State #16: New York
The Buffalo Marathon
Sunday, May 16
The race expo was held in downtown Buffalo at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center and was open for most of the day on Saturday. Runners unable to attend the expo on Saturday had the option of picking up their bib on Sunday morning before the start of the race. The location of the expo is not to be confused with the Buffalo Niagara CONFERENCE Center, which is located in Niagara Falls, NY. We made that mistake and drove all the way to the Canadian border, but it wasn’t a huge deal since we planned to go to the falls anyway.
Just a quick note about going to Canada if you chose to run this race: It’s an excellent idea to see Niagara Falls from Canada if you have a passport. The views are incredible and it is relatively easy to do. However, the marathon is held on Memorial Day weekend so it would be in your best interest to go as early as possible to avoid the massive traffic at the border. It took us about an hour to get through customs and over the Rainbow Bridge and into Canada. Coming back to the states, however, was relatively simple and extremely fast. I love the falls but I’ve only been there during the winter, so it was incredible to have the opportunity to experience them in the spring.
We ended up going to the expo later in the day, and it was easy to navigate. The convention center is in downtown Buffalo. The event hosts approximately 5,500 runners from 42 states and 7 countries, but the expo was fairly small. There were a handful of vendors including the local running store, Runner’s Roost. The CEP compression sock vendor was set up in the same area as the running store and offered a discount to the marathon runners on their socks, which was a pretty good deal. If you don’t own a pair of CEPs, get on that. I have two pairs and love them for recovery. I’ve worn them running, but I don’t notice much of a difference. The recovery capabilities, however, are fantastic.
The shirts are cute but they were handed out in plastic shopping bags, which was a little strange. The timing chips were the older kind that attach to your shoe, but without the plastic ties to hold it on. I was a little concerned with the durability of the chip as I laced my shoelaces through it the night before, but it held up just fine. Besides some informational pamphlets, there wasn’t much in the “swag bag”, which I look forward to. Runners could purchase shirts from previous years at the expo for only a dollar – even the tech shirts, which I thought to be a good deal.
Yes, you read that correctly. I actually attended the organized pre-race pasta dinner – a first for me. As the race grew closer, I noticed the dinner was free with your race registration and seemed like a worthwhile event. The time and location of the dinner was very convenient. It was held at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church directly after the expo ended. I attended the 4 pm mass at the church directly before the dinner, which worked out well. It was a decent meal and I highly recommend taking advantage of it if you choose to run this race. Pasta, meatballs (I opted for no meat, but they looked good), tomato sauce donated by a local Italian restaurant (excellent), salad, bread, cookies, beer and soda. It was a nice, simple spread and it was really cool to break bread with the other runners. I traveled up to Buffalo with my friend Brooke and we met Mark at the dinner so the three of us could catch up before the actual race.
It was windy and chilly when we woke up, but we wore tank tops and shorts to the starting line. Since the Boston ordeal, the race directors chose not to offer bag check to the runners. I’ve grown accustomed to utilizing this amenity but we were just fine without it. We chose a nearby parking garage and ditched the car about 40 minutes before the start. On the way to the starting line, there were a handful of port-a-potties along the road. Runners could also enter the convention center and use the restrooms, and there seemed to be an abundance of port-a-potties right on the starting line. I couldn’t tell of the lines were really long or it was just the people gathering to begin the race. Either way, there were plenty of bathrooms at the start.
The race began in downtown Buffalo, right near the convention center. The course winds through the city and out to a more industrial area, passing lots of historical buildings and sites. There was a bus tour offered the day before and it was narrated by a former marathon runner that has a wealth of knowledge about the city of Buffalo. I didn’t opt to take it, but Mark did. He learned so much about the city and it’s history and shared lots of information with us as we ran.
Once you get to the more industrial portion of the course, there’s a steel bridge that the runners had to cross. It was a little weird and freaky to run on but it was a really cool structure to include in the course. The bridge takes you to a long out and back portion of the course and then you return to cross the bridge again. This is all occurring somewhere between miles 7-9 and seems to have the only noteworthy “hill” in the entire race. The course really is quite flat, with a few gradual inclines and declines every so often.
During the first half, the course is a bit congested. There are a few out and back areas where you are forced to run in tight spots. I was pacing a friend but I would assume if you were trying for a PR you would find that it would be difficult to pick up the pace in some of these areas. However, it was just two or three spots that seemed to be problematic and we were able to get right back on track fairly quickly.
The second half runs through several nice parks and residential neighborhoods. There aren’t many spectators but it’s peaceful and pretty. There were ample water stops, especially in the later miles of the course. Two stations offered GU, and there was a group of spectators handing out beer around mile 20. The local hash runners had a beer table set up closer to mile 23ish. I felt as though there could be more porta-a-potties on the actual course, but I always feel that way so I don’t think they were actually lacking in that department. The volunteers were some of the kindest and most enthusiastic volunteers I’ve ever encountered. I realize I wrote that about the Shires of Vermont race, but I mean it. The past two marathons were small town races with first class volunteers, making me want to return and run each of them again.
The finish line is a pretty interesting experience. First of all, you re-enter downtown Buffalo and are greeted with a slight downhill grade. The finish line is around the corner from one of the main downtown traffic circles. It actually has a bit of a Boston finish line feel (just a lot smaller), with the look of the street and the location of the finish. However, around mile 25.8 (or something like that), runners are directed down a little side street for one more out-and-back ordeal. You think you are about to finish the race, but OH WAIT – let’s go .01 of a mile down this random street and then come back. Seriously? I honestly loved the entire course, the city, and the race itself but that was kind of like, “WTF?”
The weather was incredible. The forecast made it seem as though it would be relatively windy, but it was actually pleasant. The sun never stopped shining, but it wasn’t too hot. I was also worried that running by the waterfront (we ran along Lake Erie) would be chilly, but it turned out to be gorgeous. As for how we ran the race, Brooke was looking to run a PR – so anything faster than a 4:22. Since she was training for the race during the winter of her senior year and her track season, it was sometimes challenging to get the weekly mileage in. However, she was more than prepared on race day and ran a very strong race. The smile never left he face the whole time, and she PR’d by four minutes, finishing in 4:18. Way to go! The medals are really cool – it’s a big buffalo nickel. I actually think it might be one of my favorite ones yet.
This was my second marathon in seven days, since I’d run Vermont the week prior. Technically, I was told I wasn’t even supposed to be running either races at all. I’m so thankful that I was able to participate in both events, and that my femur healed enough for me to be able to have the experience. The pace was comfortable, the weather was amazing, the course was incredible, and I was so excited to get to run another marathon with Brooke before she goes off to college. As for the status of my injury, everything seems to be healing nicely and I am hopefully back on track to finish out all of the races I was signed up for. I have two more states to conquer before I can relax and start preparing for my crazy fall races.
After the race, runners have the option of staying for a party in the convention center. It was a really nice touch, particularly because it cleared the runners away from the finish line. There was water, soda, pizza, chips, cookies, fruit, beer, yogurt, and probably a ton of other stuff that I missed since I wasn’t totally starving by that point. It usually takes me a few hours, until I start feeling ravenous.
We hung out at the party for awhile, but we chose to head out and visit Anchor Bar before hitting the road. No, not for post race beverages…for buffalo wings! Supposedly, the buffalo wing concept was invented at Anchor Bar. I don’t really subscribe to any dietary label, but lately I’ve been erring more on the side of vegan (ever since reading Scott Jurek’s book – review coming soon!), but I was not about to pass up some authentic wings. It was absolutely worth it. A great end to a wonderful weekend. Next stop, Washington state and Alaska!