The Niagara Falls International Marathon – Oct 2015

Trek and Run were supported during this event by;

Salba Chia 

Columbia Sportswear

&

Helly Hansen

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Words by Tim Sweeney, Trevor Murphy and Dave Wise

First up, here’s a short video we shot during the event, to give you an idea of the course and atmosphere.

Dave - This event starts in the USA and finishes in Canada so my first thoughts when deciding to do it was, how is the visa situation and border crossing going to work?

I have a British passport and a Canadian Permanent Resident card but really, when entering the USA, the Canadian Permanent Resident card doesn’t mean anything and it’s the British passport I had to travel on. The procedure turned out to be relatively simple yet I couldn’t find it written down anywhere, even on the official border control, so here’s the low down on it. 

On expo day, in the Canadian part of Niagara Falls, I spoke to the Canadian border guards who were there to offer advice and to take down your details so you could re-enter Canada the next day during the race. They told me to walk across the border/bridge to the USA and buy a visa waiver from USA border guards, so that’s what I did. It cost $6 US. With this I passed through customs the next day, on the bus that took us to the start line in Buffalo, with no issues. And afterwards I had to hand the visa waiver back to CANADIAN officials (not USA officials) which I did at the border crossing next to the point where the shuttle bus dropped us off after the race. 

Canadian passport holders can pass into the USA with no issues at all. If that all sounds complicated, I guess it is a little more difficult that your average race, but then this is a unique event and for me it’s worth the 3 hours that it took me to sort my paperwork out. 

Tim was running his first ever marathon, here’s his opening thoughts…

My path to a first marathon is likely rather unusual. After doing a couple of half marathons, I didn’t have much desire to do a full. I started reading about ultra marathons however, and that definitely piqued my interest. So after training long and slow most of 2014 (in 2012 I couldn’t run a mile without stopping), I did a 70km run for charity last November. So my first marathon distance was technically along the way to finishing that 70km run. This year my long, slow training runs peaked at 42.2 and then 50km…but I’d still yet to sign up for a marathon. I think I perceived running that distance at a race pace to be a multi hour suffer fest. I may still need some convincing that I wasn’t right.

After doing another ultra run relay earlier this month, and then not doing a single run for two weeks, I sad yes to my first marathon on 9 days notice. Did I suffer? Hell yes. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Did the race gods bitchslap me for picking an unrealistic finishing goal? That they did. Would I ever choose to willingly put myself through what I was calling an evil and sadistic distance again? Well I really think half marathons and ultras are more my speed but…yes, next Sunday I’m running another with the Trek and Run team!

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So, what did the Trek and Run team think of the whole event?

What did you think of the pre-event information (i.e. website/emails/expo info)?

Trevor – I thought the pre race information was quite easy to follow. You can tell the people behind this race have been at it for a few years and know how to put an event together. The expo was pretty standard, with lots of options to try different food products, pick up gels for the race and also grab a few of the non current, really cheap race shirts from prior events.

Tim - Everything was clearly spelled out on the website, which made for a pretty seamless experience.

Dave – Online sign up was easy and the expo was good fun, lots of sports food to taste and the goodie bag experience was great. There was a long table staffed by volunteers who loaded your bag with all sort of testers such as tea, pain relief gel, 2 large boxes of pasta, crisps and many other items. The website gave all the info you could want, except for the visa situation info which I had to find out myself. But to be fair, border info is always changing and largely dependent on if the border guard is in a good mood or not on many occasions so this is just something you have to work out yourself. If you’ve a passport from a country that has a visa waiver agreement with the USA though, you will be fine with either getting the visa in person the day before the race as I did, or online beforehand. 

What did you think of the race village/venue when you arrived on the day?

Trevor – It’s Niagara Falls and as such is very ‘visitor friendly’. The fact that I was able to get parking at the hotel where the buses were leaving from made this very easy on us. Always a good thing to limit your walking pre race and this suited us perfectly. The art gallery we were bussed to in Buffalo was in a very nice park and the atmosphere was very positive and friendly. I particularly liked that we experienced 2 different countries during the day.

Tim - It was well organized on both sides of the border. The marathon start in Buffalo was in a great spot, with runners being able to stay warm in the museum. I also loved that there were beautiful and empty waterfront trails to get a warm up run on right beside the start line.

Dave – Everything was easy, which is what you want pre-race when your mind is on other things. It was friendly too and we could stay warm in the Buffalo museum before the race start (even though it wasn’t too cold the temperature can vary wildly here – it was sub zero before the start of the Toronto marathon the week before – so it was nice that the museum had made provision to allow us in; a few degrees colder and it would’ve been vital that we find somewhere warm to shelter pre-race). There was also free water and some food just before the start line which was a nice touch.

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How was the start line experience? Was it easy to get into the corrals, to find pacers, to move about and get going?

Trevor – The start line experience couldn’t have been better. This is a relatively small race and as such we were able to move about quite easily, get the positions we wanted and find and follow the pacer we were interested in.

Tim - Being used to super crowded races in Toronto, the start line was a nice change. It was easy to spot our group and start together. The pacers were a little bit jumbled up and the 4 hour pacer was kind of hidden up ahead of the 3:15 pacer with his sign at chest level…so we didn’t actually spot him until the race started, which left us playing a little catch up in the first few kilometres.

Dave – It was almost like a local race in the UK. About a 1,000 runners, maybe more but it didn’t seem it as there was a wide road to move about on, the compere was giving out constant info and instructions and there were no corrals, we just went where we wanted to. We were nearer the back of the crowd and we passed the start line mats about 30 seconds after the gun had gone off. 

The pacers were a little difficult to find at first but again, this is normal as quite often these guys don’t hold their signs up as high as they might do in the start area. It was better than last week in Toronto though, where the 3:15 pacer started 15 minutes in front of the 3:05 pacer! Not trying to knock the pacers though, they did a great job during the actual race, finishing within seconds of their respective objectives.

Tell us about the course; fast, well supported, scenic?

Trevor – This course is very nice on the eyes. Sides streets of Buffalo, to the Peace Bridge, to the many kilometers running on the edge of the Niagara River. Seeing the mist and rainbow coming from the falls as we entered the final couple of kilometers was the icing on the cake.

It would have been quite a fast course I think if there hadn’t been such a strong, persistant headwind. The only ‘hill’ to speak of was the peace bridge and we were over that quite early in the race.

The crowd support was fairly sparse but quite enthusiastic during the early part of the race and the big finish line crowd made it a feel pretty cool to enter the final stage.

Tim - The course was pretty flat, but on race day the headwind made it a little slower than the lack of hills would suggest. It was well supported and the volunteers were amazing and endlessly encouraging. Being my first marathon, and going out too fast, I found I was missing out on the beautiful riverfront scenery most of the time. I was too distracted by my internal dialogue and trying to convince myself that I could stay with the 4 hour pacer.

Dave – Here are the stats from my gps watch, showing you the route, and the elevation. 

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As you can see there’s much more downhil than up and it could be a very fast course indeed. The issue that might slow you is the wind, as it did us. The prevailing wind in this area is into the runners face but if you happen to strike it lucky and get a calm day I think this has the potential to be a PB course.

The scenery was not particularly varied but very pretty and there were 3 highlights for me. Crossing over the Peace bridge between USA and Canada, running alongside the river for almost the entire way, and then finishing next to the falls. Crowd support was sparse but there were pockets of people and this lack of support was understandable. After the route leaves Buffalo it passes along a quiet road for almost the entire way with no large populations living next to the route. The water stations were well staffed though, and these marshals and volunteers always made a lot of noise and cheered us on.

What were your best memories from the entire event?

Trevor – I met a lovely young lady from Pennsylvania while taking the bus from Niagara to Buffalo. She has that good energy that lifts you up when you speak to her. Thank you Nicole Dunn. Crossing the finish line this time was a much more enjoyable experience. Knowing I’d cracked 4 hours made me feel wonderful. To do it with David Wise right by my side was very apropos as he’s been an inspiration is my very brief running ‘career’. Seeing Tim cross the line of his first official marathon, knowing he had to dig very deep was great! Well done Tim~!

Tim - I’m used to running races on my own, so being able to run with the Trek and Run team for the first half was great. Then I went through a world of pain for an hour and a half or so after the 20k mark, but found myself singing aloud to my music by the last 10k. Shouts of encouragement from friends (and strangers) in the stretch drive, and seeing the amazing view of the falls, knowing I was almost done, will likely be my favourite memory of the day.

Dave – Like Tim I enjoyed running as part of a team. I’ve run so many marathons on my own and although they were all good I much prefer doing them with friends. I also enjoyed having fun at the expo which was held in a large centre that had other events going on at the time…

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…and of course, finishing by the Niagara Falls, what a place to enjoy as the post race euphoria hits!

Here’s the view about 100 metres before the finish line (well, it’s the view you would get if you stopped running and leaned over the wall, which I did after the race! But you get the idea, the spray rising through the rainbow, the roar of the water, wonderful)…

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And any low points or parts of the day you didn’t enjoy?

Trevor – The wind, just the wind. It added to the challenge and in hindsight made the accomplishment even a bit more significant. The final few kilometers were the typical ‘gut check’ of a marathon. That ‘how badly do you want this’ moment came about 30km and you just had to shrink the challenge into more manageable chunks mentally.. “just a 10k to go, just a 5k to go, 1 more length of my ‘home court’ boardwalk, 1 km left, finish line in sight… Done~!

Tim - After running with, ahead of, and just behind the 4 hour pace pack for two plus hours, that moment when I had to give up the ghost and let the pack leave me behind sucked. My stubborn side didn’t want to admit defeat. My legs didn’t care about my stubborn side.

Dave – No, none at all. It’s true the crowd support was sparse but on this route it didn’t seem to matter too much to me as the river was pretty enough to keep my mind occupied. I thought the organisers did a great job and it was a very smooth race. 

How is the medal/t-shirt/goodie bag and in general the post-race experience?

Trevor – The post race vibe was amazing. I’d expect nothing less in Niagara. The town always has good energy. To be in that setting, with the falls right there, the sun having come out and revelling in our accomplishment was a very nice moment. Something I’m sure to remember for many years to come. The medal is a really nice one and quite unique. The bananas at the finish line really hit the spot and helped me go into ‘recovery mode’ instantly and I feel quite good today, the day after my first two race marathons in the span of 8 days.

Tim - Great medal, probably my favourite to date. I like the green long sleeve shirt, and after walking the expo I had the most packed goodie bag ever. Two words: free pasta! The post race experience was brilliant. No waiting for porta-potties or food, easy to get around and find people…and you are beside Niagara Falls for post race pictures.

Dave – It’s a great medal with it’s little USA flag on one side and Canadian flag on the other. I agree with Trevor regarding the food available at the finish line; I ate lots of bananas, bagel and cliff bars and the next day felt pretty good as I’d fed well straight after the race. We also got a warming jacket, instead of a space blanket, at the finish line which was ours to keep and there were free shuttle buses back to the place we’d parked.

Niagara seems to be a relaxed, good-time town and the fact that it was sunny as we finished and we could relax by the falls in perfect conditions made for a brilliant post race experience. I’ve finished events in so many places but this ranks up there with the very best.

Regarding our baggage, this was really well organised. We had loaded our spare clothing bags into the baggage bus in Buffalo and it was there waiting for us less than 100 metres from the finish line. Excellent.

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How would you sum up the Niagara International Marathon?

Trevor – First rate. A very enjoyable experience and I’m definitely looking forward to running it again in the future.

Tim - A great race, it’s pretty cool running across the U.S./Canada border and getting fist bumps from the border guards. Ignore the part about the shuttle bus being a 40 minute drive to the start. It can be well over an hour with the border stop so use the washroom before getting on the bus! And it is a very scenic race, even if I seemed to ignore the views while suffering through a good portion of it.

Dave – Brilliant. Very well organised, friendly, pretty and potentially a very fast course. I’ve never run between countries before and I don’t know of any other events that do this so I’d say you might also call it unique in this respect.

If you’d like to know more about the event, please visit http://niagarafallsmarathon.com/

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