Sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t like to cooperate with race directors. It’s unfortunate when this happens, but when it does, it presents an opportunity for them to either make adjustments to their course and help runners finish successfully or do nothing and deal with a string of heat related casualties and the bad press that goes along with them. I was happy to see that the 2016 Buffalo Marathon race directors chose to do exactly what they were supposed to do in this situation.
Before I go any further, I have to point out that I received a free entry into the Buffalo Marathon as a BibRave Pro. You can get more information about becoming a pro and also find and write race reviews on BibRave.com.
Normally, the high in Buffalo, NY at the end of May is in the mid 60’s. On Sunday morning, it was almost 90 with high humidity and mostly sunny skies. It made for a brutally challenging marathon. To the race directors’ credit though, they had been watching the weather for weeks and sent out several email updates to all of the participants with tips for running in warm weather when it became clear that conditions were going to be less than favorable. They also took a number of additional steps to help make the course more heat friendly, including:
- Doubling the number of water stations in the second half.
- Adding 6000 lbs of additional ice, damp sponges and washcloths to the water stations.
- Having volunteers on bikes ride up and down the course with extra water for runners who needed hydration but weren’t close to a water station.
- Opening fire hydrants to create misting areas for runners to run through.
- Asking local residents to help out by bringing out their hoses and sprinklers (and a lot of residents went even further than that by setting up their own water tables alongside the streets in front of their houses).
In the thank you email that race director Greg Weber sent out the next morning, he mentioned that the medical tents were no busier this year than in previous years. This is partly because the majority of the runners took the necessary precautions, but it’s also a sign of a well organized race run by people who aren’t afraid to be flexible with their course when they need to.
I know I’ve spent a pretty big chunk of this post talking about this stuff, but I think it’s important. In the past, I’ve written about race organizers who set up their courses according to a strict formula that helps them maximize their profits and then refuse to deviate from it regardless of any unforeseen conditions that arise (I won’t say who it is, but let’s just say that the name of the race series rhymes with “Crock n Stroll”). In the case of the Buffalo Marathon, the weather this year was an unfortunate anomaly, but the crew and the participants all rose to the occasion to make it a success. This is an example of how every race should be run.
Now, onto the course itself:
The Buffalo Marathon course is beautiful and mostly flat (there are a few rolling hills at various points – nothing major though). The course starts in downtown Buffalo in front of the convention center and heads southwest through some beautiful local neighborhoods, which feature tree lined streets (which helped provide shade) and nice architecture, including a number of houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. From there, it heads a little further West and runs through La Salle Park and along Lake Erie. This is five mile stretch was one of the most scenic parts of the course. The breeze coming off the lake also provided some relief from the heat. Around mile 12, the course heads back towards downtown Buffalo and passes a number of historic buildings and structures. At mile 13, runners head towards the convention center, where the full and half marathon courses split. Half marathoners head straight to the convention center while full marathoners take a right turn and continue on.
When I got to this point I found myself faced with a tough choice: I had signed up to run the full marathon, but the temperature had risen significantly since the start of the race and I still had to run another 13.1 miles in brutal heat. The half marathon finish line was right in front of me, and for a minute or two, I considered just running straight for 0.1 miles and calling it a day. Most of the races I do are half marathons and I’m going to be back in New York this fall to run the NYC Marathon anyway, so it wouldn’t have hurt anything to stop early…. But when I got to the split, I decided to keep going. I ended up being glad that I did. Here’s the thing: despite the temperature rising to almost 90 degrees for the rest of the race, now that I’m done, it feels awesome to know that I made a conscious decision to persevere and finish it anyway. If I had stopped early, I might have saved myself a few hours of discomfort but then I would have had years of not knowing whether or not I could have actually pressed on and finished.
As a note though, I’m not saying that everyone should do this. As I ran past the convention center, I saw a few people walking out with full marathon bibs and half marathon medals, and I think they deserve a lot of credit for making the tough decision to bow out early. Their bodies told them they needed to stop so they listened and avoided getting sick or injured. There’s no shame in that. In my case, my body just happened to tell me that it could keep going. So I did.
The second half of the course had some interesting sights to help keep runners motivated. Miles 14 through 16 went through some more neighborhoods (which meant more tree lined streets and some shade). Mile 16 headed past Buffalo’s historic Forest Lawn Cemetery and then mile 17 through 20 through Delaware Park and some of the surrounding neighborhoods. Mile 21 through 23 went through part of the Buffalo State University campus. At mile 24, there’s a party put on by local residents on both sides of the street with decorations and huge crowds cheering on the runners and motivating them to push through the last two miles (I should also note that crowd support is excellent throughout the course).
Mile 25 heads back towards downtown Buffalo. One note about this part of the race – on Saturday morning, my daughter Sara and I had run the John Beishline Memorial 5K, which is part of the Buffalo Marathon race weekend and honors the original race director who passed away a couple years ago. The 5K course starts and finishes at the convention center and runs through some of the same neighborhoods that the marathon course goes through. The nice thing about that layout is that the last mile and a half of the two courses are almost identical. Knowing exactly where I was going because I had just run the same route the day before helped me stay focused on where I was going towards the end of the marathon when my body was screaming out in pain. After the Mile 26 marker, the last 0.2 miles of the course loop around the William McKinley Monument in Niagara Square. The race finishes in front of the convention center where there’s a nice post race party with pizza and beer both inside and outside.
The Buffalo Marathon race medals are pretty sweet looking. They’re well constructed and have a nice graphic of a buffalo on them. The 5K medals are also nice – in fact, my 5K medal is probably one of the nicest ones I’ve gotten for a race of that distance. Runners who do both the 5K and the Marathon also get something extra in the mail. I’m not sure what that is yet, but I’ll be looking forward to checking it out when it arrives.
Overall, even with the harsh weather conditions, I thought that the Buffalo Marathon was a great race. It’s extremely well organized, has excellent crowd support, great bling and a nice course that takes runners past some interesting scenery in and around the city. I would definitely sign up for this race again and if you’re looking for a fun marathon to do in upstate New York, you should add it to your list.