Greetings faithful readers! Thanks so much for taking the time following my long journey (again) to run the Niagara Falls marathon in memory of my uncle, Brian the great. It is almost a week later and after some rest, recovery and reflection (the best three R’s for runners), I would love to share with you my marathon experience.
I live about a three hour car ride from Niagara Falls, which is my hometown where I was born and raised. My wife and I made the trip as my children spent the weekend with their grandparents as we learned from the marathon experience from last year that this weekend is long for everyone, not just the person running the marathon! We made great time in the car, made a few pit stops before arriving and picking up my race kit at Niagara Square. Wow have hard times hit that mall. It is an old mall that has a lot of empty stores and many new stand alone stores attached to the exterior of the mall. Sad for my sentimental memories but even sadder is that the mall isn’t replaced by a vibrant downtown. Nope. Other malls have been built that consumers find superior…but that isn’t what we should be reflecting about!
I was elated to pick up my race kit because Brian the Great Was an inductee of the Niagara Wall of Fame a few years ago, which happens to be located in Niagara Squate. Before I left, we took a pic.
From picking up the race kit, I visited with some family members, went and saw a good friend the day before his 40th birthday and then checked into a hotel. I chose to stay in the hotel so I didn’t bother any of my family members with my ‘game day routine’ of getting up early, eating and getting ready for the day. My family weren’t very happy with that decision 🙂 however, I knew I needed the space and the time without the worries of doing what I needed to do.
We had our pre race meal at Strada West again this year in Niagara Falls. It is a fabulous restaurant that is run by the Roberto family. I went to high school and played hockey with Tommy and I love to support people I know. That is much easier when the food is so damn delicious. Try the gnocchi. So memorable….My wife and I enjoyed our meal with my sister and Deb the great (that would be Brian’s wife) who both were tackling the 10k the next morning, and my mom. After some frozen yoghurt for dessert (I was smart enough to pass), we headed back to the hotel and got ready for bed. Lights out by ten. Alarm set for 6.
I didn’t sleep great but better than most pre race sleeps. Was awoken by loud people in the hall who obviously indulged in a bit too much alcohol, but either than that, I felt good. A bit tired but good. Had a pre race breakfast of oatmeal (instant) with blueberries, Greek yoghurt with chia seeds and hemp hearts, and a glass of juice. I packed a cliff bar and a banana to munch Later on which I did when I was on the bus to the startling.
The weather that morning was cold. I determined I would be running in shorts, socks, a short sleeve shirt and either a long sleeve shirt or a jacket. I added a toque, sweater and jogging pants to wear to stay warm and packed up to grab the bus to take all marathon participants to the starting line. The bus drove all of us from Niagara Falls to the Knox Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo. Of course with a stop off at customs to ensure that our passports were checked! The bus I chose was a great modern bus that was designed with the leg room of a 4 or 5 year old in mind! It was tight. I sat beside a guy from Tokyo who was running the race with his wife. Not much conversation but there was a level of excitement on the bus as I out on my headphones and listened to some music before the big race to relax me (Jake Bugg, the Skatalites) and pump me up (The Venisons, Face to Face, Rancid).
We got off of the bus with 45 minutes to the start time. After waiting in an extensive line up to use the port a potties, I went into the museum and got dressed and ready for the race where it was warm. I decided to wear a jacket and short sleeve shirt (no mitts) because of the wind. I was worried about being too cold. I put my running bag on the bus and joined the masses at the starting line while the national anthems of both countries were being played. I said a quick prayer and then proceeded to be overwhelmed with emotion. I have trained for a long time to run this race but running it for a loved one who you miss made it even more emotional. So, while I cried, I calmed myself as the gun when off to start the race. A walking rolling start to my second marathon!
I set off reminding myself to run my pace and not get caught upon the energy of others. I tried to run 5:55 to 5:50 km’s. No faster even though my body and mind tried to run my training pace which was a lot faster. I really had to consciously work at getting my mind and body aligned. I didn’t want to go out to fast and wanted to be more conservative with my pacing.
The run through Buffalo was nice. Some very nice mature trees and large century homes. This is the Buffalo that many people don’t see. They just see what they drive through on the interstate and that isn’t a fair assessment for the people of Buffalo.
It was a windy day and it picked up the km before the peace bridge and then the wind was strong as we ran up over the peace bridge. By this point we were running pretty consistently with the same people around one another and because I determined to run my pace, I found others running my pace. I stayed with them while and focussing on having my legs run like I was running a bike. Keep turning those legs over in a cyclical fashion. Over and over. I felt great and my mind and body wanted to go faster but I really tried to hold back to ensure that I was well paced.
After running out of Fort Erie, we ran the long path to Chippawa and then on to the Falls. This stretch, known as the Niagara Parkway, was pretty windy. On your right was the Niagara River and on your left was some pretty prime real estate with houses that showed just how prime the real estate was!
I continued to run with a few people but I kept my pace and at that pace, I started to pass or pull away from my early pace setters. I was making great time all at the same time as battling a very strong and cold head wind. I am glad I wore my coat at that moment, but was regretting wearing in in Buffalo where the wind was pretty limited. Now, with no protection from the wind, my coat was an excellent choice.
I hit the half way point and felt great. I had a good fuel strategy, was drinking my preferred electrolyte beverage and only drinking water through the rest stations (and walking through the rest stations at the urging of my wife/coach). I picked up my pace a little from 5:55 – 5;50 to run 5:45 – 5:50.
I ran by the spot where I hit the wall last year where my injury affected me. It felt great to run by that spot feeling great and not hurting. I then ran by friends and family. I stopped for some high fives, a smooch and some hugs and then kept going. They really energized me even more. I really tried to push myself but battling a string head wind and walking through water stations affected my overall time. My legs really were aching and caused me to slow with about 4 km left, but I picked it up with two km away. I was again surprised by my family in Chippawa and then made my way down the parkway for the last two km. What a great feeling to tun the corner to fun down hill…or so I thought. The headwind was brutal. So brutal that most of the runners beside me were walking. It was so brutal that it reduced my km time by 45 seconds. But I persevered and came across the finish line at 4:11:25. That was almost 19 minutes faster than last year!
I was happy and proud of my race. No emotions at the end. They were all gone at the start of the race! I collected my medal, ate some of the brutal food they provided, got my bag, collected my family, got a pic and left.
My thanks and love to my sister and aunt that were inspired to do the 10k and collect pledges for the Children’s Museum. Thanks to my sister and my kids for putting up with my training schedule and spending time away from them to prepare for the race and of course to all my friends and family that have opened up their wallets to support the Niagara Children’s Museum and continuing to promote the legacy of Brian the Great. Glad it’s over but a little part of my can’t wait to do it again. Shhhhhhhhhhhh. Don’t tell my wife just yet…….
————————————————————————————————————–For more information on Andy running the Niagara Falls Marathon in October 2014 in memory of his uncle, Brian the Great, or to make a donation, please see the link on the homepage of the museum website at http://www.niagarachildrensmuseum.ca/. Help Andy keep Brian the Great’s legacy alive!