Monday, April 6, 2015

"Around the Bay" Road Race

Since 1894 ~ It's the Oldest Race in North America

At almost 31 kilometres (not a marathon), it is held annually on March's last Sunday starting in downtown Hamilton...running along the Harbour, across the lift bridge and around the remainder of Burlington Bay.  Sounds like a scenic stroll?  Not at all.  The weather is  unpredictable: from snow, ice, blizzards and winds...could be rain (or combinations thereof). Add to the equation, Burlington’s sloping and hilly terrain. Last Sunday was an exception; March 29 was a crisp sunny day ~ almost perfect race weather. Thousands of runners participate in both the 30k and 5k events.  Proceeds from the event were  designated for St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Care…the First Responders.

Jess Finished Last…but He Didn’t Finish Alone

The 68-year-old took the bus 13 hours from Kirkland Lake in Northern Ontario so he could run the 30k race.  Drew Edwards from the Hamilton Spectator wrote: “He was one of more than 11,000 runners who toed the start line for the 129th edition of the race.  Almost six and a half hours later, he was the only one left on the course and still had more than a kilometre to go.  Jess Heroux was moving slowly as cars whizzed by on York Boulevard. One stopped.  Jennifer Kowalski had finished the five-kilometre version of the race earlier. She and her mother were heading home to Stoney Creek when they came across Heroux.  Jennifer commented to her mother, ‘Oh, my gosh, I think this man is still running.  We pulled up beside him and asked him if he needed help, but he said he was fine. Then I said, ‘Stop the car!’

Kowalski and Heroux ran together the rest of the way, chatting about…what else?...running.  Heroux, who lived and worked in Burlington before retiring to Kirkland Lake, has been at it for more than 30 years, completing events all over North America, including the Boston Marathon and the 161-kilometre Western States.  He’s finished ‘Around the Bay’eight times before.  Kowalski is 32 and has been running for just over a year: Sunday was her fifth-ever race. 

Jennifer commented, ‘I was the fat kid in elementary school and I would have a note to get out of track and field every time.  Running absolutely changed my life.  It’s not about being competitive or how fast or how far you run, it’s about being part of the team and showing up to do it.  I felt I needed to share a little bit of that with Jess.  He talked about the aneurysm he suffered in 1993 that left him partially paralyzed  on his right side.  It turned his smooth stride into a shuffling gait and slowed him considerably, but he kept racing. ‘I was lucky to walk after; never mind…keep running,’ Heroux said. ‘I’m kind of surprised that I’m still able to do some of these things.’

“When they finally got to the race’s end point at First Ontario Centre in downtown Hamilton, it was empty…the finish line had been taken down, along with the timing clock.  Kowalski and her mom served as a two-person cheering section as Heroux crossed the spot where the winner broke the tape more than five hours earlier.

“Kowalski tracked down a race organizer so Heroux could get his finisher’s medal and record his time: six hours, 34 minutes, 30 seconds.  He was the last official competitor to complete the race.  Heroux said, ‘I never thought about quitting…I said to myself, I’m going to finish it, no matter what.  But, if it wasn’t for Jen…she was an angel for me and gave me inspiration.’

Heroux says he plans to return next year, though he’s considering the shorter event instead of the full 60 kilometres. If that’s the case, Kowalski hopes the two of them can run together again.  Her final comment, ‘I hate running, but I’m addicted to the feeling afterwards.  I always feel like quitting and he told me…Never give up Jennifer. I told him:  I think I met you for a reason…you’ve  inspired me!’

Perfect Day for a Race Around the Bay
(from the words of Glen Cuthbert)

An eclectic mix of athletes came out to enjoy the beautiful sunshine and compete in the 121st running of this race.  From crazy costumes to inspiring stories, one never knows what they will encounter in any given year.  Everyone runs it for a different reason.  

One of these who had lots of fun with the event was Geoff Shepphard  of Burlington.  Running his 25th 'Around the Bay’ race, Shepphard has gained notoriety for his elaborate costumes.  This year’s look consisted of  a giant yellow Mohawk-style-high pointy wig…yellow sunglasses…a yellow jumpsuit with 4 large fabric discs around his shoulders…with yellow and red style pantaloon-style leg covers.  His costume was so creative, he left the interpretation to others. He stated, “Friends have labelled me ‘Fire Chicken’…’Fire man’…’Fireball’…and ‘Cosmic’.”

A teacher from M.M. Robinson High School, he remarked, “It was a field trip that started it all.  As an event, my class was climbing the CN Tower and I wanted everyone to know where I was, so I dressed up. Ever since, I’ve worn a costume for races.”  Past costumes included a Monarch Butterfly…Rocket Ship…and Helicopter.  "It helps one stand out and promotes the fun of the race to others.  It’s more for all the thousands of fans along the race route.  To the kids who are watching, we all look alike, but if someone is different…it motivates them to maybe ~  some day join me in the race.”

Also making a statement were 7 firefighters and 2 paramedics from Oxford County
who ran the 5K event  in full bunker gear…adding 70 pounds to each body weight.

Road Race:  Diverse World
In Emily Hall from Dundas wrote:

It amazes me every year the different kinds of people I see and meet when I attend Hamilton’s Around the Bay Road Race.  It really sheds light on how diverse a world we live in.

With such an accommodating race that offers 30-kilometre, 5-kilometre and relay races, it’s no wonder it attracts runners of all types.  I think that’s one of its best features.  It brings runners from all around the world and gives us a nice sense of togetherness and community in a safe scenic environment.

I can’t tell  you how many extraordinary people I’ve met and stayed in touch with because of the Around the Bay Road Race weekend...and for that I will be forever thankful to this amazing event.

Merle Baird-Kerr…written  April 1, 2015
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  1. FROM MEG: "I never knew about this race ~ sounds wonderful."

  2. I'm aware that not all persons in the Hamilton/Burlington areas are aware of this magnificent yearly race. My hope is that many will be inspired by this worthwhile and humanitarian event...many runners consider it not only as a challenge ...but also a tune-up/warm-up for upcoming marathons. Thanks for your interest, Meg.