Saturday, April 9, 2016

OMG Spring!

Around the Bay Road Race, Hamilton Ontario. April 3, 2016
The attraction and the caution of an outdoor athletic event is that is outdoors. The guys who created the Around the Bay 30k Race back in 1894 originally held it on Boxing Day; later it was moved to the end of March. So all who participate in it know to expect anything in the way of weather. Last year I remember being frozen to the brisket from a bitter wind as I ran the final 3 kilometres. This year promised something similar, with temperatures not expected to get above freezing all day.
As I stood waiting to start the race, swathed in tights, warmup pants, layers of shirt, windproof jacket, gloves, and toque, I recalled that the last time I had run this distance was in Death Valley. That day the temperature reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit and I drank mega-quantities of liquid and put ice in my hat to keep cool and hydrated against the sun. I never stop marvelling that we possess bodies that can operate in such extremes.
Running from the start through the portlands of Hamilton down to Lake Ontario, I actually felt overdressed and overwarm as the wind was at our backs and the morning sun was in our faces. But I was philosophical.
This is nothing, I thought. I was plenty hotter than this in Death Valley.
The second 10 kilometres of the race takes runners along the shore of the lake, in the shadow of the Burlington Bay Skyway. Somehow this is never as picturesque as it sounds, and I always find this section a bit of a slog – heroic and cheery aid station volunteers notwithstanding. When the road turns away from the lake and begins to wind gently upward through the neighbourhoods of Burlington at 17k, I find a sense of relief from boredom.
It was along this section that I noticed this year a phenomenon that is certainly going to be more a part of road racing in years to come. Social media is invading the loneliness of the long distance runner.
Whereas I have always found a certain solitary peace and focus by running, the younger racers are making text messages and tweets part of the experience. I trotted past dozens of young girls shuffling along the road, eyes fixed on the tiny screens of their phones, thumbs at work like little pistons.
“OMG hills!!!! B glad u R not me LOL.”
Which way to the South Pole?
I started to stiffen up at around 25k, which I had expected. Along with the distance, the pavement was taking a toll on knees and quads after a winter of bouncy running on my treadmill. It probably didn’t help my glacial pace that I was wrapped in as much polar clothing as the Amundsen expedition.
The last stretch back into town was not as breezy as I had been expecting, and the Grim Reaper posing for selfies with the runners at 28k did not seem as grim as he had last year. The temperature indeed stayed south of freezing but the sun stayed mostly out for the duration and it was a sparkling day to be running. It was an outdoor event at the end of winter. Shorts and tank top definitely optional.
I felt that generally I ran a more evenly paced race this year. It was also more evenly slower. Even though there were a number of guys my age still out on the course as I trotted into the gloom of FirstOntario Centre and across the line, I think I could have picked it up just a bit the whole way. I was fully 25 minutes slower than I was when I  first ran the race 25 years ago. Symmetrical deterioration?
Still, it was only the first event of the year. OMG. Give urself a break.