2016 Race #3: Buffalo Half Marathon, Buffalo, NY

Date: May 29, 2016
Gun Time: 1:36:01
Chip Time: 1:35:46
Placing Overall: 88th out of 3838
Placing in Age Group: 6th out of 186 (M40-44)
Theme Song: One Beer“, MF Doom

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Let’s go, Buffalo!

Standing there on Saturday in downtown Buffalo in the 90 degree heat, facing the finish line, I will admit to having felt some trepidation.

It was the hottest May 28th on record in the city, and as I trooped up Franklin Street toward the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center to get my race kit with my septuagenarian father, I was thanking my lucky stars that the race organizers had the wherewithal to start the race at 6:30 in the morning when the heat would be less of a factor. My dad solemnly reminded me that complaining about things being too hot would not be tolerated, at least not by him.

“Would you be saying the same thing on a grey, depressing January day?” he asked pointedly. “I think not.”

He was, of course, entirely correct.

The expo itself was smallish in comparison to the ones I’d been to in Toronto and Cleveland, but had everything you would expect, including lots of gear for sale and plenty of other races being advertised. It was pretty much a breeze to pick up my packet, which included a smart, lightweight navy quarter-zip pullover. My dad was impressed with the whole scene, not being a runner himself and never having attended an event like this, although he did mutter a bit about the preponderance of suspiciously fit looking people hanging around the place.

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The expo, with the usual accoutrements.

We lingered a while in the sweet, sweet air conditioning, not really wanting to go outside and face the fierce heat and the walk to the hotel, but eventually we capitulated and made our way back, noting the gracious layout of Niagara Square and the hulking, Art Deco masterpiece that is Buffalo City Hall. Buffalo’s got some great architecture, including loads of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, but we unfortunately were here for a pretty quick trip and I didn’t have a whole lot of time to show my father around.

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The iconic Buffalo City Hall.

We did pick a great place for a pre-race meal though – Sun Cuisines is on Niagara Street just off the Thruway north of downtown, and is one of the best Burmese restaurants in Eastern North America. Buffalo has a surprisingly large Burmese community, and since my dad had just been part of a group that successfully brought a Burmese refugee family to Canada, he was keen to go. We gorged on Burmese tea leaf salad, samosas, beef curry and rice, and all of it was fantastic. My father, ever the charmer, talked his way into pictures with the staff and we had a conversation with the ladies at the table next to us about what to eat (one of them was a local elementary school principal, and given my dad taught sixth grade for 28 years they had lots to talk about).

Beef Curry

Sun Restaurant’s freaking off the hook beef curry.

Carbo loaded, we got back to the hotel just as the heavens opened up and an impressive deluge spattered the city. I made preparations and hit the hay, knowing that I’d have to be up early in the morning despite the hotel being a short walk from the start line (my dad had no delusions about being there to see me start the race and said he’d catch me at the finish).

The next morning dawned with clear skies, and temps were in the high 60s as I walked up Delaware to the starting corral. The race organizers had made it a point in the lead up to the race to issue warnings about the impending heat and implore everyone to hydrate properly, slow down, and be safe. This came with a comprehensive race plan to open fire hydrants along the course, have an additional 6000 lbs of ice on hand, and provide mobile trucks with bottled water, additional EMS and nursing staff on the course, and additional ambulances stationed nearby. In other words, we were going to be well looked after.

I felt absolutely tip top, and was itching for the start of this one. My plan was to basically find the 1:35 pacer and stick with him for as long as I possibly could in an effort to get that PR. The weather seemed to be playing ball and I felt like I could get off the course before the heat really became a factor. I soon found the pacer and after the anthems and some fireworks from the start gate, the gun went and we surged out of the corral.

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So the race kinda went like this:

First 5K – 21:42 at split

The race for this section took us up Delaware Avenue, around Gates Circle, and briefly into Delaware Park where there was a turnaround. There was a surprising number of people out to cheer the runners on despite the early hour. I ran right beside the 1:35 pacer for a pretty good chunk of this part of the race, but, just like in Toronto, I ended up getting ahead of him when he stopped for hydration at the aid station at Mile 2 and I didn’t. I seem to be making a habit of losing pacers. Anyway, I felt great, but I was trying to hold something back so that I didn’t get completely zonked before the end of the race. As you can see from the split, I was moving, probably faster than I needed to be. There was a bit of a gentle uphill for part of this but mostly it was pretty flat.

Second 5K – 44:14 at split

I mean, geez. This split was faster than the one I did in Toronto, and I was aiming for it to be slower. It didn’t hurt that it felt like the whole section, which was largely run along Linwood Avenue back downtown, was downhill. Also, Buffalo people are great. Loads of encouragement, people handing out Swedish Fish, a random dude in a black bathrobe standing in his driveway and hollering exhortations at us as we went by, a sign that said “If Trump Can Run So Can You”, and lots of other joys along the way. I started hitting every station for hydration from this point as it had started to get a little warm and the sun was beginning to beat down on us. As we reached the 10K split, which was basically right beside where the start line had been, the relay runners were handing off, and I was pretty pleased that I hadn’t yet started envying the ones who were done running.

Third 5K – 1:07:07 at split

This is where things started to get a little tough, though not as early as they did when I ran Toronto. The course bent toward Lake Erie along Prospect Avenue and through some of the urban neighborhoods. Did I mention Buffalo people were awesome? Continued great support, and at one point a guy was standing out in front of his house with a hose for the sole purpose of misting the runners with cool water. We went over a slight rise as we crossed the bridge over the I-190 and turned south along the lake shore. There was a bit of a pickup in the wind here off the water, but not much, and I basically just drafted off people as we headed into La Salle Park. It was at this point around mile 9 that I really started to tire. I was having no problem from a cardio perspective keeping the pace, but my legs were laboring a little bit. Interestingly, the 1:35 pace group caught up to me at this point, and I heard the pacer telling the other runners he was maxed out and wasn’t going to be able to continue holding it, and he ended up dropping off (I talked to him about it after the race and he was pretty bummed). I resolved that I wasn’t going to let this group run away from me and willed the legs to keep going.

Fourth 5K – 1:30:26 at split

Gut check time. The course took us out the spit of land along the Erie Marina and back before bending west back into downtown. You know what I was thinking about, as the heat and humidity were building and my quads and hamstrings were screaming at me to stop? Beer. That’s what. Specifically, that Mile 27 beer brewed just for this race, a big glass of which was waiting for me at the finish. I thought about how cold it would be. How it would hit my throat like a blessing. How beautiful and hoppy it would be, and how it would fill my stomach with its wondrous goodness. It called to me like a shining amber beacon. At the Mile 10 aid station they had towels saturated with icy water which helped revive me, at least for a bit. Miles 11 and 12 seemed to take forever, as those of you who have toughed out those last miles can appreciate, but as soon as I hit the 20K split and saw my time, I knew I had a PR in the bag, and damn if it didn’t feel awesome.

The home stretch – 1:36:01

I was completely gassed by this point, and was just giving it every ounce I had left. I reached the point with a couple of hundred yards to go where the marathoners split off from the half, and looked around for my dad, but didn’t see him (as it turned out, he didn’t see me either and we ended up meeting back at the hotel). I could hear footsteps coming up behind me and thought, no fucking way am I letting anyone beat me to this goddamn finish line. With all the strength I had left I broke into a sprint and crossed the line right at the 1:36 mark. On wobbly legs I wandered over to where the medals were being handed out, and lo and behold, another surprise – it was players from the Buffalo Bills doing it, which was extremely cool (linebacker Randell Johnson gave me mine and he is a VERY big man).

So, I went inside and got that beer. And it was damn fine. There were lots of other goodies on offer as well – tons of fruit, Clif Bars, bagels, Dunkin Donuts coffee, a pretty good spread all in all. I loved this race, and not just because I smoked my PR by 2 minutes. It might be my favorite one I’ve ever done, and it’s all down to the people and volunteers who made it happen. Way to go, Buffalo. I will be back.

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