Review: Erie Marathon at Presque Isle

Erie Marathon medalLooking for a BQ or PR? This flat and fast course will fit the bill, while the cost is affordable especially given the swag and post-race food.

By Henry Howard

The Erie Marathon routinely shows up on lists touting the “best Boston Qualifier races.” In fact, organizers use that as a draw for BQ hopefuls: the race is held each year on the last day for qualifying for the next Boston Marathon.

The course — which is accurately described as flat and fast — is two loops around Presque Isle State Park in northwestern Pennsylvania. For most of the course, one lane of traffic is blocked off and the other lane is for the runners.

Review: The Erie Marathon at Presque Isle

I made the journey to Erie for the Sept. 13 race, hoping to improve on my marathon time. I left satisfied with a 10-minute PR (OK, technically a 9:59 PR, but close enough).

Overall an excellent race experience

Overall, this was an excellent marathon. It is worth noting that in previous years, a half marathon was offered but was not this year.

Volunteers were helpful and encouraging throughout race day. After the race, for example, volunteers not only distributed but helped tie those warming shields to finishers. Having that tied was very helpful as we tried to carry water and our goodie bag — a nice keepsake bag that was handed to us after our medals. The bag easily stored our post-race food — including a Subway box lunch, banana, chocolate milk and more — and could be used again for hauling groceries or something similar.

The race itself was affordable and the swag, including a long-sleeve tech shirt, was good value. There were plenty of hotel options close by.

The day before the race I was accompanied by a long-lasting rainstorm as I traveled from home to Erie. Packet pickup was held in one of the parking lots of the park. It was easy to find and picking up the bib and extras was smooth. However, there didn’t appear to be anyone in charge at the event who could answer questions about race day. One volunteer selling shirts at a table answered some questions but clearly was more interested in selling gear than giving information.

I give the race director credit for an email update that arrived early race day morning. In the email, she advised runners to not wear their running shoes or socks in the parking lots because the rain had them a muddy mess. That was an excellent call, and one that I truly appreciated.

On race day morning, the volunteers at gear check and elsewhere were helpful, the port-a-pot lines were reasonable and the race got under way close to on time. (Since the entrance to the park is a one-way street that loops around, traffic and parking were very slow going.)

It is worth noting that there were some pacers, even though the website had said when I registered that there would not be any. There were several people on social media complaining that pacers had been added. It didn’t bother me one way or the other, but for others considering this race, it may have been a concern.

Ready, get set, go . . slow down

Once the race began, it resembled other marathons with a slow start as people settled into their paces. But in that first mile I saw two things that really should not have happened:

As I mentioned earlier, one lane of traffic is blocked off for most of the course. At the start, runners took over both lanes of the road. However, without warning, an orange cone was placed in the middle of the road. A female runner didn’t see it and wiped out, almost taking out other runners. Fortunately, she was OK. But there absolutely should have been some indicator that runners would be approaching cones — signage, a volunteer on a loudspeaker or something.
  • Secondly, the first aid station was at roughly the one-mile (and on the second loop, the 14-mile) point. The aid station was placed where runners left the road and were diverted to a wide walking/biking path. The aid station was placed at the spot where the road narrowed to the path, taking an already thinner section of road and choking it with the ad station tables and volunteers. Had the aid station been placed 20 feet later, there would not have been a near-standstill of runners.

Other than the logjam near the first aid station, the course was free of obstacles or hindrances. As the course set out near the lake, there was an obvious pickup of the wind. But that was a much better scenario than the torrential downpour 12 hours earlier.

Aid stations were run by volunteers including an ROTC-type group, Boy Scouts and other civic organizations. They were cheerful as they handed out the water, Gatorade and (in some places) gels.

Crowd support was sporadic, given the layout of the course. There were several spots where onlookers stood shoulder-to-shoulder while other parts were devoid of humans other than racers.

Erie Marathon

Henry Howard (center) with fellow MTAers Wendy and Andrew.

While fellow MTA member Wendi Cicek Steiger and I were not able to meet up during the race, I did have the pleasure of meeting her and her husband, Andrew, post-race. I enjoyed meeting them afterward and congratulating Wendi on her tremendous PR.

Run this race if you ….

  • Want a PR, or a really fast time.
  • Want to qualify for the Boston Marathon, or improve your BQ time.
  • Are interested in a small (1,500+ runners) but friendly atmosphere.
  • Want to knock off Pennsylvania from your 50 states list. Erie is conveniently located off two major highways, Interstate 90 and Route 79, which runs north-south in western Pennsylvania.

Don’t run this race if you ….

  • Don’t like the prospect of running in wet weather. (The major rainstorm the night before made the course wet in spots but had no real affect on the race. If the storm had hit race morning, runners would have been absolutely miserable. This is a threat every year since Erie, after all, sits at the southern edge of one of the great lakes.)
  • Crave constant fan support.
  • Need to be stimulated by varied scenery, interesting course, etc.
  • Are new to long-distance races.

Would I do this race again?

Yes, I would run Erie again for the same reason that draws many runners: a PR and possible BQ. I won’t do this race every year, and probably will not next year. But the race will be on my list of possibilities in the future.

Erie Marathon Website

Other Race Reviews by Henry Howard

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