This past weekend was Race Weekend for the Niagara Falls International Marathon and I was running the half marathon. I was excited and nervous for this race. I had done the training and felt I was ready to have a good run, and hit my goal of a 2:30 half.
My sister Erin was also running the half (hoping for a sub-2 hour time) and my friend Kathy was running, and going to pace me to my 2:30 finish. We met up and drove down to Niagara together. Kathy drove so Erin and I would be able to stay and meet out families at Great Wolf Lodge for a little family fun after the race.
We hit up the race expo, which was a little disappointing relative to a few of the other expos I had been to, but I did manage to find a great run shirt for $20 that I could wear on race day. It was hot pink and would match my fast shoes quite nicely 🙂
Our attempt at dinner on Saturday night was a bit of a zoo. There were many choices near the hotel we were staying at. We decided on Outback. None of us had ever been there, but figured we would find something we could eat. We were seated and were looking at the menu and we were all having trouble finding something we wanted to eat. Things sounded okay, but they were ridiculously expensive – the salads were $24! So, we got up and walked out before anyone even came to take our drink order. Next we tried the KEG, figuring if we were going to pay a small fortune for dinner, we would eat well. Turns out the KEG was closed for renovations. The sign on the door suggested we eat next door at TGIFriday’s. None of us had been there before either. Here we were seated, and our drink order was taken…then we looked at the menu. There wasn’t much that we wanted and it seemed that everything was served on a plate of sizzling, melted cheese. Not really what we had in mind for a healthy pre-race dinner. So, we got up and walked out before our drinks were delivered. This was not looking good! Our last choice was Kelsey’s. We know they have good salads and some nice chicken dishes so we were hoping that prices wouldn’t be jacked up for the tourist area. After a bit of a wait at the bar, we were finally seated. We finally had success…the menu was the usual Kelsey’s menu at the usual prices! Erin and I had some awesome balsamic chicken pasta (carb load!!!) and Kathy had the grilled balsamic chicken. All meals were good and we were happy to finally be fed.
After dinner it was back to the hotel to get things organized for the big day. We all laid out our outfits, got our fuel belts and race nutrition organized, and had everything ready for the race. Here’s what my layout looked like: It was a total fluke, but my new shirt matched my fast shoes pretty nicely!
It was a relatively early night to bed, but I didn’t have the best sleep. I guess I was nervous about the big race! Well, that and the fact that Kathy talks in her sleep. At one point, she was quite insistent that it would be “only the fun stuff, okay!”. We have no idea what it meant, but it did give us a good laugh in the morning as we got ready. We were hoping it was what our race day would be about…only the fun stuff!
In the morning we were up fairly early so we could have some breakfast and get ready to head over to catch the bus out to the start line. We took a few pre-race pics…
then we grabbed our things and were out the door for our walk to meet the busses for our ride out to the start line.
I have to say that this was a very well organized race. There were plenty of busses lined up to drive us out to the start, and once we got out there, a race organizer got on the bus to explain how things would work. We had a bit of time to kill – about an hour and a half – until the race would start. This gave us time to hit the large line up for the porta potties, and then stand around and try to get warm as we waited. There were announcements about how long until the start and where the busses would be to put our things that we didn’t need for the race – all the extra things we were wearing to try not to freeze since it was pretty chilly first thing in the morning. We packed our extra clothes in a bag and gave it to the volunteers in the bus that matched our race bib. They labelled the bags and told us where we could find our stuff at the finish line. This process worked very well and it was nice to get have another layer to put back on once the race was done.
So, my plan was to run a 2:30 half and Erin’s was to run a sub-2 hour. She headed closer to the front of the pack and we went towards the middle. Kathy and I figured we were in the right spot when the Running Room’s 2:30 pace bunny came and lined up right in front of us. We were chatting with her as we waited. Turns out this was her 10th time running the Niagara half and her 4oth half marathon in total. I told her my goal was 2:30. She said if I finished with her I would do it, because she always finished at her pace time.
Kathy would be controlling my pace and I was just going to run and do what she told me to. She told me I wasn’t to look at my Garmin – eventually she took it away from me, saying I was looking at it too much…I wasn’t looking at pace or distance or anything, just how much longer until my next walk break! She would take care of all the details and I was just to focus on my running. She even carried my race nutrition in her fuel belt for me and my water, so I wouldn’t have to carry my own fuel belt and wouldn’t be weighed down by it. This was a very nice treat since I always run with a fully loaded fuel belt. Not having those extra few pounds to lug around was great.
We got off to a good start, and things felt pretty good. After a few km I was able to throw away my hat and gloves and a few more km and I tossed my long sleeve shirt and was down to just my short sleeved run shirt. It really was perfect weather for a run. Not too hot, and sunny. At times the wind was a bit strong, but overall it wasn’t too bad. The course was VERY flat, but that didn’t make it easy. I don’t know what it is about me and race day, but the race always seems so much harder than the training long runs. I had to work hard the whole way.
Kathy kept me on track and was awesome with her encouragement. She would remind me to loosen my shoulders, drop my arms, shake it out, take deep breaths and slow down my breathing on my walk breaks. She started to play tricks on my at some point and made my runs more than 10 minutes long, cut a few of my walk breaks short, and started to get me to run a bit faster for the last minute of my 10 minute run laps. She kept me moving and right on track.
As we got to the 18k mark, I was starting to really feel it and was slowing down. She talked me through the tough parts and made sure I kept moving. She gave me a little break and let me walk up a small hill to get my breath back and get my mind ready for the last 3k push to the end. She started to run a little ahead of me and told me to just focus on her and to try to keep up. She had a pink compression sock on one leg…I just stared at the pink sock and pushed through. I would catch up to her and she would just run a little faster, forcing me to keep moving and keep up.
At our last walk break she gave me a great motivating talk. She said we were right on track, but if I wanted it, I was going to have to push it and really run hard. There was the slightest downhill into the finish. She was yelling at me to get on my toes, pump my arms, put my head down and RUN. As we got closer to the finish, I could see Shirley, the 2:30 pace bunny walking backwards, yelling at the runner who she was pacing through the race. Shirley was yelling that if I past her, I would do it. That’s when Kathy laid it all on the line. She was yelling at me that I had to get in front of Shirley, and that if I didn’t give it all I had and run as fast as I could, she was “going to kick me in the ass!” I believed her!
I gave it all I had and sprinted with every last bit of energy across that line. I could see the time as I crossed reading just over 2:31. I knew I had a minute or so since it took us a little bit to actually cross the start line after the gun went off. Kathy’s Garmin said 2:28:51 (but it turns out she paused it when she stopped to pee while I kept running) – my chip time was actually 2:29:55…cutting it pretty close, but still under 2:30! I was thrilled. It was so emotional for me. I worked so hard in my training for this race, and to achieve my goal was just the greatest feeling. It was hard work, but totally worth it!
I can’t thank Kathy enough for being there for me every step of the way through the race. I’m not sure I could have done it without her. I’d like to think that I could have done it if I was running alone, but I’m not really sure. In the past I’ve had trouble on race day. I’m just glad that she was there and I had her company, great coaching, and motivation to get me across that finish line in my goal time. She truly is my running hero.
My sister had a great run too. She ran it alone and was able to meet her goal as well, finishing in 1:59 – a PR. That is so fast!
Here’s the three of us – Erin, me and Kathy – just after the race. All smiles…and exhausted!
All in all, I’d have to say that I really enjoyed this half marathon and all the runs leading up to it. My running really improved over my training and I was able to achieve a goal and new PR. I took 7 minutes off my best half time (from about 7 years ago) and 10 minutes off my time from the half I ran in the spring.
Now I need to figure out what will be next for my fitness goals. I’ve been asked if I want to join a Tough Mudder team for the May 2013 Toronto event….that could be fun…if it doesn’t kill me!