@NiagaraMarathon Half Marathon Race Report

When we last left our hero (aka: ME) the fate of running a half marathon hung in the balance…

Somehow, on race morning, I woke up. And by that, I mean I don’t remember falling and staying asleep, but I sure did. As a precaution, the first thing I did upon opening my eyes was take an Immodium and two Pepto Bismol tablets.

Body check.


Up we go.

Since Rachael and I were checking out of our hotel room before we left for the race (we opted to save $100 and shower at the hotel’s pool), we had to dress and pack at the same time. I had a moment of indecision about wardrobe to be sure, but finally decided to put on my Under Armor Heat Gear under my Sparkle Skirt. The compression tights didn’t do my muffin top any favors, but I figured an ugly bulge was a small price to pay for keeping warm. (My race photos may say differently).

Pace Band

All this, plus tights? Should be plenty warm, right?
All this, plus tights? Should be plenty warm, right?

We checked our bags with Bell Services, made our way to Milestones for our buffet breakfast and watched the sun rise and the clouds clear as we ate our meal. We ate a little heavier than we normally would have on race morning, but considering the start of the race was 3 hours away, we figured it was a good idea.

Breakfast Sunrise


Our original plan had us walking across town to the Crowne Plaza to catch the bus to the race start, but it was a cold morning and I still had a pretty big question mark hovering over me so we took a cab instead.

The Crowne Plaza was full of wide eyed, adrenaline filled runners hovering around. When we arrived, we noticed lots of buses lined up and asked a volunteer if there was some order to which bus to take. Nope! Just hop on a bus! So we did. It filled up pretty quickly and before we knew it, we were on the highway on our way to the start for the race.

There is nothing quite so sobering as a 20 minute long bus ride that’s taking you from where you’ll finish a race to where the race starts. It gave me plenty of time to reflect on my intestinal distress, and my weeks of missed training. Rachael was cheerful and excited. I was Eeyore. I tried not to be, but I felt a little grim.

On the Bus. I am in "Fake it Till you Make It" mode.
On the Bus. I am in “Fake it Till you Make It” mode.

We finally reached the start and a race co-ordinator hopped on our bus and explained a few things – keep off the lawns, the bag check buses are at the back, there were lots of portopotties, one of the runner tents was pretty wet inside, so use the other two, keep the river on your right and have a great race.

Staying warm
Staying Warm in the Runner’s Tent
Gear Check
Bag Check Buses
Lotsa Potties
Lots of Potties

We spent our 45 minutes before the start keeping busy and warm. We handed over our bags, and made our way to the wet race tent (the others were full) to keep warm. While we were there, we chatted with a nice 2:30 Pace Bunny – Rachael asked if I wanted to start with the bunny.

Um, heck no. Too fast!

We shed our extra layers, fuelled up (ENERGYbits for me) and did a light warm-up run. Everything felt ok and my tummy was only mildly crampy. I took another Immodium for good measure, we hit the portopotties and found our place in the starting corral.

Still Faking It.
Still Faking It.

Before we knew it, it was go time.


As we crossed the mat, I hit my Garmin and took a deep breath. We agreed to do an easy start, just run until we were clear of the crowds before starting our 2/1 run/walk intervals.

We had both bought pace tattoos from the Running Room – both WRONG pace tattoos. I bought one for a 2:45 half, but the pace was marked out in kilometres – I asked the girl at the booth if the course would be marked in miles or kilometres, and she said since it was Canada, kilometres of course. Well, as it turns out, it wasn’t. It was marked in miles. Ok. My tattoo was useless. Rachael had grabbed a pace tattoo for a 2:45 marathon somehow, so without some obtuse math, hers was useless, too.

Whatever, we both looked cool.

My utterly useless, ignored tattoo.
My utterly useless, ignored tattoo.

We hit Mile 1 almost exactly at the 12:30 pace we were shooting for, and so we settled in, letting people pass us. We knew we’d be back of the pack the whole way, and we were ok with it.

The next several miles went the exact same way. We were pretty much exactly on pace and feeling good. It was cold and at first it felt like a perfect temperature for running, I was glad for my extra layers, but after 5 miles or so, I took off my hat and my gloves.

We kept saying, “Thank goodness the race is today and not yesterday”, we were so grateful for the mostly clear skies and the lack of rain, sideways or otherwise.

As we ran along the river (keeping it on our right), we took in the fall colours (to be fair, the leaves on the trees were mostly yellow, but still pretty), and enjoyed the beautiful homes that line the roadway. Occasionally someone would be out on their porch or standing not heir lawn cheering us on. It was a quiet, picturesque race, a far cry from the loud, boisterous runDisney affairs I’ve come to know and love. Different, but also really nice.

Before long, my stupid calves started getting tight. When we came across a photographer, Rachael asked if I wanted to jump for a photo. Grumpy me said, “nope”! I was afraid of the fast twitch motion of a jump making my calves seize up entirely.

That's where you're wrong, sign...
That’s where you’re wrong, sign…

The angle of the road (sloping down away from the centre of the road) started stressing my left knee, so suddenly I was having knee pain I’d never had before. Either that, or I was rolling my foot outwards to avoid the developing blister on my big toe. On the up-side, my Achilles Tendinitis seemed to be faring exceptionally well, and my Plantar Faciitis was holding up admirably too.

Around mile 9 or 10, we got a fun boost of energy in the form of the front runners of the full marathon zooming along past us. Without fail, one of my favourite moments in an out-and-back half is to see the eventual winners blasting by, so I was happy to cheer on the front runners of the marathon as they caught up with and passed us.

We did well keeping our pace except in miles 8, 10 and 13. In mile 8 we took a quick photo with a Spartan blow up character. Our dad went to Michigan State when we were little girls, so we have fond memories of Sparty. Of course this Sparty was a local high school mascot, but we didn’t care.


Somewhere in mile 10, Rachael had to take off her shoe to dislodge a pebble (with me barking like a drill sergeant “tie faster, no dawdling, this isn’t a break!” – to her credit, she did not clock me one), and then by mile 12 and 13 the cold had caught back up with us and my legs were starting to cramp everywhere – the tightness in my calves was aggravating my heel, my knee was throbbing. I was a mess. I pushed as best I could, but I knew it wasn’t going to be enough. I could see my 2:45 goal slipping away. I regretted every extra walking step I needed to take, but there was nothing I could do about it, I was just too cold and too tired to speed up. Again, to her credit, Rachael stuck with me despite looking like she could easily run our the last few miles without stopping.

At the last aid station we encountered, they were handing out orange slices and jelly beans. i could have kissed them all. My ENERGYbits had helped me along immensely, but I had forgotten to take my last round, plus the sweetness cheered me up.

When we were facing the last quarter mile, the most apparent downhill of the proclaimed “2 mile downhill to the finish”, I told Rachael that I was ready to just run it out. And so we did, we pushed our way to the finish line just seconds before the female winner of the full Marathon, so we were able to turn around in the chute and applaud her coming in. That was fun.

I saw a volunteer holding out a thin fabric jacket (think painter coveralls) with the race logo on the back. I grinned, pointed at a volunteer and waved him towards me. We met halfway and he helped me into my jacket as I thanked him. I know I sound like a big old baby, but I was hurting. I’d never felt this poorly after a race.

Made It!
Made It!
Ready to run more...
Ready to run more…

As cold as it was when we were running, somehow the cold seemed to burrow its way down to my bones and squeeze my muscles. I hobbled through the rest of the chute, gathered my medal, a very dry pita, a banana and a bottle of water and a granola bar. Rachael and I took some fun photos at the race backdrop and made our way to the race results tent. Our results weren’t up yet, and I knew my Garmin was off from our official time, since it stopped every time we did (it had us at 2:45:28) so I used my handy-dandy SportStat iPhone app to look our official time 2:46:02. Argh.

So close.

I tried to stretch, but was so cold that every new movement seemed a good reason for my muscles to cramp in a new and exciting way. While Rachael went to the Medical Tent to get a bandaid for a blister, I grabbed my bag from the bus and we started to make our way back to our hotel.

Rachael probably could have run back to the hotel. She was fine. I was miserable and insisted on a cab as soon as we got clear of the construction fiasco that was the race finish line area.

Once in the warmth of the cab, my muscles started to relax and by the time we got to the hotel, I could walk (almost) normally again.

We went down to the gym, our key cards wouldn’t work. We went to the pool, our key cards wouldn’t work. Since we had ‘checked out’, we were no longer guests.

We went to the front desk and explained the situation and were given keys that would let us into the pool area to shower and relax.

Seemed great.

Until we got to the pool.

Now, you’d probably assume if someone offered you a place to shower after a race, they’d assume you’d want a real shower, right? We went into the ladies room at the pool. No shower. Two toilet stalls, two sinks, one hand dryer. That’s it.

My stomach sank.

We looked out by the pool and saw the showers we’d been offered – open to the rest of the pool, zero privacy.

I had not brought a bathing suit.

For a split second I thought “How busy could this pool be? Maybe I can get a quick shower in before anyone comes.” Yes, I was that delirious.

We made our way back to the front desk and tried to beg another shower option, but our room had already been cleaned and we were out of luck. Rachael went to get her bathing suit (which, as it turns out, she’d left in the hotel room) and used the pool shower.

I did the only thing I could do. I washed up like a hobo in the sink. A lady came in while I was washing up in my skirt and sports bra and I was immediately apologetic.

“It’s ok! This isn’t weird! We ran the half marathon today but we had to check out before we ran it and they told us we could shower at the pool but I don’t have a bathing suit! I’m not a hobo!”

I am not a Hobo.
I am not a Hobo.

The lady was totally nice and we talked about her goal to run a half marathon (she’s pulling for runDisney’s Princess Half Marathon next year). She and her family hung out at the pool for a while (good thing I didn’t opt for the no bathing suit / birthday suit option!) so I couldn’t have freaked her out that much.

Rachael swam and used the hot tub for a while, and I massaged a lot of Icy Hot into my calves. The pool area was so warm and humid, it felt great.

Also, not a Hobo.
Also, not a Hobo.

We had one more meal at Milestones before gathering our bags, and making our way back to the train station.

More important than the meal...
More important than the meal…

In a conversation with my blogging buddies at the VIP party, I had described this race as my “State of the Union” race. So how did I fare?

While not an complete success (missed my goal by 1 minute, 2 seconds? Really?), it still gave me hope that I could catch up on my marathon training and that the pain in my heel was manageable. I’ve learned that massaging and rolling my calves makes the heel pain all but disappear.

If you had told me after my very first half marathon in February 2011, finishing at 3:04:45, that 20 months later I would finish my 6th half in 2:46:02? No way. I wouldn’t be able to fathom knocking almost 20 minutes off my time. And yet, I did it.

And that is the feeling I’ll be holding on to every time I start to freak out a little bit about being thoroughly undertrained for the Space Coast Marathon next month.

And although I’m trying not to focus on the failures in my training, I really am freaking out.

A lot. Because as encouraged as I am by my progress so far, it’s also put the fear of God into me. I know I have a long way to go before I’m marathon-ready, and less than a month to get there.

What I Did Right:

  • Took the train – got tickets on sale and enjoyed a lovely ride.
  • Booked a hotel on Hotwire
  • Came a day early
  • Booked the Pasta Dinner
  • Got taped up by a professional at the KT Tape booth
  • Cut my losses on “doing stuff” in the days before the race when the weather turned bad, resting in the hotel was time well spent.
  • Took Immodium immediately when symptoms presented themselves
  • Used ENERGYbits for fuel
  • Waited until after the race to buy a souvenir shirt – Brooks had $15 off shirts at the finish line.

What I’d do Differently:

  • “Stop by” the VIP party, and leave in time to catch the fireworks
  • Introduce myself to organizers
  • Book a hotel earlier, make sure it was an affiliated hotel, and I’d book the late check-out package – or –
  • Book the extra day after the race so there’d be no need to check out late, and we could spend that day doing the fun stuff we missed.
  • Pack warmer tights
  • Fuel more regularly on the course
  • Skip checking a change of clothes – there was no where to change.

Long Run things to think about:

  • I need to be more diligent in transitioning to my Newton Shoes. Not only do I think my calves will strengthen as a result, but also I seem to need a bigger toe box that my beloved Nike Structure 16s are giving me.
  • Time to step up my cross-training game.