Steeltown Sunday Morning: Around the Bay Road Race

Sitting slackjawed in the bathtub, hot water cascading over my head and shoulders. Wondering what’s worth reporting about today’s 30k Around the Bay running race. Knowing I’m not going to give it to you step-by-step. Going full thematic today.

Numbers Tell Part of the Story

Target Actual (Chip time)












This is 20 seconds ahead of the pace I’ll need to hold at the Toronto Marathon in May to qualify for Boston. But what does it all mean? Read on.

What the Shirt Says (and what it doesn’t)


Around the Bay has been around since 1894, three years earlier than the Boston Marathon. That makes ATB the oldest existing running race in North America. Boston has been held yearly, however, whereas ATB has missed 15 years due variously to the First World War, economic depression, and (once) road construction.




Human Tide

No matter how many thousands of runners you’re around in a starting corral (at ATB it was about 10,000), the vibe is always the same; energized, expectant, nervous-humorous. Faces are alert, shoes increasingly multi-coloured. Lycra-clad bodies packed close together make it feel about 5 degrees warmer. The horn sounds – a cheer goes up, no one moves, then you walk, then a series of chirps as our timing chips pass over the start line.

The People I Avoid

The stiff, hunched-over, splay-legged, or just “looks like you’ve got a pant load” runners. With my heart rate above 160, it offends my aesthetic sense to see that kind of form ahead of me, and I pick up the pace to get it out of my line of sight.

The porn audio-track: guys who sound like rutting elk, or in one appalling case like a happy ending was happening right at the 24k aid station. Dudes, not cool. Suffer in silence please.

Hamilton and Burlington Route

The first third of the race goes through Hamilton’s blue-collar neighbourhoods, potholed roads, rows of scruffy houses. The “Hammer” does have some nice leafy districts, but these aren’t them – and reinforce the city’s worn-out, industrial, slag-heap image.

The middle third cuts back along a strip of land that separates Burlington Bay from Lake Ontario – though sadly you really see neither, except when the passing the great green-and-orange lift bridge at 15k.

The route is flat until then, but the final third of the race is the real kicker, winding and rolling along North Shore Boulevard in Burlington, culminating in a steep down-and-up on Spring Garden road for the better part of a kilometre. The area abuts the Royal Botanical Gardens and, appropriately a very large cemetery. For consequences of this course profile, I refer you to the time chart above.

The race ends back in Hamilton inside Copps Coliseum, down a ramp into darkness and emerging Gladiator-style for the last 50m to the finish.

What do you want to be when you blow up?

I know what you’re thinking. I didn’t stick to my plan so serves me right. Stopping running within sight of Copps, 1km to go, and walking off a stitch in my side (for a few seconds) isn’t my proudest moment in sport. I’d been battling stitches through the final third and totally lost the flow I’d had from the start. I underestimated how much the hills would slow me down, and might have avoided that by easing up a little in the first half. But man, it was real good while it lasted.

I do have to say  that knowing I was going to be blogging about this race whatever the result did spur me on to a respectable performance when I might have just dropped anchor.

Damage Inventory

Toes that look like a perp lineup. Twitching calf muscles, mini earthquakes under translucent skin. A kneecap that better have another 6 weeks in it. A dull ache in the glute, now familiar since January. A stinging chafe on the inside of one arm. Pretty standard.

Now What?

I’ve now shown I can finish at my target pace for 30k, but need to do it for 42k. Frankly today that would not have happened. But the course profile was much tougher than it will be in Toronto (a net downhill). So, back to training and now with additional respect for the need to conserve, conserve, conserve in the first half.



Blue Rodeo in Concert

“Hello Hamilton! It’s Saturday night – don’t get into a fight!”

Hamilton Place’s Great Hall erupts in cheers at Greg Keelor’s good-natured jibe at the city’s rough-edged reputation. Keelor, fellow front-man Jim Cuddy and the five other members of Blue Rodeo then launch into their twangy opener, “Cynthia”.

This is the last show of their 25th anniversary tour. Formed in 1987, the rock-country balladeers from Toronto are not quite as famous as other great Canadian acts. But over the years their soulful, hurtin’ songs have featured in high school gym slow dances, make-out mix tapes, and long drives to the cottage. Blue Rodeo’s place in the life soundtrack of generations of Canadians is assured.

Cuddy and Keelor are rounding out their 50s, and their audience is not much younger. Observed one woman, one of the few 20-somethings present: “You know you’re old when you’re drinking wine at a concert.” But the wine-drinking baby boomers settle eagerly into all of Hamilton Place’s 2,000 orange cloth seats to listen.

With a quarter century, twelve albums and thousands of shows under their belts, the Canadian Music Hall of Famers operate smoothly live. The stage is expertly lit, with slow-moving images projected behind the band to match each song’s theme – white shimmering dots on an ink-black backdrop in the case of “Diamond Mine”, for example.

Over two hours, with an intermission, Blue Rodeo crank through their many hits  (including “Try”, “Lost Together”, and “Bad Timing”). The audience cheers knowingly within the first few notes, every time. The only waver is the scattered applause when Keelor dedicates a song to the aboriginal Idle No More movement.

The non-singing musicians mostly stick to their inconspicuous backing roles. Michael Boguski on keyboards is the exception. Crouched over his instrument, he flails the keys with virtuosic gusto during his many solos.

Jim Cuddy is front and centre. Blessed with handsome looks and a sweet, soaring voice, he’s the undoubted favourite of most of the women present. Frequently changing guitars – a different one for each of the first six songs – he taps, stomps, plays the harmonica and smiles through the set.

By contrast, Greg Keelor’ sound is raw, somehow both tough and vulnerable. Sitting to Cuddy’s left and chewing gum, he’s aged more and his hair and beard are white. But he’s the raconteur, telling tales of the “shittiest gig ever” at the Erie County Fair that inspired “What am I doing here?”. After Keelor sets up  “Madawaska”, a tale of northern Ontario wintertime infidelity gone wrong, Cuddy jokes that the intro is longer than the song.

The acoustics in the hall make it possible for the crowd to sing along without drowning out Cuddy and Keelor as they croon and harmonize. Which is a good thing because everybody knows the words and belts them out joyously as if they were in the privacy of their Toyota Camrys on the Queen Elizabeth Way.