Thursday, October 31, 2013

Niagara Falls 2013

The Niagara Falls International Marathon is one of those destination races that just sounded like a great experience.  What other race offers such a finishing experience as having one of the seven natural wonders as a back drop. And as temping as it would have been to get lost in the destination, I was focused and determined to have Niagara be my first sub four hour marathon.

My first attempt at a sub four hour finish ended poorly when I succumb to the rising heat of mid-May and a pacer who went out hot during the Cleveland Marathon.  I crashed and nearly burned with a finish of 4:24:43.  Humbled, I rebounded over the summer running a string of 200 mile months in the sweltering heat, all with the goal of Niagara Falls.

But other than the increased miles…how would this sub four attempt be any different than Cleveland?

(RUN N FUN, it was all that
and a "Barrel" of Mouses)

#1 My Race Day Fueling Plan. 
I follow a lot of ultra, and marathon runners on Twitter/Facebook…and over the last few months leading up to Niagara, I asked questions about the best race day fueling plan.  With all of this insider information, I took the best advice from everyone and adjusted my plan.  During prior marathons I only used GU Energy Gels and water/sports drinks, this time I would hit a GU pack 20 minutes before race start, mix a GU pack in my water bottle and use one pack at mile 6, 12, 18, and 22.  And for the first time, I would use Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes for electrolyte replacement at miles 6, 13, and 19 to fight off any cramping effects.

#2 My Final Week of Taper. 
I had planned to run close to 20 miles the week before this marathons, same I had done in the past.  Heeding some advice, I changed my mind.  In previous races I ran high teens to low twenty miles the week before a marathon with my last run coming two days prior.  For Niagara I had 3 full days down and ran 6 miles on Monday and 2 on Thursday prior to race morning.

#3 My Race Day Pacing.
“Plan YOUR Race, Race YOUR Plan”  My best marathon times had come when I trusted my own pacing.  For some reason, I wanted to follow a pacer in to Sub four Nirvana, but my faith in pacers had gone out the window with two “hot starts” in prior events.  If the pacer took off (and he did) I would trust my own pacing.  I would NOT go out fast and I would RUN MY plan.

This was my first point to point race, and my first time dealing with being bused to the starting line and hanging out in a holding area prior to race start.  This messed up my entire pre-race routine, leaving me feeling a bit jittery all the way up to race start.  Race morning was cold and a bit windy.  This weather combination had me second guessing my race gear in the final minutes prior to turning in my drop bag.  I packed and changed tops a number of times finally going with:

(Course Map)

NIKE long sleeve shirt over my "ORANGE POWER" short sleeve shirt
Black Race-Ready long distance shorts
20oz hand held bottle and knee strap  
NIKE Air Pegasus w/tech socks
Wicked 10K beanie
Garmin GPS 201
White gloves 

(Around mile 9)

RACE: (messed up setting my GPS so I have no lap times)
I found the four hour pacer early on and talked with him about how he was going to run the race.  He confirmed what I wanted to hear, start slow and run a negative split. That was music to my ears as it mirrored my plan.

The gun went off a little after 1000 and the smaller crowd of just over 1000 runners was off.  By the end of the first mile I knew something was going wrong  Although I felt I was running a bit faster then I wanted, the pacer already had a 50 yard lead on me. Glancing at my GPS I confirmed that this pace was a bit hot for me.  From a 8:45 minutes per mile (mpm) pace I backed it down to a 9:00 to 9:15 mpm.  At the second mile post I was about 15 seconds off a 9:00 mpm target and now the pacer now had a clean 100 yards or more on me.  At three miles I was near on target for nine minute mile pace and still the pacer was way out in front.  I began to wonder if my GPS was malfunctioning or did I have another hot pacer on my hands.  I decided to continue to roll on with my pace plan and see where it left me.

Around mile 4 or 5 I ran alongside an older gentlemen and asked if he thought the four hour pacer was running "hot."   He confirmed what I had been feeling and we settled in for a nice 9:00 per mile pace for the next 9 to 10 miles.  At this point all my trust was in my GPS and my own sense of race pacing.

At mile 6 I hit my first GU and Endurolytes packs and rolled right along.

Up to the double digit miles, I could keep up with the math figured to determine if I was on pace or not. After that it got tough on my oxygen staved brain as my only thoughts switched to monitoring my leg turnover.

HALF WAY: 1:58:48
My initial goal was to hit half way around two hours with hope of running a faster second half. (Negative Split   Today I was a good minute ahead of my target…but I was feeling pretty good. 

Coming off a GU pack at mile 18 and a Endurolytes pack at mile 19 (long story but don’t store then in a pocket with velcro) I was feeling very strong and began to pick up the pace.  In the later stages of any marathon, a lot of runner begin to feel the effects, a lot begin to walk, some begin to fall away. And a lot of goals die at the wall.

Today I WOULD NOT VISIT the wall.  

20 Mile Time: 3:02:00
My recalling of this time hack is going off my fuzzy memory but I believe it to be really close.  My only thought at the mile 20 sign was “I’m not losing this run in the last 6 miles…NO WAY.” 

To counter act any lack of drive, I had a little mental game ready if I needed some extra motivation.  I wanted to pass 26 people in the final 6 miles…that game went out the window when I passed 26 runners during mile 21 and 22.  I felt like I was really hauling butt, then noticed I had only picked up the pace to near flat 9 mpm.  But at mile 20, 21, 22…..9:00 mpm is like Usain Bolt to a snail.  This race and a sub four hour marathon were coming to me.  And I was NOT going to let it get away.

Mile 25 and rolling into Niagara Falls, I remembered at some point in the race someone telling me that when you can see the mist….the mist coming off the falls, you are home free.  I believe I got my first glimpse of the mist at mile 25.5 and with a clear finishing target in sight, It was on like Donkey Kong.  

Looking at my GPS my legs were turning over some solid 8:40…8:30…8:15 mpm times.  At this point it was " go time" we made a few turns, crossed a bridge and the next sight was a sign that read .2.  I hammered that .2 like no other race I had run. When my eyes caught the official clock with 3:56 still displayed my legs went into overdrive.  I was so happy to see that clock and those numbers that I believe I flew down the last 150 yards or so, hammering home My First Sub FOUR Marathon.

(Hammering it home,
can ya tell I was pretty happy?)

If you want to know how much this marathon finish meant to me…take one look at my finishing picture.  As one of my friends said “That is the face of victory, right there.”

FINISH  3:56:57
Overall, 305/1055
Age group, 32/83
Gender, 225/553
Official Stats can be seen here

(Post Race it's all smile...
but boy my legs were screaming)

COURSE - Crossing Peace bridge connecting the US with Canada was very impressive, and the run along the Niagara river was very pretty, with wonderful views of the river surrounding homes.

EXPO was nice - Maybe a bit small but still had enough vendors to keep my attention

PRE-RACE STAGING AREA - Close to race start and had everything you needed as you readied yourself for the marathon

BAG DROP AND DROP OFF - Drop went off without a hitch, pick up....was a mess.  I stood in line for the better part of a half hour waiting to get to the head of the line, then waited another 10 to 15 minutes to get my bag, many of us were near frozen at this point.  There has to be a more organized way to get the bags returned.

VOLUNTEERS - WONDERFUL....everyone had big smiles and kind hearts, THANK YOU so much!

Overall a GREAT marathon experience!


  1. I loved reading this Brian- I know how bad you have been itching for sub-4! You ran SO smart and I am glad you backed off a little more the week before. Your hard work and determination got you where you wanted to be. I actually teared up seeing your finish picture- pure victory...amazing! Congrats again!

  2. Really pleased for you, Brian. Congrats on the sub-4. Very well deserved!! Love the finish pic.


  3. Love this post! Congratulations on your sub-4 and with sticking to your guns/race plan!