This event took place in and around Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada (with the full marathon starting in Buffalo, USA). Jenn and Dave from our team took on the half and the full distance. There were also 5k, 10k, and marathon relay events going on, so something for all the family!

Before we go into our 7 point review here’s a short film showing the marathon course and some of our activities in Niagara over the race weekend. If you’re viewing on a mobile and can’t play flash, you might try going straight to Youtube to view it here

1. Pre-Event Info

Jenn – The race registration, website and pre-event email were very informative. They offered details on the courses, packet pick-up, expo vendors, and most importantly, details on getting to the start via car or shuttle. I didn’t feel the need to overly prepare for this run compared to others, knowing that shuttles would be easy to find and there would be a lot of water/nuun stations on the course. They covered cut-off times very clearly within the race details and in my experience, this event is one of the few Ontario marathons that offer a 7 hr cut-off for us back-of-the pack runners. I think this needs to be noted as it adds an extra level of enjoyment to an event when you know it’s inclusive to both runners and walkers alike with a wide range of paces.

Dave – In addition to the above, for marathon runners it was important to understand how the border crossing was going to work! And the race website made this very clear. Depending on what passport you had, there were different proceedings. I have done this event in 2015 when I had a British passport (and with that I had to get a visa waiver, which was an easy, low cost process that I did the day before the race by walking over the Rainbow bridge from Niagara Falls Canada to the US side and buying it from the border officer for about $6) and this year with a Canadian passport (no visa needed at all). Regardless of the passport, customs did have to be cleared the day before, at the race expo.

This was an easy process. Then on the morning of the race, the buses that were transferring us from Niagara Falls to Buffalo stopped at US customs for a very short while, our passports were checked, then we drove on. After that runners had the option of keeping their passport with them as they ran the marathon or putting it in their kit bag with the rest of the clothes they weren’t taking on the run, and handing it over to race officials who placed it in the baggage bus. It might seem risky to be leaving your passport in a plastic kit bag but the buses are staffed by race officials, and nobody is allowed on them, just the volunteer who will give you back your bag at the finish area of the event.

The expo was useful. There was free yoga all day (and what runner doesn’t need to stretch if they want to stay injury free), nutrition, shoe, clothes and training offerings, and a number of good talks, including Canadian adventurer Ray Zahab and also experts on plant based and keto eating.

Ray Zahab speaking.

2. Event Location (parking, facilities/washrooms, pavilion)

Jenn – Half Marathon: The half marathon, 10k and 5k all started at the same place; the Rapidsview Parking Lot. The lot seemed easy to get to by car, as many participants were taking advantage of the ample parking and drove to the start. Since we stayed at a hotel by the falls, I chose to use the free WeGo shuttle, as the pickup spot was right outside of the hotel (the Sheraton on the Falls). It made a second pick-up stop at the finish area and then took us to the start. The starting area had a couple tents for warmth/shelter. Luckily the weather was amazing and I found these unnecessary. Race kit pick-up was available at the start, as were a lot of porta-potties, several hand washing stations and bag check. The race assigned school buses for bag check, each bus was identified by a range of bib numbers, and the bags stayed on the bus until the finish when the runner went to collect them. I quite like this process. I felt as though the few items I put in my bag were well taken care of, and my belongings were not just laying on a tarp on the ground, as has happened at other city marathons.

Half Marathon start area.
Half Marathon start line.

Dave – Full Marathon: Buses were offered to take runners to Buffalo in the USA. They left from outside our hotel between 7 and 7:30am – so I didn’t have to get up too early which was nice! When we got to Buffalo we could go into the sports arena which was next to the start line. There were washrooms in there, plenty of space to warm up in, and it was heated (not a consideration for us as it was a lovely day but this will be important if your race day is rainy or cold). The baggage buses were just outside.

Inside the Buffalo sports arena.
Looking back at the Marathon corrals from the start line.

3. General atmosphere of the Event HQ (event staff, volunteers, other runners, what’s there for spectators)

Dave – The event staff seemed just as excited to be there as us runners, it was a great vibe from start to finish. Everybody, including all the runners, was respectful during the playing of both National Anthems before we started to run. The aid stations seemed to be staffed by volunteers from different community groups and they each had their own style of cheering, some like cheerleaders, and others playing music. This is not a big city marathon following a circular style course, you go from point to point, country to country, along a rural road so bearing that in mind the route was pretty well supported. I don’t think I ran for more than 10 minutes without getting cheered on, either at an aid station or by people stood outside of their houses.

The other runners were friendly, kind of half way between a trail race and a big city marathon level of friendliness, and whenever one passed me they asked how things were going. That was nice, as I wasn’t going slow – I came in 29th position in the end – and usually the people at the front of marathons are too fixated on running fast to make small talk, but this race was different.

For spectators, it looked like they would be best either waiting at the half marathon aid station (which was fun and lively) or at the finish area, as this was just in front of the mighty falls themselves and there was lots of hustle and bustle there, as well as washrooms and places to get refreshments. Plus they get this view whilst they are waiting for you!

4. Course (length, technicality, scenery)

Jenn – Half Marathon: The half marathon, 10k and 5k courses were all happening along the same ‘mostly’ out and back routes from the same start area. We started a couple of kilometers past the finish, so that we could run to the respective turnaround points and then run all the way back to the falls, which allows for fantastic views during those last few km when the spray from the falls reached high in the sky.

The distances and turn-around spots were very clearly marked for each separate race, and the course itself was very easy to follow. It was a standard road race with lots of paved road and only a couple of very small bumps along the way (they weren’t actually hills so I am referring to them as bumps!). The half marathon course also had very picturesque views of the riverbank and fall colours for most of the route. I snapped some photos along the way and have included these below.

Dave – Full Marathon: We ran around Buffalo for about 5kms – residential streets, quite pretty – then over the Peace Bridge, which is the link and border between the USA and Canada. That was as special as it sounds! I’ve never run over a border before, apart from this one. It was sunny by the time I crossed it, the river on my right and the lake on the left were bright blue, it was pretty exciting to drop down into Canada, pass the border police with a wave and then set off to the left before looping back after another 5km to begin the long push for Niagara Falls.

Leaving the USA, ahead is the Peace Bridge, leading to Canada!

We followed the Niagara Parkway. It really is a beautiful route. It can be prone to headwind but we had fine conditions with no wind to worry about. Always the blue river was on our right whilst on the left were mansions and fields, and often the road was shaded with magnificent trees.

A flotilla of Canada Geese!

The overall elevation of the marathon course was just over 170m; I imagine much of that was going up and over the Peace Bridge, which is so exciting I didn’t really notice it! Is this course a fast one? I’d say yes, it could be, and if the wind is kind to you as it was for us, then it could even be PB territory.

5. On course aid stations (water points, fuel)

Jenn – The aid stations available on course were plentiful. Water and electrolytes were available approximately every 2.5k, and in some cases the volunteers at the aid stations on the ‘out’ portion of the race moved their station across the road to the ‘back’ side of the road and set out more water. There were also Clif blocks available at 10k, 21.1k and 30k.

Dave – I ran self supported (meaning I took my own fuel – dates filled with peanut butter, and coconut water) but I did see that the aid stations were plentiful and well stocked with Nuun, water and Clif nutrition. I did like that the drinks were offered in paper cups, which looked recyclable, as opposed to the plastic cups that are often used at aid stations. There was enough on offer at the aid stations that a runner wouldn’t need to carry any spare fuel unless they had some special fuel strategy.

6. Race kit, medals and awards

Dave – The medals are nice (see below) and every runner got a race/running shirt as well as a couple of Clif bars (which were really useful for the morning of the run as I didn’t have time for breakfast!).

7. Post-event info (photography, films)

Jenn – Race results are available on the race page and easily searchable. The race had photographers posted in the last couple of kilometers and at the finish. They offer the standard post-race packages if participants want to purchase their photos.

If you’d like to discover more about the Niagara Falls International Marathon, or enter for 2020, check out their website – https://niagarafallsmarathon.com/