Hard to believe it’s been five years since I last ran Around the Bay. I went back and forth about whether or not I was going to tackle it this year, but ultimately decided it would make a great tune-up race before my upcoming marathon. It’s one of my all-time favourite races and I was excited to get back on the course to see what I could do this year.
I approached the race similarly to Chilly Half, where my #1 goal was to run a smart race and finish feeling strong. I was fairly certain I could finish under 3:00 but my sort-of-secret “A+” goal was 2:50, which is coincidentally a 4-hour marathon pace. I wanted to start conservatively, making sure I felt very comfortable and saving energy for the hills and wind to come in the later miles.
We had a pretty cold morning and some snow overnight – go figure, conditions were much more wintery than our last race when it was actually winter. We were able to keep warm inside
Copps Coliseum First Ontario Centre until about 15 minutes before the start when we headed to our corrals. I had to leave my speedy friends to go all the way to the back in “Open” since I didn’t have a qualifying time, where I seeded myself at the very front. Even the 3:10 pace bunny was in the corral before mine, so I knew I was going to have a lot of weaving to do.
I faced the sun while huddling among the crowds to keep warm, when suddenly we were shuffling forward and the race had begun without my noticing. As expected, it was extremely crowded for me from the start. I worked myself around people as much as I could without zig zagging all over the road or onto the curbs. Part way through the second kilometre, I finally found a bit of space and was running within a crowd at about the same pace.
The good news is that my “A+” goal pace (5:40/km) was coming naturally and felt great, so I decided to run with it and just made sure not to go any faster. Part of me still worried that it was too fast and questioned whether I could hold it for 30K, but I was willing to take a chance on it. Even as we climbed the various bridges/overpasses, I was able to hold the pace and recover immediately, so my confidence slowly grew as the kilometres ticked by.
I had opted not to carry water and took short ~20 second walks at most water stations – just long enough to grab and drink a cup or two (or a few times, to break the ice on top in order to find the water underneath). The walks never really felt necessary, even mentally, which was a good feeling.
5:47, 5:38, 5:38, 5:48, 5:36, 5:41, 5:53 (gel), 5:40, 5:37, 5:38
10K split: 57:01 | 5:42/KM
This race is great for breaking down into manageable chunks, with timing mats (and relay exchange points) at 10, 15 and 20. Each time I crossed the mats, I thought about hubs and friends who were watching at home and got a good boost from knowing that I would be making them proud.
Our first taste of the wind came around 10K when we turned to run along the water. It was immediately noticeable but I didn’t think it felt bad at all. Isn’t it funny how at every race, there is always such mixed feedback when it comes to wind? If you’re feeling good and having a great run, it’s no bother at all. If you’re struggling already or challenging your limits, the same wind can be a life-sucking race-ruiner. After Chilly Half, I remember reading a few recaps that mentioned the wind being so strong – meanwhile I was telling everyone that it wasn’t windy at all. (I have definitely been on the other side of that wind perception as well.) Long story short: the wind wasn’t going to bother me today.
But the hills were still to come!
5:36, 5:44, 5:36, 5:36, 5:45 (gel)
Overall 15K split: 1:25:23 (5:41/KM)
Passing the half-way mark, I knew I was pacing perfectly for my goal and still felt very comfortable. I hoped I could hold the pace through the hills, which were going to be unfamiliar territory since I couldn’t remember the course at all after five years. There were a couple more kilometres of easy cruising before they started.
The sun was out and it was a pretty nice day despite the cold. It was great to see lots of people out cheering from residential and business driveways, handing out water, tissues and even fruit. I also got a boost running through each relay exchange area where people were lining both sides of the road. I smiled in thanks for the best cheers/signs and high-fived little kids occasionally, but mostly I kept to myself and stayed in the zone with my music.
5:30, 5:41, 5:40, 5:39, 5:32
Overall 20K split: 1:52:47 (5:38/KM)
When the hills began, I was more than ready to start working through them. I think lack of course familiarity was on my side because it forced me to focus on getting up and over them one at a time. The beauty of these rollers is that there was always a nice downhill to recover. I was definitely working harder through this section, but was happy to see that my overall average was holding steady.
The hills seemed to be over sooner than I expected and none had been as bad as I anticipated – thanks to all those long runs on hilly country roads! Ask me again next year when Spring Garden Road is back.
Counting down the single digit kilometres made the time fly by. I was tired, but no more than I could manage, and remember thinking at 25K that I had this in the bag. I got a bit choked up thinking about how far I had come over the past few months; I couldn’t run 5K at this pace back in January and I was about to finish 30.
The last couple kilometres along York Boulevard make for a fantastic finish to this race. It felt amazing to cruise along that gentle downhill all the way to the stadium. It was time to scroll through my iPod for “Let it Go.” 😉
Making that final right turn, I ran very carefully down the steep ramp into the arena toward one of the best finish lines there is. I had met my A+/stretch goal, felt great doing it, heard my friends cheering from the stands and found my phone full of messages from more of my favourite people. I couldn’t have asked for anything more out of this day.
5:43, 5:57, 5:39, 5:47 (gel), 5:35, 5:45, 5:38, 5:40, 5:17, 5:04
Second Half 15K Split: 1:24:20