Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Thu, 18 Sep 2014 04:39:03 -0400

Bay Watch

(This piece is for my book-in-progress titled See How We Run: Best Writings from 25 Years of Running Commentary. I am posting an excerpt here each week, this one from May 1998.)

The view from my Hamilton, Ontario, hotel room window on race morning was both impressive and intimidating. Not often had I seen an entire course laid out before me, and especially not one this long.

I looked toward the east at a triangular-shaped bay. At the far end was a narrow opening into Lake Ontario. Steel mills lined the flat southern shore; to the east, beachside parks and housing; along the hilly north side, fine homes.

One of the oldest races in North America runs through this city an hour’s drive southwest of Toronto and an hour above Niagara Falls. The Around the Bay 30K was already three years old when the Boston Marathon came into this world.

Billy Carroll fathered the race known locally as “The Bay.” He owned a cigar store as his legitimate front for a more lucrative business operating out of the back room.

In 1894 Carroll stirred up betting action on The Bay race that he devised. Winning runners back then received a box of cigars for their work. Amid the stogies they found payoffs as large as $15,000.

The early Hamiltonians grew so talented that Jack Caffery, Billy Sherring and Fred Hughson placed 1-2-3 at Boston in 1900. Sherring would win the 1906 Olympic Marathon in Athens.

The betting is long gone, but the race goes on. Sure, it went through some hard years – when either it wasn’t run or barely went ahead (accounts vary) – but it’s still around well past its 100th birthday.

This is an historic event, and I’m a sucker for history. I wanted to become a tiny part of it.

I could feel that history just by looking out the Sheraton window. The bay hadn’t changed since 1894, so neither has the course around it – except to shrink slightly from 19-plus miles to a standard 30K.

Down on the street for the start I thought only briefly about all the runners who had passed this way before. Then my thoughts jerked back to the here and now.

Very few of the 2500 entrants this year could honestly say they came here for the history. They were attracted more by the distance and the timing.

Thirty kilometers is a distance seldom available for racing but easy to understand. It fills the usual black hole of the sport, that great void between half-marathon and marathon. Times make sense at this distance: three 40-minute 10K’s equal 2:00, three 50s add up to 2:30, three 60s to 3:00.

A 30K is nearly three-fourths of a marathon. And the race’s late-March date makes The Bay ideal training for a spring marathon. Every other runner I talked to in Hamilton seemed to be working up to Boston, Ottawa, London (the one in Ontario), Pittsburgh, Cleveland or my own in Vancouver.

Our concerns weren’t historic but current. How to dress for a 70-degree day (the week after a foot of snow fell here)... how much to save for the hilly last 10K... how hard to run with a marathon coming soon.

Which of course was just as it had been for the original runners who competed here more than a century earlier. They weren’t thinking about their place in distant-future history, but only about their race they had to run that day.

UPDATE FROM 2014

If I felt old celebrating my 40th running anniversary that spring of 1998, a visit to Around the Bay cured me of that. A runner I met at this race reminded me that I still had a ways to go before reaching elder-statesman status.

When I asked during my talk if anyone there had run for more than 40 years, many hands went up. Fifty years? A few stayed up.

Sixty? One hand remained. I asked the man to stand and introduce himself. This brought laughter because Whitey Sheridan already was a legend to locals and would only be introducing himself to the speaker.

Whitey grew up in the Hamilton area and worked for 40 years in a steel mill. He was once, and for a long time, one of Canada’s top runners.

At 82, he took the better part of an hour to go 5K on Around the Bay weekend. But he was still out there – participating, encouraging, organizing a race of his own. Into his 70th year of running, he made my count seem puny.

Whitey came up after my talk and handed me a hat labeled “Whitey’s 15K.” I told him I’d be honored to wear it in the next day’s race. I was, and did, and left Hamilton thinking I’d like to grow up to be like Whitey Sheridan.

He died 10 years after our meeting, at 92. Hamilton’s Around the Bay 30K continues.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in three different formats: (1) in print from Amazon.com; (2) as e-books from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com; (3) as PDFs for e-reader devices and apps, from Lulu.com. Latest released was Learning to Walk. Other titles: Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Joe’s Team, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Marathon Training, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log (not an e-book), and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe (e-book only). The middle book of the memoir series, Going Far, is being serialized in Marathon & Beyond magazine.]

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