When looking for a race, people usually are looking for flat or downhill courses. Two years ago, when volunteering in Richmond to present the Pittsburgh marathon I was surprised to see how many runners were reluctant to sign up because of the elevation profile. The city is known for its hills and the race directors did a great job to avoid steep hills (look at the five steepest hills to get a general idea). But when presenting the course, you have to come with an elevation chart to convince them it was not too hilly.
The general idea is that a flat course (or a downhill one) will be easier on your legs and require less efforts. Of course, this is obvious you are going faster on a flat course but was the elevation never change, you are working the same muscle group. And if you choose a downhill race, this can also put a lot of stress on your joints. Even for a flat race, you are putting all the efforts on the same muscles group and exhaust them until the last mile. If you are going to try to qualify for a particular time (Boston qualifier anyone?), this can be (1) very exhausting and (2) hard to recover as your body is not used to such long and intense efforts on the same muscles.
That might seem odd but running a race with some elevation variation can be easier on your body. As your running form is changing according to the elevation, you are not using the same muscles and when a muscle group is used, the other can rest for a while. Of course, this will not be easy, but if you are trained and used to take some hills, it will be definitively easier.
One example on the east coast is Erie and Pittsburgh. Erie is a big Boston Qualifier race: very flat, the course takes place in what one might consider as ideal conditions (perfect temperature most of the time, completely flat race). This is a two 13.1 loops on Presque Isle. Needless to say, pretty boring: after the first loop, you have only one wish, finish as soon as possible. On the other hand, Pittsburgh (or even Richmond) have some slight hills and is considered more difficult. But as long as you are used to run some hills, your body will recover quicker. And the course is nicer: you experience most of the neighborhood and the volunteers are pretty awesome. No matter if you are a Pittsburgh native or a new visitor: you will experience the city from a different perspective. Better than doing two loops on the same course. If you never experience the Steel City, I just recommend to come and experience this race. This would show you why Pittsburgh is one of the best city to live in the USA.
Everyone has a different dream: some want to walk on the moon, some want to be rich, some want to date several young chicks and some have other expectations. In the road-running world, one common dream is to run the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon and ranks as one of the world’s best-known road racing events. This dream can become true if you meet certain requirements. The major one is to qualify and for that, you need to run a qualifying race under a certain amount of time. The Erie marathon is one qualifying race and, as the course is very easy and flat, it is very popular for the runners that want to qualify to run Boston.
As a consequence, every year, the Erie Marathon is like the power ball and many want to give a chance! This race is the Boston Qualifier (BQ) party, the fair where many hope they will do great and be able to access to the runner sanctuary. For the few that complete the race without issue, they can apply to run the race (but, considering the number of runners that qualify, there are no guarantee). For the others, this is “same player, try again” at a next qualifying race.
Having no interest to qualify for Boston, I made the half-marathon so that I can have time to cheer on people that want to do it and also take an easy day and let my body rest. In addition, having already done a race the day before, a half-marathon was enough. The main reason I came back is that I ran it last year (first marathon, yay!) and had an horrible experience: being injured, I raced it while I was wrapped as a mummy to prevent more damage (which was obviously a miserable failure because I was not able to run for several weeks). One reason to come back is to have a better experience and have this sensation of a wonderful morning race surrounded by people I appreciate.
In addition, besides being a popular Boston Qualifier, the Erie marathon is a fantastic course, especially the half! If you are interested to run it, you might be interested by the following information. Otherwise, close your browser and come back to work.
How we got there
I arrived after having finished Rock’n The Knob in the Saturday morning. We booked a room at the Comfort Inn Presque Isle, located about three miles from the start. That was definitively a great idea: they propose a late checkout on Sunday (2pm, more than enough time to take a shower, pack and potentially have a post-race nap) and an early breakfast (0500am) for runners. Needless to say, a great service, nothing to compare to the experience we got during the Grand Canyon Marathon. In addition, the staff was efficient and helpful. A great place to recommend if you plan to run this race!
Before getting a well deserved rest, we visited a nice barbecue place, Three B Saloon. As all runners used to eat pasta and reduce alcohol or fat, I opted for the pulled pork, corn bread and of course, a big pumpkin beer. At that stage, after such a dinner, you cannot move anymore, so, you take a mandatory night of sleep.
Packet Pickup and Race Expo
The packet pickup is located at the Presque Isle State Park. You can take your packet the day before or even on race day (in case you do not want to book a room). The expo is not very fancy: there are some vendors here and there with some interesting discount but nothing big. If you are looking for new gear, that might be a good opportunity. Other than that, there is nothing to do, except to go on the beach in case of nice weather. The beach is relaxing and beautiful. In case you are not a big fan of barbecue (well, nobody is perfect and has good taste!), there is a pasta party that is organized by volunteers. As I wanted to fuel on healthy pulled pork with beer, I careful avoid any recommended nutrition such as pasta. Load the fat, baby!
The bag contains a tee-shirt, your bib, your timing chip and some documentation about the race. Again, nothing really fancy and more than enough!
The race starts at 700am for the marathoners that are hoping to qualify for Boston (or not) and 730am for the happy fews that want to do the half. Parking is available next to the starting line and you just have to walk half a mile to get to the race. The course is the same for the half and the full marathon. The main difference? You have to do two loops if you are doing the full. So, save your legs: do only one loop!
The race is scenic, you go all around Presque Isle, see the sun shining, the nature waking up, the lake and the beach. If the weather is collaborative, you cannot have a better experience with a low temperature that increases over time. You can see the course below as well as the elevation: this is very flat and you will not have any hill at all. After running several trail events last weeks (Rock’n the Knob the day before and Groundhog Fall 50K one week ago), it seemed very unusual and easy on the legs.
There is a drop bag service so that you can pack a jacket to use when you are done. This can be useful in case you are running the half and stay to wait for a friend that is running the full (avoid to freeze while waiting). The course is packed with water station at every mile so that you can do the race without any hydration pack or bottle. Some gels are also provided during the race. Also, at the finish, bagels, chocolate milk, sandwiches and cookies are provided to the runners. Great way to refuel after your run!
The Take Away
As every year, many (most?) runners come with expectations in mind. Being very flat, everyone want to take something out of this race: either a record with a great time, a qualification for Boston or just completing their first big road race. And as everything in life, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Some learn it the hard way and finish the race very disappointed. Others meet their objective and are happy, until the next race that might wash this achievement. This focus on performance can be overwhelming and divert us from one of the main reasons so many people join the party: come and have fun together!
My goal was to have a great week-end with my partner in crime and rest after long weeks. Objective accomplished, I cannot be more happy and I had a great time running Rock’n the Knob on Saturday and this half-marathon at Erie on Sunday. Cheering all runners from SCRR was very fun and seeing everybody having fun running at Presque Isle was a great way to connect with my local running community.
If I had a great time at both events, this week-end shows how much I love the trails and I want to focus on this type of event. The trails offers a scenic views and invite you to discover what nature has to offer. There is a sense of freedom and a connection with nature I do not get in any other event. Also, the competitive nature of road races does not appeal me that much and my goal is rather to connect with a the trail community and discover the surroundings. That is why I will plan more long distance races (probably a few 50K and some 50 milers) in the coming months and keep only few short road races mainly to cheer my friends and share good times.
I registered to the Erie Marathon being held in Erie, PA in 2013. Registration was about $75, which is a good price for a marathon. I arrived one two days before, just the time to be used to the area. I finished in 4:14, which is very bad for a marathon but not that bad when you are injured.
The race starts early, the marathon starts before the half marathon. Basically, it consists of two loops around the Erie Presque Isle Park. When starting, it is freezing around and you feel cold. After some miles, the temperature increases and you are just ready to enjoy the race. The course is really flat with almost no elevation at all. For those who want a easy marathon, this is a very good one. And for those who want an easy Boston Qualifier race, this is a very good option.
The race is beautiful: you run next to the sea in a park. Even if this is still road and not trail, you can enjoy the nature and the silence around. There are water stop every mile, so, you might even not need any water bottle at all. In fact, as the half-marathon and marathon share the same route (the marathon is just two loops while the half is just one loop), it would be easier to organize regular stops. The stops have gatorade, water and some fluids. The post party race had good food options: bagels, cookies, pretzels, sandwhich, soda, etc. Finally, the packet contains a very nice long sleeves tee-shirt and runner sockets. Very nice compared to other races.
Pros and cons
Organization and race
Easy race, boston qualifier
Good food at nice packet
Some do not like a flat course
Some are bored for making two loops
Let’s do it ?
Considering the race, the course and the price: this is definitively worth it. Even if the area is not a very touristic one, this is nice one. So, if you do not have any plan, let’s do it !
After loosing fat, anger, having some recovery, switching to the Netherlands and finally moving to the United States, finding a place where I am happy, achieving a new challenge is coming: complete a marathon. I just register to the Erie Marathon (http://www.erie-runnersclub.org/marathon/info_2013.php). Pros: achieving a long-term goal. Downside: having to find another one.