Some Things I Learned From Running 30k for the First Time

The Around the Bay Road Race is North America’s oldest foot race, first held in 1894. It is a challenging course that starts in Hamilton’s downtown core, extends through Hamilton’s industrial sector, up and down the rolling hills on Burlington’s North Shore Boulevard, and finally back to Hamilton. This year, it was held on April 3, 2016.

As someone who doesn’t identify as a “runner”, my decision to participate was made a month before on little to no training. It was sparked by someone remarking that it would be crazy to attempt this without extensive training – I was curious, so I wanted to see for myself if it could be done.

Note: I do run occasionally, but casually on trails. The longest distance I had run before the 30k was about 8km with some occasional walking breaks.

My official time was 3:52:30.1, which met my primary goal (finish with no catastrophic injuries) as well as my secondary goal (under 4 hours). This gave me plenty of time to observe and reflect on some of the following things;

– Attempting this without extensive training is foolhardy (no surprise there). Running is very hard on your body’s suspension system – the joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles in your legs. During my three weeks of training and the run itself, I confronted the harsh reality that my body is no longer invincible like it was when I was a teenager.

– If you are attempting to run long distances on no training, don’t set an aggressive time goal; just run to finish. Although I ran most of the course, I swallowed my pride and walked up a couple challenging hills to avoid injuring myself.

– Aside from the physical component, running is very much a mental sport with ups and downs that can’t be explained – just felt. The first 15k was easy. After that, it felt like every kilometre took 20 minutes to complete, with 20k – 27k being the hardest. After 27k, being so close to the finish line made it easy to push through and finish. Rounding the last corner into Copps Coliseum and seeing the finish line was surreal.

– Runners have a very cool subculture. They are competitive, but not with each other – the focus is on making sure everyone sets new personal records. As a newcomer to running, it was amazing to talk to other runners before, during, and after the race. Everyone is very supportive, welcoming, and encouraging. In particular, I was blown away by dedication shown by the pace bunnies; people who dressed up and carried signs, running to a particular schedule to help people benchmark to a certain time.

– Speaking of support, the amount of people that showed up at the side of the road to cheer on runners was touching. Having strangers cheer you on and offer water, fruit, and beer (yes, beer) is encouraging beyond words.

– Dressing properly for cold weather (the run took place in -7C weather) is important. Thankfully, I wore the bare minimum I needed to stay warm (on good advice from a number of friends). In the first 10k, I saw thousands of dollars of thrown-away fleeces, sweatshirts, and jackets as people quickly realized they were overdressed.

– One other note about the cold: after I finished running and made it back to my house, I experienced a small cold aftershock – I’m guessing it’s because the blood returning from my extremities was a bit colder than it should have been, and my core wasn’t producing heat from exercise anymore.

– The energy gels that runners consume (100cal packets of sugar & nutrients) are like astronaut food. Absolutely vile, but necessary.

– Similarly, drinking beer after the race isn’t necessary, but much more enjoyable than the energy gels.

– Running is addictive; I think I’m going to set an aggressive time goal for next year and train accordingly!