“Didn’t it rain, children?
Talk ‘bout rain, oh my Lord!
Didn’t it rain!”
If there were Greek gods today, there would have to be a god of the iPod mix. They'd be a trio of computer-geeky deities sitting in the heavens like the Fates, tossing songs onto the iPod mixes of innocent mortals that are poignant or ironic or irritating at just the right moments. The Pod Gods could have been at work while I was running Around the Bay last Sunday.
I almost laughed out loud when the rollicking gospel song, “Didn’t It Rain?” popped up on my mix at the 5K marker. I was already drenched from a steady downpour that would last through the first two hours. In fact, this 30K run was really like two runs. The first was a relatively flat 18K trot in the rain. The second run was a hilly 12K slog into a cool headwind. Not surprisingly, the first race was a lot more enjoyable than the second.
It was momentarily dry when we started the race, but as the route wound around Hamilton Harbour and alongside Lake Ontario, the weather settled into a kind of steady but bearable drizzle. The thing about rain is that once you’re wet, all that can really happen is that you get more wet. It could have been worse.
I felt good going out and tried hard to balance between moderating my pace early on, while also banking some time for the hilly latter part of the race. Lately, I’ve been feeling weak, sluggish and dead-legged on my training runs and I was very happy that I did not have that feeling at all on Sunday. The crowd of 6,200 runners and the friendly spectators gave me a boost and I (mostly) enjoyed myself. I got a lift from seeing my sister cheering from the sidelines at 11K.
In fact, the first 18K of the race really seemed to fly by. Runners, you know that feeling you have on a race when you haven’t seen a kilometre or mile marker for a while and you begin to hope maybe you passed right by the marker without even knowing it? And you know how it pretty much always happens that you haven’t missed the marker? Well, on this race, I actually missed a marker (the 3K). I ran a kilometre without even realizing I’d completed it! In fact, this is the first race I’ve ever run where the kilometre markers seemed to appear before I expected them, rather than blocks and blocks after I hoped for them.
That was before the race got hilly. I knew from the course description and from reading reports of previous Around the Bay races that a major characteristic of this race is its hilly final third. So I wasn’t surprised to encounter a series of rolling hills winding through the neighbouring city of Burlington. There are many (I lost count) but they are relatively gentle and there are lots of pleasant distractions on this section of the route. The houses in this residential neighbourhood are lovely, and many people came out to the end of their driveways to offer water, orange slices or just noisy support. Then (as I recall), there’s a pretty big incline at around 24K before the course levels out for a bit. I remember thinking “Wow, is that it? That wasn’t too bad.” My sister met me again just before the 25K marker and I told her I was feeling really good and making a decent pace despite the hills.
Then the course made a long descent into a ravine (that part was fun), before making a steep climb up a twisting road up to the 26K marker. I don’t know how long that hill was, but somewhere on the way up, I lost the will to run. I wasn’t alone. I estimate that almost two-thirds of the runners around me walked some or all of that hill. And here is where I hang on to a tiny shred of pride: I never walked a hill during the race. It might have looked like walking at some points, but my brain was telling my legs to run and my legs were obeying. Sometimes they were obeying with the enthusiasm of a sullen teenager told to clean his room, but they did what they were told.
After that, I was done in. When I encountered the infamous “grim reaper”, who stands beside the cemetery conveniently located at the 27K mark, asking runners if they are “feeling dead”, I was ready to give him my business. I did a quick Garmin check and realized I had 15 minutes to run the final 3K –- something I can't do on fresh legs, let alone after 27K of rainy, hilly slogging. So I resigned myself to my back-up goal of “upright and smiling” and tried to enjoy the fact that the last part of the race actually slopes gently downward. But I did have a few moments of sadness and disappointment.
Then the iPod gods served up another inspiring song to end the race: Kate Bush’s “Moments of Pleasure”, a song that has special meaning for me. To end the race, runners enter a tunnel and emerge inside Copps Coliseum. The finish line is set up in the middle of the playing field and friends and family cheer from the stands. It is the best set up for a race finish I’ve ever experienced. As I emerged from the dark tunnel into the warm, noisy and blessedly dry stadium, Kate was singing, “These moments given are a gift from time”. I remembered how far I’d come as an runner, how fortunate I am to be healthy, and how many people have done wonderful things to support me in my running obsession and it was impossible to be disappointed. I felt blessed.
Final time: 3:17
Place (gender/age): 273/436