Saturday, I ran in the 2nd annual 50 Yard Finish Half Marathon in Orchard Park, NY: a half marathon around Orchard Park which finished on the 50 yard line of Ralph Wilson Stadium (home of the Buffalo Bills).
A few weeks ago, I set my goals for this race. It was important for me to set several goals and have a Plan A, B, and C. Goal A was a 02:30 finish. Goal B was 02:45 and Goal C was to simply finish standing up.
Friday, we headed down to the stadium to pick up my bib and shirt. Packet pick-up was very quick and well-organized. I think it took me a total of five minutes to get my bib, shirt and wristband. We let the kids run around on the practice field for a bit and headed out to drive the course and grab some dinner.
We headed to a little dive on the waterfront and I ate the most amazing linguine with clam sauce. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the best pre-race meal choice to have clams (heaven forbid they weren’t cooked right), but it ended up working out just fine.
I spent the rest of the evening getting my gear together, fiddling with my playlist and getting the kids’ stuff packed up and ready. I headed to bed around 10:30 and actually slept pretty well…until I woke up from the craziest running-related nightmare at 4:20am. I tossed and turned until my alarm went off at 4:55. I ate some breakfast (english muffin with PB, banana and Nuun) and decided to check the weather one last time.
I had been stalking the weather all week and the chance of rain kept increasing as time went on. When I checked the radar Saturday morning, it seemed like all of Western NY was green. I made a last-minute decision to ditch the cute Team Sparkle outfit I had planned and go with just shorts, shirt and running jacket.
We got the kids loaded up and headed down to Orchard Park. It poured the entire time and I was starting to get some serious doubts about being able to do this race in torrential downpours, but by the time we reached the stadium and parked, the rain had let up to just above a drizzle.
We arrived around 6:40 and the race was scheduled to start at 7:00. I said goodbye to the family and headed to make the requisite restroom stop and head to the start line. Except, there was no start line. 20 minutes before race time and the start line wasn’t set up. Several of us were standing around and confused as to where we were supposed to be. Eventually, we saw a small sign for the start line and noticed the crew laying down the chip mat. Everyone headed up to the start and stood around. 7:00am came and went. At around 7:10, a large inflatable arch popped up and the anthem was played. Except we didn’t know the anthem was being played until “and the rockets red glare” and I only knew it was playing because people started shushing each other. Then, we were off. No gun or countdown…we just started moving. It was all a little comical and no one seemed upset/angry at the scrambled start.
My plan for the race was to stick with my 1min walk/1 min run interval as much as possible. Within 3 minutes, I was already at the back of the pack, but no big deal. Less people means more room and less worry about running into someone. The race starts out with a large downhill. I had to remind myself not to go speeding down and keep with my intervals.
The rain was actually letting up even more and it was down to a slight drizzle/mist. I was starting to regret wearing the running jacket and had it off by mile 2. I couldn’t get it comfortably tied around my waist and I didn’t want to ditch it on the side of the road. Thankfully, the husband and kids were waiting to see me right after the 5k mark and I tossed the coat to them. Also? There’s nothing cuter than my kids running along side the road and screaming for me. Best thing ever. The rain pretty much stopped about halfway through, but thankfully it remained cloudy and cooler (around 66 the entire time).
Remember how I said the race started out with a downhill? Well, as soon as that downhill was done, we went uphill for the entire first half of the course. I was not at all prepared for these hills. We drove the course Friday night and I realized there were some hills, but I didn’t entirely grasp just how bad the hills really were until I was trying to run them. Just look at the elevation maps:
At this point I knew my A goal was out the window. My pace was slowed to 13 minute miles and I was feeling really discouraged.
I was walking hill after hill and watching my pace slow more and more. We turned the corner around 6.5 miles and I knew we’d be going mostly downhill for the rest of the race. I had hoped to make up some time on the second half of the course, but then I remembered: downhills can suck just as much as uphill. My knees were screaming and I still needed to double walk some intervals. I suck at math, but I had convinced myself my PR wasn’t going to happen. I knew at the very least my A goal was gone and my B goal would be dead soon, too.
I told myself that once I hit the 5k mark, I’d go all out. No more double walks. Just put my head down and dig out the intervals until I crossed the finish line.
And then I saw it: the stadium was there and I was so close to finishing. We made the final turn off of the street and around the complex. We ran behind the outdoor practice field and behind the stadium. I was happy to be by myself at this point because running through that tunnel and out onto the field was simply incredible. The Buffalo Jills cheerleaders were at the end of the tunnel, cheering everyone on. And then I got to run on an NFL field, y’all. My video was on the Jumbotron and my family was there on the field cheering me to my finish. It was awesome and worth every bit of pain I was in. I received my medal and ran over to the family. I wasn’t exactly sure of my finish time as I forgot to stop my Garmin (typical), but I knew I had done it…I shattered my Princess Half Marathon time. It was the best feeling in the world. I didn’t care that I missed my A and B goals. I had finished with a smile on my face and I still PRed!
We hung out on the field for a while. The kids (and the husband, let’s not kid ourselves here) were having a blast running around and I wanted to just relax and enjoy my beer.
Overall, I really enjoyed this race and I plan on running it again next year. The course, while hilly, was very pretty. Next year, I hope the organizers will fix the start line issues and work more with the city on road closures. Some of the shoulders were very narrow (especially miles 6-9) and I had to run outside of the cones in order to pass someone. I’m not sure if they moved the cones in once the majority of the runners were finished or what, but there were many spots where it was only one runner wide and cars were zooming past. The Orchard Park police and race volunteers did a great job of directing traffic. The water stops were always fully stocked, although maybe they could add in Gatorade/Nuun every other stop next year.
And the bling was fabulous!
The only other negative was the complete lack of spectator support, even after the rain stopped. I counted exactly ten spectators on the course. That was a bit discouraging for me. I don’t need thousands of people cheering at a race, but it is nice to get that push every now and then. There was one guy playing the theme from Star Wars on his saxophone around mile 7, which cheered me up a bit. Again, I was at the very back of the pack, so maybe it was different for the faster runners, I’m not sure. Hopefully, more people will know about the race next year and come out and cheer.
And now for the details:
Chip time: 02:48:37 (previous PR: 03:08:06)
I know a 20 minute PR won’t happen every time, but I’m going to enjoy it to the fullest this time. I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere with my running and I can not wait to see what I can do at the Disneyland Half Marathon in just 60 days!