Ken Swab - Buffalo Marathon 2006

Running the Buffalo Marathon or First the Cemetery, Then the Dying

(Saturday, May 27, 2006)

Sandy and I arrive at the Buffalo Hyatt minutes before 4 p.m on Saturday, just in time for me to dash inside and pick up my race packet. We park and register, go to our room and then head out to the Anchor Bar, where the Buffalo wing was invented. Sandy gets that other Buffalo favorite, beef on weck, and I get a small order of wings, figuring she will share the task of eating them with me. But wings are not her favorite, and I wind up eating 9 of the 10. It's worth it, as they are the best wings I have ever had.

We head over to Forest Lawn Cemetery, which I will be running through on Sunday. Amongst others, we visit the graves of the 13th President, Millard Fillmore, and Cong. Elbridge Gerry Spaulding, who sponsored the Legal Tender Act during the Civil War. He was named in honor of the founding father from Massachusetts who signed the Declaration of Independence, who attended the Constitutional Convention but refused to sign the Constitution, and who served as both a U.S. Representative, Governor of Massachusetts and Vice President, but who is best known for his creative drawing of district lines, one of which resembled a salamander, lending his name to the process known as gerrymandering.

Back to the Hyatt for some rest, then off to Chef's Restaurant for some pasta. Our waiter tells us that JJL "doesn't come in as much as he used to when he was in office." The sauce is just as good as it was when JJL used to bring it down to DC. Sandy has the chicken cacciatore and the spaghetti parm – a bowl of spaghetti with a small amount of sauce, covered with mozzarella cheese and put under the broiler.

(Sunday, May 28, 2006)

A bit of a restless night and I am up at 6 a.m for the 7:30 a.m. start. I dress and go down to the lobby, buy a hotel-priced bagel and OJ and wander outside, as the starting line is just outside the hotel. It is warm already - not a good sign. Also, there is nothing set up to suggest that a race is 90 minutes away. I go back to the room to relax.

About 7:10 I go down again - Sandy is still in bed but says she'll see me when I pass by again at mile 6. The street is filling with what will be the 614 finishers and the first members of the relay teams. Two guys walk by with bibs 1 and 2 - Kenyans looking to pick up some of the few thousands of dollars of prize money.

After the Canadian and U.S. national anthems we are off at 7:30. It's hot and I try to run slow and think that I am, but the first mile goes by in 9:51 - way too fast. As I run the shadow of Satan seems to come up from behind me, compete with small horns on the top. But no, it's only a woman wearing a pair of white, wooly lamb's ears headpiece. "I promised my sister I would wear these if she ran, and she is running the half marathon," she explains.

The course goes along the waterfront, and there is still some mist on Lake Erie. The lighthouse seems to float on it as we go past. The heat and humidity is obvious into the second mile, and I drink water and Gatorade at each aid station, one every other mile starting at mile 3. The Kenyans fly past the other way of the out-and back, but in the company of a shorter runner, with the impossibly high bib number of 671 to be keeping up with the two professional runners. (He turns to be 19-year old Jynocel Basweti of Kenya, via Chapel Hill, NC, who goes on to set a course record.) At mile 6 near the Hyatt I use the Porta-potty and look for Sandy, but with no success, and begin the long straight run up Linwood Avenue toward Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Around mile 8 I catch up to John Bielinski, wearing a flag-motif shirt and stars and stripes socks, and I congratulate him on his patriotic look. He reminds me that Monday is Memorial Day. This is his third Buffalo Marathon. He tells how he was woefully undertrained for his first in 2003, and through sheer determination, and help from another runner who gave him some balm for his bleeding blisters, he came in dead last, but managed to just finish 12 seconds under the 6 hour cutoff for the race, earning his finishers medal. He has since gone on to compete in full triathlons, and tries to convince me and a woman who has caught up to us that since we do already can do the hard, i.e., marathon, part, swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles would be a cinch. We gently disagree, especially the woman, who admits she does not know how to swim, and as we enter Forest Lawn Cemetery at mile 9, leave him behind. (He will finish in 5:49).

Just past the aid station inside the cemetery's entrance I touch the grave monument of Deerfoot, a legendary late 19th century runner, who ran or walked 40 miles a day and held world records for the 5 and 10 mile distances, as well as the one-hour run. Touching the monument is a Buffalo running tradition, said to bring good luck. I have a few words for Albert Myer, the first head of the Weather Service as I pass his mausoleum. It's 9:15 a.m and the temperature is already 70 under a humid, sunny sky with no wind. I catch up with "Mike from New Jersey," according to his shirt, his face and neck covered with zinc oxide and a medium-sized American flag on a pole in each hand and we exit Forest Lawn after mile 11 and head north for Delaware Park.

I get through the first 12 miles in about 2:09, but mile 13 takes 11:37. I am briefly troubled by this degradation in my pace, but recognize the heat is something to be reckoned with. Not only am I drinking water and Gatorade at each stop, but I'm pouring a cup of water on my head to keep cool as well. Exiting the park, the course heads up Colvin Blvd. into Kenmore. There is no shade on the street, but there is a guy holding a large sign with some biblical verse, and a radio station mascot of a green crocodile, I high five the creature and feel sympathy, for if it is hot to run, it must by awful to be in that costume on the treeless asphalt.

Miles 14 and 15 pass decently at an average pace of 11 minutes each as the course turns west onto Kenmore Avenue. There are few other runners to talk with, and few spectators. A boy of 11 or 12 comes by on a bicycle and tags along, providing some conversation.

The course now turns onto residential streets. Someone on the corner has a boombox on and I comment that the music is not upbeat enough for running. She says she had to turn it down because one of the neighbors had called the police earlier. Mile 16 is another troubling one, as my pace falls to nearly 12 minutes a mile. Despite the fact that people with hoses are offering to mist the runners, and I am taking advantage of that, I sense the heat beginning to take a toll.

I fall in with Nancy Vosburg of Bucks Creek, PA, who is running her first marathon. She and her husband keep a boat at a marina not far from our place in Watkins Glen. She has run a couple of half marathons, and we admit to each other that we both heard the clock ticking if we ever wanted to run a marathon. She doesn't like flat courses and tells of some trail runs (Bucks Creek is hilly) where the course has ropes to assist runners in getting up some of the slopes. "I've had to hold on to roots and branches sometimes," she confides. I tell her my goal is to finish in under 5 hours and that we are on time to do that. Back down Colvin we again pass the radio crocodile and the religious sign guy.

As we approach the aid station inside Delaware Park just past the 30K mark, Nancy's husband meets her with some goo packs. She offers me one, but I have been eating Cliff Bloks for the past several miles and decline. I duck into the Porta-potty - still hydrated and the color is appropriate! - and go on. But the slight uphill past the golf course seems like a mountain and miles 19 and 20 have averaged 12 minutes each. I'm starting to give back time toward the 5 hour goal, which requires an 11:27 mile pace. I catch up to a runner with a Michigan Hockey hat and joke that he would probably prefer to be on the ice today. He agrees. Later I realize that this will be the last joke I'll tell during this marathon.

Approaching the Buffalo Historical Society, there is a runner down on his knees, and three or four other runners and a bike rider circled around him. I don't stop, but yell to them to call 911 for help. It is just too hot to take chances with heat-related issues. It is at least 75 by now, and the sun is beating down on the course.

By now the heat has got me. My ability to joke and chat with other runners and spectators has abandoned me, and I am walking a lot now. I try to get some kind rhythm of walk a minute every 4 or 5, but I can't keep it up. The toll shows up in my times - it takes 25 minutes to get thru miles 21 and 22, and another 25.5 to get thru miles 23 and 24. I have 28 minutes left to do 2.2 miles to finish under 5 hours. I try to hold on to hope but I am exhausted - not sore or aching - just exhausted.

As the course turns onto Summer Street, there is a glimmer of hope, for there on the corner, waving a cutout rabbit on a stick, are the Buffalo Hash House Harriers. They offer something to eat or drink, but I know better. "Give some of the real stuff," I ask, and from the back of a little red wagon, a paper cup full of delicious, icy cold beer appears. "It's light beer," someone apologizes. "It's nice and cold," I say, and head what seems uphill again.

Alas, the magic liquid really doesn't have much of an effect, nor does the ice from the people on the corner of Delaware Avenue. I turn down the Avenue for the last mile and a half. It takes 14 minutes to get thru mile 25 and any hope of a 5 hour finish is done. Near the 40K mark Nancy passes me. I go around Niagara Square, past the huge Buffalo City Hall, built at a time when the city's population was twice what it is now, and make the turn to head the last few blocks back to the finish line by the Convention Center. Even with the end in sight I am walking, but with a couple of blocks to go, I start to run. I see Sandy about 100 yards from the finish, and I pick up my pace for the end. The announcer calls my name as I cross the finish line. My chip time is 5:01:03.

I remove my chip and collect my finisher's medal. Nancy comes over and thanks me for running with her during those middle miles in Kenmore. She finished in a chip time of 4:59:54.

Back to the hotel room for a quick shower and checkout, then off to Latina's Supermarket to stock up on loganberry pop and sponge candy. We drive to Schabl's (founded in 1837) in East Aurora for beef on weck, great German potato salad, pickled beets and birch beer. Following a stop at Tim Horton's for coffee and Timbits, Sandy drives as we head back to Watkins Glen for the rest of the Memorial Day weekend. I am asleep before we reach the Thruway.

(see also Ken Swab - Frederick Marathon 2006)


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