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Milton, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Niagara Falls Women's Half Marathon Race Report (Pace Bunny)

On Sunday, June 1st, 2014,  I had the pleasure and honour of being the 2:05:00 continuous pace bunny at the third annual Niagara Falls Women's Half Marathon. I got really lucky when Patty asked if I'd be interested in pacing this event and then lucky again when she switched times with me after I was assigned to the 2:15:00 run/walk time (she's a pro at this time having paced it four times now). We made a bit of a day out of race kit pickup and our fellow pacer (2:10:00), Amy, my friend Bridgett and my son Fergus went to Niagara to pick up the sweet, sweet race kit with the mandatory Lululemon outlet stop in.

Race day started early as it always does and we were at Patty's house and on the road by 6am, arriving on site by 6:50am. This race is SUPER well organized with great and clean portapotties and really easy parking mere meters from the start line. Before long, Patty, Amy and I said our goodbyes and got into the corrals all three in a row. Shania Twain was playing so I did a little line dance least the women around me thought they'd be following a shy pacer. They delayed the start by 5 minutes to let people just coming in to park start on time, Kathrine Switzer spoke, we sang O Canada and then... we were off! All 3,100 ladies charging toward Clifton Hill.

KM 1-7: S L O W D O W N macnic!

From the start line on Upper Portage Road, we headed along the Niagara Parkway toward the Falls. Patty had warned me that there was an immediate downhill (as she's run this race every year), but I promptly forgot and got caught up with race excitement and went too fast. Whoops. I was targeting about 5:50-5:55/km as my plan was to slow/walk through water stations and I hit this first KM in 5:37! No worries, I began to talk and joke with the ladies in my group. I let them know that my plan was to slow through the water stations and tried to make conversation but no one was having it. "So, is this anyone's first half?"


"...well, this is my 13th half! Yep! Lucky number 13! WooHoo!" Someone did tell me that they'd be running with me to the bitter end. I told them that if they were with me in the finish chute, they'd be finishing ahead of me, "Once, I screamed at a girl so hard, I peed my pants." You could tell by the intake of breath that these ladies knew my dedication right then and there. 

We settled in and before long we were passing, "The bigger, prettier and Canadian falls! To the right, ladies!" Wow, did that mist feel good. We went through water here and as we headed to the Rainbow Falls, we started to see the leaders come back. 
See Jennifer in the purple? Remember her.
This is where the true magic of the race started. Everyone was cheering their heads off for everyone else. As the leaders past us and the 1:45 pace bunny past us, those girls in the sparkle skirts headed over to the right and pretty much high-fived all other sparkle skirts they saw ("Its like a convention of sequins here, people!"). Of course I screamed my head off for all other pacers including my Running Room friend, Erica (2:00:00, 10/1s), Amy and Patty! What a great time!!!

5:37-5:53-5:48-5:50-5:53-5:59-5:56, time: 40:56, pace band: 41:28

KM 8-14: Steady Eddy

I was able to settle into my pace finally in this stretch. It was a STINKING hot day (considering the late/non-spring) and I was glad that I declined to wear any kind of compression socks at all with my sweet PUMA tank and HIND skirt. I tried to keep it chatty and light and used my favorite line that the 1:55:00 pace bunny, Andrew said at the 2013 Chilly Half, telling the girls, "Now is the time to settle in. Ease yourself through the run and let the kilometers come." That was my plan for sure. It was difficult to keep the chatter up for two reasons: 1) I didn't have a chatty group, 2) I was thirsty! 

While I wouldn't have wanted to carry my own water I wouldn't have minded a few more water stations. What this race did well though was having signs a few meters before aid stations letting us know that water was coming. "Get your fluids and nutrition in, ladies! Remember, I will slow or walk through the stations, but we have time." Seeing that a water station  was coming and that we were around 9k, I took my one and only GU. Then I spotted more photographers and Boom! Here's what I do best!

ZOMG! PHOTOG! #runnerd
(see Jennifer?)
So we continued along and then, we were again passing the leaders! WooHoo! I knew that meant that we were about 15 minutes or so from the turn around. While I had settled into pace, there was a slight headwind which made holding the sign a challenge and I was eager to get the wind to our backs  on the way home. More high-fives, more "Go Amy! Go Patty!" Go random chick, but I like your socks!!!" Then we came across "Muscle Beach" where there were a group of (mainly) men who were body builders and posing! HA! No one in my group stopped, but we did see some ladies stopped for the photo opp on the way past after the turn.

Hey Jen (do you mind if I call you Jen?).
 Oh nothing, we're just racing
5:54-5:55-5:58-5:55-5:57-5:56-5:56, split: 41:30, total: 1:22:26, pace band: 1:22:56

KM 15-21.1: Stay Behind Us, Bitch

Making the turn, I announce to my group that we are perfectly ahead. We've got time and we just have to keep on keeping on. The expected headwind does NOT materialize and my internal mercury is rising. I start to look at all volunteers and spectators drinking water like I'm T. E. Lawrence and its a particularly hot day in Syria. The route has some shade though and I concentrate on staying in the shade whenever I can and knowing that we are getting another water break as we pass by the one that was around 9k. This comes around 19k because I remember shouting to the ladies, "18 minutes! You can do ANYTHING for 18 minutes! That's it! Let's go!!! Except right now, I'm going for some water. HA!"

By this point, I know I'm ahead of time, so I take a little more time at the station. I drink two cups and I dump one down the front of my top. Then I'm crossing over the bridge and some spectators call out to me. "There's no one with me, right?" "Not a soul," they say! Oh well! I slow a touch more and hope for the best. Before long, a man who had been with our group is with me and we start talking. 

"No problem," he says, "you're a bit fast."
"Yep, I wanted to have time for the water stations."

We chat a bit and he's running the race because he leads a running room clinic and they are running this race. He assumes I also lead at the running room but I tell him that having two young children hold me back from that commitment... for now.

Then we are getting super close to the end. "1 mile to go!" shouts a volunteer! Girls start to catch me and I start to tell them, "Pass me and you'll go sub-2:05! Just stay in front of me and you've got it! Sub-2:05!" This brings one of my two favorite parts of the race, when a lady passing me deadpans right back, "Just stay behind us, Bitch!"
Well played, random girl, well played!
I'm keeping it SLOW as I really want to finish as close to time as possible and this affords me all kinds of opportunity to scream at girls as they get past me. Finally I'm in the chute and the real work begins. I glance left and here are some ladies, "Let's GO! GO GO GO!!!" They'd pass and on to the next ones, "RUN! You've GOT this! Sub 2:05!!! GO! GO!" Then, my favorite part of the entire race happens. Finally I can't see anyone any longer so I full on turn around.

And see Jennifer.

I start running backwards, waving my arms, waving my sign, risking peeing my pants and I'm screaming, "C'mon Jennifer! C'MON! GET PASSED ME! LET'S GO!!! YOU'VE GOT IT! C'MON JENNIFER!!!!" 

I can hear and see the crowd pick up on this and Jennifer is pushing as hard as she can. As soon as she passes me, I turn and jog across the finish. My work here was done.

5:51-5:59-5:56-5:58-5:59-6:15-6:12-0:19 (last 0.06k), split: 42:29, time: 2:04:55, pace band: 2:05:00

Gun: 2:05:13
Chip: 2:04:54
Place: 342/1995
F35-39: 82/372

As soon as I crossed the line Kathrine Switzer grabbed me to congratulate me and to commend me on my amazing pacing and final encouragement! I was kinda out of it and wished that I had had the wherewithal to ask for a photo! I then retreated to the back of the finish chute with my glorious bottle of water and cold, wet face cloth to wait for Amy and Patty. Five and ten minutes later they were across the line and we were celebrating an amazing day for all of us!

My final thoughts are that this race is AMAZING! Right now, it only costs $68 to sign up for the 2015 edition and look at that race kit!!! Beyond that, the course is very, very fast! It is completely flat with only some slight downhills and the only complaint I have (and its minor) is that there could be more water on course. But that's minor because you can always bring your own. I'd do this race again in a second and I'd be honoured to pace it again! 

Oh and Jennifer? She finished 2:04:37.


  1. glad you enjoyed it..as I wrote in my report, the first year I thought the atmosphere was a bit forced, but this year it was genuine and that made a huge difference.

    1. I had a great time. Except for my stupid PF and limping at the end... but details!

  2. That's terrific Nicole. You did so great in your pacing gig! Your post is very well written and fun to read as I'm sure the run was as well. Funny what that woman said to you...made me laugh! Nice work.

    1. Thanks Robin. That woman gave me a huge laugh. I'm lucky I didn't choke on my gum!

  3. Awesome job and great report!

  4. Hey I'm famous! :) Thanks again so much! Best half ever! Did you get my email? I'm now a stalker of your blog and love that you worked yourself up to a full marathon.

    Jennifer :)

    1. AWESOME! Glad you found it! ;-) I didn't get your email... try again at joinerblog@gmail.com

      Congrats on your FAB race!

    2. I tried again, check your junk mail, it'll be coming from jdynas@buffalo.edu

  5. Loved reading your blog! I will definitely be one of your followers for the 3hr midsummer race in august!

    - Gita

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  7. Read this because I'm doing the half this year. Is it bad that I'll probably be averaging 8:30/km? I feel like I'm going to be left behind in the tumbleweeds.


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