October 27, 2008

Race Report: Niagara Falls International Marathon

I woke up this morning in a bad mood. I had gotten plenty of sleep (about 10 hours, after I stayed up for a while reading Kathrine Switzer’s Marathon Woman), but had some sort of bad dream. What it was, I’m not sure, but I remember feeling discontented, overwhelmed, confused, and generally stressed in the dream. However, I woke up with enough time to read some blogs and relax, which eased my tensions a bit. I had laid out my clothes the night before (I was opting to wear sweatpants, a tank top, a light long sleeved shirt, and then my Marathon Maniacs singlet) and packed up everything I didn’t need, so I was pretty well set for a quick departure. On my way out, I stopped at the front desk to ask if there was any way to get a late checkout – and they said they could do 3 PM! Wonderful. I stopped back up at my room to leave my already-packed suitcase by the door, figuring that if I didn’t make it back in time, they could just take my suitcase and I’d claim it whenever I did get there.

I played phone tag for a bit with Marci, and then boarded one of the buses to wait for her and her husband, who were on their way. Shortly after, Marci boarded the bus with a big “hi Laura!!!” Immediately I felt myself getting into a great mood. Marci and Moe were so positive, and I had a blast chatting with them. I started feeling good about the upcoming race, and even began to think I might not suck after all!

Before boarding the bus, we had been asked by several volunteers whether we had our passports or a combination of driver’s license and birth certificate – this was to prevent any problems when we drove through customs on our way to the start. The other 5 buses all made it through with no problems, but wouldn’t you know, there were THREE people on our bus who hadn’t brought the proper ID! They weren’t totally clueless – each of them had driver’s licenses, but the rules had been clear that if you didn’t have a passport, you needed two documents to prove your citizenship. There was a bit of tension as we wondered whether our bus would make it through, or if they would kick those three people off, or what – but in the end they let us all go forward. My seatmate (not one of the three idiots) was really happy that they hadn’t given them trouble, but Marci and I actually found it a bit disturbing that the customs officials were so willing to break the rules like that. We had been more than adequately warned, and in my opinion, if people didn’t follow the rules, international laws shouldn’t be broken to accommodate them! I suppose it was no skin off my back, but the customs rules are there for a reason, and I particularly didn’t want some terrorist sneaking through and not only maybe wreaking havoc but also preventing cool races like this from happening again.

After a 40 minute bus ride, we got to the start, which was at an art museum. It wasn’t nearly as cold as I thought it would be, but luckily we didn’t have to worry about it, as we were allowed to wait in the art museum. We were under strict instructions only to eat/drink in specified rooms, but other than that, we were free to roam the museum and look at the art! How cool. This was no rinky dink art museum either – I found Monets, Renoirs, Picassos, Mondrians… the list goes on.

However, I was less impressed with the art and more impressed with what happened when I got in the line for the restroom (that’s right, we were allowed to use the restrooms inside instead of having to use portapotties! Luxury, I tell you). I found myself on line right behind Kathrine Switzer! She wasn’t running the race, but was giving one of the announcements at the starting line meant to inspire us. I struck up a conversation, and it just struck me again how cool running is: what other sport lets you mix and mingle with the elites and run the same race they run?

After using the restroom, Marci and Moe and I hung out for a while, chatting about anything and everything. Marci pointed out a guy behind us who had what looked like maybe a plastic banana holder, I don’t know, maybe so the banana wouldn’t get squished? That was our best guess for what it really was, but both of us thought some dirty thoughts when we first saw it 🙂

I was wearing my Marathon Maniacs singlet, and just before we headed outside to the start, I got approached by one Maniac and one Maniac hopeful. I introduced them to Moe (that’s right, Marci’s married to a Maniac! I’m telling you, all the cool kids are joining), and then yet another Maniac came up to introduce himself. It was like a regular Maniac party! (According to the website there were only 7 Maniacs running, including me, so I think I managed to meet all of them). In the ensuing conversation, I lost both Marci and Moe, but figured that since we were lining up for the start anyway, it was okay.

I headed for the 4:00 pace group, figuring I’d start out with them and see how it went. However, I was feeling terrific, and I decided that I was going to decide within the first few miles what I was going to do – that would prevent me from allowing the mile 18 fatigue to dictate that I slow down when I was really capable of going faster. I introduced myself to the 4:00 pacer, Jesse, and also chatted with some of the people around me. Two of them had “Beat Palin” signs on their back – apparently our VP candidate ran a 3:59 marathon, and their goal was to beat her! How funny. I decided to make that my race goal – not only would it be a PR, but my liberal mom would be thrilled to no end if I called her with that news.

Other notables at the start included my friend Daveda, whom I had met in Calgary, and a woman who had not one but TWO Garmins strapped to her arms. I asked her about that and she explained that one was set to show the pace for each mile, while the other was set to show her overall pace. Um, okay – seemed a little overkill to me, but when she further explained that in her last marathon she had missed her goal by just a few seconds, I understood. At least, I understood that marathoners are a crazy bunch! 🙂

After some national anthem action (this included both “O Canada” and “The Star Spangled Banner”, the gun went off, and we shuffled forward. There was lots of the usual stepping on the heels of the people in front of us, as we started and stopped while all looking at our watches, fingers poised to start them once we actually crossed. This has happened in almost every race I’ve done, but I had never noticed it before – kind of funny.

We crossed the start and did a quick out-and-back loop that then took us on another half-out where we turned off to run through the neighborhoods of Buffalo. There were a few people out, but not too many. I felt really fantastic – the weather was gloriously crisp and clear, and it didn’t look like rain would be in our future at all! Having set my Garmin’s virtual pace buddy to 9:09 (which would put me in at 4:00 even), I planned to check in often – but then locked my bezel and never felt like unlocking it to check. The 4:00 pace group was doing a run 10 minute, walk 1 minute program, so I decided I was just going to try to stay ahead of them and only let them come close to catching me when they were about to take a walk break.

At mile 2, I spied another Maniac – it turned out to be Darwin, who I had met with his wife Terri in Calgary while waiting for the start! Back then, I talked to him with all the excitement of a child as I outlined my plan to finish Calgary and complete two marathons on two consecutive, thus qualifying me to join the Maniacs. This time around, I proudly told him my Maniac number and all the races I had done since then. All it took was four months and I turned into a seasoned marathon pro! We didn’t talk much for the rest of the race beyond some congenial hellos, but we passed each other back and forth many times.

In the fourth mile, we headed over the Peace Bridge that would take us into Canada. We ran to the side of Customs, not stopping, and I noticed the people in the cars looking at us like we were crazy. Well, I guess they already knew that since we’re marathoners, but they looked at us like we were even crazier than that! I waved to them as I crossed the border feeling like an illegal immigrant. When else do you get to run across the border without so much as flashing your ID? 🙂

The bridge was pretty windy, but it was pretty par for the course as bridges go. At one point, a big tractor trailer passed me, and I reveled in the windless sensation for a few seconds as it shielded me from the wind. The uphill to the bridge hadn’t been bad at all, and the downhill coming off the bridge seemed longer than the uphill, which was nice. As we came off the bridge, we took an exit ramp to circle a big patch of dried long grass (think like a hayfield), and the windless sensation was also pretty awesome. Unfortunately, we then broke out of the circle and onto an out-and-back by the Niagara River. Big winds! At the next water station, a spectator shouted, “don’t worry, it’s all downhill from here!” Yeah, thanks buddy… it’s also another 21 miles from here – not quite as easy as you make it sound!


The 4:00 pace group passed me around mile 7, but I soon caught up when they took their designated walk break. However, I realized that I should pick it up just a bit so they wouldn’t pass me again. Right as I had this thought, a gust of wind came up – but it was actually behind me, pushing me forward instead of pushing me back! The combination of that and a great Carrie Underwood song allowed me to run that mile at an 8:43 pace, which I was pretty happy with. My knee wasn’t giving me any trouble, nor was my GI tract. Sweet!

Mile 9 took us through a warehouse-y looking part of town. Interestingly enough, the “warehouses” all seemed to be Chinese restaurants! It seemed like Niagara Falls’ version of Chinatown, but it looked nothing like any Chinatown I had ever seen. I briefly wondered whether there were any cheap massage parlors I could stop into, but seeing none, I pressed onward.

Around mile 10, my knee still wasn’t bothering me, but my right hip was tightening up a bit. I stopped for just a few seconds to do a weird walk, pushing my hips to each side in an exaggerated manner, but that didn’t seem to loosen things up, so I kept running. In mile 11, I got passed by the 4:00 pace group, and though I tried hard, I couldn’t get back ahead of them. I also got passed by Marci – an incredible feat since she had told me she was hoping for 4:15, and she was on pace and looking great for a 4:00! I cheered for her as loudly as possible, then went back to concentrating on my own race. I was determined to reach the halfway point by 2:00, which would give me a fighting chance of a 4:00 finish, but it wasn’t looking good.

I finally crossed the 13.1 chip mats at about 2:02, which meant that if I ran negative splits, I could “Beat Palin.” Unfortunately, I’ve never in my life been able to run negative splits. I felt pretty great – I wasn’t getting tired, and I felt very adequately fueled – but the wind was starting to become really killer. There was none at my back pushing me forward – it was all in front of me, pushing me back and sideways. There were times when I really struggled to remain upright, and I certainly believed that the forecast “gusts up to 40 MPH” had come true! The others around me were struggling well, but I gritted my teeth, ducked my head, and just kept pushing forward.

The next few miles were a test of wills. I knew that with how great I was feeling there was a chance that I could PR, but I also knew the wind was pretty strong, and there was the potential for it to sap not only my energy but my determination. I told myself that I would not let that happen. The second half of a marathon is always a mental game for me, and I wanted to know that I had not let my lazy brain win, but that I was pushing my body to the max.

A few days ago, I was chatting with a consultant at work who was in the process of applying to business schools. When I mentioned my upcoming marathon, she remarked, “oh, that’s right. How is the marathoning going? You are going to have such awesome b-school application essays when you apply!” I don’t know why this occurred to me at that point in the race (though honestly, I think of so many crazy things during races that I don’t know why I’m questioning it). However, it really got me thinking, and miles 14-19 flew by as I started pondering how I could turn my marathon experience into an incredible b-school essay. Marathoning has totally changed me – even after doing only 9, I’ve learned so many life lessons and I can’t even imagine how much more my life will change as I continue to go for my goal of running the 50 states/10 provinces. I decided that I should start writing up this stuff now – just jotting down ideas and comparisons as they come up, most likely in some kind of file on my computer so it’s easy to pull them up and polish them for b-school. And then it occurred to me… why stop at b-school essays? I think my story is pretty unique: I used to not be able to run a mile, and through sheer grit and determination rather than any natural talent, I’m now striving to set a world record and run marathons in all 50 states! Judging by how many of you have said you enjoy reading my blog, I think it’s certainly possible that my story could appeal to others. So while I’m not going to pursue this actively right now other than to start jotting my notes and stories down on my computer, I’d like to eventually pursue the idea of writing a book. It would be kind of like Dean Karnazes’ 50/50, but instead of focusing on teaching people to run marathons, I’d like to teach people the things I’ve learned from running that translate to business and to life. Do you guys think that’s a possibility? Would you be interested in reading something like that? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Anyway, getting back to the race… I thought about my potential book until about mile 20, which was a great tool to distract me from the pain of running. However, I made sure not to let it distract me from my goal, and I put enough focus into my running to be sure I was pushing myself as much as possible. I felt like I was really running at a great pace, but the beeps my Garmin made every mile unfortunately showed some plus-10 minute miles, which kind of sucked. My form was great, and I didn’t have any signs of the “marathoner’s shuffle” that sometimes afflicts me in the later miles. Unfortunately, I think the wind was just a little too strong, and it acted as a huge source of resistance so that even with maximum effort, I couldn’t go that fast. It was really too bad – the course was phenomenally flat, and it would have been a great place for a PR.

At mile 20, I was still feeling great, but I knew the real race had begun. Unfortunately, my watch was showing about 3:10, so I knew it would be next to impossible for me to “Beat Palin” or run a PR unless I could pull 8:00 miles the rest of the way, which just was not happening. I set my sights on 4:05, which would mean 9:00 miles, but I realized that a 4:10 was more realistic with the strength of the wind.

At mile 21, I spotted Marci, who had started walking. I screamed a loud “Marci, you look AWESOME!” as I passed her, and I hoped that she’d have the strength to start running again and meet her goal. All around me were many people doing the same thing – our energy was just sapped from the wind. Up ahead, I saw a sign on a stick bobbing up and down, and I realized it was the 4:00 pacer Jesse. What in the world? I ran closer, and found him wrapped up in a blanket walking. I slowed to walk with him, frantically asking if he was okay, and he stoically said “don’t worry – go run your race!” I pressed him for details, and he said he felt sick, but pointed out that there was an EMT bicyclist next to him and that he would be fine. Reluctantly, I left him and ran on.

I turned on my Boyfriend playlist – filled with songs he loves or that remind me of him. The first one was “Brand New Me,” by Nine Days, which I’ve blogged about before. This time when I hit the verse that goes “Just give me wind upon my back/Let me sail I won’t look back,” a HUGE headwind struck me at the same time as a huge runner’s high. I found myself sprinting into the wind with tears rolling down my face, just feeling fabulously strong and proud. Those around me gave cheers of “looking strong!”, and it all added to the wonder of the experience. I put on another song from the playlist, “Secret Smile” by Rascal Flatts, and again, it was the opposite of the song – as the lyrics went “You make the sun shine down/You take the darkest day and turn it into rainbows,” the sky got pretty dark, but it just made me run faster! Shortly after crossing mile 22, I switched to my “Power Songs” playlist, all with songs designed to continue invoking that fabulous runners’ high.

As the opening strains of Britney Spears’ “Gimme More” came on, I hit a slight downhill leading to the final 1.5 mile stretch, and in my mind, I thought, “here we go, b****es!” I have no idea who I was referring to, as there was no one around me, and also I normally almost never swear, but I guess something about the clubby nature of that song just turned me into a trash talker! I picked up the pace a bit for those final miles, though I knew I wasn’t going to going to hit 4:05. Still, I found myself passing a lot of the people around me, which was exciting. The best part was when I passed someone I had been back and forth with all race – she was wearing a red Akron Marathon shirt from 2007, and I was running my black Akron Marathon shirt from this year, and we had chatted a bit the first time we saw each other. When I passed her for the final time, she congratulated me, which gave me an extra burst of energy.


When I saw the 26 mile mark, I veered off to the sidewalk in order to kiss my hand/slap the sign before really cranking up the power. The runner ahead of me did the same thing… and then I passed her 🙂 I didn’t give it an all-out sprint to the finish, but I was actually glad I didn’t – I still had a really strong finish, but I had left so much of myself out on the course that a sprint finish just wasn’t possible, which made me really happy. They announced my name as I came through the chute, and I had a big old grin on my face when I crossed the line 🙂 I think this is my proudest marathon to date, because I was just so glad to give it my all and really push myself for the whole race.


After the race, I hightailed it back to my hotel in order to have time to shower before heading out for my flight. Lately I’ve always been getting a blister on the ball of my right foot, kind of on the side by my big toe, so today I had put BodyGlide on the spot hoping to fix it. Well, I didn’t get a regular blister – I got a HUGE blood blister! I did a little research and went back and forth, but ultimately decided to pop it with a sterilized needle, put some Neosporin on, and bandage it up. Any other advice, either with how to treat this one or how to prevent it next time? Also, any ideas why I got a blood blister instead of a regular blister? I’ve never gotten one before, so I was pretty surprised. Also, I have four pairs of sneakers in the regular rotation now, so I don’t think it’s about a specific pair of shoes. Advice appreciated!

As for my next race, I’m considering Route 66 in Tulsa on November 16 – that gives me a little break for two weeks. This weekend I’m going to be staying in NYC and planning to go watch the NYC marathon – please let me know if you’re going to be running in it so I can be sure to watch for you and give some extra cheers! Today while running I thought of an awesome idea for some signs, so once I figure out some more logistics, I’ll post where I’ll be. Also, I don’t think I know any out-of-towners coming in for the race, but if you are, please let me know and let me know if there is anything I can do for you logistically to assist!

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:11:19
Pace: 9:35
Overall place: 430/819
Age group place: 11/20


48 thoughts on “Race Report: Niagara Falls International Marathon”

  1. love your race report. I read your interview on Runner’s Lounge and had to visit.

    Good luck on your 50 and let us know when you’ll be in Arizona.

    The Lost Dutchman Marathon is awesome and in Feb. The Rock and Roll is in Jan.

  2. Wow! As a relatively new reader to your blog, I have to tell you that I LOVED reading this. Honestly, it was inspiring, and so fun to read. Congrats on the race and I can’t wait to read the next one:)

  3. Great race report, Laura! Glad you were able to “leave everything on the course” and finish in a great time.

    The issue of blood vs regular blister is kind of random…as in there really is no precipitating factor that makes one more likely than the other. It depends on if you puncture a sounding capillary which causes it to fill with blood. A regular blister can sometimes just be extra dead skin.

  4. I think a book would be really cool. You have a great writing style and you love running, You should share that with as many people as you can!

    Wow Four pairs of shoes in rotation! hahah very nice!

    Great job on the marathon! Maybe the two weeks off helped!

  5. Great post! I’m sitting here with huge tears in my eyes as you talk about that runner’s high during the last 6 miles and that sense of pride that you felt. That really moved me. Congrats on a great race! Let me know when you are in Ohio!

  6. Hi Laura,

    I’ve been lurking around reading your blog for close to a year(about as long as I’ve been running) and I would totally buy that book if you wrote it. Yours was the first running blog I started reading regularly, and still one of my favorites. I think that reading your blog was one of the major inspirations that helped me to go from lazy person who can’t stick to anything or run more than a mile, to person who is about to run a half-marathon next weekend.
    Your story is really accessible yet totally awesome, and if you can share that with others, you definitely should!

    Congratulations on another great race!


  7. Great job on the marathon!! I have even more respect for you (and also realize just how crazy you are LOL) after finishing my first marathon yesterday!

    Can’t wait to read your book in a couple of years.

  8. Nicely run!! Sounds like it’d be fun to run one of those international runs like the one you ran and Nitmos ran in Detroit. I was in Buffalo/Niagra Falls once in early September and remember how cold it was, though.

  9. Whew !!! My eyes was just falling off after reading your post. What you did was truly AMAZING !!! You really did pull it through and you inspire me! Way to go !!! Terrific post race repot. Hat off to you for getting the job done.

  10. Hey I read/commented on your interview over at Runners’ Lounge:)

    And.. SWEEEEET let me know what you think of Marathon Woman, I totally loved that book and I’m still holding on tightly to my copy even though it’s my boyfriend’s mom’s. hehe.

    And… YOUR book would be amazing. have you read What I talk about when I talk about running? It was on the NYT book review on sunday so my boyfriend got it for me and i read it… and… if you took your stories from your blog already your book would have more to it than his book. 🙂 i’m not knocking Haruki Murakami, he even did a 62-mi race, but this particular book was just sort of his journal/thoughts on running, a few race reports, and it wasn’t even really in a terrifically organized format. anywho… if you wrote something i’d def buy/read it 🙂

  11. Congrats on a great race!

    Regarding the blister, that is the side opposite where I had my issue recently. I just found that it is really hard to keep a bandage on when running – once you sweat, they always seem to come right off. Just make sure you bandage it really well before you run.

  12. Nice job, very emotional finish, keep that blister clean and roll out your ITB if your knee and hip are acting up it connects to both.

    I’ve lost track but what’s you CA target?

  13. awesome job! what a bummer that it sounds like the wind kept you from a PR. seems promising for next time, though, huh? I have been having issues with blisters too. No help for you unfortunately, but if you get any great advice pass it on. Blood blisters would creep me out!

  14. What a great race! And I think your book idea is great – turning running lessons into business lessons would be a good twist. And your story is definitely inspiring!

  15. Great race! I would totally be interested in reading a book about your 50 state quest!

    I see Pat’s comment about Arizona…I will be there in January for the Rock n Roll.

  16. Laura you are my hero! Very very inspiring run friend!!! I am very proud of you too!! You make it special and i appreciate your great race report!!

    I would be proud to read any book you write!! Your a great writer!!!

  17. What a great race report, Laura! It’s really interesting how you documented what was going on in your mind and how you strategized.

    And BTW, you have “only done 9 marathons”? Nine?! NINE!!! That’s incredible.

  18. Great race report Laura! LOL at the plastic yellow banana case!! I really enjoyed meeting you Laura and I hope we can meet again in Philly! Totally try to get into that one.
    I think you should write a book (can I be in it? ha JK!) You do have a very unique and inspirational story, and I think since you are a going to be world record holder, it is fitting!
    Thanks for the pick me up at 35K, it was struggling, but your encouragement helped me get going and get a PR. I am also thinking of running another marathon this weekend!

  19. Wow, that’s really neat you could warm up in the museum!

    As a Canadian living in the States, I thought the ‘crossing the border’ at the Detroit marathon was absolutely awesome! Unfortunately, we were late getting to the start and missed the Canadian anthem 🙁 You’re lucky you got to hear both!

    That’s very cool you ended up behind Kathrine! What do you think of her book? I really enjoyed it!

    Keep it up! I am taking a 12 week reprieve from marathons while I really train for RnR AZ (I have a 6 min PR to set!), so I will eagerly await your race reports to live vicariously through you!

  20. Great job Laura!!

    It sounds like the wind was a killer!

    You should come to Oklahoma for the Route 66. It’s a really nice course. I’m hoping that to be my first next year.

    Great job!!


  21. Hey Laura! I’ve just stumbled over here thanks to Marci, although I’ve stalked your blog often. 🙂

    Great race report – congratulations on such a strong race!

    I can hardly believe everything you have going on, you marathon maniac! Looking forward to reading more of your journey.

    And btw, that is a great idea for a book!

  22. the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa is a great race!! but just fyi there is a lot of concrete and the last 5 miles are almost all uphill. My husband and several friends did the full while another group of us did the 1/2.

  23. Congrats on hamminrg out another one.

    And thanks for yet another great race report!

    I’d certainly be interested in a running/business book. It would be very interesting to see how you tie them both together…

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