Event: 2014 Erie (Half) Marathon at Presque Isle
Event Date: September 14, 2014
Event Location: Presque Isle State Park, Erie, Pennsylvania
Why I decided to run this race
I ran this race last year, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. (See my complete recap of the 2013 event. Because I had so much fun running this race, despite having run it injured, I think I decided to run the 2014 edition of this event about 5 minutes after finishing the 2013 edition.
This is a good local event that really brings out the best of the community. As I covered in last year’s review, and I just might mention a few times here, this race employs a great practice wherein they incentivize the water station volunteers to serve the dual-role of being cheer squads by having the runners vote for the most enthusiastic volunteers and awarding additional charitable donations to the top vote getters. I love this feature of the event and would encourage more race directors to find a way to work it into their own programs.
Additionally, geography and travel always play big factors in selecting races. This event just so happens to take place in a picturesque lake-front state park that is 15 minutes from where my sister and brother-in-law live, so entering this race doubles as a chance to visit with my family.
Getting there/the lead-up to the race
The lead-up to last year’s race was far more exciting and challenging. Last year on the day before the event, I managed to turn my ankle in my last shakeout run, and we learned that my sister and brother-in-law would be having a baby boy. I am happy to report that my shakeout run was thoroughly uneventful, and my buddy Dave made sure that I escape it injury-free. On the baby front, my nephew is now 6 months old and was very excited to see me as I decided to stay with them at their house for the race weekend.
I ran the runDisney Dumbo Double Dare two weeks earlier, but had managed to effectively recover and resume training in the interim. For the Disneyland Half Marathon, I took my time to take pictures, meet up with friends, and really soak up the experience, which resulted in both my slowest time, but also my most enjoyable half marathon experience to date (see my recap of that race). For this race, in the back of my mind I was considering gunning for a PR. This event takes place on a fast course, in fact, it has a reputation of being a good Boston Marathon Qualifying course, and, as a result, attracts a lot of fast runners. So why not shoot for a PR? I pondered this for several days, but ultimately realized that it would be a race day decision based on how I felt that morning, and assuming of course that I didn’t injure myself again!
The race Expo
This race does not have a full-on expo, but rather a packet pickup in one of the indoor pavilions in Presque Isle State Park. The pre-race materials did promise an enhanced experience this year with more vendors. They had several tents set up around the pavilion where vendors and local running stores were selling a pretty standard assortment of running apparel and shoes. Even though this is a relatively small event (one race official told me that their numbers are limited by the parking available in the state park), there was a nice selection of apparel.
I did not attend the pasta party, but several volunteers and runners did mention it while I was walking around, and when then did, they did so with a great deal of pride and excitement for the event. Again, this just reinforces the charm of this great small town event.
The Erie Runners Club, who stages this event, do try to be creative with their swag. Each runner received a long sleeved grey t-shirt. In a departure from the norm, this was not a tech shirt, but was more of a standard cotton material. For the second year in a row, although I saw a lot of runners wearing their race shirts, this shirt just did not appeal to me. They also give you a canvas shopping bag, a 13.1 sticker, and a bandanna type thing that has a custom image of the course map. This latter item was a nice attempt to do something different for the runners, but is not the most practical. It probably appeals more to locals, and I was not sure what to do with it, when my mom suggested that perhaps we can turn it into a pillow. So perhaps a little creativity will pay off with a nice gift.
My only concern was the weather. For some reason, the Midwest went directly from high summer to a very cold autumn with little warning or transition. I tend to overheat when I run, so I have spent the last 5 months running in tank tops, but a few days before the race I ran for the first time in a short sleeved tech running shirt, and I did my shakeout run in a long sleeved tech shirt, though I was a little too warm. The gun time for the half marathon is 7:30 am, I know the course is a shaded and has a full canopy of trees over a good part of it, and the weather forecast was calling for temps in the low 50s with a slow warmup. This is the temperature range that causes me a lot of consternation as to just how much clothing to wear (it ended up being 54 degrees when I was driving to the course, then 51 for the start, and 58 for the finish, so yeah, it was a cold morning).
In the end, even though it was going to be 10 degrees cooler at the start, I decided to go with a race kit that was similar to what I wore two weeks earlier for the two Dumbo Double Dare events out in California: a SweatVac race hat, Adidas Climalite compression shorts, an Old Navy tech short sleeved t-shirt, Hind running shorts, C9 wristbands, and Saucony natural series running shoes. Again I grabbed my Yurbud triathlon series headphones and my IPhone 5S, but again I did not make a custom playlist because of my ongoing issues with ITunes (it was my mistake). BUT, as I was considering going for a PR, I decided to use the same playlist that I did when I set my last PR.
The entirety of the event takes place in Presque Isle State Park, which is a gorgeous nature preserve with great running paths and pristine sandy beaches. Because it is on a peninsula, there is only one way in and out of the park, and the start/finish line is roughly in the middle of the peninsula. Because of this, organizers advise runners to enter the park early, and certainly to be there no later than 5:45 am, when they begin closing the roads.
I went up Saturday afternoon and stayed at my sister’s house. Before leaving town, I stopped at White House Fruit Farms to pick up…at this time I should say that www.Casual-Runner.com has absolutely no financial relationship with White House Fruit Farms…the most amazing homemade blueberry donuts and fresh apple cider you have ever tasted in your life. On a scale of 1 to 10, these things are ridiculous. Trips to White House (http://www.whitehousefruitfarm.com/) were an autumn tradition growing up, and as a special treat, I decided to have two blueberry donuts as my pre-race meal. They were, you guessed it, amazing! Knowing these donuts awaited me almost made the 4:30 am wakeup call tolerable…almost.
I woke up feeling pretty good, had my donuts, got dressed, and headed to Presque Isle. I entered the park around 5:30 am and traffic was moving very efficiently. I parked in Beach 8 and walked the short distance to the starting line. I had two hours to kill before the half marathon started, so I found a bench and set about entertaining myself with my IPhone. It was cold, so I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, but I saw some people who made the mistake of not bringing warmer clothes, and they did not look happy.
The marathon event kicked off at 7:00 am, so I made a point to be there to watch it and cheer on the runners. Believe it or not, this was the first time I have ever seen a race start. I am usually so far back in the starting pack that I never get to see it, so this was a treat for me. I think this gave me the last bit of convincing to go for my PR. So in the last 30 minutes, I amended my race plan accordingly: I was going to push myself and go all-out.
Along the course
If you are looking for a course with lots of crowd support and neighborhoods and bands (did you know that I love high school bands on race courses? Because I do!), this is not the race for you. The entire course winds its way through tree-lined roads and the crowd support is sparse. It is also a flat course. Because of this, my race plan was to pin my ears back and just go. I can’t say that I particularly enjoy pushing myself while running, let alone for 13.1 miles, but for this one day, it gave me a different sense of purpose and enjoyment to my Casual Running.
The course starts out southwest towards the mainland exit of the park. I knew my mom, stepdad, sister, and nephew would be waiting to cheer me on at the turnaround just before mile 3. I used this as motivation to keep up the pace. They did not have clocks on the mile markers (which I found disappointing), so I checked my IPhone at the mile markers, and noticed that I was not only ahead of PR pace, but I was consistently staying 30 seconds faster than PR pace. Everything was just falling into place for me. I stopped once in the first 2 miles to use the bathroom, which was heated, and thus hard to leave! I then stopped to say hi to my family and give a few high fives before resuming along my way, and still managed to stay ahead of PR pace. It is amazing how success helps build confidence and I kept pressing onward.
As I said at the top, the water station competition is one of the great features of this race, and one that I particularly enjoyed about the 2013 event. I do not want to take anything away from the volunteers, because those who were there really worked hard to make sure that runners were able to stay hydrated. However, the staffing at each station was noticeably smaller and they did not have the same big cheer squads that they had last year. This was a little disappointing because I was looking forward to this part of the event.
Additionally, I found the stations to be inconsistent as several stations did not have sports drink. As a part of my race plan, I always grab at least one water and one sports drink at every station. Even though the volunteers were calling out instructions letting us know that the first sets of cups would be water and the second sets would be sports drink, at several stations, both sets were only water. I have no idea if they ran out or if there was just a mistake. Despite this, I am appreciative of the efforts of those volunteers who came out and did their best. Thank you!
Around mile 6 I noticed that I started to feel a little dehydrated and my shoulder started to ache, which I have learned is a sign that I am not getting enough fluids. Thus, I decided to come to a complete stop at the next water station and chug several cups of water. I did this at the next water station as well, and began feeling much better. I am glad I took the time to make sure I was properly hydrated before getting back on my way.
The event takes place on a two lane road, with the runners in the left lane and the right lane remaining open to vehicle traffic. This allowed my family to easily follow me around the course and to make their way to the finish line. At one point, traffic was moving slowly and they were able to drive alongside me and cheer me on for a few hundred yards while waiting for the traffic ahead of them to move on. This was a lot of fun and a unique race experience for me.
With 5k to go, I started to run out of gas and feel a little queasy, but I knew that I was well-ahead of PR pace, so I just kept pushing on and fighting through the discomfort. I did not give up, but just kept checking my splits, which, while they were slowing down slightly, were still ahead of PR pace. When I saw the 12 mile marker, I knew my goal was close and I left it all out on the course. I felt surprisingly strong at the finish and saw my family off to the right side about a hundred yards from the finish line. I saw the event clock hanging there and could not believe just how far ahead of my PR I was, and that realization gave me a little extra motivation to close as fast as I could.
And, just like that, I was done. I had finished and had crushed my old PR by more than 5 and a half minutes. The feeling of satisfaction was awesome.
The SMO was nice, and proof that just because you are a local event, does not mean that you have to cheap out on the medal. Two lessons that other races can learn from this event. First, again, even though it is a small event, they take the time to change up the medal, as this was similar to, but different than, the medal from last year’s event. Second, my biggest “dig” if you will on last year’s medal was that it was very nice, but the ribbon was not. This year, they upped their game and had a nice custom ribbon. Well done Erie Road Runners.
The post-race experience
The post-race area was a little chaotic. The full marathon course consists of two laps of the half marathon course, which means that as the half marathon runners are finishing up in the left lane, the full marathon runners are continuing back out onto the course from the right lane. As the finishers chute exited out into the right lane, it dumped the runners out into the full marathon course. Add to this that spectators were standing on the right side of the road and were trying to cross to meet up with their runners, congestion was inevitable. If I were running the full marathon event, I most likely would have been upset with this.
After the race, I looked for where I could vote for the water station contest, but could not find it. I asked a few volunteers, and they could not tell me. So, unfortunately, I could not properly thank the volunteers for their efforts. So I will simply do so again here. Thank you volunteers. These events would not be possible without your efforts.
Looking back now
Will I run this race again next year? I am not sure. I have now run it twice, and I already got my PR. While this is a nice event, it is not the most entertaining course. If you are trying to grab a PR, this is the perfect event for you. Plus, it is always a good excuse to spend some time with family, but ultimately, I think that the calendar will drive my decision, and, with so many great races taking place in the fall, I may try out a different event next year.
We are not done yet. Check out the sights as the runners take on this event in the beautiful setting of Presque Isle State Park in our all along the course video and you can catch our full review of the 2013 Presque Isle Marathon and Half Marathon.
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