Marathoner to defend her title
It seemed quite reasonable to expect, Esther Erb thought, that she would make her Charleston Distance Run debut and average less than 6 minutes a mile for the 15-mile race.
Erb, a Richmond, Va., resident, is a marathoner extraordinaire and an Olympic aspirant with an eye on the 2016 trials. She entered the CDR last year as a way of supplementing her marathon training and maybe earning a few extra bucks in a race not far from home.
But in anticipating a sub-6-minute pace, she overlooked a few relevant points.
For one thing, she didn't expect to feel the scary symptoms of dehydration late in the race.
After about 13 miles, Erb touched her skin, felt coolness and knew that Charleston's late-summer swelter had delivered a harsh body blow — and shot down her pre-race prediction.
In addition, she didn't realize that the lengthy stretch through South Hills would be so painstaking and would slow her pace so noticeably.
Instead of averaging five minutes, 55 seconds a mile, as she originally forecast, she struggled through the 15 miles at a 6:25 clip, completing the race in 1 hour, 36.06 minutes.
Her efforts were good enough to win the women's division, but they were also a good lesson in the devilish challenges of the Charleston Distance Run.
"It was really, really humid that day,'' she recalled recently. "It wasn't super hot, but it was definitely humid, and it took a toll on everybody. Times were slow across the board, from what I can tell. People who had run it before and everybody said it was slow.''
The humidity, she added, was only part of the problem.
"I think I underestimated the hill as well,'' she said.
The 27-year-old Erb will compete in her second Charleston Distance Run on Aug. 31 and again will view it as excellent marathon training. Five weeks later, on Oct. 6, she'll run the Twin Cities Marathon and, if she can achieve a sub-2:37, she will fulfill her goal of qualifying for the Olympic Trials in January 2016.
Erb, who expects to work as a college coach this fall, says she's probably in better shape this year and benefited from the 2012 race. It was a reminder that things like humidity are beyond her control.
And this time she won't underestimate the 6-mile segment through South Hills.
"When you have a hill in the works,'' she said, "it will slow you down no matter what.''
BRIEFLY: The 15-mile race will take place for the 41st time at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, on Kanawha Boulevard at the Capitol. The accompanying 5-kilometer race and non-competitive 5K and 10K walks will start at the same time and the same starting line. All runners and walkers will finish at Laidley Field. . . .
In last year's CDR, Erb placed eighth of 633 overall finishers, beating the female runner-up, Emily Chaney of Huntington, by a minute and 49 seconds. Chaney finished 11th overall. ... One dollar of every entry fee goes toward the Wounded Warrior Project.
Reach Mike Whiteford at email@example.com.