This Sunday – March 25 – several thousand participants will line up outside FirstOntario Centre in downtown Hamilton to run the historic Around the Bay Road Race, an event taking place since 1894, making it “Older than Boston.”
In addition to its history, the event is well known for its unique course and distance. 30K is a rare race distance–longer than the immensely popular half-marathon (21.1K) but shorter than the iconic marathon (42.2K). It requires a special and specific type of training, a mix of mostly endurance as well as speed and strength.
The complete course preview
The course itself requires special consideration. Starting just outside the arena on York Blvd. and eventually returning to finish inside, there’s a lot of ground to cover in between.
Starting on York, participants make an almost immediate left turn onto James St. They head north for about a mile toward the Hamilton Harbour before two right turns around 2K and 3K. Around 3K, the course heads east and the next 7K (3-10K) are run from downtown Hamilton along Burlington St, a divided two-lane highway in the city’s gritty industrial district. This section tends to be spectator sparse and highly-exposed to the elements. It’s here that you’ll more than likely experience both the sights and smells that help give Hamilton the title of ‘Steel City.’ This stretch also includes several overpasses which add not-so-subtle elevation changes and make for an added early challenge. Note: The course was changed in 2014 to include this Burlington St. section and many attest that it makes the overall course 30-90 seconds slower. In summary, the first 10K of the course is mostly forgettable and you’ll be happy to get it over with.
Right around 10K–also the first relay exchange point for those in the 3-person relay–the course returns to its historical roots and heads north along the quiet and residential Beach Boulevard. This flat section features good crowd support and unique aid stations (one year there was a bacon station), until just before the 15K–halfway–point, and also the location of the relay exchange point for those in the 2-person relay. Just after halfway, participants cross the drawbridge and enter into Burlington.
A short time later, at 17.5K, the course turns west onto North Shore Boulevard West, and almost immediately thereafter begins to feature a number of relentless rolling hills. These infamous rollers continue from 18 to 27K and are a defining feature of the course. Combined with the spectacular scenery (really, it is!), this section undoubtedly makes for a memorable experience (whether good or bad). Temporary relief comes as the course leaves North Shore Blvd. and follows the mostly flat Plains Rd. for about a kilometre. Then follows a very downhill and potentially fast split from 25 to 26K on Spring Garden Road. Back after a two-year hiatus due to construction, 26K brings the race’s signature and most trying challenge, the Valley Inn Hill. The hill is about 400m in length and while the grade isn’t all that steep, the timing this late in the race couldn’t be worse. Once you’ve crested it however, there’s just over 3K–most of it slightly downhill–to the finish back inside FirstOntario Place. In that time, you’ll inevitably cross paths with the Grim Reaper who lays in wait next to the Hamilton Cemetary and who may also offer some words of ‘encouragement.’ Beyond that, it’s a straight and gradual descent back to the start line and then onto the double right turn down the ramp and onto the arena floor for the famous finish inside FirstOntario.
Race-specific tips and advice
Parking in the downtown area is somewhat limited–especially the free spots–and with so many participants, tends to fill up fast. Aim to arrive early (at least an hour before the race) to find parking and make your way to FirstOntario Centre. The arena makes for a convenient meeting spot and place to hang out before the race but also gets very crowded and busy.
There will definitely be lines to use the washrooms so plan for this and be prepared to wait.
The Running Room booth is open on race morning in case you need any last minute accessories and/or fuelling and hydration needs.
Participants should also know their corral colour and plan to make their way to the start at least 15 minutes before the gun goes off (at 9:30 a.m.). This can be a slow and crowded experience so allow for extra time to save yourself unnecessary stress.
Relay runners must board the buses that will take them to their respective exchange points. Make sure you know where and when the buses leave or you may get left behind much to the annoyance of your teammates.
As with any race but particularly relevant for longer events like this, be sure to have a realistic time goal in mind. Those with a specific goal should also have and plan to stick to a pacing plan/strategy. Given the unique nature of the course–hills in both the first but especially the last 10K–you may want to consider how your pace will vary and that you won’t likely run even paced splits. As always, you should try to avoid running too fast in the early stages or you will likely pay dearly in the later stages.
Fuelling is also essential for a race of this distance. Aim for 30-60 grams of carbs–such as in an energy gel or chews–per hour of running. This is roughly the equivalent of two gels or one package of chews per hour. There are aid stations approximately every 5K along the course with water and sports drink but consider carrying your own if you prefer or are used to something more frequent.
A word of caution, especially on sunny days, is that the change in lighting when you run into FirstOntario Centre can be quite blinding and the turns combined with the descent into the arena can increase the risk of a fall. Be careful, mind your speed–save your kick for the arena floor–and be aware of other participants.
Once you finish the race inside FirstOntario, keep moving forward to collect your medal, get some food and refreshments and also have your photo taken. Eventually you head up an escalator to the main expo floor. If you’re meeting family and friends, arrange in advance a time and place to meet.
Congratulations on completing one of Canada’s most historic and storied races. Why not share your experience with others by rating the event and writing a review on RaceGuide.