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Milton, Ontario, Canada

Monday, October 27, 2014

Niagara Falls Half Marathon Race Report (pacer)

On Sunday, October 26, 2014 I had the pleasure to run the Niagara Falls Half Marathon for the second time. This time, I was the 1:55 pacer.

You may recall, the last time I ran this race, my goal was the same. And it didn't work out. At all.

I went into Sunday, with 2 more years of running and racing under me and I was quite a bit more experienced and faster. However, I was still worried. When I agreed to this pacing gig, I had assumed that I would have spent the summer training to go sub 1:45 at the Oakville Half Marathon. Well, that didn't happen. Instead, I spent more (enjoyable) hours on the bike, cut running down and forgot all about speedwork. I hadn't run a lengthy distance at close to this speed since March's Around the Bay (average pace of 5:20/km). I was super worried I'd let the group down by not being able to hang on to the 5:27/km average pace over the course of the 21.1k. This fear was compounded by the forecast of 30kph winds (seriously. WHAT is with the winds this year?).

Smarter about the race logistics this time, I got to the Crowne Plaza Hotel with time to visit the washroom twice before lining up for the bus shuttle to the start of the race (the halfway mark of the Full Marathon). Once at the start I hit the portapotty for one last visit and pulled on some arm sleeves and a foil wrapper to keep warm. Of course as it always goes when you're the pacer, you get talked about and talked to. I answered lots of questions about the pace, the course, the day and finally, I lined up to take my chances with the headwind and the pace.

The First Half: KM 1-10

And we were away. The crowding wasn't too bad at all and I got right on pace. I yelled out my usual one liners to the crowd, telling them my name etc. I let them know what pace we were running (5:27/km) and answered the question in miles (8:46/mi). It was around  2 or 3km that my fave line came: "Oh, the race is actually shorter in miles." That go a LOT of laughs.

By this time, we hit the first water station. While I didn't need water, I decided to go for it anyway so that my group got used to me disappearing from time to time. While I took the water on the run, the cups were plastic and not good for the squeeze/funnel technique so I didn't actually drink much. 

One of my DailyMile friends, Angela was running with my group with an ultimate goal of 1:55 and she told me that if she got to 8k with me, she'd be on track to PB based on her Mississauga time. Alright! I spoke with some other people, all of whom said they'd be with me until the end. I let them know that I got mean with about 300m to go - "I'll scream at all of you until you get in front of me, so long as we have time." The group seemed eager to see this in action at that point. 

Water had been about every 3k, so I took my one and only gel (Clif shot vanilla. YUM!) at about 9k and there was no water. The way the race route goes - it follows the river, so it bends around the water almost always. I kept thinking we'd get water and didn't. Finally I gave up and took a piece of gum instead, hoping that the gel + lack of water wouldn't see me with stomach problems later on (all was well).

5:24-5:20-5:20-5:26-5:23-5:24-5:24-5:22-5:25-5:24, time: 53:52, pace band: 54:30

To the End. The Head-Wind Filled End: KM 11-21.1

I was right where I wanted to be. With 42 seconds in the bank, I knew I was being aggressive, but I knew that meant I could walk the water stops and slow a bit if the wind ever hit us head on. Thus far, the day was just fine. I spent the whole race toying with the idea of taking off my gloves but my hands never got unbearably hot, so I kept them on. It was overcast so I didn't miss my sunglasses. The wind only hit us randomly and always from the left side, which was fine by me. "At least its not raining," observed one of the people in my group. "Ha!" said I, "I'd take rain before headwind any day." 

The water station finally came up around 12k and I slowed right down in order to take a full drink. I never felt the need for the HoneyMaxx they were giving out, so I stuck with water (plus I don't like HoneyMaxx). From this point on, I was walking each water station - taking a few seconds back here and there. This was purposeful. I needed to slow down and I needed to drink and all of the cups were plastic, so walking was the only way to ensure water ended up in your belly. 

After 12k, I was thinking about the count down. 9k left! WooHoo! Things were not easy!super!fun! but I decided I'd be able to keep up the paces for the next ~50 minutes and not fail at this pacer gig. In fact, with 8k/5miles left, I told someone, "Less than 45 minutes. We can do ANYTHING for 45 minutes."

Then the headwind hit.

14k. We had 14k without major headwind. Sure, it blew from the side and maybe from the front but nothing that was bothersome. 

Until now. 


Okay macnic, this is why you have that buffer. Just keep at it. You have the pace in your legs now and you have 7k left. Let's go.

And really, there was nothing to do but to go. These 7k were filled with me hitting a 5:29 or 5:34 on my watch and speeding up until I hit around 5:25 and tried to hold. Around this time a few people were with me like glue. I knew that they were hanging on to me, willing me to lead them across the line in 1:55. Although we didn't chat much, it helped to have people to pace with (The pace was in their legs as well). 

Just before 16k, there was a water station. They had oranges. They were the best.

It was here that John from somewhere, USA caught me and we began to chat. He had chased me for a while after falling behind in the middling miles and was happy that he had me again. "Just hang on to me, John. 3 miles to go and you've got it." I don't know when, but John faded again.

4k left. Okay. Just keep moving. This wind SUCKS. SUUUUUUKKKKKSSSS. 5:30 km? Damn. Where is that downhill for the last 3k?

And we were turning onto the parkway with way more spectator support at this time and people were calling out to the "Bunny" and I'm trying to nod or thank them, but I'm not saying too much. HA. I can hear my stupid breathing and I hate it. My mouth is super dry and I take advantage of the last two water stations (seriously, 3 water stations in the last 5k?!?) because despite the headwind, despite not feeling easy!super!fun! I still had time in the bank! And then, before I knew it, I had 1k to go. 

And the wind kicked it up a notch. Seriously.

However, we were on a mighty downhill, so the wind was mitigated. The one thing I don't like about pacing is that last kilometer, when you just want to run as fast as you can, but you can't because you want to be as close as possible to your time and then you get the added joy of mental math. HA. 

By the time I got into the chute, I still had time to spare. So I did what any self respecting pace bunny would do. I turned around, started to run backwards and screamed my head off at the two guys behind me who had a shot at catching me. Jerry took me up on the offer and crossed 26 seconds before I did. The crowd was loud, I was pumped and I heard the announcer say, "Here is our 1:55 bunny, Nicole Macpherson and she's going to be right on time!" And so I was. So I was.

5:20-5:30-5:22-5:26-5:27-5:31-5:38-5:30-5:25-5:34-5:22-0:1:01, split: 1:01:03, Time: 1:54:58

Chip: 1:54:55
Place: 400
Category (F30-39): 47/384
Females: 121/1229

Next week, I'll run Road2Hope in Hamilton for the fourth year in a row. This time, Sam and I will run with Emma, Amy and Patty who all hope to PB with sub 1:50s. This will be a tough effort, I'm sure but I'm up for the challenge. Nothing is sweeter than seeing your friends hit their goals. See you after that one!


  1. Nice pacing Nicole!! That wind sounded just brutal, but you were dead on with the paces, not an easy thing to do!

  2. Congrats, what a great job you did. You are turning into quite the pacer! The darn winds have been crazy the past month and they were super crazy this weekend. Nice work in the wind! Good luck next week. I didn't realize so many of you were running!

  3. That wind was no joke yesterday! Well done, Nicole. You win best pacer award for sure!


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