Can a single blog post even capture the excitement of completing a first marathon? I don’t know, but I’m going to try this. My FIRST marathon was an indescribable experience. The Niagara Falls International Marathon were 26.2 miles that start in the U.S., continue over the border via the Peace Bridge and through Canada, ending at Niagara Falls. Most of the mileage follows the Niagara Parkway along the Niagara River, and it is just a breathtaking course.
This race had a 6-hour time limit, and I was training to finish in less than 5 hours. I felt pretty good for most of the race — no pain in that stupid nagging knee at all — and started to get overall tired and tight about 15 miles in. But Miles 21-26 were just a next-level experience. It was something part out-of-body and part flow state.
I ran most of the course, with a few short walks through water stops and some stretching after Mile 15. No bathroom breaks, despite there being a port-o-pot at every Mile (really!) and no real distress for the duration of the race. I did break the Cardinal Rule of running though, by drinking something new (Cytomax) on the course that I didn’t train with… but I was at a point where IDGAF and, well, gluten-free fig newtons and sports beans weren’t cutting it. It wasn’t until after Mile 20, but I was ready for a bigger boost. And I felt like I drank a Red Bull and “grew some wings” (maybe I need to start trying out some new fueling options?).
Registration and Cost: I registered early bird back in March for $100 — yep, I officially registered for a full marathon before even doing a half marathon. The full marathon was capped at 1,200 runners (there were 721 total finishers so I imagine it didn’t sell out) and you have to have a valid passport in order to register for this race.
Shuttle and Bag Check: There was a shuttle option from Canada (again, only for the full marathoners) and corresponding bag check on the buses. I didn’t use either since I stayed in Buffalo and had a pick-up at the finish line on the Canada side.
Expo and Packet Pick-up: The expo was located at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls, so we had to cross the border to get there. One last border agent check point at packet pick-up itself, and the rest was easy. I was also able to pick up a fellow Pittsburgh runner’s bag and t-shirt (sans bib) since he was unable to make the race. The staff was super helpful and easy-going about it. Also, we got to fill up the bags trick-or-treat style at a vendor table at the far side of the expo; I couldn’t eat most of the products but it was very generous — including a full-size box of pasta!
Start Line: The race started in Buffalo near the Albright-Knox Gallery — which was open pre-race so that runners could wait INSIDE before the start. We even explored some of the galleries. That was majorly cool. Outside, there were seemingly enough port-o-pots, though I waited about 10 minutes with the influx of users about twenty minutes before start time. The half marathoners started at a different location on the Canada side.
Weather: The morning was chilly and low 40s at the start, and I thought it was perfect for shorts (hilariously). I did go back-and-forth on wearing my gloves and taking them off (and glad that I tucked them into my sleeve instead of discarding them mid-race), and I kept my cap on for the duration of the race. It was also super windy at certain points, which I think Pittsburgh winters have prepared me well for. Clouds covered the sky for the first half and the sun came out for the second. Considering I was initially planning for a forecast of rain for the weekend (and what Buffalo/Niagara could be at the end of October), I was overjoyed.
Fans and Experience: Not a lot of fans on this course, which I know is troublesome for some runners. But I was OK with it. Running over the Peace Bridge was definitely a highlight, albeit a windy one. Each water stop had a bunch of volunteers, some stops had music, another had a mascot (I think, at Mile 20). The first and last 3 miles had the most crowd activity. One of my favorite moments was high-fiving these two kids after Mile 24 and yelling “POWER UP!” The families were all laughing and these kids were so dang excited. I was too!
Best Sign: One spectator held a sign with a Buffalo Bills game update (with newly-taped updated scores). I asked him the score of the Browns game OF COURSE. (He laughed and told me the game had only just started.)
Medals and Swag: THERE IS A TINY SPINNING FLAG IN THE MEDAL! This represents the two countries we ran through and HOW FUN. (I was quite mesmerized by it after my finish. See: DELIRIUM) There was also a long-sleeved performance tee — bright green, SQUEE! — as part of our registration/packet.
Finish Line: This was the first race where they gave us these branded zippy hooded jackets at the finish line — they’re super thin and gauzy but they did their job to cover me up at the finish (and look better than foil)!
Naturally, I had chocolate milk.
Bonus: You guys, the volunteers were giving out cheese pizza at the Mile 20 water stop. How amazing (and how torturous for me).
Random Bullshit: Another WTF with the Music app on my iPhone, punking me and playing the same song over and over and over for nearly 2 miles (until I realized there was NO WAY this remix was that redundant). And then my playlist would only advance to the next song if I used the phone and not the control function on my headphones. I had to close and restart the app, which allowed me to advance the songs through the headphone remote but wouldn’t automatically shuffle through the playlist.
Notable 30-somethings: The #1 female finisher was in the 30-39 age bracket (and #7 overall). Congrats, Paulina Golec from Krakow!
After Party: Since the race ended at Horseshoe Falls, selfies were NECESSARY. Then, a champagne and cheese plate back in the hotel. Like you do. Later, back in the States, we walked (yep, walked) over to Buffalo Proper for an amazing post-race meal.
The Great: A freaking rainbow opened up just as I reached Mile 26. I mean, C’MON UNIVERSE. I started yelling LOOK AT IT! And yes, I started crying.
The Good: Miles 21-26. Something inside me came alive in those miles. I can’t really explain it but it was transformative. Dare I say it: I was having FUN.
The Bad: Experienced some Charley Horses in my right calf around Mile 18. All things considered, that was something I could handle.
The Ugly: Since this was my first marathon, I saw some of the bad that happens to runners during a race. I really tried not to let down runners get in my head, and I had an amazing running partner (new friend from Alabama!) who kept me thinking positive.
Splits: First off, I thought *for sure* that my Garmin watch would die before I finished, but it lasted the entire race.
10:18 (1) / 10:27 (2) / 10:36 (3) / 10:31 (4) / 10:16 (5)
10:31 (6) / 11:09 (7) / 10:38 (8) / 10:40 (9) / 10:38 (10)
10:50 (11) / 10:42 (12) / 10:49 (13) / 10:33 (14) / 11:29 (15)
11:08 (16) / 10:50 (17) / 11:08 (18) / 11:50 (19) / 11:13 (20)
12:57 (21) / 12:23 (22) / 12:51 (23) / 11:50 (24) / 11:17 (25)
Obviously, I slowed WAY down Miles 21-23, which I honestly didn’t notice until I looked at my splits after the race. But my overall strategy was to run the first half at 10:30 pace (which is on par with my half marathon time) which I managed pretty well. I knew that I would probably slow to an 11:30 at some point; I certainly didn’t expect an almost 13-minute mile in that — but what expectations did I have, really? — and at that point in the race I was stopping and taking pictures, enjoying the views and the experience, talking to my fellow runners and to the volunteers. And there was definitely some singing out loud. Man, I couldn’t have asked for a better first time.
Without further ado…
First Half: 2:20:36
Second Half: 2:36:49
Pace: 7:04 (min/km — the metric system always makes me laugh!) or 11:05/mi