On Saturday afternoon I had a terrible headache and was convinced that I was coming down with something. I was seriously reconsidering running Around the Bay, even though I’d been looking forward to it for a while. But I decided to just take it in small steps. Very small steps. As in, Step 1: Drive to Hamilton. Step 2: Park car. I told myself that I’d see how I felt and that I could stop at any time. Although I wasn’t really sure how I’d get back to the start/finish if I stopped in the middle of the course, it still helped to think that I had the option.
Amazingly, I managed to get a good night’s sleep and woke up feeling well-rested. I ate two slices of whole wheat bread with almond butter (as opposed to my usual one slice) and half a banana, which turned out to be the perfect amount to ward off hunger, but not make me too full.
As I was driving in to Hamilton, I tuned in to the CBC and they were interviewing two guys at the start line for ATB. They were obviously talented runners, having qualified for Boston several times, but they had such a charming and humble attitude. Listening to them really lifted my mood and got me excited for the race. I remember one of them describing to the host how you get to run into Copps Colliseum at the finish and “feel like a real athlete.” The host laughed at this and reminded them “Umm, you are athletes” prompting the runner to say to his friend “Hey! We’re athletes!”
Copps Colliseum was packed when I got there. I went straight to the bathroom and then spent the rest of the time being shoved around and not knowing exactly which way to go. I quickly gave up on the hope that I’d see any I knew running, although I did keep scanning the crowd for familiar faces.
Just before the start I started chatting with a very kind man. He looked to be quite a seasoned runner, I’m guessing in his late 60s or 70s. He mentioned how lucky we were that it wasn’t raining. I agreed with him, and we got to chatting. He asked if I’d done ATB before and when I said no, he asked if I’d done any marathons. I told him that I’d done one to which he replied that we should trade chips, which made me smile. I always like it when I meet someone friendly at the start, it really makes a difference. We got separated by the crowds pretty quickly though, and I wish I had a chance to wish him a good race.
I actually saw my neighbour just as we were lining up, which was quite fortuitous because we run at roughly the same pace. I was very happy to find someone to run with. Unfortunately, our time running together was short-lived because I had to stop to use the bathroom at 4k. (Apparently my urge to go wasn’t just nerves like I had told myself – it was the water I drank that morning.) There was quite a lineup and this experience was definitely an argument in favour of wearing your own watch during races – I lost 14 or 15 minutes off the official time!
I figured that I would never catch up with Jim because I’d have to make up a lot of time, and I didn’t want to waste too much energy during the first 20k. I knew what was coming after that! Nonetheless, the idea of catching up to him kept me going, and was a nice non-race goal that occupied my mind. I actually did see him again at around 24 or 25k, which gave me a much-needed boost of energy just before tackling the last big hill.
Overall, this race was a ton of fun. There were so many enthusiastic supporters along the way, and I found all of the other runners to be very friendly. I actually felt that sense of camaraderie with fellow runners that is so often missing when everyone has their headphones. Maybe it’s the rolling hills over the last 10k that bring people together, but whatever it is, I certainly appreciated it. And, of course, I’d heard about the man who dresses up as the grim reaper and cheers runners on near the cemetery. It’s things like that which really make it a fun day. I’d also been told how great it feels to run through the tunnel into the stadium for the finish, but I guess it’s one of those things that you can’t quite grasp until you experience it for yourself. I didn’t really understand how running into Copps Colliseum could really make the previous 30k worthwhile, but there was something magical about it. There is so much energy from the supporters along the last stretch, and you really get a sense of what a history this race has. As I made my way down the final stretch of York St. I thought to myself what an enjoyable race this had been and I actually had the thought “I can’t wait to sign up for this next year!”