While other runners in Sunday’s Around the Bay Race approach the starting line with fresh legs, Bruce Smith will be turning what he calls his "last lap."
The 53-year-old Burlingtonian will already have run a gruelling 120 km since noon the day before, stopping for no more than a few hours' break and clocking hardly any sleep.
Nonetheless, he expects the final 30-km jaunt — the one he’ll complete alongside thousands of other contestants — will be the best part of the journey.
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“The toughest part’s behind you,” said Smith, who has completed four 100-mile (161-km) ultra-marathons and ran 90 km in the 24 hours before starting last year’s Around the Bay.
“You’ve done the nighttime running. You’ve gone through the coldest part of the day… It’s more of a celebration when you’re at that point, so it’s not about the fatigue at all.”
For Smith, running long distances is all about setting goals, achieving them and then establishing new ones. So aiming for 150 km this Around the Bay weekend made sense after he’d clocked a total of 120 km in 2013.
“I ran 90K and then I finished around the 6:30 in the morning. After about three hours, I then ran the race,” he said. “I knew that I felt pretty good at the end of that… so I knew I could run 30 more.”
Raising money for St. Joe’s is also a big push factor for Smith, the chief information officer for the Halton District School Board. Last year, he collected about $2,500 in donations for the hospital network. So far this year, he has garnered nearly $4,000 in online pledges and hopes to receive more.
“I thought it was a great way to raise money for them.”
It shouldn’t come as a shock that mounting a 150-km run requires extensive preparation, both on race weekend and in the months leading up to it.
Smith's approach to training isn’t much different from many runners who are gearing up for vastly shorter races. Smith, an avid long-distance running who will be participating in his 24th Around the Bay Road Race, works up to his goal distance. His runs increase in length and intensity the closer he gets to race day, but he stops short of going all the way.
“You work up so you do two back-to-back long runs,” said Smith. “I would never run more than, let’s say, 60 kilometres at a time. But what I would do is I would run 60 kilometres on a Saturday and then maybe run 20 or 30 on a Sunday.”
Smith started his training in October and kept going through this year’s unusually frosty winter.
“I know what I need to do in order to be ready to run that distance. Even though it’s been a tough winter, I’ve been able to get the mileage in that I need to get in.”
And before he races on Sunday, Smith and his supporters — he credits his family and particularly his wife Sandra for being “very patient” with him — will set up two cars along his loop, which roughly mirrors the Around the Bay course from last year.
The vehicles will serve as fuelling stations, and they’ll be stocked with water, Gatorade, soups, sandwiches, pretzels and sweets to help ensure Smith doesn’t run out of gas during his trek.
'It’s not about how quickly I can do it. It’s just about the distance — that I can get through it and I’m able to walk the next day.' —Bruce Smith
For most of his run, he’ll be accompanied by at least one other runner, including friend Vikki Bayliss, who plans to run 90 km before completing the Around the Bay herself.
And at the end of his fourth lap, in the early hours of Sunday, Smith will veer off to his home in Aldershot for a few hours' rest. He said he will then walk the four or five kilometres to the Around the Bay starting line, located on York Boulevard just west of Copps Coliseum, for the 9:30 a.m. kickoff.
Unsurprisingly, Smith isn’t planning to beat his personal Around the Bay best — about two hours and 30 minutes, he says — in his final "lap."
“If I take four-and-a-half, five hours, I’d be very pleased with that,” he said. “It’s not about how quickly I can do it. It’s just about the distance — that I can get through it and I’m able to walk the next day.
“That would be great. I’d be happy with that.”