Buffalo, NY is ideally located in terms of access to annual marathons within 120 or fewer miles from the city. The 120 mile distance is selected because it allows you to drive to, and drive home from, the marathon all within one day. Now not everyone might want to do all the driving and running in one day. But even if you decide to stay overnight, the drive to or the drive home is reasonable in terms of time or cost.
Preparation for a marathon on the day of and on days prior to the run is important for most serious runners, especially in terms of adequate rest and nutrition. I prefer to prepare my own carbohydrate load meal at home, instead of having to depend on some chef in a restaurant. In addition I sleep better in my own bed than in a hotel bed. And if you run quite a few marathons, cost becomes an issue, and not having to make arrangements for staying overnight in a hotel makes a big difference in your budget.
So, if you are a Buffalo area resident you can select from a virtual array of marathons. I will present them in chronological order and by approximate date. Here they are:
May---- There are two choices in May. The first race, usually offered during the first Sunday in May, is the Mississauga Marathon, run through the western Toronto suburb of Mississauga. The course is a point to point course, and bus service is provided back to the start. The race starts at a huge shopping center, and there is plenty of free parking in the shopping center parking lot. The course is flat and fast with a few hills. The race ends at the Lake Ontario water front. The marathon is well organized and has been in operation for several years.
The second race of the year is also in May and it is the Buffalo Marathon, usually scheduled for the last Sunday of May. It is a figure eight loop course, and you finish up where you started. This is a nice feature because you can walk to your parked car after you finish. Availability of free parking is quite good, although the start and finish location is in downtown Buffalo. The race has been operating for a number of years, and as a result is well organized. Much of the course is not far from Lake Erie, and if it is a warm day, the lower lake temperature has a cooling effect on the ambient air temperature.
June---- The third marathon of the Spring season is on the first Saturday in June. It is in Coudersport, PA, about 120 miles from Buffalo. It is known as Godís Country Marathon, and has a reputation as being very hilly and thus challenging. The race is point to point, from Galeton, PA, located in a valley, to Coudersport, PA, located in the next valley west of Galeton. The race is considered challenging because the first 18 miles are uphill, an elevation gain of about 1500 feet. However the remaining 8 miles are down hill into Coudersport. The marathon is a small race with fewer than 200 runners. It has been held for over 35 years, is well organized, and provides an unusual experience because of the hilly and challenging part. I personally like it and recommend it.
The fourth spring race is the Niagara Marathon, held in the middle of June. It is held in Niagara on the Lake, and consists of a double loop from Niagara on the Lake to the village of Queenston and back. The race is entirely run on the Niagara bike/walk path, so there is no automobile traffic concern. The race is also held in conjunction with a 50 km race. Since most of the runners are 50k runners, the marathon part of the race usually has fewer than 100 runners. The nice part of this race is the beauty of the course. The bike/walk path is a pleasure to run on. It has a fair amount of shade for most of the out and back course, because the race is run in the morning, and the sun coming from the east is hidden by the trees along the Niagara River.
September---- The summer break begins in mid June and ends in mid September. The first fall marathon, and the fifth for the year, is the Rochester Marathon, held in mid September. The course is a loop course with the last 15 miles being run along the Erie Canal bike/run path. The race starts in downtown Rochester and goes east for the first third of the course. Runners then enter the bike path, and follow it until about mile 24. The last two miles are again on city streets. The race is well organized and has been in existence for several years. Since mid September can be hot, it helps to be heat trained to run it. The start/finish is at the Rochester Sports Stadium, so there is plenty of free parking.
The sixth marathon is the Erie Marathon also usually held in mid September. It frequently is held on the same weekend as the Rochester Marathon, and as a result the two compete against each other. The Erie Marathon is held in Presque Isle Park, and consists of a double loop of the Park. The setting is quite nice because the Park juts out into Lake Erie. On a hot day, the winds off the lake will have a cooling effect. Because of the park setting, free car parking is no problem.
The other early fall marathon, the seventh of the year, is the Scotiabank Marathon, also known as the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon, in Toronto. It has been held in late September for a number of years and is definitely a big city marathon. It is a loop course which begins and ends in downtown Toronto. Parking is widely available in private and public parking lots, but will cost you from $20 and up. One of the problems with this marathon is the fact that race management expects you to pick up your number and chip on the day before the race with no exceptions. For an out of town runner this can pose problems, because Toronto hotels are expensive. This race follows the Toronto waterfront for over half of its distance and the remainder is on city streets.
October---- The eighth marathon of the year in early October is the Wineglass Marathon which ends in Corning, NY, and begins in Bath, NY. The marathon is well organized and traverses a beautiful area of Western New York. The course is a bit rolling, but not at all difficult. Race management offers bus service in the morning, before the marathon, and in the afternoon, after the marathon, from the Corning finish area to the starting line in Bath. There is adequate and free parking at both the start and the finish.
The ninth marathon is the Toronto Waterfront Marathon [TWM], and it is held in mid October, usually only about three weeks later than the other Toronto marathon, the Scotiabank Marathon. The TWM is a point to point course, starting in North York, a northern Toronto suburb. The start is at a large shopping and entertainment center, but parking must be purchased from a private parking lot operator. It is, however, a lot cheaper than in downtown Toronto, about $10 per day. In contrast to the Scotiabank Marathon, you are also allowed to pick up your number and chip on race day morning. The course is somewhat rolling in the beginning but is generally considered a flat course with some drop from the start to the finish line in downtown Toronto. One problem with this race is the lack of support for the runnerís return to the starting line. You are on your own and it is suggested that you use the Toronto Metro for your return to the start where your car is located. The Metro Station is about one km from the finish, so using the Metro is feasible, and reasonable. I have done it a few times.
The tenth marathon of the year is the Niagara Falls International Marathon, usually held in late October. It is a point to point course from Buffaloís Allbright Knox Art Gallery to the Horse Shoe Falls, after crossing the Peace Bridge into Canada. Bus transportation is available prior to the race from Niagara Falls, Ontario to the starting line in Buffalo. It is a well organized and scenic race along the Niagara Parkway, and popular with tourists and out of town people. The race essentially follows the same course as the Skylon Marathon, a marathon famous during the early days of marathon running in the 1970ís.
November---- The eleventh and last marathon of the year is the Hamilton Marathon, held on the first Sunday in November. It is a point to point race, with bus transportation provided in the morning from the finish to the starting line. The race begins at a high school in east Hamilton and ends in Confederation Park, on Lake Ontario, and there is plenty of free parking available. This marathon has the unusual feature that it is a net down hill race with the downhill portion consisting of a gradual 5 mile stretch on a closed expressway between the 15 and 20 mile markers. If you want to set a personal record, this is the course to do it on, because you can gain a lot of time on that 5 mile down hill portion. The first half of the race runs through a rural area south of the city, and the race ends on a bike/walk path along Lake Ontario for the last three miles of the race. Quite a number of Boston Marathon prospects looking for a fast qualifying time come to Hamilton for that very purpose.
So from the above you can see that a plethora of marathons are available for Buffalo area marathoners. But this is not the end of the list. For those interested in doing the equivalent of a marathon, there are also several hybrid races offered in the area. These hybrid races are either ultra races or defined time races, such as a 6 hour race or a 12 hour race. The choices will be listed below.
April---- The first one of these hybrid races is the BPAC 6 Hour Run offered during the last Sunday in April. It is held on the Amherst bike/walk path, and consists of a 3.25 mile loop, which the runners repeat as long as they want to until the 6 hours are up. Most runners can complete a marathon in 6 hours or less. So the race offers you an opportunity to participate in a rather unusual run, and you will also get credit for a marathon by completing at least 26.2 miles.
May---- The second hybrid race is offered in mid May in Rochesterís Seneca Park. It is the MTD 12 Hour Run, and is run on a half mile loop around a small lake. It is similar to the BPAC 6 Hour, except it offers you more time to complete a marathon if you need the extra time. The advantage of the defined time races is the fact that you have much better access to your nutritional and other needs during the run. There is also less of an urgency to do well. You can run a lot of miles, socialize with the other participants, and have fun doing it.
June---- The third hybrid race held in mid June is the Niagara 50k. It is a point to point course from Niagara on the Lake to the Horse Shoe Falls and back. All of it is run on the bike/walk path of the Niagara Parkway. So there is little need to be concerned about automobile traffic. This run of course overlaps with the Niagara Marathon discussed above, because both races are part of the several races organized on that same day by the same race management group.
October---- The fourth hybrid race, the CanLake Ultra, is an ultra run which loops around Lake Canandaigua, south of Rochester. It is held around the middle of October. Runners can choose from either a 50 km or a 50 mile distance. The race is very hilly and thus demanding. It is not a race recommended for beginners. But completing either race would also give you credit for having completed the marathon distance.
The fifth hybrid race is another defined time run. It is the Erie 12 Hour Run, and is held in Presque Isle Park in Erie, PA in mid October. As a result it would conflict with some of the other races organized for October and listed above. But it is a defined time race and is held on a one mile loop in the Park. It has been organized for many years, and attracts a modest crowd each year. It has all the features described above for the other two defined time races.
November---- The sixth hybrid race is a very difficult and hilly 50 km trail race, held in Mendon Pond Park, south of Rochester during the month of November. It is a challenging race and because of its degree of difficulty attracts a fair number of runners. It is not recommended for the beginning marathoner. The race consists of five laps of 10 km each through a very hilly Park. This race is the most difficult of the seventeen races discussed above.
So as you can see from the above, the ambitious marathoner has many options if he or she plans to do one or more marathons during a given year, and do them without incurring significant costs, or time. Each marathon can be done within a one-day time span, and none is more than 120 miles from Buffalo. As a matter of fact most of the listed races above are well within about 70 miles from Buffalo. In conclusion, I should point out that nearly all the listed marathons above also offer a half marathon. So if you are not ready for that full marathon, try a short half maratho.
I wish you Happy Marathoning.
The author, Carl Pegels, refers to himslef as a retired marathoner. He has completed 250 marathons within the past 35 year time period, and has participated at least once in each of the marathons that he mentions above.