Guest Post: Race Report – Around the Bay 30K

Once again, it’s time to turn over my blog to my intrepid field reporter (aka, my sister, Rachael). This time, Rachael brings us her epic race report detailing her adventures at Hamilton’s historic Around the Bay 30K, North America’s oldest road race.

Take it away, Rachael!

When I first learned about the Around the Bay race, I was still a newbie runner and had never gone farther than 10km. So of course, a 30K race seemed impossible.  But this year, with a couple of marathons behind me, and with it being a landmark year for the Bay Race, it seemed like the perfect time to try it out.

As additional empowering motivation, i decided to run the race in full costume. Because if I was going to be out there for four or five hours, darn it I was going to have fun with it.  Being in costume you get a lot of support along the way, from runners and spectators both. I figured I’d need all the help I could get.

I chose Nelvana of the Northern Lights for a lot of reasons. One – she’s Canadian. Two – a  couple of friends of mine have recently compiled all of her adventures into an anthology, and it’s being released this year. (digital edition is available now). When their Kickstarter campaign was active, I wasn’t in a position to help out, but I can sure help promote the book. Three – it’s what my friend Debra would have done. One of the last conversations I had with Debbie before epilepsy stole her from us in January was about how awesome a character Nelvana is, and what a great costume she has. So, costume decision made.

I was ready for Around the Bay

When I mentioned to my runner friends that I had signed up, they were all “oh boy. Make sure you do your hill training.”

Wait. What?

I was warned, at length, about The Hill. People Facebook commented about The Hill, and had long discussion threads about it. So I found the hilliest hills in Toronto and ran up and down them. The Hill on the course couldn’t be worse than that, right?  Right? Whatever. There’s a hill. I’ll get over it. Right?

I also figured I’d take the commuter train out to Hamilton from Toronto, and do a practice run of the course. The first weekend I had set aside for that, it was -20C, with 40kph winds gusting to 70kph. And the roads were icy. So, nope. Not going to run on unfamiliar roads in that.

Then I had the flu.

Then it was getting pretty close to race weekend, so it was a “now or never” situation. I took the train and bus over, ran part of the route, got lost and had to Google map where I was and how to get to the next part of the course. Several times. I made it as far as the lift bridge, and crossed back and forth over it several times trying to figure out where I was supposed to go next. At that point, which was supposed to be about the half-way point of the route, my Garmin had me clocked at 22km and I had been out there 4.5 hours. I remembered I had seen a convenience store a couple of kilometres back, and decided to call it a day and go have the store owner call me a cab back to the GO station.

I had still never seen The Hill.

That’s OK. I had my strategy planned out. I went to the Godiva store and bought a salted caramel truffle and put it in my fuel belt. I figured that knowing there was chocolate for me at the top of The Hill would be good motivation to get me up what I had been warned was a near-vertical climb.

I booked a local hotel for the night before the race, mapped out the Hamilton transit bus routes , and got ready to race. Then I found out that a couple of my Disney running friends would also be at the race, and one of them offered to pick me up at my hotel, since it was on her way to the race. Score. One less thing to think about. We all got together for a great pasta dinner at Express Restaurant where I had some tasty and perfectly cooked gluten free pasta with rapini. Yum.

After an early dinner, I settled in at my hotel for an early night, laid out my Flat Me, and spent the evening resting and hydrating. I felt good. I had done my training, and was as prepared as I could be.


I woke up in the morning feeling confident and happy. I noshed on some of the complimentary breakfast at the hotel, grabbed a banana to go, and waited for my ride. There were lots of runners at the hotel, and my costume was already getting some love. The lobby TV had the weather channel on (you might be in a runners’ hotel if…) and it looked like it was going to be a great day to run. Not too hot, not too cold. Maybe a little windy, but less windy than I had been training in.

When we got to the stadium where the race would start and end, a lot of runners were taking advantage of having a building to wait inside. I found it a little too noisy, hot, and crowded, so I did my waiting out in the fresh air. I’m glad I did, because I got to meet this little darling. Nelvana has a brother who takes the shape of a dog and helps her on her adventures, so I made this adorable little puppy my honorary Tanero for the day. She seemed happy about it, even though she’s a girl puppy.

Puppy ATB30K

The corral system at Around the Bay was A, B, C, and everybody else. It’s certainly the biggest non-Disney race  I’ve ever been in. There was a sea of people in front and behind me.  You can get a good idea of the size of the field in this YouTube video YouTube video of all the runners starting.

Open  (aka slowpoke) corral.

In the Corral ATB30K

And we’re off! I set my Garmin for a steady pace, 2 minutes quick jog, 1 minute quick walk, 2 minutes easy jog, 1 minute easy walk, and repeat. Maybe It’s a weird interval set up, but it works for me.

We're off ATB30K

So many runners! People were all really nice. Some folks asked me about my costume (naturally) and i had fun talking to them about a great piece of Canadian culture that not a lot of people know about.

2K in ATB30K

Wow – already? I missed the 1K marker entirely! Cruising right along. The field was starting to settle out by the 5K marker, but there were still lots of people behind me. I knew at this point that I wouldn’t need to worry about getting lost, that there would be enough other runners around me right to the end of the race. It hadn’t been a strong worry, but after my “trial run” and after being very alone at the back of the field at the Downsview half marathon, it was in my mind.

Won't get lost ATB30K

Running through the absolutely sexiest part of Hamilton. Rough roads, interesting smells, and really industrial scenery.

industrial ATB30K



9K marker! Only a half-marathon to go. Even the distance marker has fallen over just thinking about it. I, on the other hand, was still cruising along, still feeling great, still chatting and joking with other runners along the way.  “Nelvana has weather control powers. So, you’re all welcome.” (pointing up.)

10K ATB30K

Just an aside here. The quote on the 10K sign really made me smile. Fifteen years ago, I messed up my back pretty severely. I was told that running was permanently out of the question for me. I was told that I would need a series of surgeries, but if I could put off the first one until I was 35, it would mean fewer surgeries over the course of my life. I’m 45 now, still have not needed a surgery, and I’m stronger than ever.

Spectator Collage ATB30K

We turned the corner into the Hamilton Beach neighbourhood, so full of charm. These folks had made noisemakers with cookie and candy tins and were banging cheerfully away on them. Other folks had soda bottles filled with pennies or beans, or were banging pots and pans together. It was a great stretch of road. You could also hear the waves nearby. When I had done my practice run, the bay was still frozen over so there had been no wave sounds.

This  convenience store is a $30 cab ride from the Hamilton GO station. Just FYI. Also, the owner is super nice.

convenience store ATB30K Hey, it’s the bay! First water I saw all day. It was totally worth having to put the gloves back on, I loved hearing the water, even if it put a bit of a chill in the air.

The Bay ATB30K

At this point, I was still cruising along, and keeping my intervals and target pace. Before I knew it  I had made it to the lift bridge. This is the point that the race info says you have to cross before  11:45 or you aren’t permitted to finish the race.

lift bridge ATB30K

I’m here, and it’s before 11:45, so I’m safe! I hadn’t been overly concerned about making the 15K mark in 3 hours, and I’d learned since from my more experienced running friends that the Bay race does not sweep after the bridge. So I’m definitely going to make it.

Don’t look down. Don’t look down. Oh boy. I looked down.

look down ATB30K The view from the bridge. So scenic!

on the bridge

Once I got over the bridge, i reached for my half-way point granola bar. Only to realize it was still in my bag back in my friend’s car. D’oh. I ate some soy jerky and a few honey stingers, and hoped for the best.

golf course ATB30K

Ah, the golf course. And the smell of all the goose poop of an eternal winter all thawing out at once. Pew. It was right about here that my Garmin started chirping about being low on memory. In addition to forgetting my half-way point granola bar, I had forgotten to clear my Garmin’s memory before the race. So, there was that. But I was still feeling great, and my costume was still all hanging together.

The course got really pretty after 20Km.

woods ATB30K And then there were these ladies that were giving out apples. The most delicious apples in the history of apples. Thanks, ladies!

apple ladies ATB30K

There was another fuel stop at 23km. This time, with bananas. Nom. Feeling less worried about the missing granola bar now.

bananas ATB30KI could not resist the dog. I mean, really, who could? He’s trained harder than I have.

Spectator Collage2 ATB30K

This guy is a long-time Around the Bay celebrity, with his loudspeakers blaring Queen., giving the runners a power boost on their way to The Hill

Last flat stretch of road. I couldn’t see The Hill from here, but I knew it was waiting for me. Also, right about here my Garmin quit counting intervals, so for the last four or five kilometres, I was on my own. For a couple of minutes I tried to maintain the 2/1 intervals, and then decided to just wing it, and run when I could and walk when I needed to. I noticed a bit of an incline, so I was working on basically 30/30s.

I kept doing my little bursts of jog-walk and then there was a CHCH tent set up on a flat spot (okay, more like packing up by the time I got there).  There was a nice lady near the tent who made some enthusiastic comments about my costume and invited me over for a hug. Okie dokie. Hugs are good. Then I saw a sign – which I forgot to photograph, but let’s face it I was about 25K in at this point and not thinking too clearly – that said there were no more hills for the rest of the course. I turned to the nice lady and said something along the lines of “That was it? That was the big hill?”

And it was.

“But it was so easy.” I may have said that out loud, and other runners may have wanted to slap me a little. Or a lot.

I had intended to take a video going up the hill. I briefly considered going back down it and back up it so I could do so, before realizing what a dumb idea that was.

Again, 25K in and not thinking too clearly.

I went back to jogging when I could, and resting when I needed to. The saying on the 27K marker seemed pretty appropriate. It’s almost like they knew what to say to runners late in the course. Right around here, I realized I had forgotten to eat my chocolate at the top of the hill. Partly runner brain, and partly so astonished by being over the hill without knowing it, but I had forgotten all about it. I figured I’d eat it after I was done running.

Shortly after that, I saw the signs of another Around the Bay celebrity stop was coming up soon.

The Grim Reaper at the top of the hill is out there every year. Nelvana is part diety, so we just hung out and talked demigod stuff. NBD.

Grim Reaper ATB30K

Going into the last 2km, this sign was a good reminder. Because at this point, I started passing more people than being passed by people.

Last 2K ATB30K

But not before taking a quick shot of a Hamilton landmark

landmark ATB30K

I still had enough gas in the tank for a pretty epic finish line sprint. I heard a lot of whoops and hollers when I cranked up the speed. Until a guy after the finish line let me know I was done and I should slow down.

proof3finish ATB30K.jpg

Yeah. I’m buying my photo package.

One of the Marathonfoto photographers managed to stop me for an official finishers’ medal, but I forgot to get one taken with my own camera.

I also forgot to eat my chocolate.

Memory issues notwithstanding, at least I have the shiny bling to show for it.

bling ATB30K.jpg

If anyone is particularly interested, the run details are on my Garmin Connect page.

I took the full course limit time. I finished 6,567th out of 6,614 finishers.  But I had fun, and was still smiling at the end of it. At least I finished, and I was not the very last one across the line. I had a great time running Around the Bay. The volunteers were fantastic, the weather was perfect, and the people of Hamilton and Burlington made me feel very welcome.

I’ll see you all next year!  Hopefully, I can carve a bit off that finish time.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a Godiva salted caramel truffle with my name on it.

Race Reports

tabethawells View All →

I am an actor/writer/director based in Chicago, IL.

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