October 29, 2013

Night Before the Race: Niagara Falls International Marathon

I am still completely on cloud 9 after yesterday’s finish at the Niagara Falls Marathon. I know I’m being incredibly repetitive, but I just cannot believe that I have actually finished 99 marathons and am on track for NYCM to be my 100th!

But back to the beginning. I got into Niagara Falls late on Thursday night, and headed to the expo on Friday morning, shortly after it opened. I was glad I did – because when I went to the registration table, they didn’t have me on the roster! The race organizers had promised me a free marathon bib as part of my agreement to speak, but that had slipped through the cracks since we first negotiated. Now, in any other race, this wouldn’t be a big deal – even sold out races always have a few extra bibs for emergencies like this. But the NFM is a bit different.

The race starts on the American side of the falls (in Buffalo), and then at mile 4, runners cross the Peace Bridge into Canada, finishing on the Canadian side of the falls. In order for this to work, customs officials vet all the runners a few days before the race (which is why registration closes early), and then when you pick up your bib, you also have to head over to a table of customs official to show them your passport/Visa/etc and prove that it matches the bib – and they check you off on a list. On race day, all participants take a bus from the finish in Ontario to the start in Buffalo, and when the buses cross the border, you have to again product your passport/Visa/etc, which then clears you to simply run across the border with your bib. Pretty well-organized, and super fun to get to cross!

But since initial background checks happen a week before the race, the race organizers don’t just have extra bibs lying around – and we didn’t even know if we’d be able to get me on the cleared list! My mind started racing – could I fly down to DC after my speech on Saturday and find a way to buy someone’s Marine Corps bib? Could I drive to Cape Cod and convince the organizers to add me to the roster there? Or maybe, since my layover on Sunday night was in Atlanta anyway, I could take the first leg a day early, run the Atlanta Marathon, and then fly back to Dallas from there? (Related: is it pathetic that I know all the marathons happening on a given weekend?

However, the super sweet organizers managed to solve the problem – thanks in large part to the generosity of customs officials who heard what happened, looked at my passport, and cleared me on the spot. (They were honestly faster than half the TSA agents I encounter!) I was then able to breathe a sigh of relief as I was granted a bib from a runner who had signed up for the full marathon but dropped down to the half marathon due to injury (and was given a new half marathon bib, since the half marathoners don’t cross the border and don’t have customs issues).

Tina Race Bib
Hi, my name for today’s marathon is Tina. Nice to meet you!

The rest of Friday was spent wrapping up work, relaxing a bit, and then enjoying myself at the VIP Reception held at the Table Rock restaurant at Elements on the Falls. This restaurant directly overlooks Horseshoe Falls (the Canadian side of the falls) and they had a cool light display underneath the water. It was hard to get pictures from inside, since there were lights inside and it was pretty dark outside, but here’s my attempt:

Falls At Night

Here’s one pic that did come out beautifully, though: the amazing cake that we had at the end of the night! Yum.

VIP Reception Cake

After the party, I headed back to my hotel for the all-important two-nights-before-the-marathon sleep. Unfortunately, despite the fact that I hadn’t set an alarm, I still found myself waking up at 7am on Saturday. Darn it! At least this tendency should serve me well on race day not to oversleep? I spent most of the day lounging around the hotel – finishing up work, working on some blog stuff, and finalizing my speech for the pasta dinner. At 4pm, it was go time, and I headed back to the expo for the long elevator ride to the top of the Skylon Tower where I’d be speaking. The falls looked stunning from this vantage point, and I was so excited to have such a beautiful backdrop for my talk!

Niagara Falls Pasta Dinner

There ended up being some logistical snafus – too many people from an earlier seating trying to head down the elevators while all the people from the 5pm seating were trying to get up to the dining room. As a result, there were still a ton of people in line for food or just having their drink orders taken by waiters when I needed to start speaking. We held off as long as possible, but also knew that if I didn’t start soon, it would then cause our seating to run over. So the announcer and I decided to go ahead and just start anyway! It was a little strange giving a talk without almost any eye contact, since most people were engrossed in their dinners or sometimes even having side conversations. But afterward, a lot of people came up to tell me how much they enjoyed my talk, and I was really glad I had planned ahead to structure my speech as vignettes and of self-contained tips for the next day’s race instead of in the storytelling “journey through my 50 states” format I often use.

I had worried that the food at the dinner wouldn’t be very good – official pasta dinners usually of lackluster quality when they’re buffet-style – but the Skylon Tower did an amazing job putting out eight different kinds of salads, four kinds of pasta, various other meats, and a huge array of desserts. I left totally stuffed, and it was all really yummy! This was a new venue choice for the race organizers, and I thought it was just perfect – the views of Niagara Falls from the dining room were unparalleled.

Falls From Skylon Tower

When dinner was over, it was still early – but I was more than happy to head back to the hotel, spend a bit more time on my computer, and then get to bed by 9:30pm. While I’ll frequently go sample the local brews or otherwise do unorthodox stuff the night before the race, this was my very last chance for something to go wrong and screw up my plan of having NYCM be my 100th marathon, so I wasn’t taking any chances. No waking up sick, and no sleeping through my alarm – a good night’s rest would hopefully ensure that I was ready to go. I was really crossing my fingers that everything would go smoothly!


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