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.