Obsessive Runner – Andrew Chak


Obsessive Runner – Andrew Chak

The best half marathon I didn’t run

I’m hesitating to write this race review. I’m pausing because it was a gem of race and although it deserves to grow, I don’t want it to get too big and lose its compelling charm. The kicker, however, is that I didn’t run this race – my wife did. This was the second annual Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon and I never had so much fun at a race I didn’t run.

It starts with the Portapotty

The packet pickup was held at what would be the start and finish area of the race. This gave us a good preview in terms of arrival logistics and parking. As we entered the area, the first thing we noticed were the portapotties – lots of them. Women-friendly-don’t-have-to-wait-as-long-in-line amounts of portapotties.

Being the curious male that I am, I snuck into one of them (I had to go, ok?) and marveled at the nice soaps and scented sprays provided within. There were also some potted plants where the, ahem, men would normally go along with a cute sign advising occupants not to “water the plants.” By the way, my apologies to the next occupant for leaving the toilet seat up (habit).

A Pink Packet Worth Picking Up

Packet pickup was smooth, efficient and full of goodies. The theme of “empowered” was emblazoned on the pink packet bag as well as on the front of the Brooks technical race shirts. The shirts came in your choice of green or blue (how cool is that?) and the race logo was smartly printed on the back to prevent having too much ink on front which would block ventilation. The kit included a plethora of samples including: shampoo, makeup, mouthwash, a toothbrush and a bottle of wine. I double checked to see if the wine was to be used as a sports drink but it was not advised.

Also at the packet pickup was one of the most inspirational and influential female runners in history, Kathrine Switzer. Kathrine was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon when women weren’t allowed to run in endurance races. She registered using her initials and when she was spotted on the course, the race director famously tried to pull her off the course. Kathrine ultimately prevailed and finished the race and helped to open the doors for female athletes to participate and compete in marathons. Participants were given the opportunity to meet Kathrine and take pictures with her.

The Cheer of the Niagara River

The course was a flat, scenic run along the Niagara River. The runners went down the river, past the falls and the main Clifton Hill tourist area, made a u-turn back to pass the falls again, then continued back along the river up past the start, and made another u-turn to go down the river back to the start which also served as the finish. Although crowd support was sparse, the stunning beauty of the river provided the inspiration for runners to keep going. There was some entertainment along the way such as a harpist and a “muscle beach” area where some men were pumping iron (I don’t know why I wasn’t invited to do this ). Kathrine Switzer was also on the course high-fiving and encouraging all the runners. A really nice aspect of this double out and back course is the fact that you can see your other running friends at least once or twice as you run and can cheer them on.

The Finishing Touches

In keeping with the sly humour of the race, the finish was referred to as the “Finish Wine” and the emcee did an excellent job of creatively encouraging and announcing each runner as she crossed the finish. The medals were a bright and colourful pink and sported a unique design from the previous year. Food boxes were provided to each runner and there were bistro tables setup with tablecloths and flowers which provided the most elegant post-race dining venue I had ever seen.

Whimsical with a Purpose

This race is a whimsy – from “Very Important Pee-ers” (VIP) portapotties, to “voluncheer” t-shirts, to cold, wet towels at the finish, this is a well thought out event that’s more than a race. One of the most significant elements of this race is that funds are raised for the Women’s Place of South Niagara which provides shelter for women and children experiencing abuse. For my wife, she felt great to be a part of contributing to a local and worthwhile cause.

The Champ

This race was my wife’s first half-marathon – she had done a couple of 10K races before and was a little bit nervous about covering the distance. The thoughtfulness and the organization of this race, however, empowered her to enjoy the run. I was and am so proud of her for finishing strong and am truly glad (and a little jealous) that she had the opportunity to do this distance at such a great event. My wife is already talking about next year and thinking about taking advantage of the early bird registration deal that is on til June 30th.


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