A conversation with Around The Bay’s Grim Reaper

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

Hamilton, Ont.’s Around The Bay 30K is known for being a really old road race (it was 120 this year) and for being very hilly. It’s also known for the Grim Reaper – a dark, imposing presence that awaits you after the last punishing hill with just a couple of kilometres to go. Fittingly, he stands next to a cemetery as you suffer to the finish line.

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We reached out to “Tim the Grim,” a 49-year-old Burlington, Ont. resident and dedicated runner himself, about why the heck he stands in the cold every year creeping out and motivating thousands of runners.

How long have you been appearing as the Grim Reaper at Around The Bay?

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A long time. At least 10 years now, though sadly I am not entirely sure when I started. It must be my dead brain, forgetting those details. I keep trying to figure it out ever year. My daughter joined me five years ago, though school has gotten in the way the past two years.

Perhaps your readers can help me remember by sending me photos and stories. I would love to hear how I have impacted their race.

How’d you come up with the idea?

The idea came from fellow running club member who had been planning to do the race, but then injured her leg. She was looking for another way to participate and have fun and the Grim Reaper was born. The next year, when she was running again, I stepped in to take it over. It is a fun tradition that I look forward to now every year.

Are you a runner yourself?

I am a long time runner – 40 years now. I started in grade school running track and cross-country, and have built up to now doing ultras. The Fat Dog 120 is my big one this year.

Have you ever run a race as the Grim Reaper?

Not yet! I do have plans to run Around The Bay at some point as the Grim Reaper, but that will take some planning. And I did run ATB on its 100th anniversary but that was before my transition to the Grim Reaper.

What’s the funniest or weirdest thing someone has said to you as they ran by at ATB?

Most years, I get a few people who swear at me or are startled as they didn’t know about the Grim Reaper, but mostly I get people thanking me for being out there. With only 2K to go, if they make it past me, and most of it being downhill, I can definitely understand.

How many people stop and pose for a photo with you mid-race?

The past two years the ATB organizers have had official photographers right behind me, so a very large number of people stop for an official photo. But an even larger number stop to quickly snap a photo or include me in a video.

If you could bring your Reaping talents to any other race on Earth, where would you go?

That is a tough one. I would want to do a lot of races. That would be an interesting career. Definitely any race that has “death” as a theme – Canadian Death Race, any race that is near Death Valley or gives out skulls as a race award would sure fit well.

But anything that has me traveling would work.

What was the toughest ATB you ever did as the Grim Reaper?

Six or seven years ago it was wet and snowy. I didn’t dress quite warm enough so my bones were shivering. Since I try to stay out until the last walkers go by my day is rather long. This year I was there before the 5K started so they can be part of it, and stayed out until after 2:30 p.m. Sadly, each year I realize that there are a few late walkers that I miss.

How do the organizers feel about you out there every year?

I haven’t spoken to them in some time, but a couple years ago I was given a race volunteer award, so I have a feeling that they like it. Not quite enough to include me on the official race map but enough to send official photographers out to my location.