Chris Erichsen leads the field by a big margin at the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, Va. (Photo from Washington Running Report)
Chris Erichsen leads the field by a big margin at the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, Va. (Photo from Washington Running Report)
After going a perfect two-for-two in open marathons, Kingsland graduate Chris Erichsen will soon be setting his sights on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon at Houston, Texas, Jan. 14.

Erichsen ran the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, Va., Sunday, March 20, winning his second marathon attempt with a time of 2:18:24, which met the time standard for the Olympic trials. His father, Brad Erichsen of Spring Valley, traveled to Virginia with Chris to watch the impressive performance.

The 2004 Kingsland High School graduate had been a standout in running during high school and at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., from which he graduated in 2008. He continued to make his mark in road racing after college, but didn't attempt his first marathon until last May when he set the course record at Fargo, N.D., with a time of 2:19:55.

Erichsen said it has always been in the back of his mind that he would attempt a marathon at some point in his running career. The St. Paul resident said his work schedule is more conducive to marathon training, as opposed to speed training with multiple track workouts, so he adjusted his running routine last year to focus on the longer race of 26.2 miles.

Marathon racing is "more stressful," he said, "because there is so much that can go wrong on a long run." It's easy to push through a 5-kilometer race, he noted, but variables such as eating the wrong food or tweaking an ankle are tough to overcome in such a long race.

On the positive side, he explained that with a bit slower pace of the marathon, there is opportunity to ease into the race rather than pushing right from the start. He wouldn't go so far as to call it comfortable, but it is a different mindset than what is typical in the 5k speed race.

At Virginia, he had the Olympic trial qualifying time of 2:19:00 as a goal. He knew the pace he needed to hit that mark and tried to keep with it despite a couple obstacles, including some brutal winds.

There were 15 elite runners in the field and a group of about seven or eight stayed together through the first 10 miles. Around the 10-mile mark, a turn north into a headwind slowed the pace of the lead pack down. That's when decision time came for Erichsen. He had to choose whether to pick up the pace and see if the pack would follow his lead or keep the slower pace and see if he could make it up in the latter part of the marathon.

Erichsen decided to surge ahead at mile 11. By the time he came to the halfway point, he was right on his goal pace at 1:09:25. However, he was also alone as none of the other runners followed his lead.

He kept up the pace, often into headwinds or crosswinds, but had some help at the end as a last turn put him with the wind for the final three miles of the course, which are always tough because they are at the end of such a long distance. He also got in with half-marathon runners finishing their race, which provided some cheering and support.

"That got me through the toughest part of the race," he said.

A surprise was that he beat his closest competitor by four minutes. He figured the strong wind had an impact on their running, but still didn't expect such a gap at the end.

Erichsen chose the Shamrock Marathon because he knew it was flat and had some fast times in the past. He also knew some Minnesota runners would be there and one of his co-workers knew the race director, who was helpful in answering his questions.

Most importantly, he wanted an early marathon so he could come back and run shorter races in the summer, something he missed out on last year with a May marathon that didn't allow for recovery before the racing season.

He plans on a full racing schedule this summer, but his training will still lead to the Olympic trials in Houston. He will likely shut down for a brief period after the summer racing season and then begin a narrow focus on the marathon in the early fall.

The 2012 trials will likely have a smaller field than the 130 who turned out for the trials in New York City before the 2008 marathon. A new qualifying standard is tougher than the standard used in 2008.

The trials course in Houston will be difficult, said Erichsen, as it is being set up to closely mimic the 2012 Olympics course in London. The course will have three loops of approximately eight miles. The seven 180-degree turns are going to be "extremely challenging," he said, as runners typically favor long, straight stretches to keep in a groove.

Still, he is very excited about the opportunity to step up to the starting line with the marathon greats from the United States. There will be "so much energy" with the big names and all the major media plus "the crowd at Houston is going to be awesome."

There will also be a good representation from Minnesota residents there as several people have told him they are going to travel to Houston in January to watch.

He said it is especially nice to see the support from the Spring Valley and Rochester area as he had many phone calls and messages from local people after his race in Virginia.

"That people from there are still paying attention to what I'm doing is cool," he said.