Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Around the Bay 30K strategy

Some of the favourite keyword searches leading to my blog this month include such questions as "Is Around the Bay hard?", "Around the Bay strategy", "How to run Around the Bay Hills" and what colour is this year's shirt (I wish I knew, let me know when you find out)

I've run this 30K 'oldest road race in North America' five times, and it's, for me, an annual ritual. The race starts in Hamilton and runs around the Hamilton harbour, through Burlington, then back to Hamilton. Thus, around the bay. I love the race for the T-shirts (read my post about it here), for the tour of downtown and industrial Hamilton, then across to the city of Burlington, where you see the high-priced homes by the water and the infamous painful parts of the course.

2015 UPDATE: The Around the Bay 2015 course (see map) will not have the infamous hill. Here is the diversion around the hill (around a 2K route) which turns hills to essentially flat. Note the first 10K is similar to the 2014 version, which included rollers so now there are hills.

2014 UPDATE: The Around the Bay 2014 course is altered in the first 10K. Here's a post on that  and here's the map. I

2014 Around the Bay course

Original post continues

Here's a snapshot of the course from one my past races there. Click to see the course

When I think about how to run it strategically -- and many people do to try to score one of the medals for faster times -- I think about breaking up the race into three (okay, four) portions. This is in part based on the makeup of the course but also because this is a distance race that necessitates proper pacing so you don't run out of steam.

I like to think the course in pretty much four stages. I'll outline them here

Hamilton to the bridge: I think of the first 10K is pretty much a no-panic, get your pace in and get used to the crowds type of run. If you placed yourself accordingly in the corral, you should find yourself running at your pace within a few kilometres. Note that there are relay runners who will blow their energy. I like this because it's basically a straight route with a few small turns. The roads are pretty well maintained with the occasional pothole. I love this area also for the locals who always come out to cheer - like a church that always has its priest waving at the runners. If you have a goal pace in mind, you may want to ramp up to the pace, but stick at it. Remember this is a 30K and there is no sense to try to bank time. I've always taking the first 10K in a conservative way.

Bridge to Burlington: I like to look at the 10K mark, when you pass the first relay point, is a great time to hammer it. The crowds of the start will probably start to thin, if it's a sunny day, then you'll get the perfect temperature and  you'll have some energy to use up after a smart start. One danger is the wind speed as many places on this course are exposed. There are also slight inclines and that are worth putting stress on other muscle groups. I've often stepped up the pace in this stretch, especially if there is a good group of other runners to pace with.

The hills: Oh yes, this is where the fun begins. Before I talk about them, here's an elevation profile.

Around the Bay is essentially flat, with little rises, until you hit North Shore in Burlington. For everyone who runs Around the Bay, it's these hills and how you negotiate them that defines this historic run. For those who train for Boston, for example, these hills are good training for the hills of Newton. What you do get is a special test, from around kilometre 20 to 26. Over this space, you'll tackle hills, both uphills and downhills.

The hills have different profiles. Below is one of the early risers (after Glenwood, a street where R's parents live) that stretches for nearly 500 metres. It's one of those long slow climbs.  My strategy for this hill is to run it with the same effort that you'd run flat. Don't stop, even when others do. You can regroup on the flats and downhills.

One of the big hills on North Shore. This one continues for about 500 metres. Google Street View

With the hills, of course you'll get downhills like this (which you'll encounter about 150 metres after you climb the hill above. Coast down these hills, let gravity do its job, and recover your breath. Of course, right after this downhill, you have to climb up again. I kinda hate this hill.
Yay downhill. Google Street View

So the hills are spread out. I find some of the smaller climbs to be tough, when you are trying to maintain that same pace you started the race with some 25 kilometres earlier. And that's what gets you about these hills. They come late. Go out too fast, and you could be done. Forget to take a few gels, and you could be out of gas. If you didn't train for endurance or for hills, then they can eat you up.

But Around the Bay is probably most famous for two massive hills at the end, appropriately at the end of a big cemetery.

You'd rejoice on this big downhill at Spring Garden... Google Street View

Here's the huge drop at Spring Garden Road. The elevation chart above shows it as the beginning of the big V. You can really motor down this run, and you better, because you've got to climb up it.

But then you have to climb this... Google Street View
The view above is if you looked back after climbing Valley Inn Road. If you've never run it, all I can prepare you for it is to think of it as three steep climbs. The first takes you under a bridge, followed by the second that gets you up the length of the hill, followed by the final hill that takes you around the bend.

Downhill home: After conquering the bridge, you still got some more to go until the end. I've exited the final uphill with pace and cruised home with my fastest splits. Nothing really more to say that if you parcelled out energy through the first 26ish kilometres, the last bit -- which features the Grim Reaper -- can be a nice little victory run after the hard hills. In past runs, i've had to deal with cramping or just hitting a mini wall. Other times, perfect ending.

Whatever the end, nothing beats running towards Copps Coliseum, where you will run into the arena to the finish. Watch the little ramp downhill when you're making your big entrance.

If you skipped the text, here is the best way to run ATB:
KM 1 - 10: Run it smart, but you can run it at your goal pace
KM 11 - 20: If you feel good, continue on that fast pace, or even put some time in your bank with faster splits
KM 21 - 27: Take the hills with confidence, but take advantage of those downhills, as they'll give you your time back
To the end: This is downhill mostly, so if you got energy, burn it up!

You run it? What are your tips?

Other posts on Around the Bay:

Also, a clickable version of the course. Click through to see the course and play the course (and see the elevations).


lee said...

Say hi to the Reaper for me. Sorry I'll be missing it this year.

Robin said...

Great post and outline of the course. It'll be #3 for me this year.

Laura said...

They put a huge rock on the left side of the foot bridge just before you go up Valley Inn...Hope they have someone direction people around it if there is any bottleneck there.

Stan said...

Hello. Awesome post and blog. Found your blog while searching for Mississauga Marathon race reports and strategies. Any chance you can publish race strategy for 'sauga? :) Aiming for a possible BQ and need all the help I can get since I've never ran this course.

Thanks and keep up the great writing!

Mark Schouls said...

Great time. I am running this for the first time, in a couple weeks from today - coming in from Montreal. Looking forward to it. I am an ultra distance runner, so I run quite slow because of my conditioning. Your pace is very good. I plan to do this one in around 3:30 or so... maybe a little faster. Impressive time mate.

Paulina said...

Thank you for posting this - I'm running it for the first time this year (2013) and I am more than a little anxious. This certainly is helping me get an idea of what I've gotten myself into! ;)

jeff Smith said...

Looking for a training program that would start Dec 1 2013 for a guy (me) that wants to run the Bay in 3hrs. I ran it last year with about 9 weeks to train, a bit of a dare. I did it in 3hrs: 45mins. Freakin brutally tough. No hill training at all and did 1 20km run 3 weeks before. I was a mess, but i did it. Looking for an actual training program i can follow. please help, cheers:)

yumke said...

Hi Jeff. My advice for training is to take a typical 16-18 week marathon training course, and do the first 10-12 weeks. This will get you up to the 30-32K mark. Adjust the mileage to what is comfortable.

I consider a 30K race to be a ramp up to a marathon.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Have you ever done the Flying Pig in Cincinnati? I'm curious if you have ever compared the hills in the Flying Pig to the hills in Around the Bay. This will be my first Around the bay, but I've done the pig and the hills there are killers. I survived, but it was hard. :)

yumke said...

Hi Anonymous --

I have indeed done the Flying Pig. they are earlier in the race. I wrote in a race report back in 2008 that they were as tough if not tougher than Around the Bay.

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