Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Erie Marathon at Presque Isle Report

They did everything right. The weather did everything wrong. Sunday, September 9, 2007 was going to be a very long day.

I have no idea what about this marathon first caught my eye. Maybe I had looked at it when my sis still lived in Pittsburgh. Maybe I liked that it was billed as one of the flattest marathons in the country. Maybe it was just on the right date for a "training" marathon this fall. Maybe I'm just as crazy as all my friends think I am.

The Erie Marathon at Presque Isle's course is officially open for only 5 hours, but they have an early start option that gives you one extra hour. So I knew that if I wanted this race to be official for me, I'd have to finish under 6 hours. My training went well enough that I thought it would be no problem to run easy and finish in about 5:5ish. I've been having some lower leg problems which I self-diagnosed as poor summer sandal choices. A bit of shin issues, a bit of plantar fasciitis, a bit of tight IT bands. The usual when you're over-pronating for months. And continuing to run and train for a marathon or two. So I wasn't too horribly concerned on Saturday night when I kept having leg cramps. Ooooh, foreshadowing!

Packet pick-up was Saturday afternoon and very early Sunday morning. Since we didn't want to take any chances we headed over there just after noon on Saturday. My bro-in-law, who's still living in Pittsburgh, drove up to Erie to meet us. He and my sis had been to Presque Isle a few times, picnicking and walking their pooches. Sandy and I piled in his car and after a few stops we headed over to PI.

Why do they call this Presque Isle and not Presque Peninsula? Or Presque Sand Spit? Not as poetic, I guess. Packet pickup was located at the Rotary Pavilion Area, a few miles into the park. The way was well marked with temporary marathon signs pointing in the correct direction. We followed the other cars and parked. We quickly picked up our race numbers (after realizing that the early start numbers were in a different pile), got our shirts and the free socks and our goody bags, and received and verified our chips. The shirts are long-sleeved tech fabric with a nice design on the front and sponsors on the arm. And white, of course. Since the fabric is a little more sheer than I'm comfortable with I'll probably reserve it for night runs in winter.
The socks are a little bizarre; the sponsor's name is around the ankle, where it will be seen. The name of the race is over the instep where it'll be covered by a shoe. Can't look a gift horse in the mouth and all that, free is free. No wonder the cable company provided them!
The goody bag had the usual literature promoting other races and local enterprises, a beer cozy, a pen, a Power Bar, some other stuff. Behind packet pickup were a few tents set up with a little expo, which surprised us since we weren't expecting anything. There were vendors selling just about anything you would or could need for a race or running and the prices were reasonable.

The Pavilion was by a little pond which had a really big frog and a much smaller one. We were pretty careful looking at nature since we'd been warned about ticks. We didn't want any little visitors attaching to our limbs and coming home with us.

After we walked around for a while we decided to drive around the peninsula Isle and find a perfect spot for a picnic. We drove slowly, checking out the route we'd be visiting on Sunday. Visiting twice; have I mentioned that the race was a double loop?

We found a pretty, peaceful spot by the Perry Monument and Misery Bay. Several picnic tables were set under the trees, in the shade, with views of Erie across the water. We took our time eating our yummy sandwiches then walked around the Monument, reading about Commodore Perry's victories in the War of 1812 and the aftermath for his crew and the ships.

The weather was great for being outdoors. It was just short of being hot, pretty humid, light breeze, partly sunny/cloudy. The forecast was 50/50 chance of thunderstorms, but into the afternoon it was still ok outside. We hoped for some cooling and hoped it would stay dry. Hey, 50/50, right? It could still be nice on Sunday. Bwahahahahah!

Blah blah rest of the day, blah blah nap,dinner, blah blah clothes prepared for the morning, blah blah rain starting, time for bed, blah blah try to sleep, leg cramps, blah blah. Picture a clock with the hands spinning wildly around the face.

The alarm went off at the unholy hour of 4:10 am. Yuck. Shower, dress, breakfast, look outside at the puddles and uh oh. Rain was one thing, puddles another. We left the hotel, realized it was really raining out, drove to the start and were directed to one of the beach parking areas. The volunteers were already out in force at 5:15 am. We parked, pulled on our ponchos and followed the glow sticks to the start. The normal blackness of night was compounded by the rain and mist. Luckily we both had lights for our caps and avoided mud and puddles.

The start had bathrooms (real ones!) and I think somewhere in the back of the area there was some coffee or food or something; we weren't concerned with that. There were a good number of people getting ready for the early start, maybe 50 to 75 ish? Everyone wandered around, in that slightly dazed "I'm about to run a marathon" state. Or maybe that's just me.

My three goals for this race were very simple: (1) finish before the 6 hour cut-off so that I'd be an official finisher; (2) not to be the last person to finish; (3) stay in good condition for the next two full marathons and two halves in the next two months.

There was a chip mat across the street, but I didn't see any other start line. We early starters all lined up, very few people wanting to be in the front. I headed toward the back, waved bye to Sandy and waited for the start.

Aaaand, we're off! I was surprised that so few people had their own lights. It was dark! The sun wasn't due to rise for almost an hour. It was even darker in the rain. I made it an entire four and a half minutes before I stepped right in a puddle, wetting my toes. Oh good, this is going well already.

The miles were all marked with little signs along the route but I didn't see the first two. I had no idea of my pace but it felt like I was going about 12:15. That was my plan, actually, to do 12:15-12:35 for the first several miles, as long as it felt easy. But it wasn't feeling easy. It already felt like I was pushing it. It turned out those first miles averaged 12:42 at an effort that should have been producing 12:15s. It continued that way for the next 4 miles; a much slower result than my effort indicated. Then I got really slow.

In the first couple of miles, in the dark, I chatted with a couple of people here and there. After than I didn't have the energy for conversation. I pretty much put my head down and plodded on. Through the rain and the puddles.

There were water and electrolyte stations almost every mile, with some of the greatest volunteers manning (and womaning) them. Even in the rain, even six hours later, they were still cheerful and loud and helpful. There was gel twice on the route, somewhere around miles 7 and 20. Or thereabouts. Every station had water first, then Gu2O or whatever it was. I had my own Ultimas as usual, along with a gazillion Gu's.

I don't think I drank enough in the first hour or two. I was wet and I didn't feel thirsty. I forgot that I was sweating copiously even though it felt like all the moisture was from the outside. Maybe I got a little dehydrated, but I drank enough during the next several hours to make up for it. Um, hah?

I wasn't having fun. In the first hour I amused myself trying to figure out what time it would be, and where I'd be, when the front runners passed me. I was pretty accurate but now I forget. I think it was about 1:40ish when then came flying by. Remarkably fast. That started the train of people who passed me, almost every single person who started at the regular time.

When I passed the start line and realized I had another 13 miles to go I was sorely tempted to just quit and take the half medal. I didn't, but it was really an effort. I was so discouraged at this point that I slowed down to 14's. Still running, but walking too. I stopped trying to avoid the puddles since I was already squishing with every step, my shoes and socks completely waterlogged. The only reason I tried to run around them was because of the added drag of the water on my tired, sore legs.

I'm able to block most pain out of my mind while I run. Probably why I keep doing these things. I could tell there was a lot of pain, knew I was blistering, knew I had chafing, knew I'd have trouble. I was so terribly not having a good day. I was running to the next orange cone, trying to talk my legs into fast turnover until the next cone, then the next. I considered cutting through one of the short cuts and just quitting. It was miserable out and I was unhappy.

Only the thought of having to one day return to Pennsylvania, in case I ever decided to run 50 states, kept me running. And it made me run the last five miles much faster than I would have otherwise. I don't do mileage math too well, even early in the race, and I figured if I hustled (that's relative, y'know) I could hit 26 miles in six hours. But that was crapped up because I couldn't figure out the .2 in my time line. Another two minutes, another 4 minutes? One? Six? Damn, I was hopeless.

So I kept running as much and as fast as I could, dripping, squishing, wheezing, redoing the math over and over. My walk breaks were power walking, going as fast as I could. I actually ran mile 25 faster than I'd run any other in the second half and mile 26 was even faster. I knew I could make my time if I really pushed. There were actually still people lining the finish line and cheering at that late time (although a few others were cutting across the course as if they didn't know or care that the race was still going on). I saw the clock at the finish line and mustered up a sprint when I saw I had less than a minute aaaaaand...

I made it. By a hair, but I made it. According to my watch it was 5:59:28. Half a minute within the cutoff. Aching and miserable and dripping and nauseous and unable to catch my breath and cramping and feeling the blisters on my toes burst, I was done.

A very nice guy cut off my chip, another handed me my medal, I had my picture taken. I grabbed a bottle of water and hobbled over to find Sandy. I needed to walk around a bit, try to walk off the cramping and dizziness. After a while of that I decided to just grab some food and leave. They had tons of Subway sandwiches, even after six hours. Cookies, chips, cake, coffee, water, lots of food for the taking. But no bags, so I got a little sandwich, a cookie and chips and we headed toward the car. I had a styrofoam plate and carried it over the food, trying to keep the food dry from the rain. Yeah, good luck with that.

We chatted as we walked, thrilled that at least there hadn't been a thunderstorm or lightning. I kinda like thunderstorms, and just yelled out "bring it on!" and whoops. It had rained all day, lighter at some times, heavier at others. But all of a sudden the faucet opened to full. It just started pouring. Buckets and buckets on our tired heads and feet. It was funny, almost like Mother Nature had just been waiting for some dumbass to say that. We finally got to the parking area and realized a lot of it was under water. Some cars were up to their wheelwells in water. Luckily our rental wasn't one of those.

Unfortunately I still couldn't get in the car. I decided to sit in the back, so I wouldn't soak the front seat, but I couldn't bend my legs. My calf completely seized up. I jumped back out of the car, putting weight on my leg. It took forever before I could actually sit down and then when we got back to our motel I could barely get out. I'd never had such cramping after a race and when added to my toe misery I was very unhappy.

So. An incredibly well managed race, fabulous volunteers, all essentials taken care of, good shirt, good medal, timing mistakes corrected quickly, a pretty, almost entirely flat course. It's a shame the weather sucked big time, canceling out much of that. Not their fault though, and I'd recommend this race.

I made two out of three of my goals; I didn't end up unscathed. I don't know how quickly my bloody, blistered toes will heal. They're pretty sore and will probably take some time. I have a feeling I'll be blistered through the end of the year. I still have a big knot in one calf and my legs hurt enough that I'm hardly feeling the pain in my hip and shoulder. Oh whine.

And my shoes are still wet.


  1. Okay, this sounds miserable but I'm very proud of you for sticking to it and not quitting. GOOD JOB!

  2. Congratulations on the finish despite the crappy weather! Hopefully you'll have a much better time in Portland and NY!

  3. No picture of the Erie medal? That's one of the great things about your blog, the front/back pix of the shirts and medals. It makes the race more tangible.

  4. The medal is a 3x3 wooden block with a blank back side. A picture of the front can be found on my 9/18 entry,