Race Recap: The 2016 Niagara Falls International Marathon

Last year when I attended the annual CFAR Christmas party, they announced the destination for their runcation. In 2016, that destination was Niagara Falls for a marathon that begins in Buffalo, New York and ends at the brink of the falls in Ontario. Yes, you heard me right! The race begins in the United States and ends in Canada. *MIND BLOWN*

When I brought this up with my husband, it didn't take much consideration. A race like this is not something you just pass up. I mean, how many country-to-country marathons do they have?? I actually googled this and only found the Niagara Falls Marathon. So this race makes it to the bucket list without question.  I also convinced my sister and brother-in-law to join us! None of us, with exception of Peter, have ever traveled outside of the United States, so it was time to expand our borders.


I started my training during the first week of August, which gave me about 3 months to get ready. I cut down my typical marathon training schedule from 4-5 days of running a week to 2-3. This made me a little nervous since I thought this would hurt my times, but then again, I never started this training with the intention of really killing this race. Also, I had other fitness goals. I was following the Body Beast program to gain muscle and I wanted to keep that a primary focus 6 days a week.

I also followed the 21 Day Fix Extreme food plan to stay on top of my nutrition.

I wanted to make sure I was keeping a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, proteins, etc. I kept out all snacks and processed foods. I also dramatically cut my alcohol consumption. I wanted to stay committed to my health so I could be stronger than ever!

I didn't want to overdo running and doing Body Beast, so I stayed to my plan, even if that meant I may get slower in my pace. But to my surprise, I noticed that my times were actually getting faster and I was pushing limits that I never imagined possible Was this the strength training?

My long runs were beating normal race pace times and then it hit me. Am I at a point where I could break a 4 hour marathon? Once the thought dawned on me...it stuck. I was going to train to run this race in 4 hours.

All Aboard

The runcation began early Friday morning. Our group of 40+ runners, family members, and friends met to take the bus into New York.

Our first stop was at Watkins Glen State Park to have a Wegman's picnic. It was VERY cold so my lunch was devoured on the bus, but we did have plenty of time to hike through this beautiful area!

Because I was extremely cold and water was everywhere, my Raynaud's did act up. After an hour, I had to return to the bus to regain feeling in my hands. Kind of a bummer, but I wanted to be in my best condition for the race.

After finishing at Watkin's Glen, we then set off for Niagara Falls in New York. I was excited to see this for the very first time and it did not disappoint!

Unfortunately we did not have much time to take in the sights since we did have a schedule to follow. We quickly picked up food and then headed back to the hotel we were staying for the night.

Oh Canada & The Expo

The following morning we were off to Canada for the expo!

We walked into customs like we owned the place and quickly realized this was not like talking to a cashier at your local grocery store. We strolled in with a smile like "Hello there! We're here to see your country and run a race!" They were like "I don't care. Where were you on the night of November 11th 1992?" Well, they weren't REALLY like that, but they didn't believe 40+ people were sharing a house. We had to prove it by showing them the website of the place we rented.

Luckily, we made it through and were off to the Scotiabank Convention Center where we got our bibs and some free samples, like a full pack of back pain pills in French packaging!

Following the expo, we headed out to see Niagara Falls from the Canadian side and I must say, Canada has the better view.

Again, we had little time to do much being with a large group and having a set schedule, so after picking up a few gifts (I just had to get some Canadian maple syrup), we went to our new home for the night to eat a large pasta dinner with the crew.

It was a great time! We shared running stories and discussed our race day strategies. It was nice to hear how others prepare for a race. The recommendations helped me prep for my day. Especially since the weather was supposed to be heinous.

After dinner, Ashley, Eric, Peter and I went back to our room and goofed around for a few hours. It's been a while since I've laughed like that. It was nice that there were no TVs and bad internet connections. It forced us to be more interactive with each other rather than let distractions get in the way.

Race Day

I woke up at 5:30am the following morning to get ready. I had oatmeal, eggs, and a banana. I also packed up some of my Beachbody Performance Energize to have right before the race.

Though the race didn't start till 10, we had to catch a shuttle bus near the finish line by 7:30-8.

I had no idea why we had to go so early, but it quickly became apparent. One, the bus driver got lost on our way back to the US. Two, customs is a lot slower when it comes to going back into the United States than it was coming into Canada. We sat on our bus for 30 minutes while other buses came and went. It was frustrating to us all! Finally, they told us to come in to check our passports and were on our way again. We managed to get to the start around 9:30. Just enough time to stand in line to go to the port-a-potties.

We headed to the start after and I met up with a few of the CFAR members who anticipated a 4 hour finish time. They were going to be my guides. Most of them have been running much longer than myself and some have either hit a 4 hour marathon before or were just strong runners overall looking for the new PR. So I put all my faith into them to get me to the finish line.

When the gun went off, I stayed close to this group. The pace felt slow, but I'm sure it's because I usually let my adrenaline get the best of me at the start. Their ability to keep it steady was good for me. It helped me conserve valuable energy that I would need at the end.

For me, the first 5 miles flew by. I was able to remain conversational with two of the members of our group, Stephen and Linden. I looked at these men as wise runners who knew all of the ins & outs, tips & tricks, and runner hacks that I, the young grasshopper, needed to learn. So I was quite literally following in their footsteps.

Mile 5 brought us to the Peace Bridge. This was also the gateway into Canada. In case you were wondering, they do not check your passports as you run into Canada. In fact, there didn't seem to be much security-wise as we ran over the border. It was surprising, but I'm sure that there was some way they were tracking it all. The bridge was also where the only decent hill is in the entire marathon. Other than that, the course is pretty much flat.

Around mile 8 or 13 km (the race was tracked in kilometers), I began to feel blisters forming on the side of my left foot. It was the result of wearing new Brooks.

I had only run in them once prior to the marathon. My other shoes that I was going to wear were destroyed and caused me much pain following the Hershey Half. I had no choice but to buy a new pair. It didn't matter though. I could not let something as petty as a few blisters ruin my marathon. I was feeling good everywhere else. Until the the rain came.

It started out light and was definitely something any runner could deal with, but as we ran along the Niagara River, the wind began to whip into us from the front or our right side. It was exhausting, but I still tried to remain optimistic.

During the run, I kept refueling every 5 miles. I stored pieces of Cliff Bars on me and ate them as I ran. Around mile 15, it became very difficult to eat and breathe. I felt like I was using more energy to eat and it would take me several minutes to get down a few pieces. I could sense my energy was depleting, but I knew I had to run smart and force down some calories.

Stephen began to separate from Linden and me as it was his intention to speed up during the second half. Linden and I did as well, but we did so at a slower rate. We didn't want to overdo it, but we were still looking for that 4 hour goal. We kept Stephen in our sights and the 4 hour pace group. It was our goal to slowly gain on them over the next couple of hours.

At mile 20, I tried to eat again and it was nearly impossible. My hands were numb from my Raynaud's. I could barely operate my zipper on my HipsSister. I only ate 2 Cliff Bar pieces and thought screw it. It was too draining to even try to mess with it. In fact, I didn't bother putting my baggie back into my pack. I held on to it for the rest of the race.

We passed the 4 hour pace group which brought my spirits up because if I could keep at this pace, I was going to get a sub 4!!! But 3 miles later, the negativity set in. I kept it to myself, but things were really beginning to hurt and I just desperately wanted to walk. However, we were already caught up with Stephen and giving up now would have been something I would have regretted. But Linden's pace increased once he saw Stephen and the two of them disappeared in front of me. I didn't try to replicate their pace. I knew what my body was capable of and it was keeping to the distance I was doing right then and there.

I had no hard feelings towards them at all, but now, I was on my own. I would have to dig deep to maintain my effort for the remaining 5k of the race in my own head. And that 5k seemed like 50.

I watched many runners just start walking. I kept considering the same for myself, but I knew if I started walking, restarting wouldn't have happened. So I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

At mile 24, I felt the mile 8 blister painfully pop. As much as it hurt and the others were getting extremely sore, all I could think was that there were only 2 miles left to go. I would have less than 20 minutes to suffer through this.

Finally, mile 25 came and there was a slight uphill followed by an incredible downhill. One that would take you right to the finish. I couldn't have been more grateful. At this point, gravity could take the wheel and let me semi-rest. Once I reached the bottom, I saw the mist of the falls and I about crumbled. I was there. I was so close, but it seemed painfully far at the same time.

I looked for my sister and brother-in-law who said they'd try to catch my finish, but when I crossed the finish line and heard the announcer say "sub 4," I was filled with emotion and could barely comprehend what was going on around me. I nearly broke down.

I went from this...

 To this in about 1 second.

That's when I heard my sister call my name...as she was snapping photos my emo self.

The volunteers wrapped me in my foil jacket with my medal and I was immediately flooded with pain. I don't think I have ever felt a heartbeat in my hamstrings, but in that moment (and the hours that followed) they were thumping. I felt like they were going to give out and I would crumble to the ground. But I just kept putting one foot in front of the other until I located my sister.

We temporarily celebrated my finish, which shows unofficially at 3:58:53.

They escorted me over to the massage tent where I got the best leg massage EVER. Unfortunately it did not solve my problem. On top of that, I was freezing from the wind and rain. I desperately needed to change out of my wet clothes, so I remained on the bus warming myself up in my clean comfy clothes. Unfortunately, that meant I missed Peter's marathon finish.

Peter finished around 5:48, which to him was quite the accomplishment! Peter had a rough training season and was never able to do a long run over 17 miles and that was nearly 2 months prior to the race. Still, he managed to dig deep and finish! 2nd marathon accomplished for him!!! 5th marathon for me!

In just 2 months, Peter and I will be traveling for our next string of destination races. We are returning to Disney World to take on the Dopey Challenge in January! So our training is not quite over yet! But right now, we are taking a well-deserved break!!!

How many days do you run a week during marathon training?

Do you add strength/resistance workouts to your training?

What race is a bucket-list must?

Race Recap: 2016 Hershey Half Marathon

One Medal to Rule Them All

Another race in the books! The Hershey Half Marathon was my first official half in over a year! I kinda pulled myself away from the race scene this year because I simply wanted to keep it chill after the JFK 50. So after only 3 races under my belt this year, I decided to throw in a second round at Hershey. Especially since it lined up perfectly in my marathon training. However, there was little convincing when someone posted the “bling” on their Facebook several weeks ago.

When I saw that bronze Reese Cup, I basically told Peter that we had to do the race. My first run in the Hershey Half didn’t have a medal near as fab!

So, it was decided that we were going to run for the medal. I mean, who doesn’t want a Reese Cup as a medal hanging on their wall!? I mean…unless you hate Reese Cups (which you should totally leave my page now if you do 😉 ).

What’s great about the Hershey Half is not just the medal, BUT they include a lot of awesome swag! One of the biggest things they throw in is free admission for 2 to Hershey Park in the Dark. It’s no different than going to the park any other time of the year as most of the good rides are still open. Not to mention, you get the advantage of shorter lines, awesome decorations, people in costumes, and Halloween music. Did I mention that Halloween is one of my favorite holidays?

Packet Pickup & a Night at the Park!

Anyway, we journeyed down to Hershey on Saturday afternoon and I must admit, I had some anxiety. I have been doing a "cut” which means that I am reducing my fats, sugars, and carbs as the last phase of my Body Beast program. So that means absolutely NO CHOCOLATE! This may seem sinful since I was going to the chocolate capital of the world, but I was going to do my best to keep my food clean. I even packed my lunch to ensure that I was getting exactly what I needed.

The first thing we did when we arrived in Hershey was go straight to packet pick-up. That’s were we got our shirts, coupons, bibs, and park tickets. We also got awesome reusable Hershey Park bags. I'm all about free grocery bags! We've got tons!

Afterwards, we dropped our stuff off at the hotel, then quickly went back to the park.

Like I mentioned, when you go to Hershey in the off season, lines are way shorter. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I ever went to Hershey during their open season, but I do know that wait times exceed an hour on most of the coasters. This year, we were on and off rides like that! We mainly stick with the biggest coasters too. And I will be the first to tell you that I do fear them. Don't get me wrong! I do love them! But they also give me so much anxiety! ESPECIALLY FAHRENHEIT and The Storm Runner.

Here’s Fahrenheit.

Storm Runner is one of those rides that go zero to 60 in like negative 10 seconds.

I feel like my soul is literally sucked out of me when that coaster shoots off into the sky! Oh, who am I kidding! I have no soul! Ginger! Still, I have to close my eyes during the initial take off otherwise I can’t comprehend what the hell is going on.

We also got to try one of their newer coasters, Sky Rush which I also couldn’t handle.

Anyway, after a great evening at the park, we headed back to the hotel to eat dinner and rest up for the race.

Can I mention how much I loved that my husband got a room with 2 queen beds!? I sure love Peter, but I do love the times where we can sprawl out! We really need to upgrade to a king sized bed.

Race Day

After sleeping EXTREMELY well (not sure if it was because I slept alone...haha), we got up, ate breakfast and headed out.

Take my advice: Never wait until 6:30am to go to the race...even if your hotel is 5 minutes away. You WILL NOT make it on time. There's only 1 entrance to Hershey and thousands of runners were trying to get in. We didn't get to park until after 7:20 (race starts at 7:30) and had to make a long walk/jog to the start.

It was the first time in nearly 5 years of running that I did not make a race on time. Runners were still funneling through the start line by the time we made it, but we were at the back of the pack which put us at a disadvantage.

I was looking to PR at 1:45, but I was starting with a 9+ minute pace since the slower runners and walkers owned the road. I had to creatively weave myself through and it was like this for about the first 2 miles. It wasn't until mile 3 that I finally caught up with an 8 minute pace. If I wanted to get 1:45 though, I knew some of my miles would have to be in the 7 minute range. That scared the crap out of me! But miracles can happen! In fact, I began to run around a 7:50 pace. But some did climb to 8 from time to time simply because there were some killer hills (I did not train for hills like this), but overall, after mile 3, 7:50 became the average pace.

When I reached mile 6, I wasn't sure if I could quite keep up with my goal. I was going to give it my all, but my feet and legs were aching! I was not used to road running since I primarily trained on the canal these past several weeks.  My shoes were also worn out. I've had them since before my marathon in March!

Thankfully, there was a lot to look at in the park and a lot of positive course support to distract me. I was taking high fives when I could and tapping handmade signs that advised I could push for a power up. Oh and I think it's worth mentioning that one girl was listening to Sexy Back on her phone. That got me pumped. Haha.

Once I hit mile 12, many runners around me were beginning to walk. As much as I wanted to join them, I tried to be that voice of encouragement and let them know they had just a little further to go. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn't. I know that in the past, it has helped me so I try to return the favor when I can.

As I rounded the stadium and darted towards the finish line, I watched my time tick to 1:45. My watch showed that I already ran 13.1, but there were still a few tenths of a mile in the race itself that I had to cover I knew it was unrealistic for me to cross the finish line within a minute.

I may have missed my goal PR, BUT I knew I could still get one. And I was worth running for.

I crossed the finish line in 1:46:23. The Chocolate Town Challenge Facebook Page even caught it live. I'm about 20 seconds in!

I didn't relax for long. I still had Peter to wait for. So I rounded the stadium and waited for him to make his entrance into the stadium.

Despite some of the pain and injury he had this race season, he finished his 3rd half in 2:13.

We were both very pleased that we now had the medals we set out for!

I think I was more entertained with my superman heat blanket.

So now that the race is over, we turn our sights on the Niagara Falls Marathon which is now less than 2 weeks away. Training has gone well and I'm kicking myself for saying this, but I am aiming for a sub-4. It's my 5th marathon and I'm looking to turn it up a notch. Especially since I anticipate my next marathon (The Walt Disney World Marathon) to be pretty low key. But whatever ends up happening, I just pray to finish pain free! It's been a good year for that! *knocks on wood*
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