Monday, March 10, 2014

Around the Bay course guide 2014: The first 10k

Update March 17th: Canadian Running posted a nice video of the entire course (although note they went the wrong way at the first Burlington St. overpass - I'm almost positive the race will be going over the overpass, not underneath/beside it). Check it out here: The video kind of flattens out the hills - some of them are bigger than it makes them look!

Original post:

Around the Bay is one of my favourite races. Lots of history, a challenging 30k distance, nice shirts, and best of all, ATB means SPRING. Last year's race, however, had a bit of a snag for some of us:

For 2014 the route has been changed to avoid the rail crossing, and eliminate the chances of another train delay. I'm not going to write a whole ATB guide here because Kenny's already written the definitive guides to ATB (go read them, especially Elevation and hills and ATB frequently asked questions), but the first 10k are now different, and after driving the new section of the course today I think it warrants a detailed post. And since Kenny doesn't live near Hamilton and I do, you get my version!

The new section of the route. It rejoins the old route at the 10k mark.

The race still starts on York, but now turns onto James Street. Initially James is lined with stores and is fairly narrow, and I suspect there may be parked cars to avoid. This is likely to be crowded as people settle into their paces. This felt slightly downhill while driving, but I'm not making any promises on that. At around the 1k mark it turns into a more residential neighbourhood. A couple of interesting landmarks along here, like a very imposing looking CN Rail building. Those of us who were delayed by the train last year can shake our fists at it as we pass.

Bit of the commercial strip from Google Maps. The trees won't look like that on race day...
At the end of James you catch a glimpse of the bay, which is kind of nice - on the old route you didn't really see the bay until much later in the race. Then the route goes through some side streets, past a shipyard and some sort of Army Reserve compound. Then up to Burlington St.

Approaching the turn off James.
At 3k we turn onto Burlington St. Burlington St. is...not the most scenic place in the world. There are some interesting industrial looking monstrosities, but there's also a lot of very boring, nothing to see here industrial wasteland.

For anyone planning to test run the course, I've highlighted what I think is the one bathroom along this stretch.
Next up are the Burlington St overpasses. The first one is roughly at the 5k mark. On race day the road will be closed to traffic and the race will go on the overpass pictured here, where it says 'through traffic':

from Google maps

If you are planning to test run the course, you cannot run on the overpass. It has no shoulder, and would be sort of like trying to go for a run on the Gardiner Expressway. You can run on the lower ground level, however, there is a sidewalk there. You won't be able to test out the elevation change, but you can at least look at it! This first overpass goes up and then almost immediately back down again.

Just before Kenilworth St. is the second overpass. This one goes up and then the road stays elevated for quite a while - at least 2 km if I'm remembering right, which means if it's a windy day it could be pretty unpleasant up there. Again, you cannot run on the overpass. There's no shoulder or sidewalk up there. The sidewalk at ground level on the left of the below picture does continue.

Google maps: approaching the second overpass - the road stays elevated for a while at this point.
If you are planning to test run the course, this is where you run into a big problem. The intersection between the lower level of Burlington Street (which has the sidewalk) and Kenilworth is currently closed for construction, and may be impassable at this point. It's definitely closed to cars, and from what I could tell looked pretty inhospitable for pedestrians. I've prepared a map of the intersection (grey star) with a possible alternate route highlighted in yellow, but I did NOT test drive this, so I have no idea if it will work. It's also possible you can get around the construction site by crossing to the other side of the lower level of Burlington St (it's only closed in one direction), but I did not explore this area so I'm not sure.

Back to the race route. Eventually the road dips back down again, and then I think there's a third climb. But looking at Google Streetview I can't figure out exactly where that was. And now I'm not entirely certain about the existence of that 3rd hill (I couldn't exactly take notes while driving on a busy road!). So there's possibly a third hill along here.

The section immediately after Parkdale is also not possible to test run. Burlington St essentially turns into a highway at this point, there is no sidewalk, and running there would be like trying to run on the side of a 400 series road, only without a shoulder. I suspect attempting it would also be a good way to draw attention from local law enforcement. I've mapped out a way around that section here, where you essentially detour over to Woodward and pick up the old Around the Bay route:

After you exit Burlington St, it's around the off ramp and back onto the route we know and love.

From Google maps, off ramp from Burlington St and onto Woodward.
TL;DR summary:

1. The new section of the ATB course features 3 climbs, none of which are big hills but they will require effort (bearing in mind that's from the perspective of driving over them - if they turn out to suck rocks, rest assured I'll be cursing up a storm too).

2. Test running the course will be a pain in the ass because parts of it aren't pedestrian accessible. If you do test run it, make sure someone in your group has a smartphone so you can look up alternate routes or figure out where the hell you are if you get lost.

3. Cross your fingers race day isn't windy.

Anyone out there familiar with Burlington St. and want to confirm/correct anything? Does that third hill exist or am I imagining things?


  1. Great post! This will be my first ATB so I have nothing to compare it to but the course changes look interesting.

    1. Enjoy it! The first time through is quite an experience.

  2. The first 10k seems ugly, is there a nicer part of the route too? This will be my first attempt at ATB, with no training whatsoever to boot! See you at the start, but you'll be long gone by the time I get to the finish!:)

    1. The second 10k is along the 'beach strip', and is definitely nicer. When you cross the lift bridge you get a nice view of the Bay and Lake Ontario. And the final 10k is my favourite - nice residential neighbourhood, and then some great views on York St. So yes, the rest of the route is much nicer than the first 10k! Good luck and have fun!

    2. Thanks Emma, great post, and it's great to know that there will be some nice scenery! I'm looking forward to it, before getting into tax-land again...

  3. Great info Emma! Thanks for the recon!

  4. I won't be doing it this year, so I'll miss the tshirt, but I am glad to see positive changes to the route. Thanks for sharing, Emma!

  5. This is a great preview of the Hamilton-side of the course and the course change itself. I was going to do a run this saturday so I dressed up and drove out to Hamilton. Due to the very unpleasant 60 km/h gusty winds, however, I simply opted to do a drive instead. I was very glad that I did as the street/construction issues there would've resulted in a series of solid distractions to running a long training run which I had originally intended to do.

    As Emma pointed out, the roads are also pedestrian-unfriendly for training (no sidewalks in some areas) particularly once you get into overpasses and past the ugly street closure at Kenilworth. The first 5-6km of the course are nicer and generally not bad for jogging on roads and sidewalks when they are there. In fact, the windy weekend actually evaporated a lot of the standing pools of snow melt so it's not bad now - relatively dry surfaces to run on! Yay!

    Continuing my drive, I went through the beach community which was also relatively dry and then I went onwards to the Burlington side to see if there was anything else of note. There was some road construction (about 100 yards incl temp stop lights to manage traffic) on North Shore Blvd very roughly in the section of easy rollers east of La Salle Park Rd; the road work does not significantly impact running through that area. Lastly, I saw a half dozen hearty runners in Burlington putting up with the winds and getting familiarized with the hill section in Burlington.

    I definitely recommend anyone drive the course prior to race day to see the first 10 km as it really surprised me what condition the course was and the amount of incomplete road construction across that whole area (including Bay St which the route will avoid by running down James St). The overpasses on Burlington St also add additional "hills" in what was formerly a nice, flat and fast section of the course. I definitely prefer the old course but it'll all work out okay.