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
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!)
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!