Race Recap: Erie Marathon

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Last Sunday I ran my fifth marathon, The Erie Marathon, which is in Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania. The race is known for the high percentage of runners who BQ there year after year. They even have t-shirts for purchase at package pick-up reading, “I BQ’d at The Erie Marathon”. Previous to moving back to Toronto in May, I had never heard of the Erie Marathon, nor had I anticipated adding a third marathon into my race roster for 2018. After joining a new running team, I heard about the race and it piqued my interest. My intention had been to train for the Chicago Marathon, giving up my dream of returning to Boston in 2019. I figured the BQ with a 3-minute buffer I earned in Boston this year would likely not be enough, and had briefly resigned myself to considering alternate spring marathons, like Paris, and London. Needless to say, that didn’t last long and I modified my plans to run an early fall marathon in addition to Chicago, with the plan to BQ in Erie. This would secure my spot on the very last day before the Boston application submission window opened, which coincided with my birthday.

I focused and worked hard in the 3 months leading up to Erie, and had a really great training cycle. I went into the race feeling prepared, and confident that I would achieve my goal, not just to BQ, but to PB, and finish in under 3:26. Although I had a strong training cycle, an unforeseen challenge arose just 10 days before race day.  One of my teammates called me at 6:30AM because a message had been posted on Facebook announcing that anyone who accepted hydration or nutrition from someone on the sidelines would be disqualified. By this standard, accepting an orange from a child on the side of the road, could result in disqualification. Several of our teammates and other members of the Toronto running community had built their fuelling plans with the expectation that fuel would be provided by team-mates from the sidelines of this small-town race.

The post generated concern from several participants, but nothing changed, the response was still if you accept anything from the sidelines you will be disqualified. This put a negative tone on the event, and so started the jokes of how else runners might earn a DQ. Would we be permitted to run in bras or were shirts mandatory? Were we allowed to smile? It seemed unnecessarily strict and after all, the goal was to do well by our own standards, we were not contenders to win the race. I modified my fuelling plan and luckily no other obstacles arose.

My race day morning began around 4:45AM. I got up, made a cup of hotel coffee, and an un-toasted bagel with PB, but only managed to consume half. I wasn’t worried though, I had eaten pancakes, soba noodles, a half-sandwich, a piece of baguette, and pasta the day before. Plus, my fuelling plan had me consuming 198g of carbohydrates, which equalled 800 calories before I ran a single step. I got ready and headed to the shuttle buses to meet-up with some of the other team-members for the 1-mile ride to the start. It was pitch black (flashlights were included in the race kit) and a bit cold, the weather had been calling for rain and flooding, but fortunately the forecast changed.

Once we arrived at the start, the typical pre-race chaos ensued, long washroom lines, people yelling each other’s names trying to find each other, etc. We ended up finding a few other familiar runners and wished them well before lining up at the start. My focus at this point was finishing my second 500ml bottle of Maurten before the race began, which I did seconds before the gun went off. As we set out, my focus shifted to keeping my pace controlled, the plan for the first 5km was to stay at 5:00/km.

I finished the first 5km in 24:45, only hitting 5:00/km for one of the kilometres. I told myself to stay on pace for the next section which had me targeting 4:55/km over the next 15km. Km’s 6-20 took 1:13:32, average pace 4:54/km. During that stretch I saw my dad, team-mates Matt and Kim who had come from Toronto just to cheer us on, as well as coach and Mel who were screaming and holding a Happy Birthday banner. It was amazing to see so many familiar faces. I also saw a water bottle of electrolyte attached to a tree and laughed to myself. During the first half of the race, I took 3 gels, which I carried on my person.

For km’s 21-35 my pace was meant to increase to 4:50/km, I am not exactly sure how long that stretch took because my watch lost GPS after around 33km. Anyway, I can say for 21-33km, my average pace was 4:49/km. I took 2 gels in that time, my final one at 35km for a final boost before the plan had me pick it up. I got to see Matt and Kim again, as well as my dad which made me happy. I had not been thinking about much up to this point except the task at hand, executing the race plan, fuelling and the occasional thought of I really need to pee, can I wait? 

After 35km, the plan was to increase my pace to 4:45/km for the next 7km. By this point my GPS was not working at all, my watch was showing paces in the double-digits. I knew my energy level was still high, and my legs still had more to give, so I stopped looking at pace altogether and ran on feel. I began passing people, and just did the best I could to maintain the pace I thought I was meant to be holding. There were only mile markers, but I decided not to bother with auto-lapping and just run. With 2 miles left, I knew I would finish around the 3:25:xx mark. I think I was smiling for the whole way after that, I knew I had hit my goal, and nothing was going to change that, so I remained calm and kept moving forward.

With less than 1km to go I saw coach, Mel, Matt, Kim and Rachel, just as I reached the straight-away to the finish. I could see the finish, but it felt far. I like to do a big finish and sprint as much as my legs will allow, so I did just that, gaining places as I passed others. I crossed the finish and threw my hands up. I had done it, a BQ with a substantial buffer, a sub 3:26 marathon, and a 5 minute and 34 second PB. Looks like I’ll be Boston bound in 2019 after all.

Reflections on my Early 20’s: why I’m Running a Marathon on my Birthday

Running down Queen St at 6am few Saturdays ago, I passed broken beer bottles, half-eaten boxes of poutine, puddles of vomit, from someone’s Friday night and a few people just finishing up their Friday night. At that moment, I fully realized how much my life has changed since I last lived in Toronto just over 4-years ago.

At that time, the roles would have been reversed (though I would never waste poutine). My Friday night’s were certainly not spent eating nutrition dense meals and going to bed early in preparation for a big Saturday run. For as long as I can remember, I have felt torn between focusing on fitness or focusing on “having fun”, albeit someone else’s idea of fun. Sure drinking can be enjoyable, I enjoy beer immensly, but staying up late and drinking something you don’t like with the goal of getting drunk is not fun. Especially, when that voice in the back of your head says, “you’re going to feel like shit tomorrow and not want to do anything”. I knew that lifestyle wasn’t for me, but I wasn’t ready to move on, and hear all the accompanying “you’re so lame” comments that would have followed.

Staying up late and getting up early to exercise may not be ideal for successful training, staying up late, drinking excessively and getting up early makes training almost impossible. I used to try to do both. I still worked out 6-days a week then, but it was a lot different than it is now. It was pretty normal to show up to a spin class smelling like vodka from the night before, and somehow still get through the class. I guess that’s what is now referred to as a weekend warrior. I ran then too, but typically just a couple 10k runs a week to burn off the “drunk food”.

At that time, the idea of running a marathon was impossible. It simply did not make sense to me how someone could run that far; I was certain I never would. I was right, it was impossible, because running a marathon with that lifestyle would NOT have worked.     About 8 months before I moved to BC, things began to change, I had run 4 half’s at that time, including a best of 1:45, which I was happy with, and had achieved with little training. The day I got that PB was significant for a few reasons, and I used it as inspiration to run more and prioritize health. I lifted weights, I ran 4 times a week, sometimes up to 16km on an indoor track to avoid the snow and ice. In the month before I moved to BC, I began running everyday. I set a goal to run 100 miles that month and I did. I remember feeling so happy about that.

Moving to BC in June 2014 was a massive change, I knew no one there, and had no sense of obligation to participate in anything I didn’t want to. I was working in a craft beer bar, which was awesome, and surrounded by people who were living my old lifestyle, but it no longer mattered. I went out sometimes, but mostly I wanted to prioritize running and that was that. In January 2015, I began training with a coach and met other like-minded people. My intention at that time was to prepare to run a marathon. My coach wanted me to build a strong base first and knock a few more minutes off my half-marathon time before committing to a full. I put in the work, and my times continued to improve. In October 2016, I lined up at the start-line of my very first marathon in Victoria, BC.

Almost 2-years later, I am preparing for marathon #5, The Erie Marathon on Sunday September 9, also my 29th birthday. I have spent the summer training hard, running 6-days a week. I feel stronger than I ever have, and happy with the training I have put in. This is how I chose to spend my summer, and I have never regretted it. I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye to my 20’s than to run a marathon on my birthday, and set the tone for the next decade – where I will continue to do things my way. I have grown a lot since 2014, my priorities have changed, my goals keep getting bigger, and I plan to keep chasing them.