Heading into my fall full marathon (Chicago), I “had to” find a tune-up race to practice my race-day motions and test out my fitness. As I was trolling the internets for a suitable race, I had some specific criteria in mind:
- The race had to be a half-marathon distance or longer
- I wanted the race to be on a Saturday as I normally have church on Sundays
- The race schwag (shirt and medal and whatever other bonus goodies) needed to look good
- The course needed to be flat to mimic the Chicago marathon
I was able to find a race that met all of the above criteria but it wasn’t in Canada; it was on the other side of the border and it was the Mighty Niagara Half Marathon. Instead of cross-border shopping, I was going cross-border running and it’s apt to say that I got a great deal out of it.
A Simple Packet
My race day experience started with a convenient pre-race packet pickup. For me, receiving and opening my race packet is one the most exciting moments
of my life before a race. What does the bib look like? What is the quality of the race shirt? Are there any free samples? The schwagofile in me just loves to see all the “free” stuff I get with my paid registration.
Alas, however, this packet was a simple one consisting of a race bib, race shirt and a couple of flyers. Given that Nike was one of the event sponsors, I was secretly hoping that the race shirt would be a dri-FIT. The shirt ended up being a generic brand but the race logo detailing was quite nice and it has the words “Are you mighty?” emblazoned on the back; so although the shirt is generic, it at least has some character and I can wear it around the house to remind my wife how “mighty” I am (no jokes please).
The final items in the packet were a novel inclusion as they were local discount cards for area shops, restaurants and hotels. There was even a 10% discount on all the US Niagara area Tim Hortons which I’ve never seen before on our side of the border. These local discount cards are a great way to promote the local businesses who are supporting the race and provide a greater tie to the community.
A Beautiful Course with a Beautiful Elevation
The race horn blared promptly at 9:15am and we were off through the lovely village of Lewiston. I had no idea that this charming village even existed beyond my usual confines of outlets and shopping malls. We headed up alongside the Niagara River which featured many beautiful homes that are above my pay grade but provided a picture-perfect setting to run through. The course followed the river through many residential neighbourhoods with the highlight being the gorgeous tree-lined paths of Fort Niagara State Park.
The beauty of this course, however, wasn’t just skin deep – its elevation profile was also something to be admired. If you take one look at this elevation chart, you’ll know what I mean:
Wet Volunteers are the Best
The weather forecast for race day was rainy and wet – really wet. I was grateful for the many volunteers who stood for hours and braved the elements to support and cheer on the runners. The race director was greeting and encouraging many runners at the start and even offered his trailer for runners to keep dry in beforehand – I really felt like I was being taken care of as a runner and this attitude was reflected in many of the volunteers throughout the event.
The aid stations had a solid number of volunteers and were well organized. I especially appreciated one of the aid station leads who saw me approaching the station while eating a gel and he directed his team to make sure that I got water instead of the sports drink. The only quibble I had with the aid stations was that some of them carried both water and sports drinks while others only had water; this puts a little more stress on me as a runner as I need to then track what is going to be available where. I’d sooner have each station have both items to make things just a little easier.
The Finish and Post-Race Festivities
The finish line was the Porter On The Lake Town Park which made for a great post-race area. As I was heading to the finish, I was targeting a sub 1:40 time and knew that I had to keep a fast pace towards the end. For me, the finish is where I make the final push and I really appreciate all the adoring support from the crowd (they are all cheering for me after all) to help me accelerate at the end. The last couple of hundred meters of this race, however, is on a grassy field which would probably be fine on most days, but on this rainy day it was muddy and uneven and not the best surface for finishing fast. Nevertheless, I did finish under my goal time so I was still happy.
After the finish I of course received my medal and it was definitely schwagorific. Like the shirt, it has some nice detailing and featured an orange accent colour and is a worthwhile reward befitting of all the other quality elements of this race.
The post-race goodies included bagels, bananas, granola bars, hot dogs, Starbucks iced tea, and beer. There was also a covered area which sheltered us from the rain and allowed us to dry off, eat and recover. There was a live band and a nice photo station setup which featured a display clock of your finishing time as part of your photo which is a really awesome touch. The photo assistant would just ask you to tell him your finish time so you could opt to use this to your advantage (not that I even thought about doing that).
A Mighty Fine Race Indeed
The testament to how much I enjoyed this race was that the pouring rain did little to dampen how much fun I was having running this course and enjoying the race support. The Mighty Niagara Half Marathon is a well-organized event with a beautiful and fast course where you will be taken care of from start to finish. Highly recommended.
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