On Sunday October 30th, I ran the Niagara Falls International Half Marathon. But first, lets back up (and apologies for how long this is probably going to be).
I have always wanted to run a race in Canada, especially since it’s pretty much within driving distance for me, living in Pennsylvania. This race fit the bill since it was relatively close (4.5 hours or so), and it also fit nicely in my marathon training plan.
My dad and I drove up on Saturday, the day before the race. We drove right to the Scotiabank Convention Center and packet pickup was a breeze. They had a smallish expo, but it was honestly the perfect size. Plenty of free samples, a station to check to be sure the chip in your bib was correct, and I was able to pick up some salted caramel gus. They also had some nice photo stations set up.
We ended up staying at the host hotel that offered the shuttles to the start line of the race, and it was really conveniently located. We spent the afternoon and evening walking to the falls (as you do), watching game 6 of the World Series, and getting the traditional pasta dinner.
I had my second 20 miler of training planned for this weekend, so I planned to run 7 miles before the race, and then run the half marathon as my miles 8-20.1. Luckily the race didn’t start until 10 (and we couldn’t board the busses until 8), so I woke up around 5:30 and was out the door by 5:45. I ran the 7 miles at a pretty easy pace, though I definitely could tell I wanted to run faster, so I forced myself to take a few walk breaks to take it easy. It ended up taking me 1:26ish (12:15 pace). After run part 1, I took a quick shower at the hotel, changed, and ate my breakfast, before we boarded the busses parked outside our hotel around 8:15.
The race is point to point and starts 13.1 miles from Niagara Falls, and you spend the entire race running alone the Niagara river. It is really gorgous. There is a full marathon as well, that starts in Buffalo, NY, and you get to cross the Peace Bridge from the US into Canada, before meeting up with the half marathon course 13.1 miles in.
The race started on time at 10 after playing both the American and Canadian National Anthems. I wore a tank top with arm sleeves, and kept a throw away sweatshirt on until minutes before we started, because it was in the low 50s and cloudy.
On the bus ride to the start I had asked my dad what pace I would have to run to break 2:30. We calculated that it would have to be around 11:20 per mile. I wasn’t sure if it was possible, especially given that I had run 7 miles already, but I was feeling really good. I knew the course was going to be pretty flat and downhill (some folks mentioned some hills, but honestly there was nothing that I would consider a hill by my centeral Pennsylvania standards), and it would be cool… which were all pretty ideal PR conditions. I decided to take the race mile by mile, and see how I felt. I told my self to start of slower and just focus on the mile I was in. If I could PR or break 2:30, great. If not, 20 miles was still a great accomplishment.
Mile 1 – 11:23 – I did a bit of weaving but was happy to see how nice it felt to run the pace I had hoped.
Mile 2 – 11:01
Mile 3 – 10:56
Mile 4 – 11:27
Mile 5 – 10:58
During the first five miles I told myself to slow down a LOT. I kept thinking “chill out, you have another 8 miles to go” but my legs just would not listen, and it felt good. Miles 2 and 4 were slightly slower because they had water stops, which I walked through.
Mile 6 – 11:13
Mile 7 – 11:13
Mile 8 – 11:03
I knew I was banking some nice extra time for when I would inevitably feel the tiredness of being 7 miles ahead of everyone else. I focused on each mile, and felt good. I followed my routine of walking the water stops, taking a Gu every 45 minutes, and taking in the nice scenery.
Mile 9 – 11:35
Around mile 9 it began to rain and the temperatures dropped. I was under dressed – I would have been fine in a short sleeved top or even a long sleeved top. But I kept reminding myself that the quicker I did it, the sooner I would be done and out of the rain.
Mile 10 – 11:40
At mile 10 (mile 17 for me) I started to feel achy in my hips, and my feet were starting to feel pretty tired. I told myself to run with my heart, not my legs. Because my heart wanted to see 2:29 on that clock when I finished, and I had come too far to loose it now.
Mile 11 – 11:25
Mile 12 – 12:10
Mile 12 was really hard for me mentally. I knew I could PR and that I could break 2:30, but I knew it would be close. I actually felt kind of scared, like what if I pushed and pushed and pushed this hard and didn’t make it? That feeling of just barely not making it caused me to take a 30 second walk break, which caused this mile to be my slowest. But then I told myself to suck it up and go get it, I was NOT going to mess this up in the last 2 miles. No way.
Mile 13 – 10:50 – this was my fasted mile of the race, and fastest of all 20. amazing!
13.1 – 1:36 (9:50 pace)
I crossed the finish in 2:28:31 (2:28:32 OT) and was THRILLED and immediately burst into happy tears.
Finally I had broken 2:30 (and PRed by a little over 2 minutes.). Finally my second 20 miler was done (in under 4 hours cumulatively!!!). Finally the bulk of marathon training was complete.
(It’s hard to tell but that is Niagara Falls behind me.)
To say I felt proud and strong would be an understatement. I beat a time that I previously thought impossible, and as the last long effort of marathon training it couldn’t have gone any better!!