For once, I have a lot to say about a race so my thoughts are split into two posts to avoid one lengthy cluster. Even still, this right here is going to be a bit of a lengthy cluster. Here’s the first of two which is about the logistics, course, expo, and anything else I can think of that doesn’t involve my race. Next post is a whole bunch of words about me, myself, and I.
Pre-Race Weekend Details:
This was the first year the race has ever sold out, including the relay. The Buffalo Marathon has always had that vibe of being a big local race, but never really a destination. It’s not an expensive race ($70-125 marathon, $50-110 half marathon, $100-160 relay), which I would think is appealing for those who want to travel. Not to mention, Buffalo is a rather inexpensive location to stay overnight and it’s a perfect weekend every year (Sunday of Memorial Day weekend).
For me, I didn’t have any issues prior to race weekend. If you registered before February 1st, you were supposed to get a hat that said “I’m training for the Buffalo Marathon”. I received it sometime in February and it was an awesome hat, but I have a tiny peanut and it did not fit me whatsoever. Most people did not have that issue from what I could gather from various social media.
I did hear there were issues with communication for the pacing team, though. You should probably have the pacers know what they’re pacing 2-3 days before D-day.
Aside from that, this was the first year I really noticed that the race pushed out road closures to every local TV and radio station. Not only did they list out the closure locations, but also the closing and reopening times. I personally found this very helpful for my morning.
One disappointing thing I found was that our first big race email came two days before the race on Friday, May 22nd, which included our bib number. I would have liked a race communication at least the week before with some last minute details.
The Expo and Packet Pickup
This year the expo was a little more substantial than the past two years. It felt like a race expo. The first year I went (2013), it was small — a few vendors shoving coupons in my face and one local store trying to get rid of their sample stock. I didn’t check out any of the speakers (I still haven’t) so I can’t comment on that, but they’ve really stepped up.
This year, there were many more volunteers to assist with packet hand out. I had no issues getting my stuff, which was provided in a clear plastic bag in case we were to use for bag check. Again, the pacer thing was a little unclear on both ends.
As far as what you get with your registration: an ill fitting tech t-shirt with a decent design (I got an extra small and it still fit like a medium), the bib with attached chip on the back, safety pins, and the clear plastic bag for your drop. There used to be other promotional coupons for stores, races, and sometimes samples, but that hasn’t happened the past two years.
We walked around the expo which had probably around 15 different vendors, I’d guess. Last year we got there with about 30-45 minutes to spare and unfortunately, the vendors were already closing down and some were completely gone. The expo isn’t lengthy (9am – 6pm), so I found that kind of disappointing.
This year we came in around 3:30. There were two places offering kinesiology taping – one was $10 or free for members, the other was entirely free and actually gave out some tape. There were a couple clothing vendors and a few of those little ‘trinket’ type vendors – you know, the custom gear ones. Then there were all those other races there, too.
Since Laura was a pacer, we both got the pasta dinner for free. If you were a registered runner, you could pre-purchase pasta dinners for you (and others) for $5. If you wanted to purchase on expo day, it was $10. This was somewhat disappointing because I thought that the pasta dinner was still free for registered runners and $5 for additional tickets — it isn’t. But that’s how it used to be. Tickets for the dinner this year were wooden buffalo “nickels” so they could reuse them in the future and instead of being at the church down the street, it was in another room on the first floor of the expo.
Dinner is never anything spectacular. It’s white bread, noodles with red sauce, and meatballs. They serve water and pop, along with beer. This year they were serving Flying Bison’s Mile 27 Pilsner, which was brewed specifically for the race and only available for about a 1-2 week period around the race in select local bars or restaurants and at the post-race. I personally love that idea. We have some great breweries coming up in the area and it’s a fun marketing technique on both sides.
Race Day Logistics
Since my parking area had roads closed at 5:30am, we left my apartment at about 5:10 to be safe. I only live 2-3 miles from the start, but riding my bike/running/anything more physical than driving was not an option this year. The roads had cones up when we drove through, but were not manned so I went around them. I will admit, this was a little annoying because I park over here (at this year’s mile 10) since it’s easy to hop on a thruway and get home. Nobody is coming through until approximately 7:45-7:50 and this is only miles 10-11 so I don’t think 5:30 is really necessary to entirely shut down.
We got to the convention center (the start/finish) around 5:45. There were already a decent amount of people (maybe 30) sitting around, stretching, and also waiting for race day pick-up. I won’t lie — it was a bit of a cluster. There weren’t any signs designating where anything was happening.
The same day packet pick-up was supposed to be 5:30-6:30; they let people upstairs a couple minutes late. At 5:30, we were also supposed to be able to have bag drop. We went upstairs where pick-up was only to find we had to go up the other escalator to the other side of the room. Unfortunately the security guards blocking that side wouldn’t allow us up because there weren’t any volunteers ready. While we waited we were told we also could not bring up any bags that weren’t the clear plastic ones, even if we weren’t checking them in. Finally, we got upstairs around 5:50 and there was one miserable volunteer, who questioned my bib number and that I was running the half marathon.
There were enough bathrooms inside the convention center to avoid a huge waiting fiasco, but they were so far apart that when you got into a line you didn’t want to check the other ones in case your line opened up. I went around 6:20 and I think it took about 15 minutes to finally make it in and out.
I headed out with a friend to the start, but we decided to hit the bathrooms one last time. There were more than enough port-a-potties to make it quick; it took about 5 minutes to be in and out. I think having the start closer to the convention center was a really great idea logistically. Previous years the convention center wasn’t even open before the race, which I think is a huge mistake and I hope it never happens again.
We were able to navigate as close to the start as we needed; there aren’t corrals since the race isn’t as large as bigger cities. We lined up between the 1:45 and 1:50 pacers and could see the start; it took about :30 to cross the timing mats. One thing I didn’t like (but knew ahead of time from previous years) is the corral is wider than any area you need to pass through coming up. There was a sign on the side of the road and I couldn’t tell you what it said, but somebody tripped over it. There was also a little congestion as the air horn went off and everyone went forward, but had to squeeze in another 5-7′ on each side.
The Gatorade and water stations start at mile 2, continuing every two miles until mile 17, which then has stops every mile through the finish. Normally I think this would be fine, but I think there was a water stop missing or a little late. I didn’t take the mile 2 or 4 water stops, but then I didn’t come across another water stop until around mile 7.5. The rest of the stops seemed to be appropriately spaced beyond this, however. Each stop had plenty of volunteers, in my opinion and I ran into no issues.
As far as spectators, the half is decently spectated. Don’t expect hoards of people until you’re near the marina or the finish, though. It’s mostly handfuls of families cheering for their loved ones on some corners and the water station volunteers. When you pass through the relay points, the runners that are there waiting will cheer and that’s always a good boost.
As far as the course, there’s a pretty good overview of the elevation changes and strategies here. You have to enter your email address, but it’s written really well. The course is fast and relatively flat, but if you’re trying to PR or BQ, I’d recommend studying at this level of detail.
As far as the finish, it’s typical. The medals are handed out by military personnel, Buffalo Bills players (usually ones you don’t know), and potential other local celebrities. With the convention center there, it’s easy to get upstairs to pick up your stuff and navigate to the important things: beer and food. Once inside, there’s more than enough space to eat, drink, and stretch on your own.
Overall, I think the race has really come along in recent years. Due to construction, the race course has changed a couple times recently so that could be a pro or con for you, depending on how you look at it. For us in Buffalo, the construction is good — it means our waterfront is finally being developed into a great place for locals and tourists. I imagine once the construction is complete, the race will return to the old course, or similar, since they’ll want to showcase all of that off.
Even with little hiccups this year, I expect that the next few years things will smooth out. I wouldn’t be surprised if selling out becomes the norm, or even better, if they allow more registrants and the race continues to grow.