When I BQd (Boston Qualifier) at the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon (Toronto Marathon) back in May, I had a feeling my time wouldn’t hold up for the 2017 Boston Marathon. The cutoff for the 2016 Boston Marathon was 2 minutes and 28 seconds and here I was sitting on 1 minute 18 seconds. If I’m being honest here, I was perfectly happy with my finishing time because finishing a marathon was once something I never thought I would be able to do, let alone finish one in 3:13:42 in crap conditions! I told everyone my plan was to maintain my fitness level and attempt to qualify for the 2018 Boston Marathon as I would be moving up to the next age category and my qualifying time would jump from 3:15 to 3:25. Shortly after I decided I would take my chances with my 1:18 buffer for 2017, I was talked into registering for the Erie Marathon by a few of my close running friends.
The Erie Marathon is located at Presque Isle in Erie, Pennsylvania and is one of four last ditch efforts to qualify for the next Boston Marathon; all four marathons take place on the weekend just prior to the commencement of registration for Boston. Many people who BQd with a small buffer or missed their BQ in a previous race tend to register for another race close to the end of the window to qualify. The Erie Marathon is a very popular race because it’s essentially two loops on a very flat course. The Erie Marathon had just over 2,000 registered runners, but I found out later less than 1,400 runners actually participated this year.
I used the same 16 week training plan from the Toronto Marathon. I wanted to take a two months off from training following my previous marathon, but instead I took off one and reduced the training plan to 15 weeks. The only modification I made to the plan was moving the long run from Sunday to Saturday. I was also not as disciplined with strength training as I was during my Toronto Marathon. What I was very pleased with was my ability to complete the training program without sustaining a single injury. Looking back, I also don’t recall missing any days; I did have to shuffle runs due to conflicting work/life schedules, but this had no impact on my training.
Erie, Pennsylvania is about 3 1/2 hours away from Toronto. I picked up my friends Dom, Anna, and Daniel around 8:30am Saturday morning and we headed out. At the time, I don’t think anyone was feeling nervous about the race. What really helped me cope with the pressure was knowing I already qualified and was attempting to improve my time. Had I been attempting to BQ for the first time, I really believe I would be a mess on that ride to Erie. I know this because I remember being a bundle of nerves a few days prior to the Toronto Marathon.
We arrived in Erie around 12:30pm and headed straight to Presque Isle to pickup our bibs. The expo was very small, so we left fairly quickly and headed over to Applebee’s for lunch. We then headed to the hotel, checked in and did absolutely nothing for a few hours. There were quite a few runners buzzing about the hotel and some were wearing their Boston shirts and jackets. Our friends Ben and Sanjiv arrived and a short time later, we headed out for dinner. We had plans on eating at a nice Italian restaurant closer to the race course (the hotel was 15 minutes away), but decided to stay local. We ended up eating at Olive Garden. The weather was beautiful during the day, but a storm was expected to roll through around dinner time and we were glad when it did; this meant we were in for some cooler temps for the race!
The race started at 7:00am which meant a 4:30am wake-up call. We had a 15 minute drive plus the time it would take to make our way to the designated parking area. We parked just past 6:00am and made our way to the Rotary Pavilion where the start line was located.
I knew quite a few runners from Instagram would be in Erie and I wanted to meet-up with as many as I could to wish them luck, but I didn’t have a way of getting in touch with them (I don’t carry my phone when I race). I did manage to locate Claire, Jill, and Alicia!
Just prior to the race, someone sang the Canadian national anthem and then the US national anthem. The race took place on September 11th and a few runners wore shoes, shorts, or shirts emblazoned with an American flag, but other than that, you would never know the race was taking place exactly 15 years following the worst attacks on American soil.
There are no corrals, so everyone just lined up on the course using the pacers as markers. I lined up between the 3:05 and 3:15 pacer. It didn’t take long to notice a drone was hovering over the start line. The video of the start is below. You can see me crossing the start line on the far right (red and black singlet and backwards red cap) at the 17 second mark.
I’m also in the video below. You can see me running by at the 22 second mark, already looking for Daniel!
First 5K splits: 5:00, 4:31, 4:27, 4:26, 4:40
My plan was to hold on to a 4:26-4:30 pace for as long as I could. I didn’t want to get caught up in the moment and go out too fast; which always happens. I was really happy with my start and was even happier I didn’t get bumped around like a pinball. A few runners called out puddles from the previous night’s storm and I was grateful for not having to run with wet shoes from the start! There’s a turnaround at the 5K mark and I managed to make the turn without blowing out my knee or slamming into another runner! So far, so good!
Second 5K splits: 4:19, 4:30, 4:26, 4:27, 4:24
The next 5 kilometres took us North East through the park. The course is definitely very flat and there are aid stations at every mile marker. I had to remind myself not to take water at every aid station or I would definitely be over-hydrated! I got my first gel in around the 9K mark and everything was going well! I did hit my 6K split a little too fast, but quickly realized it and eased up on the gas. It was around this time I noticed two runners from Quebec (they only spoke French, so I’m going to assume they were from Quebec!) who were running a 4:27-4:30 pace. I decided to stick with them for the race. The 3:05 pacer was long gone and I was way out in front of the 3:15 pacer.
Third 5K splits: 4:23, 4:30, 4:27, 4:22, 4:29
This is the part of the course that starts the big turnaround by the ponds and back towards the finish line. If you’ve ever read a review of the Erie Marathon where people complain the course is not flat, it’s because there is a small blip of a hill (less than 3 metres) at the 14K mark. Support for the runners thins out in this area, but there are still a few spots where speakers are setup and music is playing. I felt really good at this point and there weren’t many runners around us. My friends from Quebec were chatting a bit, but I had no clue what they were saying. For all I know, they were probably wondering how long I would run with them! Around this time, another runner joined the group and mentioned something about pace (in English!).
16Km to 21.1km splits: 4:22, 4:24, 4:21, 4:23, 4:35, 4:21
Somewhere around the 17K or 18K mark there is an aid station with what I thought was a bus or other large vehicle (I’m always so focused on what’s in front of me during a race, I rarely recall what’s around me!). The music was the loudest there and the supporters were great! This was also the part of the race where my friends started to speed up a bit. We were now running faster and there were a few times I dropped back, but quickly caught up with them and held pace. I took another gel at 18K and at the 20K mark, I started to side stitch. I quickly pulled over to the left, stopped, and took 3-4 slow deep breaths. I managed to get it under control and got back on course. My friends were now 200 metres in front of me. It didn’t take long for me to reel them in.
At the 21K mark, we made a right and then a quick left and headed towards the finish line. We were only at the halfway mark, so runners were steered towards the right of the finish line and on to the second loop. The crowd support was obviously the best at this spot.
22km to 29km splits: 4:26, 4:28, 4:24, 5:01, 4:26, 4:43, 4:48, 5:06
The next three kilometres were uneventful and I was happy to not suffer from side stitching any longer. Around the 25K mark, I started to have trouble. The first issue I noticed was in my left hamstring. It didn’t feel like an injury, instead it was really getting sore and making it difficult to extend my leg. I started to lift my legs higher to improve my turnover and that helped a bit, but it was still bothering me. I took my third gel at the 27K mark.
I don’t know where exactly it happened, but somewhere around the 28K or 29K mark, I started to feel really sore on the outside of my right knee (UH OH!). I feared the worse as I was once sidelined for nearly 3 months with an IT Band injury. I kept on moving, but was now slowing down to walk on the side of the course. My friends were now long gone and I was on my own.
30km – 40km splits: 4:43, 4:53, 5:22, 4:45, 5:01, 4:59, 5:02, 6:46, 5:15, 6:12, 5:11
The next 10 kilometres went like this. Run, walk, run, walk, stop at the aid station, chat with the volunteers, wait for Dom or Daniel to run by so I can try to run with them, repeat. I did quite a bit of walking and running and my legs were not feeling all that great every time I started up again. Somewhere between walking and running I passed my friends from Quebec who were both walking on the side of the course. Not idea what happened to them and I didn’t want to ask. I was having my own challenges out there! The third runner was not with them any longer and I suspected he continued on.
We passed the aid station I first passed at the 17K or 18K mark with the loud music and would you believe they were playing “Highway to Hell?!?!” I told a few of the volunteers that was exactly what I thought about the race. Everyone had a laugh (I may have cried a bit on the inside) and I thanked everyone for volunteering and moved on.
I passed the third runner I was running with and he was having some serious difficulties on the course. At one point, I believe he was holding his hamstring.
The 3:15 pacer passed me around this time and I tried to keep up with him. My friend from earlier yelled out and stopped on the side of the course. It was not a pretty sound and I felt awful for him.
The final 2.2km splits: 5:37, 4:52, 5:01, 5:47
There was no way I was coming in strong at this point of the race. I was just happy to be coming in at all! I kept looking back for Dom and Daniel, but didn’t see them, so I motored on for the last 2+ kilometres. The crowds were awesome at the end and I crossed the line at 3:21:22. Considering the challenges I had on the course, I am very pleased with my time.
I loved everything about the Erie Marathon except the surface of the course. I was expecting asphalt, but instead, we ran on pavement for most of the race. This is by far the hardest surface you can run on and it’s very hard on the body. I suspect that led to my knee issues, but likely not the other issues. I have no idea what led to the side stitching.
I also don’t know if I would be able to run the entire course without stopping had it not been for the troubles I had. I have yet to finish a marathon without stopping and while I did BQ using this strategy, psychologically it would be better if I finished one clean (slowing down would be fine as long as I didn’t stop!)
Again, I’m happy with my results considered how I had to persevere.
Ben and Sanjiv had a great race and both achieved a BQ! Our friend Rose had a huge BQ and it was exciting to see her cross the finish line knowing she had a great time! We then waited for everyone else to come in and unfortunately, I was not the only runner who was having problems. Dom, Daniel, and Anna had a challenging day, but they all battled through (Daniel got a 9 minute PB!). Once everyone finished, we headed back to the hotel to shower and then to Friday’s to grab a bit to eat before heading home. The car ride home felt like a marathon, but we made the most of it and joked about registering for another marathon in the near future. I’m glad i registered for the Erie Marathon and had a really great weekend hanging out with great people!
I still have two races left this year (Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon and New York City Marathon) and then I’m dropping my weekly kilometres just enough to maintain my fitness level without getting too sluggish. 2016 has been a massive year for me, but I need to run a bit for fun.