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Destination Race: Around the Bay Road Race 30K, 5K & Relays

Experience a part of history at this one-of-a-kind Canadian bucket list running event

Reader Jarek Pachocki's ATB medal.
Reader Jarek Pachocki’s ATB medal.

What: Around the Bay Road Race

When: Sunday March 26th, 2017

Where: Hamilton, Ont.

Race(s): 30K, 5K, 2- and 3-person relays

History: Since 1894

Charity: St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton

Web: bayrace.com

Experience a part of history at this Canadian bucket list event

Around the Bay celebrated its 120th year in 2014 and has now been run a total of 107 times (having missed a few years during the world wars). ATB as it’s commonly known, prides itself on being the oldest road race in North America, even “Older than Boston”, the marathon that is.

The first run took place in 1894 with just a handful of participants and has grown to be an extremely popular and exceptionally well run event kicking off the Ontario spring racing season.

The event features a unique 30K distance with relay options for teams of two or three, as well as an out-and back 5K that produces fast times. All together, the event attracts some 15,000 runners and walkers and raises money for St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.

All races take place from FirstOntario Centre (known previously as Copps Coliseum) in downtown Hamilton, which also hosts the pre-race expo and kit pick-up as well as race day headquarters. Race time is 9:30 a.m. for 30K runners and relay participants while the 5K goes shortly after at 9:45 a.m. Note that parking is somewhat limited in the area around FirstOntario and many local roads are closed so plan your trip to and from the event accordingly. Many would also attest to a shortage of washrooms in the arena where lines can get very long so make sure you have a plan B for race morning.

The Grim Reaper at the 2013 Around The Bay Road Race. Credit: sportszonephotography.ca
The Grim Reaper at the 2013 Around The Bay Road Race. Credit: sportszonephotography.ca

The 30K course, which starts just outside FirstOntario on York Boulevard, was changed in 2014 to feature a more complete tour of the Hamilton Harbour running along Burlington Street, but also added a number of continuously rolling hills early on which many participants claimed made the race a bit slower overall.

At 10K, participants head north along Beach Boulevard and cross over into neighbouring Burlington. Between 18 and 24K they continue along the panoramic rolling hills of North Shore Boulevard which offers spectacular scenic views, but also a formidable challenge. Due to ongoing construction, the race’s most grueling climb (ATB’s own version of Boston’s “Heartbreak Hill”) was avoided in 2015 and 2016 but is set to make its return in 2017. Following a 3K stretch on Plains Road, participants proceed to York Boulevard for a memorable encounter with the infamous Grim Reaper near the Hamilton Cemetery. Luckily for all, the final 3K of the race provides a gentle downhill return into Hamilton for the unique finish on the arena floor inside FirstOntario.

The 30K course map for 2015.
The 30K course map for 2016. The start has been moved slightly in order to ensure an accurate and certified course.  Note the changes in dotted blue.

Participants can expect a well-marshaled and supported course with plenty of aid-stations and helpful volunteers. There are also loud and supportive crowds and community cheering stations at various points in the race, some who offer orange slices, bananas and some years, even bacon!

Following the finish, which is broadcast “live” on the arena’s jumbo-tron for all spectators to see, participants receive a commemorative medal, which may be gold, silver or bronze depending on their respective finishing time. There are then an assortment of snacks and refreshments available to finishers as well as plenty of space to relax, unwind and to meet up with family and friends after the race.

In 2016, the women’s race was won by Kenyan Risper Gesabwa in a time of 1:47:37. She has since relocated and now trains in Vancouver but will be back to defend her title. Paul Kimugal was the men’s winner for the third straight year in a time of 1:35:16. The 5K was won by Josh Bolton (15:03) and Victoria Coates (17:08) respectively.

RaceGuide Ratings and Reviews

Organization: 5

After 122 years, event organizers seems to know a thing or two about hosting a great race.

Amenities: 4

An impressive expo, plenty of parking and all the expected race day amenities like bag check, post-race refreshments and more. Note: Washrooms inside FirstOntario get crowded so arrive early.

Swag/Medals: 5

All participants receive a signature long sleeved running tee and the unique medals are gold, silver or bronze depending on your finish time.

Race Course: 5

There aren’t too many 30K races around, and certainly none as unique and challenging as this one.

Value: 4

The cost of racing continues to rise, but the experience of crossing the line inside of FirstOntario on the arena floor is well worth it.