I did this race in 2000. It was hot - very hot. I started too fast for that kind of heat, slowed down a lot and finished with a very poor time. Up until that point, it was one of my worst marathons ever.
I did this race in 2003. It was hot and extremely humid. I started way too fast and was hurting badly by about mile 11. Since it was so easy to drop out at the half-way point of the two-loop course, I did so. It was my only DNF and of course my worst marathon ever.
I did this race in 2008. It was hot – probably even more so than the other times. Would it end in disaster as the other two had? Or would I somehow atone for those races and post a good effort?
The previous night was so uncomfortably warm that I hardly slept, and awoke well before the 3am alarm. At 3:40 I started out. Picked Dave up a bit after 4, and Bandon another 45 minutes after that. By 6:15 or so, we had arrived to find a good-sized parking related traffic jam at Presque Isle, PA, the site of the Erie Marathon. Presque Isle (meaning "almost an island" in French) is a large peninsula in Lake Erie.
By the time we checked in and got our packets, there wasn't much time left to warm up. Not that we needed much warming. Temperatures were in the upper 70s, and the humidity was oppressive. The only saving graces were the breezes, which felt nice, and the lack of sunshine - it was just rising as of the 7am start.
Bound and determined not to repeat the mistakes of my previous two runs here, I had decided to run conservatively. Although I felt capable of half a minute per mile faster, 8 minute pace sounded about right for this day. The early miles were indeed at that 8 minute pace. I ran with Brandon and a fellow from Berea named John. We had some nice conversations, but even this “easy” pace wasn’t so easy for me in the heat. Thank goodness the sun was still low in the sky and there was a good amount of shade for most of the first half.
Brandon dropped back, but I stayed with John for most of that first half. John turned out to be an unbridled optimist. While I could only grumble, he was thrilled with the “pleasantly warm” early morning sunshine and the beautiful scenery. All right, I do have to admit that Presque Isle is a wonderful place. As he pulled away from me just before the half, two thoughts came to my mind: 1) Maybe there really is something to this “positive thinking” stuff, and 2) When a runner drops back from a lead pack, the announcers always say that he’s done – he’s out of the running. Now this wasn’t a lead pack, but I wasn’t doing all that great. Besides the heat, there was the concrete. I would say that about three-fourths of the race is on concrete roads; the rest is on asphalt roads and trails. After about 11 miles of this, everything hurt from all that pounding. In fact, every step seemed to hurt.
Just before the half, however, I inexplicably started to feel a little better. I’m not sure why, but this better feeling seemed to coincide with a gel packet that I took. I know that the gel provides energy, but relief from pain? That’s a new one. Thusly energized, I crossed the half-way point in 1:44:30 or so – exactly as planned - and actually feeling the best I’d felt all morning to that point. Now there was only the small problem of doing it all again, not to mention putting up with the rising sun and rising temperature.
I passed optimistic John and several others by about mile 16. Taking a gel every 3 miles or so really seemed to be helping. Not to mention the conservative pace. I was still in some pain from the concrete, and I was now suffering a great deal from the heat. Mile 20 went by in a time of 2:38:45 – I was still feeling and running strong. I wasn’t passing too many people any more, except for some who stopped to walk at the aid stations.
It would have been great to pick up the pace at this point. 7:30’s the rest of the way would be neat. But as the sun, now much higher in the sky, bore down on me, it was all I could do to maintain the 7:45 to 8 minute pace that I had been doing. I even slipped to a little slower that 8 minute pace for the last three, but never crashed completely. The heat (upper 80s now) at that point was almost unbearable.
I crossed the finish line in 3:28:39 by my watch. This was almost exactly even splits; they were perhaps negative by a couple seconds. I found Dave and we immediately walked over and jumped in the cool lake. This was, by far, the best part of the day.
Learning that I was second in my age group was a pleasant surprise. We didn’t wait around for the award however; they said they’d mail it. Erie is a nice, friendly, well-run little marathon. The scenery really is great, too. Maybe it’s just me that gets snake-bit by the heat up there, but now with the demons of the past exorcised, I don’t feel the need to do it ever again.
This of course means that next year they will have a cloudy, calm, low-humidity 45 degree day.
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