The Erie Marathon in Erie, Pennsylvania has a reputation for a flat fast course that helps you get a BQ. Having run the 2019 edition, I can wholeheartedly say that reputation is well earned. I have been trying to run the Erie Marathon for the last two years, but logistically, it never worked in to my schedule. Everything worked out this year though, so I was excited to finally get to participate in this race.
Unlike a decent amount of participants there, I was not trying to secure a BQ. I had been lucky enough to secure a +20 BQ at Boston in the spring. I was there just to try to get a PR. But everywhere you looked, there were constant reminders of the Boston Marathon. From the participants wearing their infamous Boston jackets (even though it was 80 degrees!) to shirts the race sold stating, “I qualified for Boston at the Erie Marathon”. Make no doubt about it, this race knows that many show up here to qualify for the world’s most famous marathon.
This race also seems to have a large group of participants who might not have felt secure with their current BQ and came here as a last gasp effort to improve their time. The registration for the Boston Marathon actually opens the day after this race. With Boston lowering their qualification standards last year by five minutes in every age group and people realizing they need faster and faster times, this race has become very popular. So much so that they actually sold out in mid-June this year when normally they go all the way to August before selling out in previous years.
The Erie Marathon has a great course to qualify you for the Boston Marathon as well. The course is a double loop course inside of the scenic Presque Isle State Park in Erie, and it regularly finishes in the top 10 marathon courses to get you a BQ (in 2017, 46% of participants qualified for the Boston Marathon!).
I arrived in Erie the day before the marathon. I ended up having two separate spaghetti carbo loading meals during my stay. My favorite place to eat was a place called Serafini’s. It is an old school Italian restaurant but the spaghetti was really good. In between those meals, I went to packet pick up. Everything went smoothly. They even take your picture at packet pickup I am guessing to make sure the correct person is running with the correct bib. They also take your picture at the finish line with your bib. Some might not like this extra security measure, but I love it. It makes it so that someone doesn’t have a bib mule running the race to get them a qualifying time.
After packet pickup, my wife and I went around the park to be tourists/I wanted to scout the course out. It really is a gorgeous park and probably one of the most scenic places I have run a marathon. There are nice lighthouses, scenic beaches, places to rent bicycles and a really nice trail system. I wish I had more time to enjoy the park and walk around, but I didn’t want to kill my legs the day before the race.
The hotel I stayed in was the Clarion Inn. There are other hotels that may be nicer, but as for convenience and location, this is the best place to stay. The hotel itself was alright. They did allow us an early check-in and late checkout, but they also had a cheap pasta dinner there ($12) and complimentary cookies for the runners upon checkout. My only complaint, breakfast started at 6am and most of the runners were already leaving or had already left by then for the 7am race start.
The best thing about this hotel though is the location. I became aware of that as I exited the hotel to walk the ½ mile down to the parking lot where you catch the bus to the start line. The traffic at 6am was already completely stopped on the two lane road. I am sure it was even worse for those another mile or so back. I took a leisurely walk down to the buses and got right on. After the race, it was also an easy exit to the hotel. Because I could walk to the buses, it allowed me probably another 30 minutes of sleep before the race. The extra walking wasn’t a big deal because in Boston, you usually end up walking 3-4 miles by the time you have started the race.
The race itself didn’t have any seeded corrals but most people seemed to line up where they belonged. The first part of the race could be a little crowded for the first mile, but after that, things broke up and it was very easy to run without being on top of other runners. The course runs clockwise around the park and is protected from the windier sections of the island. The sun was a tiny issue but the trees covered probably half the course so that was nice. Each mile has a water stop which is also nice. There was not any Gu/Clif shots at any point of the race so bring your own, but they did offer Gatorade and water at every stop. Each water stop also has a competition to win best water stop. Easily the winner this year, a stop that had the Allegheny swim and dive team all wearing Speedos along with a bagpipe player!
As I stated earlier, the course is pretty flat (my watch said 207 feet of elevation gain during the course). The only real incline is a small bridge around mile 9 and 22. The course also has a very sharp hairpin turn around mile 12 and 25. It isn’t a big deal at mile 12, but at the end when you are turning and almost coming to a complete stop, your legs might not be too happy with you.
The post-race food was well done and had things I wanted to actually eat (unlike most other marathon finish lines like Boston). They had subway sandwiches prepared in a box with potato chips and a cookie, they had bananas, Panera bagels, water, and my favorite post-race treat, chocolate milk! It seemed like everyone finishing near me got a PR/BQ and the atmosphere was electric. I was happy to get my own PR by almost 4 minutes!
The race overall was very well run. It is a no frills kind of race but I mean that in a good way. My only complaint with the race was the on course busing for spectators. My wife arrived early to catch a bus out to a location on the course where she could see me several times and her bus driver was telling her he couldn’t transport her to that spot. The day before, we were told that was a drop off for the buses. Also, the section from about mile 4-9 and 17-22 is pretty dead since spectators can’t catch buses to those areas. If they can shape up the busing for the spectators, that would be a great step to making this race even better.
All in all, I was very impressed with the Erie Marathon. So if you are looking for that flat and fast marathon to PR or BQ, the Erie Marathon is the one for you!