This race was all business for me this year. I ran Around the Bay for the first time in 2010 and posted a 3:05 time, which was acceptable to me. Last year I ran it roughly a month after having my appendix removed, against my doctor's emphatic advice, and posted a 3:42 time. Last year's result was heartbreaking, because no matter how you approach it or what you expect out of it, it is, after all, a race. So I try to put that stupid exercise behind me, try to forget the soul destroying experience of puttering along knowing that this proves nothing apart from the fact that I'm every bit as pigheaded as my doctor knows me to be, that the registration money I "didn't waste" would have been better wasted.
This year the weather was perfect, more perfect than it should be on March 25th in Hamilton, Ontario. The runners were all psyched; the energy that coursed through the 9000 plus runners was incredible. I started out strong and fast, disposing of my garbage bag jacket almost immediately. The crowd was energetic; the runners were all focused and pushing hard. This was more like it; this was what it's all about.
The first 20 kilometres flew by at a pace around 5:00. I was well under my 3 hour goal; wasn't even breathing hard, barely breaking a sweat. There was very little chit-chat in this crowd of runners because it was clear that most of us were having a surprisingly fast race and didn't want to jinx it or lose focus.
Proof that I was focused, that I could not be distracted from my laserlike quest: I did not partake at the bacon station. Which reminds me: there was no beer station the whole way. Suggestion for the organizers: get the Grim Reapers to dole out beer shots next time, work that barley harvesting metaphor!
Right before you hit the 20 km mark there is a series of rolling hills, nothing too serious but significant enough to notice. Right after the 20 km mark is a long, very long, and reasonably steep hill. On this hill, just after Mike S. flew past me on the way to his own personal victory, I started to feel a little dizziness, just enough to make me scale it back just a bit. I kept the pace under 5:20, so still pushing.
Self awareness, objective monitoring of your status, becomes important at this point. And you don't simply learn it as you go through the race; you have to have developed this sense in your training. You have to know where that redline is, because although you don't want to become one of those unfortunates being loaded into ambulances along the way if you can help it (and you can't always help it, of course), you don't want to scale back so far that you haven't given it everything you've got. You want to cross the finish line on an empty tank, but you want to stay upright through the food lines.
A collective gasp ran through the group that I was running in as we approached the ravine that was part drastic downhill and part drastic climb. Part of that gasp was fear, but there was an undeniable sense of appreciation of the beauty of the rock formation we were about to tackle. I high fived the little guy on the approach to the hill and began the ascent.
The great thing about this hill is that it climbs quite steeply to a point after which you round a corner and see that the hill continues for another few hundred feet at an even more acute angle. I love to hear the utter depair voiced by first-timers at this point. And I confess that I actually walked the last 50 feet or so this time. I consoled the guy beside me who was also walking, saying that we'd survive to do it again next year. "I hate being passed. I just hate it," he said.
So I loped in the last 3 or 4 kilometres from the top of the hill, knowing that I could push it a bit again, never going slower than a 6 minute km. Sprinted into the entrance of Copps, arms straight up and smiling across the finish line,chip time 2:47:57, 17 minutes faster than 2010. Anyone watching me would have thought I was staggering, limping, hobbling toward the exit after that, but in my mind I was swaggering. The thrill just never gets stale, not when you've given it 110%.