I love feeling like anything is possible after a good run.
I had that kind of feeling after finishing the Niagara Falls International Marathon Sunday. It was a great run for me: a solid, consistent effort from start to finish that ended with a new personal best, a second place age group award, the honour of top local finisher and a time that meets the qualifying standard for the Boston Marathon.
I crossed the finish in two hours and 58 minutes, good enough for 17th overall among the more than 1,000 runners participating. Not long after I finished, I met Cory Smith, sports editor of the Niagara Falls Review, for a quick interview. It’s all part of the honour of being the top local finisher, I guess. I told him it’s been my goal to run a sub-three hour marathon since I started doing road races last year. When he asked me about a new goal it took everything I had left not to blurt out something silly like winning next year’s Niagara Falls marathon or breaking the Canadian record. I sure was thinking it. Because, you know, anything seemed possible to me after a run where I smashed my PB by nearly 45 minutes.
Can’t remember word for word what I actually said but I can assure you it was a much more conservative goal.
While I didn’t think anything could top my success at the Run for the Grapes in September, the Niagara Falls marathon certainly did. I almost backed out of the full to do the half and attempt finishing in under one hour and 20 minutes. So glad I stuck with the plan.
Originally, I targeted a goal time of about three hours and fifteen minutes, which I based on my last training run before the marathon. I wasn’t sure I had a sub-three marathon in me this year. But a trip to the Runners Edge in St. Catharines the Friday before the run had me reconsidering my goals. While I was stocking up on nutrition for the race, the guy behind the counter, Kevin Moore, was calculating possible goal times based on my half-marathon performance. Turns out, according to his formula, I could finish in two hours and 53 minutes.
That got me thinking. I was figuring I could get through the first 30k in about two hours, and tryto survive the last 12k. John Stanton, founder of the Running Room, and Reid Coolsaet, Canadian Olympic marathoner, fueled the fire at the Health and Fitness Expo. Both were talking about running the first 32k like a hard training run and finishing with a 10k race. So, my planned seemed reasonable.
My wife, Julie, also had some encouraging words: whatever I believed I could do it in was what I was going to do it in. So, later Saturday night, about 12 hours before the start of the marathon, I reset my plan with a goal of finishing in under three hours. I would average four minutes and 15 seconds per kilometer, running as close to even splits as I could while taking in a gel every 40 minutes or so. I would also drink at every water station, alternating between water and sports drink.
Sunday was an amazing day for a run. Caught the shuttle bus around 7 a.m. and was at the start line in Buffalo by 8 a.m. It was a little cold in the morning so I bundled up while waiting for the start at the Albright Knox Art Gallery. I snacked on a bagel around 9 a.m. while sipping water and sports drink. I took my first gel after an easy seven-minute warmup about 15 minutes before the start.
It was sunny and warming up at the start line and I was pumped. I maybe headed out a little two fast, running the first six kilometres in under 24 minutes. That got me to the Peace Bridge for a windy climb back into Canada that pushed me over my goal pace. I was trying to keep my splits even and was determined not to let missing my goal pace by a few seconds either way get to me.
I found the course fast and flat and hit some nasty headwind every now and then but managed to stay on plan. I reached the 10k mark in just over 40 minutes and downed another gel at the next water station. I haven’t quite perfected taking in nutrition on the run yet, so I slowed up a bit at every water station to give my body what it needed. I also had to hit the Porta-Potty around 13k and that added some time. After that, it was smooth sailing along the Niagara Parkway. I finished the first 21k in just over one hour and 26 minutes.
I took another gel at the next water station and focused on running the next nine kilometers in about 35 minutes. I wasn’t nailing a four-minutes-per-kilometer pace as easily during the second half, but was still below 4:15 and not stressing. Around 28k I became aware of how tired my legs were starting to feel. Lucky for me, Paula Wiltse, the top woman in the marathon caught up with me around this point, which was really good for me because pacing with her got me back on track for a few kilometers at least. Thanks to her I managed to get to 30k in two hours and two minutes. I lost Paula at the next water station while taking my last gel.
Things started to change at 35k. With seven kilometers to go I was starting to feel cramps in my legs and weaving through the half-marathon walkers sprawled across the road was breaking my focus. My pace dropped to slower than four minutes and 30 seconds per kilometer and I could feel my goal of finishing in under three hours start to slip away around 38k. That’s when I really started to fight.
I refocused on my goal time and managed to keep my pace from going below five minutes per kilometer. It was a struggle and while I know I was working hard, looking back at my Garmin now tells me those last four kilometers were not very fast. I’ve come to the conclusion sprinting is not so much about speed as it is about effort because,I tell you, it felt like I was going fast.
Turns out I was going fast enough. Really, the last few kilometers were a blur. I wasn’t aware of my family, a group of almost a dozen people, screaming my name as I entered the chute. I didn’t see the photographer from the Niagara Falls Review shooting my picture as I crossed the finish. I only know I was handed a medal and foil blanket because I was holding them when I started to feel like myself again 10 minutes later.
But I did it, and personal victory is very sweet. I really enjoy the Niagara Falls marathon. The course is pretty flat and fun to run. And beautiful. Nothing beats finishing in front of Niagara Falls. We’ve had great weather two years in a row and the volunteers really do a great job. Everyone manning the water stations are so enthusiastic, they really give you a boost. The police controlling traffic along the route did a great job, too. I look forward to running many marathons in Niagara Falls. Maybe even winning one, one day.
Special thanks to my family for being at the finish line for me. Congratulations to my brother-in-law Phil Moreau for finishing his first marathon and my sister-in-law Sarah for a strong showing in the half and my other friends running on Sunday. Check out the results from Sunday here.
And thanks to everyone for the kind words. I received many messages and email of congratulations. You’ve all made me feel like the winner of the race. So happy I could share this with you.