of my 'standard' pre-race routines (wake-up shakeout run, breakfast, shower) and made my way out Hwy 403 with the hopes of arriving in Hamilton with a little more than 60 min. to spare before the airhorn start.  The plan was to meet Rick in the lobby of the hotel where he was staying to collect my bib and timing chip - and perhaps this would be the first of the portents on the day as traffic got gnarly as I entered the downtown core, and the only available street parking that I could find was a good kilometre or more from the hotel.

However I did manage to find my way to the Sheraton where Rick, Angela, Holly and Sarah (all RunNinja comrades) had gathered to brace themselves for the long journey ahead.  We were far from alone in the lobby as many competitors had gathered there just for the warmth (it was about -11°C with the windchill) and also to make use of the indoor washrooms.  I thanked Rick for picking up my kit, suited up with the bib and shoe-lace chip, and took a pre-start group photo.  We then parted ways to carry on with our own individual routines.

The race
I lined up in the appropriate 'red' corral for estimated sub-2:15 racers (which as it happened to turn out was more wishful thinking than anything!), and it definitely felt like a corral as we were pretty much sandwiched shoulder-to-shoulder with little margin to even stretch out.  And yet somehow out of nowhere I felt this tap on my shoulder accompanying a "Hey Patrick" - and sure enough my pal Vicki had somehow managed to pick me out of this crowd just as she'd done at the Chilly Half less than a month ago.  Vicki is a beast of a runner and super-fast as well so lining up next to her was at the very least a confidence (if not morale) boost.

So now let me break down the actual event into some smaller, digestible segments:

--- KM 0-3
I tried to just settle into a good rhythm and find a couple of bodies to tag along with - and while there wasn't really a 'pack' that I could latch onto I did find the first few kilometres clicking by rather effortlessly.  By the time that we passed the 3k mark I thought to myself "just do this another nine time!".  Easier said than done my friend, easier said than done.

--- KM 4-15
As I had the last time that I tackled this event I took the inclines easier and tried to pick up a bit of pace on the backsides of the same slopes, but somehow this year there wasn't any acceleration as I went downhill.  It wasn't long before I found my pace trailing off despite trying to maintain a consistent 'perceived effort' ... by the time that I hit the 14k mark I was ready to walk the rest of the course, but my pride wouldn't let me throw the towel in that easily.

--- KM 16-20
It was somewhere along this stretch that I heard a voice closing in from behind me shout "Patrick Voo in the house!" - it was my friend Peter Leventis (whom I'd first met while pacing my pal Navin at the 2016 GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon).  It was great to catch up with (or more accurately be caught up to by) him as we had a brief opportunity to chat:  Peter had recently laid down a fantastic time at the Chilly Half and has just been getting stronger and faster.  He was using this day's run as a bit of a tempo workout in advance of his trip to the Boston Marathon next month, and in true Peter-fashion he made it look oh-so-easy.  I didn't want to hold him up so I let him stay in stride while I slowly but steadily fell back, cheering him forward as his disappeared into the distance.

--- KM 21-26
This section brought a few more rolling hills into play, including the one left-hand turn at the top of a hill where I recall being passed by the the 2:05 pace bunny in 2016.  This time around I was doing my level best not to let the 2:15 bunny zip by.  The only other real element of note was that it was great to once again see Stan "We Will Rock You" Wakeman in his wheelchair - once again I deviated from my normal tangent-tight route to slap him some skin with a high-five.

--- KM 27-30
The 'Heartbreak Hill' simulator was definitely another slow-down, but it doesn't last too long.  Coming into the final 3k downhill stretch into the heart of the city I tried once again to pick up some steam, but it was still fruitless - despite some goading from Tim "The Grim" (I snagged a low-five from him accompanied by the words "I like how slow you are") and even "Fast" Bill Steinburg jumping off of the curb in his jeans and puffy jacket to cheer me forward and run alongside me for about 100m.  I managed to target two runners who were ahead of me and mustered the strength to pass one of them before the finish but the other one just had too much zip left as we entered the First Ontario Centre.

After crossing the finish line I hung out in the chute/collection area for about another 40 minutes to try to catch some other familiar faces wrap up their races.  It was awesome to be able to cheer on and/or congratulate Vicki, Melissa, Jessica, Jack and Ryan as they finished up their 30k.  I even had a random stranger come up to ask if she could have a photo taken with me because her husband's favourite cartoon character (Jake from Adventure Time) was depicted on my toque.

 Me sporting my favourite lid (Photo credit:  Mike MacInnes)

Since I was getting chilled from standing around in Gatorade/water soaked gear I jogged back to the car to get changed, dodging various bicycle-mounted police officers who were monitoring a situation involving a group of 'anti-fascist' demonstrators (to whom I provided a wide berth while passing them by as they congregated).  I then made my way back to the First Ontario Centre and reconnected with Rick, Holly, Angela and Sarah, each of them elated with their finishes.  A few more group pictures and then it was time to call it a day.

So it is that I look at this year's ATB in the rearview mirror once again thinking that I won't be back anytime soon.  Don't get me wrong - the race organizers do a bang-up job of putting together an A-1 event and deserve plenty of congratulations and appreciation.  It's just that for whatever reason it doesn't seem to agree with me, and I'm the one to blame this time around ("fool me once, shame on you - fool me twice, shame on me").  But if you have any inclination on taking on a 30k race to test yourself or to prep for your own spring marathon, by all means give this event some serious consideration!

Key race gear used:


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