Clubs   Places   Groups   Races   Results   Writing   Message Board   Search 

Junque Miles:

By Mark Roberts

Hamilton Around the Bay 30k

For many runners in the Northeast, the Around the Bay 30k in Hamilton, Ontario is a traditional early spring distance race that serves as a good pre-marathon test. What kind of shape am I in now? How close am I to being ready to set that marathon P.R. I want in a few weeks? Given how much it hurts just to run 18.6 miles hard, do I really want to run 26.2?

One of the interesting features of this race is their graded finishing medals. Those who finish past 2:15 get "bronze" medals, those who finish between 2:00 and 2:15 get "silver" and those who finish in less than two hours get "gold". Yeah, they're still made out of the same recycled Ford Escort metal as all the other medals you have, but at least they're colored to look like gold, silver and bronze. When I ran Hamilton three years ago I got "silver". I thought I'd try to go for a "gold" one this time.

In keeping with the bizarre weather conditions we've been having lately, summer decided to arrive in March with unusually warm temperatures making things [more/less] comfortable for [spectators/runners] (choose the appropriate options in this sentence).

Lisa and I got a lift with Doug Ralph and his wife Gloria, in their large Detroit Oldsmobuick with the big trunk and the smooth ride. Upon reaching Buffalo, we discovered that summer really had arrived as traffic slowed to a crawl. The Department of Traffic Cone Maintenance had been hard at work, taking advantage of the warm weather to get in a serious practice session for the upcoming Memorial day "Traffic Crawl-A-Thon". Seems to me that they're ready.

The border crossing passed without incident, although it's somewhat dismaying to realize that you're too old to even be suspected as a drug smuggler. Perhaps we were all just too healthy and fit-looking to be drug smugglers. Yes, that must be it!

If only the race organizers in Hamilton had been as well organized as the Department of Traffic Cone Maintenance in Buffalo. First, they didn't have any record of Lisa having paid for her pre-race pasta dinner, but they did give her a ticket when she protested...and showed her charge card bill to prove that she'd paid for it. They knew Doug and I had paid for our dinner tickets because it was stamped on our number bibs, but they didn't give us any dinner tickets in our race packets. Then they ran out of one of the two pastas (the vegetarian stuff, which is, of course, the only kind that I eat) at the dinner itself.

Well, a disorganized pasta dinner isn't really very important, is it? They've been doing this race for 105 years now so at least the main event will go smoothly, right?

Let's start by having the bag check and porta-potty center at a high school that's in front of the starting area and then not roping off the street in front of the starting line. The result of this is that, in the last five minutes before start time, you get an exodus of 2000 runners basically walking the course backwards trying to get through the fast runners who are already lined up at the start.

Somehow they did get the race started. It was certainly a beautiful day...for spectators. Temperatures in the 60s (they were well into the 70s by the end of the race) with bright sun in a cloudless sky. Of course, after the previous weekend's blizzard I didn't hear any runners complaining! For the weather Hamilton usually gets in March, having only 6 water stations in 18.6 miles is fine (and some years the addition of coffee/hot chocolate stops would be advisable), but under the hot conditions it was definitely insufficient and possibly dangerous. I slowed down and took 2 cupfulls every time. Amazingly enough, they told me after the race that their "sag wagons" only had to pick up 8 runners.

The mileage markers were placed...well, I suppose "imaginatively" would be a kind way of putting it. Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I prefer to think of myself as "traditional" when I say that the distance between mile markers ought to be, well...a mile. In Hamilton no two were the same distance apart. At one point I was disappointed to note that I had slowed to a 6:39 pace. Not to worry: the next mile clocked in at a brisk 5:25! And this was through a section of the course that was completely flat. Doug commented later that the only thing they got right about the mileage markers was having them in the correct order. I quickly stopped taking mile splits and just ran by how I felt, which wasn't very good in general. I was trying to run at my goal pace for a 2:50 marathon and it felt much harder than I had hoped. Perhaps is was the sun and heat, but things definitely got much tougher than I'd expected in the last few miles. (Most runners I talked to reported being 5-7 minutes slower than last year, although how much of that is heat and how much is being a year older is questionable.) Still, I ran a negative split--barely--and managed a sub-six for the last mile, finishing in 1:58:49 without killing myself. I think I still have some work to do before the Vermont City Marathon in May, though.

Lisa was running her first long distance race (her previous longest being a 7.5 mile New Year's Day race a couple of years ago). Her training runs had gone up to 16 miles but she was still nervous about the distance after all the injuries she'd had in the past year. Having accompanied her on a couple of her long runs, I had no doubt that she'd finish and Doug predicted a 2:40 finishing time.

She reported feeling just great up to 10 miles and was amazed to find herself running just over 8-minute pace and having such fun. She had a problem when her left knee locked up a few miles later and had to do a lot of walking between 13 and 15 but her knee loosened up after this and she ran the rest of the way without too much trouble. She reported that the much feared Hamilton hill was nothing in comparison to what the Oven Door Runners climb on a regular basis! In spite of the knee problem she finished in 2:44:12, which works out much faster than the pace she needs to qualify for Boston.

The real fiasco of the race came at the end: they had only one finishing chute and by the time Lisa finished it was so overcrowded they were telling runners to go through "three abreast and remember who's in front of you and who's behind you"! Guess how well this worked? Probably better than it should have...for a while. Our friend Michelle Courtright's watch matched both the finish line clock and the "official" time posted later (2:36 and change). Lisa's watch agreed with the finish line clock (2:44:12), but the "official" results had her a minute and a half and 50 runners farther back. From this we can infer that the system started to break down somewhere between 2:36 and 2:44. Not too much later it must have collapsed completely because they had no official results past about the 1200th runner. (And there were about 2450 runners entered!) The crowding and confusion in the finishing chute at this point had to be seen to be believed.

My "gold" finisher's medal, by the way, is absolutely indistinguishable from Lisa's "bronze". Looks like they spared no expense in that area, too.

Still, we all came through the race unscathed and Lisa was especially pleased to have completed her longest event yet. About a dozen Rochester runners got together at "Toby's Good Eats" for a great carbo re-load and a chance to tell our race stories. For those running Boston in three weeks, this was a final long training run before the Main Event. For those of us running later spring marathons it was a barometer of our current fitness and a call to stick with that training for a few more weeks.

For entrepreneurs in Canada it was a signal that there's a market for experienced finish line and timing crews.

Post Script, 1999: It looks like the Powers That Be in Hamilton were determined to improve this race after 1998. For 1999 they revised the course to avoid the ugly, industrial neighborhood through which the course used to pass for the first 10k. This greatly improved the start. Best of all they adopted the "Champion Chip" timing system. This has totally transformed the event and returned it to "must" status for runners in the Northeast.

Copyright © 1998 Mark Roberts

Back to page top

  Next article Mohawk Hudson River Marathon.

  Previous article: Deep Thoughts on Running and Racing.

  Back to Junque Miles Index.

  Back to Rochester Running Page home.

Rochester Running Page Home

Page design copyright ©2014 Mark Roberts