Since 1894, Hamilton, Ontario has served as the home for North America’s oldest old race: The Around the Bay 30K. This race is steeped in tradition, steeped in hills and is a favoured annual run. As my legs burned through the ups and downs of the hills, a number of musings (or perhaps manic hallucinations) came to my mind as to why this race is so popular:
It’s an Ultra (Sort Of)
A 30K distance is an odd-duckling. It’s like an adolescent marathon where the distance is not quite the full but is still hard a hard distance to work through. Relative to the popular half-marathon distance, the 30K is more like an “ultra-half-marathon”. Its March date is relatively early in the running season and it may be a stretch for runners to have enough of a training base to complete this race well. In any case, it’s a tough distance to finish and its in-between distance adds to its uniqueness.
It Zings You At The End
You don’t run this course to set a personal record for a 30K. The first 20K lulls you into a relatively flat pace but it’s the last 10K where the rolling hills start. As you head near the end at the 26K mark, you’re confronted with a killer hill where you have to dig hard to climb out of it without shredding your legs. This isn’t about having a great time for the distance, it’s about having a great time for the course.
One of the unique attributes for this race is that there is a tiered medal system. You can earn a gold, silver or bronze medal depending on your finish time as follows:
|Gold||Under 2:00||Under 2:15|
|Silver||2:00 to 2:15||2:15 to 2:30|
|Bronze||Over 2:15||Over 2:30|
After having done this race twice, I can proudly say that I am a repeat bronze medalist. This graduated medal system challenges you to repeat this race to set a new record for yourself and earn some different coloured bling.
You’ve Never Been So Excited About Shirt Colours
The Around the Bay race shirt has been recognized as a favourite design amongst runners. Emblazoned on the back of the shirts is the tantalizing phrase “Older than Boston” which reflects its status as having more history than “that other race.” This year the men’s shirt had navy blue with contrasting royal blue accents whereas the women had a watermelon pink with contrasting black accents. The shirts looks great and runners always look forward to finding out what each year’s featured colours will be.
The Locals Actually Support You
Given that this race has been run for 119 years now, there is a longstanding tradition of community support behind this race. This year, the locals expressed their support in a variety of ways: there was a howling dog cheering, a woman shouting from her second floor apartment, residents in their pyjamas, churches and community centres which provided additional pit stops and singing choirs, orange wedges, beer, and of course, a man dressed as the Grim Reaper as runners are “dying” towards the end of the race. The welcoming charm of the residents makes this a festive atmosphere throughout the race – Torontonians, please take note.
And Then There Was The Train
After I finished the race this year, I had heard that a train actually delayed a number of runners for four minutes. The race director took to Facebook to post an apology for the delay. While a few runners were understandably upset, the majority of participants took it in stride and expressed that the delay simply “added to the experience of the race.”
At the End of the Bay
At the end of it all, this race is a tradition. It isn’t a race that you necessarily want to do, it’s one that you have to do. Like a spring rite of passage, put this one on your race calendar.
Your repeat bronze medalist,
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