Niagara Falls InternatioNal Marathon
The struggle was real... That was my takeaway from this very marathon that I trained all year long for. It was a humbling experience, as do for every other races out there, but one that will surely be made memorable!
The race itself was a spectacle, only one of very few marathons that starts from one country and ends in another. In this case, the start of the race began in Buffalo, USA and ends in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.
I felt extremely confident going into the race, having competed in a few other shorter distance races such as the MEC Trail Run FOUR and the Oasis Zoo Run 10K weeks prior. With the speed that I pounded out, I should more or less be able to replicate similar results for this race... right?
Two weeks prior to race day, I winded down on the mileage as per a full scale tapering should. I did run that once or twice to get the legs moving and not forgetting how to run. Drove down to Niagara Falls the day before and headed straight down to the expo at the convention centre for packet pickup. The first portion of the lineup (specifically for the marathon) is the Canadian border pre-screening. It required passport verification for border admission upon entry coming down from Buffalo during the race. The next sets of lineups were for bib pickup and long-sleeve shirt pickup. The amount of vendors available at the expo that day seemed to be limited. Aside from the main sponsors selling their merchandise and a few race booths, that was pretty much it. The remainder of the day was spent on hunting down a decent Italian restaurant with lots of pasta for carb loading for the next day. Frankly, mission failed as I settled for hotel provided coupons for some place located inside the Fallsview Casino (aka bad decision #1). The spaghetti and meatballs dinner portion was awfully small and expensive and left still hungry. I recall that's when the nearby Boston Pizza by Clifton Hills came to the rescue.
Jump forward to the next day for race day. Woke up around 4:30 to 5 am. Had my morning ritual food routines of banana and yogurt. Double check the items to bring for bag check. Note, the weather forecasted for race day was increasingly deemed as crappy with a muggy, then a strong wind storm awaiting for the second half of the day. As a result, I packed more than I have to - with change of socks, dry hoodie, and flip flops just in case I get drenched and get sick because of it. Left the hotel at around 5:30 and camped by the shuttle bus area for the first shuttle that departed at around 6. The shuttle drove down from Niagara Falls to Buffalo via the QEW (Queen Elizabeth's Way) highway towards Fort Erie. From there, we entered the border and once again a screening of passports was conducted for everyone on board in the bus.
Once everything's all said and done, the very first rounds of business was heading straight for the fresh porta-potties. Marathoner's tip: use it to your advantage before the lineups start to pile up! Also, it is usually not a bad idea to grab some water or electrolytes to drink and then start lining up for the porta-potties again. You are always going to feel much better at the start line knowing that nature's call is the last of your worries. The start time was at 10 am so I had plenty of time to spare. I managed to get a short run to shake off some jitters at a nearby park and also adventure inside of the Albright Knox Art Gallery. It was a nice, short diversion but not enough to keeping my mind off from gun-time. It was also becoming increasingly evident that the weather would not be cooperating with the dark ominous clouds with drafty winds started to roll in. A final call was made to the start line, downed my gel pack (my one and only pack... knowing that there will be gel packs/chews available... but ended being mistake #2)
Went and did a quick stretch and on to the start line. The national anthems commenced and then the sound of the gun... GO TIME! The adrenaline must have kicked in... because my first 8 kilometres were speedy, effortless, and euphoric. My end stats confirmed it, averaging around Boston pace... and for that reason it became being mistake #3 - going too fast too quick. I can only take respite knowing that I countered the full brunt of walls of head winds when crossing the border and the mileage shortly thereafter. I continued trekking along until getting to the first water station where they provided energy gel chews. And guess what? I managed to swing my arm out only to drop it all on the floor while running ???. My biggest mistake of them all was NOT turning back and retrieve it again, partly because of the adrenaline and also because of some pride in me of "there's no turning back and just tough it out until the next one".
By now, I would assume that you must have heard of the term "hitting the wall" during the marathons. My first ever encounter just so happened with this very race. I can now say that I actually experienced it and it fucking sucked. It is mental deterioration. It is when the mind says go and the body says no. And when that happens, the mental state of mind also falls in-line with the bodily physical shut down. That's when I started to mentally negotiate with myself as to what completion time is now deemed as acceptable or whether this very race would be the one that you DNF (did not finish) and forever be shamed because you personally decided to quit (based on mental strains and not injury related). Those final remaining segments along the Niagara parkway was made significantly worse when the playlist that I was jamming into was in the sappy, moody section. I recall having to rotate between power speed walking and forceful running during that stretch until the final two kilometres when I started to realize familiar roads at the Niagara parkway.
That was when I once again re-ignited the inner adrenaline out and plough through the remaining distance. As you can tell from my completion pictures, I was mightily struggling and grimacing my way through. I was simply too miserable to reflect on the time and my surroundings except for guzzling nothing but chocolate milk afterwards. I soon realized that after all that mental grief and suffering, I did indeed bested my last marathon PB by a marginal minute ?
It most certainly didn't feel like I triumphed in this race and definitely drove back home with lots of questions, doubts, and what-ifs. Even though the PB was attained, this was not the kind of effort I was expecting if I even want to come close to running at my full capacity. Luckily, I had the opportunity fight my inner demons again and right my wrongs in the Hamilton Road2Hope Marathon. One thing's for sure. I won't be forgetting about this particular race anytime soon and definitely lots of lessons learned from this race!