With the new time standards set by the Boston Athletic Association, I'd have to go 3:10:00 or better for the 35-39 age group. That meant close to a five minute pr for me (I ran a 3:14:50 at the 2011 Chicago Marathon). I strategically picked the Erie Marathon based on the date and also that it was said to be a flat and fast course. Since Erie is within driving distance for me, I decided this was the one to do. If everything worked out perfectly, I'd qualify on Sunday and on Monday, Boston registration would reopen for all qualifers (the previous week was the first week of registration for those with qualifying times under 20 minutes, 10 minutes, and 5 minutes - 3 different days - better than qualifying time). Soon enough we had a bit of a crew from my running group that would make the 6 hour trek up to Northwest Pennsylvania.
I was very lucky to have a friend of mine volunteer to pace me at the race. He's a 2:46ish marathoner so this would be an easy training run for him. We drove up on Saturday morning, stopped at Olive Garden for lunch (it was lovely), hit the "expo" (two "booths"), and then stayed for the pasta dinner put on by the Erie Running Club.
Let me add a sidebar to this post...The Erie Marathon is an EXCELLENT race - and not just for those looking to run a BQ. It is extremely well organized, excellent "schwag" (ok, I probably will use the long sleeve T as a throw away at another race, but I just don't do cotton anymore - snob - but I WILL wear the socks we got in the race bag (also a reusable shopping bag - bonus!), excellent CHEAP pasta dinner ($10), water stops just about every mile, and a $40 entry fee which I have to say is unheard of!
Ok, back to the story ;) So anyway, we have dinner, and then to the hotel to check in, unpack, and get some sleep. Sleep as usual didn't come easy and after a night of unrest, it was time to get up and get ready. I drank the Personal Best Nutrition Breakfast Cocktail (Infinit Mud plus EFS Kona Mocha Liquid Shot), banana, and coffee before heading over to the park. About 45 minutes pre-race, I began sipping on a bottle of First Endurance EFS with a scoop of First Endurance's Pre-race (HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS STUFF!!!). I took care of business, watched Al Pacino's pre-game speech from Any Given Sunday (yeah, it fires me up - sue me!), and then it was time to head to the start.
The course is a two loop course (also a one loop half) in Presque Isle Park right on Lake Erie. The first half Ken wanted me to hold back a bit. This is definitely a bit different than I'm used to. My normal race plan for a marathon has me go a couple seconds faster than goal pace to give me a some time in the bank. I know this isn't exactly what many suggest, but just what has worked for me. Get some time in the bank and then hold on at the end! The first couple miles were definitely slower than I expected (7:35, 7:27), but Ken told me we were doing what we needed to do. By mile five, we were only running about a 7:22 pace overall. Seemed to me that we really needed to pick things up, but Ken never seemed worried - in fact, he told me to pull it back on a few occassions. I figured he knows what he's doing so I'm not going to second guess him. Overall, the first half went very smooth and the effort didn't seem to be too taxing. At the halfway point, we managed to get down to 1:35:15 pace so there wouldn't be too much to make up. I felt much better about where we were than I had earlier in the race. The second loop, it started getting warmer, but the park provides quite a bit of shade which certainly helps keep the temps down. That said, through the second loop I could definitely feel myself getting warmer and was hoping not to overheat too bad (I eventually bagged the shirt to stay as cool as possible at about mile 24). At about mile 16 I started to feel like I had to start working harder. Paces were on point and through mile 20, we had made up a lot of time and were averaging about a 7:13 pace and had about 20 seconds in the bank. I was definitely starting to feel it at this point, but still was able to hold the pace. At mile 21, things started to hurt and the pace dropped to 7:22. Uh oh...starting to LOSE time. At this point in the race is where Ken goes from being supportive pacer to first class asshole/lunatic/motivator/bully. That said, it's probably exactly what I needed. Miles 23 and 24 were back on goal pace, but mile 25 I was back to losing time running a 7:21 pace. Ken is going absolutely apeshit at this point and telling me he needs me to give just 1% more than what I'm currently giving and I don't have anything left in the time bank! Somehow I manage to pick it up again and I run the final 1.2 at a 7:01 pace and finishing 13 seconds under qualifying time!
Post race I'm really struggling, but happy to have done it. Not much time to spare, but I did what I set out to do. BQ and a 5:03 PR! On a side note, the second place woman came up to us afterwards to give congratulations and tell me she's really glad Ken wasn't pacing her "because when he started running backwards, I would have punched him in the face!" Yes...at more than one point, Ken was yelling at me while he ran FASTER than me BACKWARDS!
Big thanks to Ken for the push and motivation. I could have done it without him, but I'm not sure I would have done it without him... Active Ambassadors, Personal Best Nutrition (not sponsored by them or anything, but Brian provides excellent info and top notch customer service!), and of course my wife and daughters! My wife had no doubt I could do it and during those tough last couple miles, I thought about her and her confidence in me and it helped me not quit (I really, really, really wanted to just stop for a couple seconds and "regroup" but so glad I didn't...no seconds to spare!).
For anyone looking for a nice flat and fast course with a small marathon feel yet run smoother than any big name marathon (with better "extras"), then definitely give the Erie Marathon a shot!