By Tom Regan
Track and field Assistant Coach Esther Erb had planned to run in the Boston Marathon in 2013, but was forced to withdraw from the competition because of injury. She attended the event to cheer on then-teammate Alissa McKaig and was near the explosions that injured 260 people and claimed the lives of four.
Rather than let the fear of participating in this year’s marathon prevent her from running, she used it as further motivation.
“Just days after I took third at the U.S. Marathon Championships in October of this year, I was chatting with my coach about which marathon would be next, and it didn’t take long for us to settle on Boston,” Erb said. “In 2013, I was standing just two blocks away when the bombs exploded, and that experience just further emphasized how important it was for me to return to Boston and complete my unfinished business there.”
Erb finished in 20th place out of the women participants with a time of 2:33:15, nearly an hour and a half ahead of the 4:02:30 average time. She credits coaching and training alongside the track and field teams for her success.
“I typically run about 95 to 110 miles per week when I’m training, which is most of the year,” Erb said. “It has been a huge help to have the team to run with on our recovery runs and to have access to the training facilities that the team uses, particularly through this harsh winter.”
Marathon running was not always Erb’s strength. The 2008 Case Western Reserve graduate won the NCAA Division III title in the 10,000-meter and was named the NCAA Regional Cross Country Runner of the Year in her senior season.
“I ran my first marathon exactly four months after winning the NCAA Division III title, finishing the Berlin Marathon in 14th place with a time of 2:46:15,” Erb said. “The time would have qualified me for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Trials had I run it 10 months earlier.”
After completing her first marathon, Erb trained for three years at ZAP fitness, a nonprofit training camp for post-collegiate runners in North Carolina, where she improved her athletic ability and was met with several accomplishments.
“The highlight of my time in North Carolina was my 27th place finish at the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials with a time of 2:37:23,” she said.
Focusing on running every day began to wear on her, however, and she felt a longing for something else — coaching younger athletes.
“Last summer I decided that three years was enough of a sample to know that I needed more in my life than just my own running career in order to live fully,” Erb said. “At that point, I left ZAP and started my search for college coaching jobs across the country. I was extremely lucky to find this position here with Rider cross-country and track and field teams under the guidance and mentorship of Head Coach Bob Hamer.”
Hamer believes Erb is well-deserving of the 20th place finish in the Boston Marathon.
“As a marathoner, you put in many months of training and you only get a few chances to succeed,” Hamer said. “She is extremely dedicated and committed, and her efforts were rewarded by a tremendous performance at Boston. She is a very special athlete who deserves all of this success.”
Erb was content with her ability to harness her emotions and put forth her best effort.
“I am most proud of my attitude and ability to enjoy the moment despite any kind of negativity going into the race,” Erb said. “I am proud of my negative split, meaning that I ran the second half of the marathon over a minute faster than the first half even though the second half was more difficult.”
Erb’s strong finish puts her in elite company behind fellow American runners Shalene Flanagan, Desiree Linden, Adriana Nelson, Serena Burla and Wendy Thomas. She has set her sights on potentially donning the red, white and blue on an international stage.
“My time would have placed me among the top-10 American marathoners in 2013 and places me 7th on the top-American list this year,” Erb said. “This race puts me much closer to my goals of representing the U.S. at international competitions.”
Despite her outstanding results from the race, Erb will not be returning next year, but hopes to take her abilities to a much bigger stage.
“If all goes well, I’ll be preparing for the 2015 World Championships,” Erb said. “A very difficult course such as the Boston Marathon in April would be too close to the August marathon race.”
Erb still has Olympic dreams, but understands that the 2016 Olympics are simply too close to possibly prepare for. After her results from the Boston Marathon, her Olympic dreams seem more possible than before.
“I recognize that my best chance will be in Tokyo in 2020,” Erb said. “That reality definitely seems much more attainable after Monday’s race, and I am certainly motivated and inspired to follow my dreams and see how much farther that can take me.”