Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Around the Bay 30K - A Turtle's Story

I just came back from Hamilton, Ontario where I ran the 115th running of the Around the Bay 30K, the oldest race in North America (1894-which beat the first Boston Marathon (1897) by 3 years). I came to this small city in the southern part of Ontario full of excitement, hope and great expectation of a pretty decent finish time considering the training mileage I did in the last 2 months and the amount of carbo loading and hydration I had in the week prior (I think I ate so much spaghetti,Chinese noodles, other pasta that my weight went up from 197 lbs. a week before to 200 lbs. a day before the race).

My goal was to finish close to 3 hours and 30 minutes give or take, and I figured out if I could run a pace of 7 mins. per k, I would be alright. The weather forecast for Sunday was for light rain with the temperature at a day's high of 9 degrees above zero Celsius. I placed a pair of running shorts in my bag just in case I decide to wear one instead of the long one. Yesterday, my wife and I checked in at Sheraton Hamilton in the afternoon, although the race location is just an hour and 30 minutes away from my house. At around 8:00 pm, the wife suggested that we go out to have a look at the area surrounding the hotel, but I said no, got to rest the feet. By 9 sharp I was in bed trying to sleep.

By the way, I saw my running partner, Nette and her husband Fidel at the lobby earlier in the afternoon, and later we agreed to meet at 9:00 at the lobby on race day.

Morning of race day, after a sleepless evening from overexcitement, I was awake at 5 am, turned on the TV to check the days weather forecast, and to my dismay the forecast was for rain and temperature at plus 4 but with a windchill of minus 4. Damn. I tried my best to sleep again but all I did was close my eyes, open it again, twisted and turned in bed but could not get to sleep. By 8 am I had my breakfast, washroom visit, shower. I changed to long running pants instead of shorts and thought about wearing the orange technical running shirt given to me for signing up for the race, but decided not to, thinking that I would have to earn the right to wear it by finishing the race first.

Before 9am, I was out of the room, waited for the elevator with 5 other runners from the 8th floor. After a long wait, one of 3 elevators would open, but was full of runners going down the lobby too. This went on for 15 or more minutes until one of us, with common sense suggested for us to use the stairs. We all walked down the stairs and as we got down to next floors, more and more runners joined us from the lower floors until we reached the floor were the lobby is. The note on the door -No entrance to the lobby on this floor. We all went down one floor down the basement but the door said for emergency exit only. We all went to the other side and saw more runners (about 30 by this time) trying to get to the lobby too. One runner finally had the guts to open the door, and as the alarm went off, we all rushed out of the hotel. It was raining hard at the time, so we ran to the front of the hotel where I met my friend Nette.

By this time, it was close to 9:30, the start of the race and we still had to meet Sandra at the Copps Coliseum, where the registration tables were. The place was packed with people and we never saw Sandra there. Nette and I proceeded to the start line with thousands of runners walking ahead of us. We ended up close to the end of line of runners at the start.We slowly eased our way towards the middle of the road . I looked around and saw runners young and old, male and female, slender and fat (like me) collectively waiting in anticipation and excitement at the sound of the starting gun. I noticed many runners wearing plastic garbage bags and other protective covering from the rain over their clothes. As the gun went off, we started moving slowly with the sea of runners towards the start line. It took us almost 4 minutes to pass the start line.

I told Nette that I always feel spiritual and emotional whenever I participate in a big race like this. To me a race is a celebration of life and being healthy, and the hard work and dedication of everybody participating to maintain the runners' lifestyle. Then, it poured like crazy. First time I got drenched at the start of a long race. My shoes and socks were soaking wet and I heard the squishing sound of water inside my shoes as I was running.

On the 2nd kilometer mark, we saw Sandra and she joined us. On the 3rd k, other faster runners from our running club passed us, Annissa, Aaryn and Francesco. I was feeling strong the first few kilometers as we stucked to running close to the 7 minute pace, and even joked my running buddies that the way I felt at the time I could run a full marathon. How wrong I was I found out later.

At the 17 k mark, Nette had to use the washroom so I and Sandra went ahead. Sandra then started running faster as I slowly got tired around the 21st k. This time my feet were starting to bother me, the toes in particular, and I had to stop to change my socks which were soaking wet. It took me a couple of minutes to do this , and when I started to run again I felt so tired and so cold.

Then it was a test of survival with at least five steep hills for the next 6 ks. I did some hill training in my clinic, but our hill was a short 400 meters. All the hills that we had to run were mostly longer and much steeper. I ran the first hill, but had to stop in the next hills without reaching the top. Had to walk to avoid cramping, which I felt in both quads. I prayed to Mother Teresa and St. Michael .Two lady runners saw me limping while walking up a hill slowly, and as I tried to massage the cramping muscles, they stopped, asked what my problem was, and offered 2 big white round tablets which they said contain electrolytes. I popped both tablets in my mouth as the 2 earth angels continued running up the hill.

Around the 25th k, I passed Sandra. On the 26th k, My cramps started bothering me again, and I had to slow down but continued running . I tried walking but it only caused the cramping to get worse. One volunteer on a bike asked me if I were alright. I did not want a DNF so I said, I'm ok, nothing serious. I ran/walked the last hill and saw the 27th k marker. I told myself, with 3 ks left these volunteers would have to kill me, to make me stop finishing because of cramping. I felt better and better and the cramping stopped. I psyched myself to just relax and not overexert. I also visualized my mother smiling from above looking down at me as I continued running. I looked up the gray skies and prayed. Please don't let me not finish.

On the 28th k mark, I passed the 2 earth angels who gave me the white tablets. They were talking to an elderly white guy on a bicycle with white hair and beard. On the 29th k 2 guys wearing Grim Reaper costumes on the road told me if I want to quit and go with them. I said, "No way!" I then saw 2 elderly men with white hair ahead of me and I picked up a little speed and passed them.

As I neared the Copps Coliseum, I wiped my face of sweat with my gloves (lost my handkerchief somewhere along the race route), and then my nose too, being aware that I must look good at the finish line. I could hear the loud music and the announcer's voice calling out names of finishers as I ran closer and closer to the building. A few hundred meters to the finish line I picked up more speed as I passed a few more runners, and entered the Coliseum. With the loud accompanying music Staying Alive by the Bee Gees( do they look at your age to choose the right music for you?), and myself being shown in the huge Jumbotron, I ran the last 50 meters of the race in the best form I've ever had, and crossed the finish line for my first 30k race looking like a winner.

I finished in 4634th place out of 4916 participants in a turtle's time of 4 hours 9 seconds. So, with this 30 k race under my belt, I am happy to move another step closer to my goal of finishing a full marathon. But more than this, I was just blessed to have my 2 daughters, my wife and some close friends cheer me on at the finish line.


  1. Great! You did it. 30 is very close to 32K, which is usually where you hit the wall, as they say.

  2. Wow! that entry just gave me goosebumps - fantastic run :)

  3. Hi Bong,
    My quads hurt, going up and down the stairs is a torture! Registration for ATB 2010 is now open. Are you running it again????
    - Nette

  4. Thanks M and AGR. Yes, Nette, I'm definitely running it again. Isn't it too early to sign up for next year? What's your team name pala?