If this year's Around The Bay running race is going to make its $475,000 fundraising goal, it’ll need some more runners to lace up.

Race Director Mike Zajczenko said he’s still looking for some 2,000 runners for the 30 km race, and another 1,000 for the 5 km run with less than two months to go until race day — March 29 — but he’s confident more runners will sign up in the coming weeks.

"We’re going to close that gap," Zajczenko said, following a Tuesday media launch for the race.

"Last year we probably would have been sold out by this date," he said, adding other races appear to be behind as well.

Zajczenko said he’s not sure what’s behind the lower registration numbers, but his hunch is that the event is still feeling the effects of last year’s brutal winter, which may have led some to reconsider a race that requires training through the coldest months of the year. 

The Around The Bay race has been a major fundraiser for St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton since 2005. This year, St. Joe’s is hoping to raise $475,000.

Runners who sign up for the race have an option to make individual donations or raise money by forming teams or soliciting sponsors.

On Tuesday, CARSTAR Chief Operating Officer Michael Macaluso gave the fundraising a boost by announcing he will join several other business leaders for the 5 km race with the goal of raising $50,000.

Bad news for legendary hill

Meanwhile, Zajczenko said he's not holding out too much hope that Valley Inn Road — a steep spike near the 26 km point in the course — will be reopened by race day. It has been closed since last fall due to CN Rail construction in the area.

"Right now they’ve got it closed off, they've got huge fences and they're in construction mode," he said.

"In my opinion it’s a done deal."

That doesn’t mean runners should stop their hill training, Zajczenko warns. If Valley Inn is closed, the course will force runners up the long, gradual incline of Plains Road instead.

The "boom" moment of Valley Inn may be gone, "but you’ll feel it," on Plains Road, Zajczenko said with a laugh.

He said he stands by his guess that times won’t be all that different on the new course configuration.

Top runners return to race

Several past champions will test Zajczenko’s theory out.

In the men’s field, the 2014 champion Paul Kimugul, of Toronto, who finished in 1:35:34, will defend his title against the 2013 winner Terence Attema, of Smithville, Ont., whose top time is 1:35:44.

Dundas resident Brendan Kenny, who won the 2013 Hamilton Road2Hope race in 2:27:45, will also challenge the two prior champions.

In the women’s race, three runners enter the race with times of two hours or less.

Dayna Pidhoresky, of Vancouver, finished 2nd in 2012 with a time of 1:50:48.

She’ll be chased by Lioudmila Kortchaguina, of Thornhill, Ont. who has a time of 1:53:53 in 2013 and Kate Gustafson, of Toronto, who was 4th last year with a time of 2:00:23