Welcome to Erie, Pennsylvania
My marathon at Erie was in September. It was my first time at Erie and marathon #8. It’s a terrific race that’s entirely within Presque Isle State Park. It was a well-organized, small race that attracts those looking to qualify for the Boston marathon. While there were younger and older racers, I was in the largest demographic group, men age 45-49. Every runner there is motivated and seeking to earn their Boston Qualification, or BQ.
Bouncing Back From 2017
After two disappointing marathons in 2017, my goal was to do better in a marathon: train better, race better, and just plain feel better about running. Oh, and BQ before I turn 50 in October.
I wanted to breakthrough my own wall and take on the fears holding me back from running a 3:30 marathon. So in January 2018 I picked Erie. I picked it partly based on what other BRCers shared about their positive experience there…so thanks to Andrew McKay, Dave Carpenter, Jason Jacobs, and Christine & Mark Kerr for sharing.
May to September Training
At the end of 2017, I was exhausted and increasingly dissatisfied with running. So I took some time off from running over the winter then trained a bit in the spring, culminating at a nice, hilly MEC 10k race on May 6. Coach Larry Lewis and I came up with a plan for me to start marathon training on May 20, 16 weeks out from Erie. I had completed the Adaptive program for four marathons and learned so much from our coaches and fellow students.
Our hot and humid Toronto summer proved to be valuable for my training, plus I love summer and the heat. I was very happy with how things were going.
Like anyone, I had balance all the other hats that one wears and the stuff in your life like work, marriage, family, kids, homeownership, etc.
Leading up to Erie on September 9, I was ready and feeding off the good vibes and well wishes from others. I felt the best I’ve ever felt before a marathon, both mentally and physically. I trained for a 4:51 marathon race pace, and my mental wall looked like it could crumble and I’d finally break 3:30.
Race taper can be tricky so I was really looking forward to chilling out as much as I could before the race and on the trip there. This was a solo race trip and Amy and the kids didn’t come. So on the Friday I had a nice, relaxing drive to Erie (no kids! no kids fighting!) listening to some grownup tunes like Linkin Park and Rush. Then an equally relaxed time just chilling at the hotel. Add in the last minute hotel discount they gave me and I was one happy camper. I leafed through my training binder, with its 16 weeks’ worth of notes and workouts and this helped to visually remind me to indeed trust my training. I could see in black and white that I put a lot into training, so now the focus was to execute it at the race.
So Many Books To Read
In addition, I really got a lot out of a couple books that I think complemented my program. In Endure, I’d read about mental coping strategies and how to suffer longer, and then practice it on my training runs. That book really showed me that when you think you’re just about totally spent, you’ll find a bit more there waiting to be tapped – if you practice it and truly believe you have more in the tank. The book references the infamous marshmallow test, so I also practiced delaying giving in to a first impulse…like, oh, when it’s 34 Celsius outside and you want to just stop your workout never mind slow down.
The Brave Athlete teaches you about creating and nurturing a mature athletic identity, which is a whole discussion that’s underrated especially for those of us who take it up later in life. I loved the section on ‘feeling fat’ (hello, old me) and how to challenge your own ‘perceived effort’ because your brain subconsciously meters out paces. The enemy really is within and you gotta train your brain and show it who’s boss!
I woke up at 4:00am for breakfast, tried to chill, then headed off to the race. We got so very lucky with the weather, it was perfect for racing. It was cool enough even to wear warmer throw-away clothes before the race. I started with the 3:30 pacer, Steven, a nice guy from down state Pennsylvania. The 3:30 group was mostly women in their 20s and 30s and several guys around my age. Me and other runner, Kelsey, a woman about half my age from North Carolina, hit it off. She and I settled into a good groove, taking turns chatting off and on for most of the race.
Aside from formal race strategy, we all have our ways to pass time in a race. I thought of our family beach vacation that we had planned for the week after Erie. I used a couple new things to pass some time and also to just have some simple, happy thoughts. At 14k, I thought of fellow BRC runner Jane Davies because she dedicates a km in her races to someone, and she told me her favourite # is 14, so that worked nicely. At quieter times in the race, I pictured running alongside another BRC runner, Mitch Kosny, and enjoying ‘hearing’ his always-steady cadence of footsteps. I saw Dave and Anita Emilio at the half and it was inspiring to see familiar faces and get that boost.
By the early 30kms I felt I could maintain my pace to the finish. I was hungry to beat 3:30, so I decided I’d leave the 3:30 pacer and go faster to the finish. I did an ABC (Assess situation, Build plan of action, Commit to it) and sped up at 36k. It worked for a couple km but then I had to slow down a bit. As I slowed I was gripped by sheer terror and imagined the worst, ‘OMG what the hell have I done? What if Steven and his 3:30 posse catch up to me? What if they pass me?’
So I refocused and just kept going. As Stan Ong says ‘don’t think, run.’ Speeding up at 36k was a gamble that paid off. Passing others late in a race is underrated, and I took some pleasure doing so. In the last 2k I remember looking down at my knees and yelling ‘push push!’ Those last few 2k are somewhat blurry but I do remember thinking I was going to be sick.
I crossed the finish line in 3:28:32 – and just like that two years’ worth of mental and emotional baggage was gone! A 13 minute PB and my first BQ! It was my fastest and most consistent marathon yet. My race strategy was conservative in part because I was haunted by my two marathons in 2017. It’s not just breaking the time physically, its breaking it mentally as well.
At Erie my splits were in the 4:50s, except for three splits faster (4:49 @15k, 4:45 @37k, 4:38 @38k) and five splits slower (5:02 @2k, 5:00 @18k, 5:05 @20k, 5:04 @40k, 5:01 at 42k).
I admit I briefly got a little misty eyed as I thought of what I’d just done. This was the huge breakthrough I trained for! I kind of lost it a bit and had an internal “I Love Everybody” moment, Ha Ha, with me being Rod Tidwell (I’m now a sub-3:30 marathoner!) giving heartfelt props to Jerry McGuire (coach Larry).
In my stumbling around the finish line family area, I bumped into BRCers Jason Jacobs and Andrew McKay, who had both finished before me. (In the predawn darkness, I had also talked briefly with BRCer Miguel Ramirez, and we wished each other well – he of course went on to his first sub 3 hour marathon at Erie). It was like ordering a round of drinks, ‘BQs for everybody!’
I bought a BQ t-shirt that says “I QUALIFIED FOR BOSTON AT ERIE MARATHON.”. Fellow runner Monica Lee also picked up a couple BQ shirts for me at Erie, very thoughtful, thank you again Monica!
I tried to read the chip times posted on a wall but it looked fuzzy through my contact lenses. My Garmin watch showed 4:55 average pace, and pretty much my whole race was HR zone 3. Perfect. A wee bit conservative pacing strategy on my part in hindsight. I learned that I know now I can run faster. I ran the race with a US $5 bill in my pocket. The BQ t-shirts cost $5, and I carried the money with me as motivation to BQ and buy one at the finish.
Boston Has To Wait
46.2% of racers got their BQ at Erie, that’s huge. I’m proud to be part of the BRC community where everyone I know got their BQ that day. A week later, I could apply to enter the 2019 Boston marathon. With my qualifying time I pretty much knew I wouldn’t make the cut for Boston 2019. But we can hope, no? When you apply you don’t really know what the cut off time will be, it’s anyone’s guess. But the greater you beat your BQ, the greater the odds you’ll make the cut. This is not lost on you as you are running the marathon as literally every second is at stake. A couple weeks later, the polite rejection email arrived. I missed actually going to Boston by 3 minutes and 24 seconds, so I would’ve needed to run 3:25:08 or faster. No surprise really, and I felt some relief that I could get on with planning my next adventure. Waiting to hear back from Boston is like dating…just when things are moving in the right direction – and there’s a sliver of hope – she says I like you as a friend, lol!
I recently read that endurance racing like a marathon is not just a test of your body but also a test of you as a person – you got that right! (from Mark Allen, he lost Ironman 6 times then won it 6 times).
Finally, a huge thank you to my wife Amy and our kids for their support and allowing me to escape the house and go run!