By Thomas Albano
In April, Esther Erb, assistant coach for cross country and track and field, became the 20th woman to cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon with a time of 2:33:15, an hour and a half ahead of the average time. While some would call it a lifetime achievement that couldn’t be topped, Erb proved she was far from done.
Erb won her first USA Marathon Championship on Oct. 5 in Minneapolis in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, which has been designated as the USA Marathon Championship race for the past two years. She managed to finish the race in 2:34:00.
Not only is it a major accomplishment for Erb, it also came with a great reward. Erb has now claimed her spot to represent the country at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) championships in Beijing.
“My finish qualified me for the 2015 IAAF World Championship team,” Erb said. “It is a track and field championship event that is held biannually on odd years.”
Erb is no stranger to big marathons and competitions. While she competed in the Boston Marathon this year, she was also scheduled to do so in 2013, but was forced to withdraw because of an injury. She wound up attending the race to cheer on a teammate, and was a couple of blocks away from the explosions that shook the city and the nation.
Last year, Erb also competed in the USA Marathon Championships, where she finished third out of all the women with a time of 2:34:32.
At the USA Marathon Championships this year, Erb was back — ready and confident for whatever would come her way. That didn’t stop any pre-race nerves, however.
“I actually had the fastest personal best time and most experience among the top women in the race,” Erb said. “So to a certain extent I was the favorite for the race, but I knew it still wouldn’t come easily.”
Erb told GoBroncs that she estimated she only got about five hours of sleep Saturday night going into Sunday morning.
“I hardly slept at all,” she said. “I was thinking about the race.”
According to the USA Running Circuit’s description of the events of the race, Erb and another runner, Ariana Hilborn, were the only women runners who had a decent pace for the first 18 miles behind the two women who were out in front since the start, Brianne Nelson and Heather Lieberg.
Once the 19th mile hit, however, a small pitstop delayed Erb.
“Well, I lost 30 to 45 seconds to a bathroom break, which would have gotten me a new personal best time,” Erb said.
She also said another factor that may have been a possible interference with her running was that the conditions she ran in were less than desirable. At the time, New Jersey was still in nicer weather conditions, with the temperatures only beginning their descent into the 60s from the 70s. During Erb’s race in Minneapolis, the weather was colder.
“It was a little chilly so my pace felt a little harder than it had in our perfect conditions lately in New Jersey,” she said.
Finally at mile 21, Erb managed to catch up to the race leaders and moved forward, keeping her distance from those on her tail. Eventually, she broke from the pack and made her way to the finish line, accomplishing her mission.
The whole time, while battling for the top position, Erb said it wasn’t just the possibility to have a big moment or the possibility of representing her country on her mind. She was motivated by the cross country and track and field teams that she helps Head Coach Bob Hamer train at Rider.
“I was actually thinking about my team through the entire second half of the race,” Erb said. “Coach Hamer and I talk all the time about running with heart, so I couldn’t let anyone see me give anything less than everything I had, or else I’d be a hypocrite.”
As for Hamer, he hopes that his athletes look at Erb and see that dreams can come true, but you have to earn them.
“She has dedicated and committed her life for so many years to have an opportunity like this and it is great to see her realize a dream,” Hamer said. “I hope that the athletes see that success does not happen overnight, and with consistent work over a period of time you will get an opportunity. When you get that chance for your big moment, you need to believe in yourself and go after it. Esther does this every time, which is why she has been so successful.”