27th Annual Presque Isle Half Marathon

The Presque Isle Half Marathon is a 13.1 mile race around the Presque Isle peninsula. Presque Isle is a small spit of land that hooks out into Lake Erie in northwest Pennsylvania. Presque Isle was built by Mother Nature about 13,000 years ago. A ridge of sediment deposited as glacial moraine allowed sand to accumulate from the wind and waves. The 3200 acres of sandbar is also known as Presque Isle State Park.

I entered Presque Isle about 6:10 a.m. I'd been awake since 4:20 so I could leave by 5 a.m. It was 65 miles to the race and I wanted to be there in plenty of time before the 7:30 a.m. starting time. As I drove into the park there were small orange cones lined up down the middle of the road. They were labeled with the Erie Runner's Club logo. The Erie Runner's Club coordinated the event. There were also big orange signs with black lettering that read:

Race In Progress

All Vehicles Keep Right

The runners were instructed to keep to the left. Presque Isle gets hundreds, maybe thousands of visitors every day. I was there at 6:20. I asked my brother for the best way to get to Beach 1. He was running in the race too. He said it was the first or second left after you enter the gate.

I asked, "Where is a good place to park?"

He said, "Anywhere you can."

That was another reason to get there early. There was a sign at the second left that read Beach 1. As I made the turn I could see runners. I had arrived, and I found a good parking place too. I picked up my race packet which contained a bib number, a short sleeved T-shirt and a few other items. I used my bib number to pick up my chip which I had to attach to one of my shoes. I was ready to go an hour before the race. I grabbed the coffee I bought in Erie, which was still too hot to drink and headed for beach to look for beachglass.

The lake was fairly calm. Small waves lapped at the shore as I found about 12 pieces of glass and finished half my coffee. I was soon anxious to get back to the pre-race activity. The coffee, which served two purposes, was kicking in just fine. One was to wake me up and provide a mild stimulant for running. The other was to help me vacate my bowels. This is a very serious ritual before a race for many runners. To be out several miles and have to really go is not good.

There were almost 500 runners participating in the roadrace. The anxiety of anticipation was running strong for this Cranium. Once the race begins I'm fine. It's just all that waiting with the competative juices flowing. The temperature was in the low 70s but the humidity and the dew point were high. People were beginning to sweat before the race even started. After a second trip to the restroom I began to warm up. There were people stretching and jogging and tying their shoes just right. I attached the ChampionChip to my shoe. These chips are about the size of a U.S. quarter and contain a tiny transponder. The transponder remains passive until it enters a magnetic field. There is a magnetic mat at the finish line which activates the chip when the runner passes over it. The mat also contains tiny antennas which pick up the signal and match the ID of the chip with the corresponding finish time via computer. I asked the race director if there would be a magnetic mat at the starting line. He said no, just at the finish line. I asked if there would be a mat at the halfway point like they had at the Cook Forest Half Marathon. He said no, just at the finish line. I thanked him.

"Runners take your mark, get set... "

The race didn't actually start out that way. The race director told everyone to please back up, please back up. We had to get behind the red line. He was using a bullhorn but it was still hard to hear him. I could hear him giving out final instructions and then a 30 second countdown. Next thing I knew a mass of almost 500 runners began to move forward.

The race starts on Old Lake Road behind the bathhouse of Beach 1. The start of any large race can be hazardous. Tripping over other runners or getting your feet stepped on can be a problem. I was once shoved in a 5K, which actually worked to my advantage. As far as I know the start went without mishap. We followed Old Lake Road out to the main road and the main road toward the narrow neck of the peninsula where it meets the mainland. There was a u-turn in the middle of that stretch which was where all the orange cones were lined up. I could see the lead runners as they followed the main road back into the park after making the turnabout ahead of me. Jeff Nelson was the rabbit. He would end up with third place overall. Several volunteers instructed us again and again to stay in the left lane lane. There are two lanes of traffic going in and out of the park for about 4 miles. Then the road splits into a loop. I should have started closer to the front line. I passed about 50 people in the first mile. Some of the slower runners insist on starting up toward the front. But after the first mile everything begins to gel as places are roughly established.

I was in abouth 25th place at the first mile. I was going too fast for my pace but was caught up in the excitement of it all. There was the usual amount of car traffic passing to the right of the runners as they headed into the park. There were cyclists and rollerbladers on the bike trail that runs parallel to the main road through the park. There are places where you can see the open water of Presque Isle Bay and on the other side of the penisula, Lake Erie. But most of the time I was just watching the road in front of me or looking for the next water station. There were eight water staions and half of them had Gatorade. It was important for everyone to take liquids since we were all sweating steadily.

The road around Presque Isle is very flat. There is about 10 to 15 feet difference in elevation on the entire peninsula. Hence, there are no hills to speak of. There are a few gentle upgrades and downgrades. My brother saw a runner leaning up against a tree at two miles. I saw one leanig against a fence post near mile eight.

I intensionally wore an old T-shirt. I would soak it down at the water stations to help keep me cool. After running in a wet shirt for a few miles it begins to irritate your nipples. So I tossed the shirt at about 6 miles. Since I started out so fast (for me), about three or four runners would pass me every mile. At the same time I would pass one or two. Some of them were the same people. Some of them were walking. I was battling with a fifteen year old girl. We passed each other several times and then at the nine mile mark she took off. I had planned to make my move at ten miles but had very little left by that point. There were plenty of breezes coming off the lake to cool you down, but the heat and humidity were taking their toll. A brief rain shower would have been most welcome. Many runners I talked to after the race said they had to slow down the last few miles.

There were a couple hundred people cheering along the final stretch to the finish line. There were a few spectators and probably family members out on the course cheering us on too. Other than that you're out there all alone. With a field of 500 I was able to see someone in front of me the entire race though.


Crossing the finish line is a huge relief. The lady who took the chip off my shoe almost cut my shoelace. I calmly told her to cut it "right there". After that I didn't have a care in the world. I went to the car to get my bottle of orange Powerade. I walked and jogged back to greet my brother who was still out there. He was hoping to finish in under 2 hours. He did. We were standing around sipping water and eating oranges and watermelon. When I'm running I carry my car key with me on a key ring that I slip over my middle finger. Palming the key I then have no further concern of its whereabouts. I was having trouble holding the water bottle, a piece of watermelon and trying to peal an orange. The key was getting in the way so I slipped it temporarily into the side of my shoe while I fed my face. The key would remain in my shoe, temporarily. After I ate the fruit I and rinsed my hands and arms off in an outdoor shower, everything was sticky. I headed back to the finish line area. I was wearing only my running shoes and shorts. I noticed that they had begun to post the race results. A small crowd was forming. I looked for my name and discovered that I had won 3rd place in my age group. I had placed 36th overall. I went looking for my brother to tell him of my success.

I headed in the general direction of where he said he had parked. Before I could find him I suddenly realized that my key was still in my shoe, or so I thought. I reached down to retrieve it but it was gone. Oh no! I took the shoe off and looked inside. No key. I checked the other shoe. I looked all over the ground where I stood. I retraced my steps, twice. I was qiute cetain that I still had a spare key in my wallet but it was locked in the car. I would need a coat hanger. I've opened a dozen cars with just a coat hanger bent into the right shape, usually my own, which is why I keep a spare key in my wallet. But who would have a wire clothes hanger here at the beach. I decided to ask the race director if anyone had turned in a key. Surely it must have been spotted and picked up. He was still working the finish line while the slowest runners crawled in. I saw my brother along the way and was going to ask him if he had a hanger. I was in a group of great people. Someone had indeed turned the key in and he had it somewhere in one of his pockets, if only he could find it. "Here it is, is this your key?" I thanked him again.

I only lost my feeling of well being for those few minutes when I lost the key. There were still people finishing at 3 hours. But the rest of us were walking around with that endorphin high just glad to have finished ourselves. The awards ceremony was held just off the peninsula at Waldameer Park. The afterglow continues when they call your name for an award and when you see your name in the local paper the next day. And you're also online at the Erie Runner's Club website:


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