Sunday, June 18, 2017

Niagara Falls!! Day 2

Race morning and I overslept! I was wearing earplugs to block out the hallway noise and didn't hear my smartphone alarm, which is unusual for me. I must have been tired!!. Fortunately I woke up on my own, just a half hour later than I'd planned, but still with little time to eat breakfast of Cheerios and banana in my room and then get dressed and out the door toward the start line 2 miles away. I didn't even brush my teeth before leaving the room! Good thing I'm in the habit of laying out everything I need for the race!

My friend Dan had offered to get up early and drive me there, but I just couldn't ask him to get up so early, and especially since they were checking out later that morning. They could sleep in, have breakfast and maybe do a little sightseeing before hitting the road for home. I was going to walk but then remembered I could use Uber instead. I made the request on my phone app and within minutes the driver was there to get me. He'd already made a couple of runs to the start line so knew where it was and what to expect in terms of traffic. As we found ourselves in a long line of cars trying to turn left into the parking area, I had him just make a U-turn and drop me off on the shoulder. It was only a short distance into the park where the start line was. It was raining, a cold rain, but we had a short wait, standing under trees to stay as dry as possible.  I positioned myself near the back of pack and then soon we were off and running.

The route was stunningly beautiful, traveling north along Niagara River on Niagara Parkway, through the heavily wooded Dufferin Islands Nature Area, to Niagara Falls, then past the Falls, past the visitor center, and past the American Falls. Right at the turnaround, there was a public bathroom building and I took advantage of it. I'd not seen any porta-potties, but after this stop, I realized that I'd passed at least one other public bathroom along the way and clearly this was the race organizers' intention that we take advantage of these. Now we were all heading south, back past Niagara Falls and the visitor center and back toward where we would pass the starting line area and continue south for another 8 miles along the river.

the race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

We went through Kingsbridge Park, through the cute little community of Chippewa, and past lovely homes overlooking river. As I got within a mile or so of the turnaround point, I heard my name called and saw a woman approaching me as she passed me going in the opposite direction. It was a running club friend I'd never met in person but had connected with at the club Facebook page. She said she'd wait for me at the finish line.
At the finish line!

Then I made that U-turn and began heading toward the finish line. The rain had stopped and the sun was struggling mightily to break through the thick clouds. Soon I was making that last turn into the park and toward the finish line and there was my new friend, waiting for me.

Finisher medal, honoring Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

We introduced ourselves to each other, chatted a bit with others, then realizing she'd be going right by my hotel in order to cross rainbow bridge back to US, I asked her for a ride back to hotel.

Running club friend Estelle and me at the finish line

As we walked to her car, we chatted some more and compared notes of upcoming races we had scheduled, wondering if we'd soon cross paths again. I enjoyed her company and the fact that she was close to my age, which is becoming more and more a rarity I'm learning, as I keep doing these races.

At the hotel, I bought a cappuccino at Starbucks then went up to my room. I rested in the room for a bit, hydrating, snacking, sipping my cappuccino and enjoying the views. But then hunger for real food hit and I showered, dressed and went down to TGIFridays off the lobby for lunch. I sat in the restaurant and got caught up with emails and Facebook while I enjoyed my hamburger.

I considered what to do next but then decided I'd done plenty that day so went back to Starbucks, bought myself a treat, including a cake pop, and returned to my room to watch TV and relax.

For dinner that night I walked to a nearby Applebee's and picked up dinner to go, some kind of Asian shrimp stir-fry which was actually quite good and with plenty left over to save for the next day.

That night I was treated to a fireworks  display over the falls. I was pleased to learn that they do this every Friday and Sunday night, and since I didn't arrive until Saturday and missed the Friday display, this Sunday display was the perfect way to end the day. View from my room:

Early the next morning I got up, got dressed and headed down to the visitor center to be there as soon as they opened. I bought tickets for the Behind the Falls experience and for the visitor center movie experience, Niagara's Fury. That done and with tickets in hand to beat the rush, I went down to Tim Horton's there in the lower level of the visitor center and bought myself a maple glazed donut and a coffee to enjoy while I waited for the first showing of the Niagara's Fury film. I'm glad I got my ticket so early because the line was very long!

The screen inside the theater, before the movie started

Then along with all of the others in line, I donned my blue poncho and filed into the surround-theater where we viewed a 360 movie about the formation of the falls. We were warned that the closer to the front, the wetter we'd get. Well heck! I stood right up close to the front railing where I got splashed... a lot!!

Then got in line for the Journey Behind the Falls experience, this time donning a yellow poncho and filing into an elevator with a group and taken down 150 feet where we exited into 130 year old tunnels that run under the falls.

In the tunnel, heading for the portal behind the falls
The tunnel itself: deafeningly loud and a bit claustrophobic

The sound of the water roaring overhead was deafening! I walked to the tunnel exit just at the base of the north end of the falls horseshoe, where I had a spectacular view of the bottom of the falls and out toward American Falls. It was breathtakingly powerful and beautiful!

View platform at the base of the falls

View platform at the base of the falls
Here's a short video taken at the base of the falls:

I retraced my steps back through the tunnel to a tunnel branch and took it to a viewpoint that looks out through a portal that is immediately behind the falls themselves. Here the noise was beyond deafening, and seeing the water thundering down in front of that opening was actually frightening. Here's hoping this 130 year old tunnel doesn't collapse!

One of the viewing portals behind the falls
I continued to the end of the tunnel where we had an unobstructed view of the falls. Impressive but loud and I was pretty much ready to get out of these tunnels and up at ground level again.

Here's a short video taken at this portal:

I decided to splurge and have a leisurely lunch at The Keg, an upscale restaurant at the hotel with wall-to-wall views of the falls from the 9th floor. The food and service were excellent and I lingered as long as I dared to enjoy the views. Did I want to walk back over to the falls again?? I thought about it for a while, but then decided that staying close to the hotel seemed like the better idea. But Starbucks sounded like a good idea.

Rainbow over the falls

Back in my room, I started to gather my things and do some preliminary packing. I warmed up my leftovers from Applebees for dinner that night, my last night in Niagara falls.

I had breakfast at Starbucks then checked out and called for my car. They park off-site so a van ride was in order to get to the remote parking lot and my car. The drive to airport was straightforward from here. I had hand-written directions to get to a gas station a couple of miles before getting to the airport, but the car's GPS system routed me a different way and, not being familiar with this GPS system, I was at it's mercy.

Next thing I knew,  I was on the spaghetti mess of elevated roadways that headed into the airport. Then I found myself at the wrong terminal and wrong Avis garage. I got that sorted out and finally got myself headed to the right terminal and garage. By this point I had to pee enough that I was willing to pay the steep penalty for not refueling. The rental car return attendant offered to let me exit the garage and go in search of gas, but I knew my bladder and patience just wouldn't last.

In the airport, I got checked in, navigated the very simple and painless re-entry into the US as a Global Entry traveler, then found a place to sit and have something to eat while waiting for my flight. I'd gotten there plenty early, not knowing how long it would take to get there or how much traffic I'd encounter along the way. But with my Kindle Fire, the time passed relatively painlessly, and pretty soon they were starting the boarding process for my flight. First class seat, dinner, and on-board personal entertainment on my little ASUS computer and I was a happy camper.

It was a really great trip, fun to see Dan, Pam, and Sal while there, great to meet a new running friend, and wonderful to FINALLY see Niagara Falls in person! It was one of those really well-done and scenic races that I'll long remember. I can't think of a better way to see Niagara Falls!

Next: a couple of months' rest from doing half marathons.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Niagara Falls!! First Day

As a young adult living in the New England area, I always thought of Niagara Falls as the honeymoon destination for losers. This is probably wildly politically incorrect to say, but for those of us who were college educated and planning our weddings back in the 1960's and 1970's, going to Niagara Falls was considered tacky and low class. The same for places like the Poconos or the Catskills.These were honeymoon destinations of our parents and grandparents, not for us. We were upwardly mobile college graduates who were "going places," setting our sights on more exotic honeymoons in European destinations or the Caribbean.

So, unbelievably, even having lived in New England for a couple of decades, I'd never been to Niagara Falls. A couple of my motorcycle trips or half marathon destination trips took me close enough to take the short side trip, but I just never did do it.

Now that I've completed my 50 States + DC quest, have done more than 100 half marathons all over the country - even checked off my Rome Marathon bucket list item - I've started looking for other goals to keep me running and keep me traveling. Our 50 States Half Marathon Club has added a new quest: Canadian Provinces. Hot damn!

I had already "bagged" the Province of Quebec when I ran the Rock n Roll Montreal Half Marathon. And I've always wanted to visit some other Canadian cities west of the Great Lakes. So here we go! Top on my list of cities I most wanted to visit was Vancouver. I'd read so much about the city, seen so many gorgeous photos and talked to others who'd been there. So that was the next Canadian destination. I flew to Vancouver this past fall and ran the Rock n Roll Vancouver Half Marathon. It was everything I expected and more! I took advantage of that trip to see and do as much as I could while there. It didn't hurt that the race route ran around the perimeter of the peninsula....gorgeous!! Now I had the Province of British Columbia done.

Which brings me back to Niagara Falls. In browsing some websites that list upcoming half marathons, I was specifically looking at half marathons in Ontario Province when I noticed the Niagara Falls Womens Half Marathon held on the Canadian side of the falls. Perfect!! I registered for the race, booked a room at the Embassy Suites with a fabulous view of Niagara Falls and then, as the date drew nearer, booked my flight. I was really looking forward to this trip. From all that I'd read, Niagara Falls had really morphed as a tourist destination with good restaurants and Starbucks, along with the gorgeous views from the Canadian side...everything I needed.

My rental car: a nearly new Ford Taurus, fully loaded

 I flew into Toronto, picked up my rental car, and then stayed the night at a nearby Hampton Inn (using Hilton Honors points for a free room). I had to make two U-turns trying to navigate the 6 miles from the airport to the Hampton Inn, even with that built-in GPS in my rental Ford Taurus. Sometimes I can be such a bean brain!  After checking in, I walked a couple of blocks to a Japanese Steak House and had a large hand-rolled sushi plate for dinner.

My first meal in Canada...hand-rolled sushi and a Japanese beer

The next morning I made the drive south and then east toward Niagara Falls. Packet pickup was at an outlet mall on the outskirts of Niagara Falls. Thank goodness my lovely rental car had that built-in GPS.  Fortunately it had no problem directing me to that outlet mall.
Kathrine Switzer at packet pickup

Then it was on toward Fallsview and Embassy Suites. I turned my car over to valet parking and went inside to check in. When I booked my room, I really didn't pay close attention to the room descriptions at their website. This hotel has made an art of finely granulating the categories of rooms based on room description/amenities. All I noticed were the words "falls view" and "city view" and opted for the former. What I ended up with was a narrow room at the end of a dead-end hall with only a tiny sliver of a view of the falls. The rest of the view was filled with the side of neighboring hotel.

Well...I could have probably lived with this but I couldn't live with the fact that I absolutely could not get and retain either a wifi signal or a cell phone signal from my room. If I walked toward the door, the signal came in a bit, but would completely drop out as I walked the other way toward the main living area of my room. This room was tucked behind another room. When I unlocked the door and walked inside, I had to navigate a little hall then take a left right-angle turn down another little hall to reach the main room itself. I had the walls and furnishings of two rooms between me and hotel hallway and, no doubt, the wifi repeaters. I simply could not live with this for three nights.

I went back down to the lobby, my cellphone and tablet in hand, and talked to the registration desk about this, showing her the strong signal indicators on both devices and describing what happened to those signals as I entered my room.

Here's where I heard the dreaded "No one else has ever complained about this." The implication here is that I didn't know what I was doing and/or was a complete idiot when it came to technology. For many years I managed departments that dealt with customer service. If any one of my employees ever said that to a customer they would have been counseled and possibly even fired. Totally unacceptable.

I asked to speak to someone else. Their only solution was to move me to the same room two floors up - which most likely would have not cured the wifi problem, given the floor plan - or upgrade me for $50 a night. I was between a rock and a hard place here, as I was totally unwilling to live without wifi for three days/three nights. So I returned to my room, packed my things, and went back down to the lobby and registration to get a different room for way more money. In retrospect, though, it was most definitely worth it for the larger room, strong wifi and cell signals, and kick butt views!

View from my room - 22nd floor of Embassy Suites

View looking north toward American Falls and Rainbow Bridge

Once settled, I stopped at the Starbucks off the hotel lobby then walked the short distance down to the incline rail car that transported everyone down to the Niagara Falls Visitor Center.

View from the incline rail car as we descended toward the visitor center

I was really impressed with the quality of the center, the several gift shops, the several food choices and the gorgeous terrace overlooking the falls. I grabbed a Tim Horton hot dog and sat outside at the covered patio with picnic tables to eat and just enjoy. Then I walked over to the railing to totally soak in the views, the mist, the roar of the horseshoe falls.

This was on the plaza behind the visitor center. Canada's Sesquicentennial

View of Niagara Falls from the visitor center overlook

As I walked through the visitor center to return to the incline rail and then my hotel, I ran into friends Dan and Pam. Back when I made these plans, Dan told me he had family in Niagara Falls area and that he just might make vacation plans to visit family and meet up with me the day before the race. They were staying at the same hotel for the night and he had made reservations for dinner for us at Skylon Tower. Cool!

Fun photo magic at Skylon Tower 

So we agreed to meet back out front at 6:30 and drive together to Skylon for dinner. Another friend who lives in Buffalo was coming up to join us for dinner. I hadn't seen Sal since a group of us met up in Buffalo for lunch several years ago as I passed through there on my way to run a race in Verona NY. It was so good to see him again. The views were nothing more than perfect from the vantage point of this rotating restaurant. The food was pretty good, too. I had that night's special of lobster tail and sirloin steak. A never-empty basket of fresh, warm bread, a glass of sparkling was a great evening!

American Falls lit in red, white and blue

Beautiful Niagara Falls lit up at night

It was close to 10 PM by the time I got back to my room. I laid out my things for the race the next morning and then laid in bed with the lights off and curtains open so that I could enjoy the view of the falls as I fell asleep.

Next: race day at Niagara Falls!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Flying Pigs...Again!

I admit it...I just can't stay away from this event!! It is far and away the best race in the U.S.!

I made my plans to do this race once again this year - booked my hotel and my flight - and then waited for May to come around so that I could do my 6th running of this great event.

Here's what greeted me at the airport as I headed toward the luggage claim area at the Cincinnati airport. How cool was this??

Airport welcome committee for race participants! They had gift bags containing coupons,
a local chocolatier's chocolate bar (yumm!), bottle of water.

I took a taxi to my hotel in downtown Cincinnati and luckily my room was available for an early check-in. After dropping my bags, I grabbed a cappuccino at the lobby Starbucks then walked across the street to the convention center and the massive race expo. Always fun, always crowded, always lots of great free stuff handed out by one of the corporate sponsors, P&G.

Race packets for Saturday's 5K race and Sunday's half marathon in my possession, I dropped those bags off in my room and headed back out to my favorite pre-race stop: Abby's Sweets Cupcakery. Three cupcakes now in my possession, it was time to go find a late lunch.

Saturday morning was the 5K race. I love doing this little "warm-up" race. It has a 10 AM start, so it's possible to sleep in, with enough time for a leisurely breakfast before walking down to the river front and the Reds Stadium to wait for the start. The weather was perfect, with cool, slightly overcast conditions. The route is easy and flat, always staying within the immediate downtown and stadiums vicinity and finishing on the other side of the Reds Stadium at what will be the marathon finish line the next day.

I collected my finisher medal then walked back toward the hotel, taking a route that brought me right by a Starbucks. Lots of other 5K runners had the same idea as the line snaked through the store. But it moved fairly quickly and I was eventually on my way back to the hotel where I showered, dressed, and then headed back out for a much-anticipated lunch at Skyline Chili restaurant.

Oh my! My day is now complete!! A chili dog and a big bowl of Skyline Chili!!
After lunch I wandered over to Fountain Square for the annual Cinco de Mayo celebration. Lots of music, food vendors, and cool things like llamas, alpacas and a baby alpaca!!

A group of us had dinner Saturday night at Rock Bottom Brew Pub on Fountain Square, then it was time to get back to my room, lay my things out for the next day's race and relax and hydrate in preparation.

This race route never grows old!! The start line is an easy walk from the hotel, next to the football stadium. The corrals are well-organized and the wait was relatively short, since I waited to arrive until after the first corrals started. Temps were in the high 40's at the start and I wrapped myself in the space blanket I'd gotten the day before at the 5K race to stay warm while we waited for our corral to start.

And then we were starting. The route is so varied, with so many turns and so much to see, that the miles always seem to fly by. Across the big bridge into Kentucky, through downtown Covington. Across a little bridge over an inlet, and then across another big bridge back into Cincinnati OH.  Then through downtown toward the beautiful Gilbert-Sinton Historic District and breathtakingly beautiful Eden park where the 3-mile long steep ascent up to the bluffs overlooking the river threaten to suck our energy. A few more miles of rolling hills and then a long 2-mile descent back into the downtown area. The finish line suddenly looms as we take a last turn toward the Reds baseball stadium.

Flying Pig half marathon route, data from my GPS watch.

My 6th Flying Pig Half Marathon finisher medal. As always, its a really
cool 3-D medal...3-D on both the front and the back!

I'll be back next year! In fact, I've already registered for next year's race! See you in Cincinnati in 2018!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Our Own Little Race

One day last fall, while walking toward the Carriage House entrance in our little gated community, a gal stopped me and asked if I was the person who ran all those marathons. She said others told her about me and wanted to know if I'd be on her committee for an upcoming event. Turns out she was planning to stage a little fun run in our neighborhood in the spring and wanted my help and input.

Sure! Why not?? The event was going to be in April and was only for our CountryPlace residents. It was truly going to be an event for all levels of fitness, with a 1/2 mile course, a 1 mile course, and a 5K course. The Committee had decided to name the event C.P.R., a fun double entendre.

I attended on of the early meetings and offered my graphic design expertise to the event. I told the other committee members that I'd be honored to design the race logo for the shirts and put together the design for the event publicity posters.

The race poster I designed for this event.

I contacted my local silk screen vendor, got a price quote, and got to work on the logo itself so that the event chairperson could share it with others who'd need it for banners, newsletter advertising, and the registration forms. Then we waited as the registrations began to roll in. By the end of March it was a sell-out!

I placed the event shirt order 3 weeks before the event and had to add a last-minute supplemental order just to keep up with the registrations.

My plan was not to register for the race but instead to be a "balloon lady," a back of the pack "encourager," something that a lot of other races do as a way to bring up the rear and at the same time let the race organizers know where the last runner/walker was on the course. I would cross the start line with the back of the 1/2 mile pack of runners/walkers, bring them to the finish line and then run back out onto the course to find the 1 mile back-of-packers and bring them in. Then I planned to run back out and find the back of the 5K (3 mile) pack and bring them in. So as the race date neared, I thought about where to buy some helium balloons.

Then I had a better idea. I'd wear some kind of super hero costume.  At I found a  Super Ninja Turtle costume for $5! Cape and mask and it would be perfect! Then I found some really cute little toy turtles with great detail and only $12 for a pack of 25. I could hand these out to the back-of-pack participants!

Race day morning was absolutely perfect weather-wise. I walked the short 1/2 mile from my home and already the start line area was teeming with participants and volunteers in their blue race shirts.

No aspect of the race detail was overlooked. The Event Chair did a really great job assembling a committee of people who, while none had race event experience, certainly had general event organization experience!

The Communications Committee had recruited a number of residents with golf carts which worked out really well for on-course communication with the base station at the start/finish line.

We even had a resident who set up a DJ station at the start/finish line to keep the music going.

Several residents with medical training and background staffed the First Aid committee. They had stations set up at the start/finish and along the 5K route.

A local Independent Living facility donated bottled water to the event. They had a table at the start/finish line and stocked the first aid stations and the roving golf carts with water for the participants.
Our city mayor came out and said a few words to the participants and volunteers before signalling the start of the race.

The start of the 5K distance. They were turned loose first, followed by the 1 milers and then the 1/2 milers. I stayed back until the 1/2 milers started and then brought in the last walker before heading back out to find the last walker for the 1 miler.

The last walkers in the 1 mile distance. 

One of the cute little turtles that I handed out to the back-of-the-pack finishers for
all three distances; 5K, 1 mile, and 1/2 mile.
1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishers in all three distances received really nice medals. A local restaurant, Fajita Pete's, had a tent set up and served free chicken fajitas to the finishers.

Folks were talking about the event for days afterward! Even now, 2 months later, I spot the occasional resident wearing his or her C.P.R. shirt.

There will definitely be another C.P.R. event next year! In the meantime, never in all the years I've been running on these neighborhood streets have I seen so many walkers out there early in the morning as I was seeing in the months leading up to this event! For getting folks out of the house and getting some walking in, this definitely did the trick. Here's to next year's event and to hopefully doubling the number of registrants as neighbors hear about the event and see the shirts out and about.