I'm extremely pleased with the run. As I had feared, the wind ended up coming straight up the Niagara River at us, so for many parts of the run, it felt like we were pushing a car!
Everybody's marathon time was slower than we were looking for. I found the results from last year, and the 6th place finisher then came in 2nd this year -- but was 4 minutes and 22 seconds slower! So even the elite runners were feeling the effects.
The race started off surprisingly nice. While the forecast was pretty consistent with what I had seen on Friday -- winds out of the north-northwest at 12 knots, gusting 22 knots -- when we got up in the morning, there was only a very slight breeze. We got to the starting area at the Buffalo Art Gallery and the sun was shining, and I was actually a bit worried it would heat up a bit too much for us. While we were able to go inside the gallery to look at the art and keep warm, most of us stayed outside to prepare for the start and chat. And when the starting gun went, there was still only a very slight breeze.
We picked up another runner who was shooting for a 3:30 marathon -- Helene Lamothe of St. Basile near Montreal. So there were now four of us in the group to hit this target -- Jed, Helene, me and our pacer, Brian.
My lower right leg was still giving me a bit of discomfort, so I had an ibuprophen before the starting gun.
We ran through the streets of Buffalo and kept a very good pace. The goal was to actually start out a bit slower than our average pace overall, and the net effect was that we didn't go out too strong. In fact, it appeared that we were at just a second or two over our race pace of 8:00 per mile after four miles of running through Buffalo.
As we ran over the Peace Bridge to Fort Erie, our time naturally slowed on the up-hill leg, but picked up accordingly on the downhill portion, giving us an 8:01 pace for that mile.
As we came around the loop to get onto the Niagara Parkway for a 1 mile run south before heading to the long run north, I saw a flag that was oriented such that wind was coming from the south! Perfect, I thought, and I wondered if I had somehow misinterpreted the aviation weather forecast on which I was basing my wind direction. If the wind was coming from the south, that meant that it would be at our backs the whole way!
Jenny, Karen and Tori were at this point in the race to cheer us on -- cowbell in hand and replacement eLoad sport drink and a bag of jellybeans and eLoad tablets as well. We swapped out my depleted bottle and bag for a fresh set, which we had prepared the day before.
My joy about the flag direction was short-lived. By the time we had started the run to the north, I could feel the winds starting to come at us. However, we kept plugging away and continued to knock off surprisingly consistent miles, ranging from 7:52 to 8:04 up until the halfway point of the race. When I hit my watch's lap counter at the halfway point, my time was 1:45:29 -- exactly to the second what I needed to qualify for Boston if I could keep it up. I had another ibuprophen, as I could feel my muscles starting to feel like they would seize up and I wanted to be able to work through the pain.
But by now the winds were picking up even further. It was just before noon and there were several miles where I simply had to put my head down and concentrate on treating the road as my treadmill, pushing the road back behind me with every stride -- just to keep pace.
Jed was starting to have some issues keeping up at this point and was about 30 seconds behind us at the halfway point. Brian dropped back to help him out, and Helene and I kept running.
Jenny and the girls were there to cheer us on at around the 12 mile marker and 16 mile mark, which was great. And at the 16 mile mark, Tori had some orange slices and grapes for us. While I didn't partake in the grapes, I had an orange slice which was perfect. It was past my lunchtime and I was getting a tad peckish!
Before long, Helene wasn't beside me any more -- but I looked behind me and she was right on my tail -- drafting! No probs. I was happy to help, and it didn't cost me anything. But it was clear that the wind was having an effect on everyone. We kept running together until about mile 18, where she told me not to wait for her -- to keep going at my pace, which as it happens, was pretty much right on track, ranging from 7:56 to 8:05 for the five miles since the half.
But I was starting to have problems -- particularly on the windy segments where the course would shift such that the winds could come right up the river at us. My next four miles were 8:24, 8:14, 8:36 and 8:40 -- so I had pretty much given up on a Boston Qualifier time.
Right about here, Brian caught up to me and with 4 miles to go, he said, "Okay, buddy, you've got the finish in the bag, you've got a personal best in the bag -- now lets go for Boston." Shortly after that at about the 23.5 mile point in the race we came up to Jenny and the girls. Another orange slice and Jenny shouted at me, "You can do this. Get mad. Get going!" She could see that end-of-marathon look in my face where I was getting to the stage where I had nothing left in the tank. And with just under 3 miles left, we kept plugging ahead.
Again, I pulled out all of the visual imagery I could to keep me motivated. "3 miles left -- that's just an easy 5k -- like running from the bridge on Maguire Road to the house. That's nothing!". "2 miles left - that's like from the corner of Maguire and Clandeboye Roads to the house. Piece of cake!".
Brian kept pushing me hard as well. "You've got to keep working through the pain, buddy. Just 15 more minutes of pain -- keep pushing hard". He also tried giving me incentives to get to close targets. "Just around this bend and we'll be out of the wind. Keep working!". Of course, he was right -- until we went around the next bend and were right in the middle of the wind again! But it worked and I kept pushing. I hadn't looked at my GPS once Brian had joined me. And when the winds would get tough, I'd just put my head down, look for his feet ahead of me, and keep pushing, treating the road as my treadmill, pushing the road behind me with every step.
With about a half mile to go, my youngest daughter, Tori, appeared seemingly out of nowhere to run with me and she kept a good pace. Brian was encouraging me to pass other people who were also turning it on for the last push to the finish and at one point said, "Okay, buddy, time to leave it all out there. No conserving." I could feel myself pick up the pace.
Finally we could see the finish. Tori peeled off as we hit the shute and I turned it on for the end. My goal was to finish "upright and smiling" so I pasted a smile on my face for the last 50 meters. But I was done.
I came across in 3:34:20 -- just 3 minutes and 21 seconds off my Boston Qualifier time. -- but a personal best by almost a full hour!
I wandered around the corral where the food and Gatorade was being distributed for about a half hour -- both to wait for Jed to come across, and to make sure that if I crashed, I wouldn't be far from the medical tent. But I didn't crash. I felt close, mind you, but once I started eating an apple from the food bag, I started to feel better. I had a second one, and it was exactly what I needed.
Helen came across shortly behind me at 3:38:38, although I didn't see her, unfortunately. Jed came across in 3:46:14 -- an excellent time considering the winds, but not what he needed for a BQ. He said he felt like bailing about 20 times, but kept perservering. Certainly, 3:46 is a time in which he can be proud.
All-in-all, I was very pleased. While the temperature was exactly what I needed -- about 10 degrees C (50 degrees F) -- the winds definitely made it a challenge. And so I'm not only happy about setting a personal best, I'm also very confident that given the right conditions, I can make my BQ target time. I had a big smile of my face on the walk back to the hotel.
We aren't planning another marathon for this fall. We're done at least until the spring. But we'll continue to train for shorter distances and perhaps try to fit in a couple of half-marathons. So the long road to Boston is going to be longer than I'd hoped. But it will make the event all that much more special when I finally do make it!