When the news came out that the Boston Marathon was changing its qualifying times (of course, making it harder to get in), a friend of mine realized that the Columbus Marathon wouldn't be the qualifier that we expected it to be. As you might remember from reading my blog, I am turning 40 shortly, meaning I get an additional 5 minutes to qualify for Boston. But with the changes, I lose that five minutes. And those changes are as of Sunday, Sept. 25 (and Columbus isn't run until October). The plan I was working from wanted me to shoot for a 7:17 pace (for a 3:11 finish), but I was more realistic and was shooting for a 3:20, which would qualify me for Boston and would be a 20 minute Personal Record (PR)... as long as I ran before 9/25. The Erie Marathon at Presque Isle was the race that fit the bill... 9/18, flat as a pancake, and quite affordable.
So on Saturday (after an extremely early U5 soccer game and pictures, for which we had to be at the field at 7:30), we headed to Erie, PA. We made it to beautiful Presque Isle for packet pick-up and the small expo (three exhibits). The marathon shirts are nice - long-sleeve tech shirts (I got a similar one a couple of years back and have almost worn it out). They additionally threw in some 2011 Erie Marathon tech socks, which was cool. The kids enjoyed playing at the park for a while, and then we headed to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, a really cool (FREE!) museum, where we enjoyed a movie about Beavers on their huge IMAX screen (we went back on Sunday afternoon to enjoy the museum a little more). Then we went and found some high-carb food on a crowded restaurant night.
At the start line, they directed us to stand in areas representing our pace; I stood directly between the 7 and 8, representing the 7:30 I planned to run. There I met Mark and David, runners I've "met" on dailymile, and we decided to run together. After some preliminaries (10 seconds before the countdown clock got to 0), we got a marks-getset-go! and we were off!
It was smooth running all the way. The course was beautiful and flat, running around Presque Isle State Park twice. It was a much smaller marathon than I've run before, and the half marathon started 1/2 hour later, so we didn't have to be concerned with that part of the crowd. We went out fast, though we really tried to temper the pace (and it didn't quite hit me that Mark's 3:20 goal had morphed into 3:15). We had fun; the guys I was running with are really cool guys - very friendly, very chatty. As the race went on, I realized that I couldn't keep up their pace, so I dropped back and ran with Sean and Gary - I'd "met" Gary on the "I am Running the Erie Marathon at Presque Isle" facebook group. These were two hilarious guys. I loved running with them. The time passed quickly while we ran together (about 10 miles).
Because of the way the loops were situated, it was very easy for spectators to hang out at the start/finish line and then walk across to see us again, so it was cool to see my family at the start, at the 5.8 mile mark, at the halfway point, at the 18.9 mile mark, and at the finish (I will post some pictures once I upload them from the camera). It is always great to see familiar faces and hear your name being called. The only problem with this was that it made it way too convenient for the spectators to only be in these two locations, meaning there were a lot of lonely areas in between. There were water/sports drink stops every mile, and every group passing out drinks (including some cross country teams, a scout troop, some costumed characters [Gumby was a notable costume], and a group of people dressed as hillbillies (advising us that "every tenth cup has moonshine in it") was wonderful, not only passing out drinks, but also cheering us on (I would advise anyone to not take the marshmallows handed out by the scouts, however. No matter how they told you that it was "fast sugar," there was no way I could chew one of those at mile 20+!)
My half marathon split was 1:36:50, which was 50 seconds off my PR for the 1/2 marathon (set this Spring at the Cap City Half) - I wonder how fast I could run one of those after a strong summer of training...
I took PowerBar gels at miles 10, 15, and 20, and I have to say I love that stuff. I can't choke down Gu (I tried at about mile 22) and don't get me started on those puketastic energy jelly bellies.
As the race went on, I started doing the math. My mile times had been increasing, and I saw my BQ slipping away. I had promised myself I wouldn't be disappointed as long as I had given it my all, but it was a little disconcerting to see that time slipping away. But by the last 6 miles, I was struggling. I decided to stop and walk through the water stops, which was probably a good idea; although my times dropped to about 9 minute miles for the last several, none reached the 10 minute+ mark like happened last year at Columbus.
Toward the end of the race, my friend Brandon came motoring by, running really smoothly for a guy who's been sidelined by injury for the last several weeks. Then I saw my friend Dave, who was planning to run the race with me but who got injured and ended up changing his registration to the half (and running a phenomenal 1:36 in it). Dave ran alongside me and cheered me on, pushing me to pick my pace up and finish strong.
I finished in 3:24, four minutes off the Boston Qualifier, but 16 minutes faster than the PR I set last year in Columbus. I am extremely pleased with my time and with my effort. I was 77th overall (out of 600 or so) and was 13th in my age group. This was a great marathon, and I plan to return.
After the race, they had bagels (the good cinnamon crunch kind from Panera), bananas, chocolate milk (which is great recovery drink, and not just because Dave Parsons says it is), watermelon (awesome!), and it seems like something else, but I can't think of what, probably because I didn't choose to have any. Then they had Subway sandwiches, chips, cookies, and pop, free for runners and for a $1 for anyone else (with the $1 going to a local food bank). GREAT!
I feel tons better than I did after my last marathon, and I'm extremely pleased with my new PR. Though I was touting this as my "one chance to qualify for Boston" I am confident that if I train hard (after some rest, of course), I can drop the additional 9 minutes off my time. After all, last fall I dropped 38 minutes, and this fall I dropped 16 off that.