Race Report – Inaugural Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon, June 3, 2012

2012 Inaugural Niagara Falls Women's Half Marathon Medal

I just got back into town after running the Inaugural Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon this morning. Before I get to the race report though, I had share the overall punchline from my experiences both here and at the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Half Marathon last month.

The Toronto race has been around for 30 or so years. The race I ran this morning was the first time for this one. As most racers will tell you, inaugural races can have kinks, hiccups, and issues that need to get worked out and often have changes after the first time through. What would I change? Nothing. Nothing that the race organizers can control would have made this race better for me. This race was run so smoothly, you’d have never known it was inaugural. Goodlife last month was so mismanaged and poorly thought out it could have been the first time it was run (and, in my opinion, should be the last time the organizers are allowed to organize anything). Night and day, these two races were at opposite ends of the spectrum of experience and this one out-shone in every category. Now, having cleared my brain, here is my full race report:

Race Report – Inaugural Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon June 3, 2012

Niagara Falls

Canada’s side of Niagara Falls

Pre-Race: Packet pick-up was at the Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, Ontario on Friday and Saturday. We arrived around 3:00 pm on Saturday, 3 hours before the pick-up was to close. The parking was free and the building was easy to locate. We had no trouble finding it from out of town and finding a spot. A greeter at the door of the resort asked us if we were here for the race, even though I had nothing on identifying me as a racer. She was very helpful in telling us where to go. Very well-informed!

When I got to the packet pick-up, it was a rather small set-up compared to a lot of races I’ve been to, but it wasn’t supposed to be an expo, so that was fine with me. The layout was perfect. As you progressed through the room, first there was a list with names and bib numbers. They weren’t sent out beforehand so everyone would need that information. Then came the bib distribution lines, which were organized by number and they had arranged safety pins in sets of 4. They looked like they had tons of extras, as well. A great sign given how close to the end of the pick-up we were. Then came tag activation and the goody bags. The team seemed to have many shirts available still, as well, so I was able to get a shirt in my size without any hassle. The bottle of wine was last and representatives from Chateau du Charmes explained a little about the product. I also got a time band from the Running Room representatives.

The goody bag contained flyers for other races as well as:

  • 1 bottle of Chateau du Charmes wine and 2-for-1 voucher for Chateau due Charmes wine-tasting.
  • 1 regular-sized bottle of 2-in-1 Finesse shampoo/conditioner
  • 24 press-on toenails (to cover your black runner’s toenails)
  • 2 bamboo make-up compacts
  • nail clippers
  • pack of teeth cleaners/flossers
  • 2-for-1 admission to Clifton Hill attractions
  • 40$ gift certificate for the Skylon Tower rotating restaurant
  • 10$ off a Shock Absorber bra from the Running Room
  • package of Werther’s Original
  • package of Campino candies
  • gift certificates for activities at Great Wolf Lodge, like mini golf
  • personalized tracker bib
  • pink, reusable bag with race logo
  • Brooks athletic t-shirt with race logo (really comfy!)

    Niagara Falls Women's Half Marathon Swag Bag

    The contents of the awesome goody/swag bag for the race.

As a racer would exit, a gentleman was at the door with maps of Niagara Falls, which highlighted points of interest in the city. He would ask each racer where she was staying, and proceed to draw on the map the best directions from their specific hotel to the parking/race start line. He also advised us on which roads would be closed for the race. This is something I didn’t need, as I had looked into it already, but it was great of the organizers to think of out-of-towners!

Race Day: Since I wasn’t relying on a shuttle that may or may not have room for me, I was able to set my alarms/wake up calls for a much later, 6:00 am wake-up time. It was heaven! I had followed the weather reports closely to see that it was still set to rain this morning, up to a 50% chance of precipitation, so I put away my sunscreen and got out the running pants in place of my normal skirt. Since I had planned time into my prep for sunscreen, I was able to snuggle back under my covers for a bit to warm up before going out.

I drove to the parking lot for the race, which was a first for me. Usually, I rely on race shuttles for fear of nerves making me a terrible driver. Although I had registered for this race back in January, I hadn’t really decided to run it until yesterday due to many issues, mostly my knee injury, so the nerves hadn’t had a chance to set in. The drive and parking were both a breeze. The hotel valet brought the car up at 7:10 and I was parked at the race by 7:30. I stayed in the car for a bit, sorting out how I would carry all I wanted to carry without my handy running skirt pocket.

The race MC

Francis, the MC/bride, and her new husband.

The start area was still pretty bare just before 8:00 (start time) but I had fun listening to the MC, Francis, talk about her wedding. She had been married just last night and she was announcing the event in her wedding dress while her groom, in his tux, was on stage with her.

Start Wine

The Start “Wine” of the race.

We shuffled into the Start “Wine” area about 10 minutes before 8:00 am. Then something else happened that I had hoped for (but was disappointed) at the Toronto Half Marathon, they preformed our national anthem. A young lady from British Columbia sang it beautifully and a spectator’s husky near me was howling along. It made me proud to be there. They don’t play it in the U.S. races I do, obviously, so I was disappointed that my first Canadian race had failed to do it.

The racers were then split alongside each side of the corral while a drumming group from the local school marched down the middle. The race official start was delayed by 15 minutes as organizers wanted to give the racers still trying to park a chance to get to the start. Two racers behind me (Sour Puss A & B as I called them) were complaining about having to wait and how they shouldn’t be punished for other people’s mistakes. They also were ranting about the race organization, the MC, and pretty much everything else. I’ve never heard any racer so negative over things that have little consequence. This wasn’t an elite competition and they were stacked well behind the 2:15 pace bunny, so I don’t think 15 minutes of standing was going to kill them. I, on the other hand, was very happy to see that the organizers were waiting. I thought that was very considerate of them and demonstrated that they cared about their racers, all of them, and not just the elite runners.

The race course was an out-and-back style of racing following only a couple of roads the whole way. It was a good and bad thing because on the way back, you knew the terrain as well as the distance, but the downside is you get to see all the runners ahead of you, including the pace bunny you had lofty hopes of following. It does allow you to cheer for runners ahead and behind you which I thoroughly enjoyed doing as I’m an avid shouter/cheerer.

Course map

The course map

After the runners pass the turn off for the start area, the course is almost entirely flat. There is 1 bridge, with a Tim Hortons, but otherwise, it felt and looked flat. The first 5 kilometres or so was not so much, but it was over fast enough and it had the scenic Niagara Falls to distract you.

Niagara Falls skyline

The Niagara Falls skyline.

Once on the flat part, I encountered the two issues I had with this specific race, unrelated to my form, energy, or health issues: strong, constant headwind and bugs. The entirety of the last 14 kilometres of the course runs alongside the water, right at the edge essentially. The flat open surface allowed to strong headwinds both directions making it harder to push through near the end. The moisture also encouraged bugs and there were plenty of those. I’m a huge scaredy-cat when it comes to bugs of any kind so this was definitely also working against me.

Physically, I ran into only some minor issues, and most of that related to my calf seizing up again (as it did in Toronto last month). I’ve narrowed it down to water, or lack thereof, being the main issue. I ran out, to be blunt, and while the water stations were available, my body can’t handle Niagara tap water, so I had to make do with what I had.

Luckily, I had something even more awesome than water to save me in the last kilometres of the race: TIMBITS! We passed them going out but they were a life-saver on the way back. I was watching the horizon for when we’d cross the bridge since I knew they were waiting there for me, calling out to me. That got me to around mark 18/19 when the light rain started up. Then the mantra became: “Rain won’t stop me, I’m running the Mickey!” That got me the rest of the way to the Finish “Wine”. It made me laugh more running to it than leaving it.

Finish Wine

The Finish Wine of the race.

Post-Race: The finish area was well laid out with the chute continuing for a bit through the medal area and then around in a U-turn to the recovery chute.

First came the Aquafina water bottles (not cups!) handed out to everyone who passed through. After that was the tent that normally has food items for racers. This is another spot where the organizers shone even compared to RunDisney!

All the food goodies (apple, orange, banana, and, packaged in their own bag, 2 Tim Horton’s chocolate chip chookies) were packed inside one easily carried take-out box the style of a timbits box. Inside, the goodies were arranged in pink tissue paper. At the end of the food goody tent, racers were given a small carton of chocolate milk.

Honestly, why can’t all races have a box for my items. I’m usually walking around carrying all this stuff in my arms while trying to get photos with my medal and friends or family. This made things so much easier that I’m surprised I haven’t seen it done before!

After-race food

The food and drink items given out at the Finish ‘Wine’.
Inlay: Contents of the food box pictured in the top left.

The parking was not the nightmare I thought it would be at the end of the race, either. I was done and on my way in minutes. The route to the parking was very simple from most hotels and even a blind out-of-towner like myself would have been hard pressed to get lost. Not relying on shuttles (or having your shuttle get stuck in traffic and leave you in the middle of an unfamiliar city, ala Goodlife Fitness Toronto Half Marathon) was a blessing. I was able to get back to the hotel and up to my room before I had even found my shuttle last time. This allowed me to shower and clean up before heading to IHOP for breakfast and then checking out. I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed driving to the race and having access to a car for my ride back. No losing anything on a bus or having to wait in a long line with sore legs. I was in the shower and cleaned up before many of my fellow racers were even back to the hotel.

2012 Inaugural Niagara Falls Women's Half Marathon Medal

2012 Inaugural Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon Medal
Inlay: Close-up of medal detailing

Summary: Even though the weather was supposed to be bad, it held out and the climate was perfect for running. No sun to overheat us, wind to keep us refreshed, and lovely scenery made the course a dream even for a recovering, under-trained racer like me. I hit a personal best on this course, on top of it all too! My chip time was 2:20:30, just over 2 minutes and 30 seconds faster than my previous best, and over 8 minutes faster than the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Half Marathon. I would recommend this race to anyone. It was a great time and I loved it!


Race Report – Goodlife Fitness Toronto Half Marathon, May 6, 2012

Race Report – Goodlife Fitness Toronto Half Marathon May 6, 2012

Pre-race: We got into town around 3:00-3:30 pm on Saturday and the expo was to close at 5:00. Unfortunately, the signage around the CNE was not very good and DBF ended up dropping me off on the other side of BMO Field and its parking lot from the building inside which the expo was to take place (since we didn’t want him to pay the 14$ parking fee for 10 minutes worth of parking). Having no clue where to go, I asked the parking attendant and proceeded to cross the huge parking lot to the Direct Energy Centre (where the expo was). Of course, it was in the last hall in the building.

The line-ups were pretty long for the bib pick up, and the only size shirts they had left were women’s XS and men’s M. I went with XS since I figured it’d be the closest to fitting of the two. I hadn’t planned to need the race shuttle to the start line when I registered and you weren’t able to order tickets after the fact. Instructions were to buy them for 8$ at the expo if you needed one. So I asked about the shuttle tickets, and was promptly told they were sold out.

Not taking that for an answer, I got into another long line for registration changes and solutions. I got to the front and asked again. I was told they were sold out. I was really tired and worked up by this point, and I was about to start crying because I was now in a city I didn’t know anything about being told to find my own way to a start line that ended up being over 30 minutes from the host hotel (which I had booked for the sole reason of using the shuttle). The lady at the registration desk looked like she didn’t want a hysterical girl on her hands and stuck her head in the back. She came back, asked me if I was with anyone, and when I said no, she took my bib, turned around and when I got it back, it had a sticker for the shuttle from my hotel on it. I almost cried again (I was really, really tired) out of happiness.

I activated my bib and signed up for the Midsummer Night’s Run 30K at the expo since they were giving out free hats. Keep in mind, DBF is circling the CNE waiting for me, so I rushed out, through the building, across the sea of parking lots and almost bowled over the Avengers. I guess they were going to the game at BMO Field but it was hilarious to see them in costume.

I found DBF and we left to check into our hotel. I got my late check-out time granted to 1:00 pm (only an hour but it proved vital!) and we were on the 28th floor with an amazing view of the CN tower.

In laying out my goody bag loot, I noticed there were no pins. I checked with Vicky (of menubyvicky), and sure enough, she hadn’t got any either. Sold out shuttle and no pins to attach my bib to me… 2-0 so far expo organizers!

I checked with a volunteer at the lobby about what time the buses start and was told 6:00 am. The race instructions I found later said 6:30 and another racer had been told 5:30, so I opted to get up at 5:00, aim for shortly after 5:30 and pray there wasn’t a line like there is a Disney.


Novotel’s Mascot

Race Day: 2 alarms, 1 snooze button, and a wake-up call later, I was up by 5:10, dressed and in the lobby by 5:35. There was no one there at all. Another racer joined me, commenting that there is usually a line up that extends two blocks around the hotel for the buses.

That wasn’t the case this year as my bus took off with 7-10 people on it at 5:45am (note: not 5:30 or 6:00, lol). We got dropped off at the start line around 6:30, so it was a decent distance from the hotel that I’m glad I didn’t have to cab. I was annoyed they were ‘sold out’ and yet buses were running not even half full.

The start area was well handled, even with the crowds.

We were allowed to wait inside the civic building so I made use of the wall heaters and passed the time until the 8:30 start. The race itself wasn’t too bad or too good. The first half was hard for me since there were some substantial hills, which I’m not used to. I’m also used to running in miles, so the kilometres were messing me up in terms of knowing where my pace was.

I took a couple pictures as we got near the last portion of it and entered the main part of the city. There was a lot of crowds and the city was much more fun to run through than Anaheim. This was the first time I’d listened to music while running but I was glad I had it. I had only 5 songs to choose from but that was better than nothing.

My calf seized up around KM 12 or so and I ran out of water around KM 14-15. I didn’t want to rely on city water since they were using the fire hydrants to get it and usually water from other places makes me not well (and this was no exception later on in the day). I managed to lose a GU on the way too, somehow but I had 4 extra so I was glad I over-prepared.

This was the closest the course got to the CN Tower.

The water stations were terribly executed where often they had run out at 1-2 of the first tables, regardless of whether it was water or gatorade. They couldn’t stock it fast enough it seems and the order kept switching even though all pre-race info said water would always be first at the stations.

I ended up running the last bit just to offset the excess walking I did in the first part over the hills and I pulled into the finish in 2:28:12 (chip). Then came the even more disorganized finish area.


A racer who ran as Thor. I paced off him during the first half of the race.

Post-Race:The medal holders had one hand for full and one hand for half finishers and there was a crowd around them as the physio tent was right behind them with a line going out the door. It was a chaotic mess in a cramped space.

Post-race water and gatorade was only available in cups (as you would get it on the race course), not in bottles, and on tables so that they were obscured by the crowd around them. They were also in the middle of the area, so people had to move around the crowd to get anywhere else.

There was a pen for family with 1 five foot wide opening but no info on what it was so a lot of racers went in there thinking it was the exit, myself included, only to have to try and squeeze your way back out. It took me almost 15 minutes to find anyone who even knew where the shuttles were and all they knew was the general direction.

No one seemed to know where the engraving plaques we had to prepay for were to be found, either, so I saw a few other runners also meandering around looking for the plaque pick up. Chaos doesn’t begin to describe it. Bag check was stupid, in my opinion, but since I didn’t use it, I can’t really comment on it.

Off I marched across another parking lot, up a hill, over the bridge I was sent to, only to find no signs, no volunteers, and no shuttles. I was back in the parking lot I got lost in trying to get to the expo. I wandered around there until I teamed up with a few others looking for the shuttles and we followed the road hoping for buses. When we found them, they weren’t labelled and so we went from bus to bus until we found one going to our hotel.

We had to wait about 20 minutes for it to ‘fill up’ (15 people is not filling!) and we were on our way. We were on the bus about 20 minutes when we encountered a road closure and were detoured. 2 blocks into the detour, the road was closed again and our bus was told to make a U-turn (back towards the first detour). I finished the race around 11:00 am. By 12:20, I was back at the intersection of the first detour where three lanes were trying to merge into 1 and my bus driver trying to get instructions on where to go to get us to the hotel. Keep in mind, my original check out time was 12:00 and I have 40 minutes to check out with my ‘late’ check out.

My other racing souvenir.

I hopped out of the bus in the middle of the road with pretty much everyone else and decided to hoof it the 3-4 blocks to the hotel. This only added to what turned out to be a very brutal set of sunburns. I made it to the hotel room by 12:35 with just enough time for a quick cool shower and to pack. Checked out by 1:06 and was on the road.


The hardwon medal from this event.

Summary: In the end, the race was less than great for me. I wouldn’t run it again, I don’t think. It was like this was the first time it was ever run, and I expected a lot more than the result. Too many things were mishandled, and I think they forgot that people from outside Toronto would be running it too as support/signage was minimal at the best of times and non-existent everywhere else.

I ran the race to hang out with my team mates, mostly, but circumstances sunk that, unfortunately. I think that’s the only thing that could have saved this race from being a complete bust. I hope my other upcoming non-Disney races restore my faith, otherwise I might have to stick to just Disney in the future.

May 2 – Abs & Interval Cardio

I have a half marathon on Saturday. It’s my second of the year and unfortunately due to my recent illness, I had to cut back on my durance training the last couple weeks to allow myself to recover. Today was my first attempt at running since becoming sick, so I made it a half day of resistance and half day of interval cardio, taking it easier on the cardio. The goal was to get some miles on the feet, not attempt a long distance.

Group 1 – Repeat 4 times
Dragonflies: 15 reps – note: note: you want to have control the whole time, keeping your back straight as you reach the lower parts of the movement. Go as low as you can before your back arches, using your contracted abs to keep everything stable. Do not swing or bend your legs to get up and don’t go past the chest. You want a straight motion.
Scissor Leg Lowers: 20 reps (10 each leg change) – note: unlike in the video, I do a 2 second pause between switching legs. Like in the dragonflies above, focus on the core and keeping the lower back flat. You can rest your head on the ground if neck discomfort is an issue.
Heel Touches: 20 reps per side – note: try to raise your chest high enough so your shoulder blades are off the ground. If you have neck/throat/chest discomfort doing this, you can rest the head back down on the ground. It is best if you start with a pelvic tilt before raising your head/shoulders. Contract it down into the ground to form a strong core first.

Distance: 2.37 miles
Time: 24:58
Interval running: 6.5 mph (2 minutes), 6.0 mph (2 minutes), 3.5 mph (1 minute)
Incline: 1.0 (15 minutes), 0.5 (5 minutes), 0.0 (5 minutes)