By Rod Wortley, Gazelle Sports Grand Rapids
Approaching the 16-mile mark of her first marathon, Erin Laplander found herself struggling. Her coach asked how she was doing. “Terrible,” she replied. The event was the Collegiate National Championship. Erin began the race with three teammates, who all had pulled away after 25k.
“I agreed to stay in for another two miles and moped along. I figured I’d go to 20 then drop out,” Erin said. “At 20, I got to the aid station and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve run 20 miles. I only have 10k to go. I can’t stop now.’ My coach asked me how I was doing and I said, ‘I’m finishing this!’”
Erin not only finished, her 3:29:26 qualified her for the Boston Marathon. However, Boston would have to wait two years as she still had her senior season of track.
Since then, Erin has run eight marathons and a 50 mile trail ultra, plus hiked rim-to-rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon in one day. Of all her running adventures, she still considers a half marathon on a track to be the craziest experience.
“The 2013 Q-Elite Spring Half Marathon was going to be my qualifying race for Nationals,” Erin recalls. “I got in the van the morning of the race and found out the course was flooded so it had been moved to the track at Forest Hills Northern High School. We turned left for 52 ¾ laps, but it was also great to have teammates cheering for me the entire time.”
After high school, Erin spent the next year working before heading to college and walking onto the cross country and track teams. “Nothing was expected of me. I stayed because I fell in love with my teammates. I wound up redshirting my first outdoor season. It was hard to watch everyone else when I wasn’t running,” she said. “After that I started setting goals.”
She ran her first half marathon the next summer because her training plan called for a 13 mile long run and she wanted to get credit for going that far.
After college, Erin made it to Boston, twice. In 2015 she ran a PR 3:26:43. “That was my favorite marathon experience,” she says. “I never had a mental slump. So many people cheering the whole time.” She considers Boston 2016 her most humiliating marathon. It was hot. Her goal at the beginning was to re-qualify, but by halfway through she was simply hoping to finish. “I did a lot of walking in the final miles and spectators would say, ‘It’s okay to walk. The important thing is you made it here,’ but I thought, no, it’s not okay, I didn’t come to Boston to walk.” She finished in 3:46.43.
Finishing is not negotiable. “I can’t quit,” Erin says firmly. “Just because it’s painful or not going well, I have to get to the end. Usually, the hardest part for me is between 15 and 19 miles. Mentally, I just have to get through that and I can make it the rest of the way. I don’t want a DNF on my record.”
Without her college teammates, Erin has discovered similar value in training and racing with other like-minded folks. “It doesn’t matter if you run a 5 minute pace or 10 minute pace, if you’re out there trying to be the best you can, you’re an athlete,” she says. “I’ve joined RunGR and I’m recognizing more people at races, and being recognized myself! Some people can’t understand why anyone would get up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday to go run 20 miles, but that’s my social time. I get to spend three hours with my friends.”