The 2006 Niagara Falls Marathon was better than expected. Here are the details:
- 1,100.4 miles raced
- 262 miles to race
- Race: Niagara Falls Marathon
- Place: Buffalo, NY to Niagara Falls, ON
- Miles from home: 463.4
- Course Difficulty: 3 out of 10
- Course Enjoyability: 6 out of 10
- Weather: 30-40s; light rain and slight winds
- Finishers Medal: 7 out of 10
- Donations To Date: ~24k
- It was wonderful to be recognized in print by Ripley's Believe it or Not when their publicist said: "We’ve had a lot of amazing athletes and people obsessed with breaking sports records, but we’ve never had anything like this".
- When Ben Franklin said "He who sacrifices a freedom for a security deserves neither" apparently had no premonition of airline travel.
- One week before the race, the surrounding area got hit with 2 feet of snow. Talk about timing!
The logistical nightmare that could have been the Niagara Falls Marathon was averted mostly because a running friend of mine named Mike McPheters and varying members of his family, to whom I am eternally grateful. From rides to and from Niagara Falls from the Buffalo Airport to wonderful pizza provided after the end of the race (and a warm shower-no small thing when you love to shower as much as I do), I just wanted to thank them personally here.
My accommodations were at the Great Wolf Lodge, made possible by good friends with connections, which was an expansive "Shining"-esque hotel/indoor waterpark/arcade/ baseball field/ blimp landing station. (Ok, I made the last two up but this place was enormous).
With a packet pickup in a casino, Mike and I ventured in and quickly dispatched with the necessaries of getting our gear before I headed off to play Blackjack. In 20 minutes I had made most of the money to pay for one of my remaining plane tickets to Dallas later in the year. We quickly beat feet and I considered myself fortunate to have this little bit of luck at the beginning of the weekend.
Going for a convenience store run, we grabbed a Niagara Falls Review which was promised to have an article about Fiddy2 in it. Thinking I may have to search the sports pages beneath curling and the local Bingo tourney to find the article, I was shocked to see and huge picture of me staring down the Leadville mountains, taking up the entire top half of the page. Above the fold! I beat out hockey! In Canada! Follow this up with a wonderfully written page in the handout given to all athletes participating in the various races of the weekend and I am completely convinced that Canada loves Dane. I may move north.
1st half marathon: 1:28:57
My goal for the weekend was semi-secret but most people knew I have been itching to break 3 hours for just shy of a year now (I had it in my grasp last year at the Marine Corps Marathon before letting it slip away in the last 3 miles). I had eschewed the possibility of doing so last week in Des Moines to take on being the all-important 3:10 pace group leader. I knew I wanted to run my best in the MCM next weekend but also knew if I could get a sub 3 now it would take the pressure off of needing to do in my new hometown (Titusville is always my home but this is the longest I have ever lived anywhere continuously since I was in high school). I was put at ease talking to a marathon newbie on the bus ride to Buffalo and felt that perhaps today was the day (She ran her first marathon in a 4:56, so way to go Danielle!)
With this at ease feeling, I toed the line. After a quick rendition of both the Canadian National Anthem and the US anthem sung by the same wonderful woman, we were off. I told Mike I was going to give 6:52 minute miles a shot (exactly a 3 hour marathon), and took off. While I did not see much of Mike on the course, he was tight behind me for quite some time.
The first 4 miles weaved us through some downtown sections of Buffalo right off of the Art Gallery starting line. The decimation of the snow storm that hit Buffalo a week ago was evident everywhere as downed trees and splintered limbs were all brushed to the sides of the road. (Having drank FAR too much liquid I got to know one big pile personally in a pit stop).
Around mile 5, as we crossed the Peace Bridge into Canada and the only real hill to speak of, a native French-speaking woman named Nathalie appeared by my side and in stilted English asked me "What is your projected finish time?" I told her I wanted to run a sub 3 and she said "Good. We help each other." Before this weekend, a French-speaking good friend of mine and a native Canadian (from the exquisitely named town of Asbestos) told me she would be with me in spirit. Now, I had her physical manifestation right next to me!
After a few miles of running together I had found that this Natalie had a 2:55 PR and ran just a few seconds shy of breaking 3 hours the last time she ran the Niagara Falls Marathon. I realized as we finished crossing the bridge that this woman was a better runner than I was this day and I had to be sure she did not take me out too fast. Sub 3 was all I wanted; it did not have to be 2:54!
Rounding off of the bridge and into a stiff headwind, Nathalie was smiling. My inquiry as to why got the answer: "Wind at our back on the way home." I thought about it and she was right. After the loop off of the bridge and a few mile jog south, the rest of the marathon was due north. And right now that appeared to be the way the wind was blowing. After weather predictions of awful wind and rain all weekend this was a welcome thought indeed.
Nathalie and I ran the next few miles together but the quartet of 6:38, 6:39, 6:44 and 6:41 proved to be too fast for my tastes and I bid her adieu. (Ooh, look! I used French!). I had settled into a zone which I did not want to break. I have recently learned that some people think that calling a marathon at least 50% mental (something I have said often) is a crutch for the untrained. Well, all I know is that I set my mind to running 6:52s and the next thing I knew I had cruised through the first half with more than minute to spare. This was not just the result of training but the fact that I told myself I wanted to run fast today. I felt I could do it and not the cold temps, spotty rain and intermittent wind was stopping me. So far.
More shocking than anything this first half was my friend Mauriella who had made the 2- hour plus drive trip all the way up from Erie just to sit in one spot, in the rain, with a homemade sign to cheer me on as I passed. Her knowing smile that she had completely surprised me seemed to tell me that my shock was worth the trip. At least I hope!
Mile 22: 2:32
I rarely keep track of my specific miles before 16 or 17 but I was hitting the old stopwatch every 5,280 feet on this day. I wanted to stay completely on top of every mile to see how I was faring. I knew that while I hate "banking time" (meaning you run a little faster than you have to in the first half of a race, hoping it will carry you through when you give tired at the end) as I feel it is a bad running strategy, the fact remained that after mile 16 or so I had an extra 85 seconds in my safety deposit box. Doing some math (my ole time passer), I realized if I could not dip into my savings until the last 4 or 5 miles I could run 7:15s or so and still make the coveted time.
Miles went by rather quickly and one of the great things about this race were the guaranteed water stops every mile in the second half of the race. While neither hungry nor thirsty, I would grab at least a swallow-full of liquid at these stops as I considered it my reward for running another 6:52 or less every mile.
Mile 18 was my first 6:53; one second over my pace. I was disappointed but rebounded with a 6:50 on the next mile and I think I actually smiled. Mile 20 loomed and with it the last 10k, where many a marathon hope has been dashed like ships between Syclla and Charybdis. Hitting this mile with a time of 2:16 and change (my fastest ever 20miles in a marathon) I knew I was close to my goal. I left myself with very little breathing room but it was indeed a possibility. As such, the next two miles went by almost in slow motion as I ran a 7:10 and a 7:09 and almost screamed out loud in frustration at the massive loss of time in just those two miles. My goal was slipping away. I cannot put into words how frustrated I would be if I just missed going under 3 hours. Actually, yes I could and it would look like Sarge yelling at Beetle Bailey: (“@*$#!”)
People who had been leading me all day were coming into focus and then being passed. I assumed that they were all gunning for 3 hours as well but they were not going to make it running at the pace they were. I would normally shout some words of encouragement and possibly try to drag them along with me but was so focused on my own race, I have to admit a bit of selfishness. I did not care who beat me or who lost to me as I just wanted that 3. At mile 23, the thought of not being able to make it crept into my mind. My math calculations showed me probably coming in at a 3:00:20 and I got, well, quite pissed. I am pretty sure I gave a disdainful glance havenward, as if to say, "You let me come this far to fail?" Giving everything I had without risking total collapse I headed onto the last few miles. Yet I was quite shocked when the next mile was only 7 minutes even, not even close to how fast it felt and was not sure what the last bit of the race had in store for me.
Two miles to go and a few more runners were passed. Mile 25 appeared (mercifully) and with 1.2 to go, I had 8:24 to traverse the distance. For those of us who hate math, that equates to a 7 minute mile and exactly a 7 minute mile pace for that final .2. That last .2 sounds like nothing to the unknowing but forgetting to factor that distance into your total time means you will be extremely surprised and severely disappointed when you have to deal with that additional 90 seconds at the end. So I dug in, caught sight of the plume of the Falls off to my right, clenched my teeth and gave it all I had.
I sprinted down the avenue next to the river feeding the falls and upon hitting the 13 mile marker (set up for the half marathoners), knew for the first time all day that sub-3 was mine. I shouted as I crossed the finish line in 2:59:48, exponentially more in relief than in exuberance.
The cheering crowd and the announcer who told them what I was doing this year were lost as I was wrapped in my own thoughts. While my main goal is to raise money for L’Arche Mobile this year, I would be lying if I said I did not want to run fast as well. Besides, is it not the running relatively fast while doing everything else I do this year the reason why those who are impressed, are, in fact impressed? I am doing things this year to show that you can race your way to a good time, all while doing a plethora of other taxing events in my life. As I have said many times, there are many things you can NOT do in this world; trying is not one of them.
Mike crossed in an excellent time of 3:10 and two of his relatives had very respectable times as well. After giving a brief interview to Michigan Runner TV (yeah, I have no idea either, but she was really nice), I saw Nathalie. I shouted: "I DID IT!" and she gave me a big hug. But then she was whisked away to an interview of her own. I have a feeling she was in the top 3 for women. (Turns out she was 4th. Oh so close). I myself finished in order behind 3 others in my age group and placed 7th in that category and 30th overall. No complaints here.