About Erika: "Erika is a member of the Pacers New Balance Elite Racing Team in Washington, D.C., specializing in the middle distance (800m). She graduated from Virginia Tech in 2013 with a B.S. in Biochemistry and will be starting medical school this fall at VCOM in Blacksburg, VA. "
Erika was kind enough to answer questions for us as part of our Featured Athlete series.
Tell us about your running background. How did you get started?
I started running competitively in 8th grade when I joined the indoor track team at T.C. Williams High School, hoping to stay in shape for soccer. I was hooked after my first meet; the pre-race jitters, the adrenaline rush, and yes even the excruciating leg burning pain. Throughout high school I continued to develop a passionate love of running and decided to continue at Virginia Tech, accepting a scholarship offer to compete at the Division I level in the ACC conference. As a starry eyed freshman I had no idea how much I would soon learn over the course of my collegiate career, experiencing numerous ups and downs. After a successful freshman year as a middle distance runner I suffered several injuries and decided to call it quits after my junior year. I took a leap of faith and returned to my first love, soccer. I was fortunate enough to make the Virginia Tech Women’s Soccer Team my senior year.
Transitioning into the “real world” after graduation I found myself returning to running. It became my escape from MCAT prep and long days spent working in the ER. After talking to former teammates they informed me about Pacers New Balance Elite Racing Team and their coach Dustin Sweeney. I joined the team this past January, realizing I had some unfinished business left on the track. Here I am today, consumed once again by the running bug.
What running-related accomplishment are you most proud of?
Probably the most recent 800m race I ran in May at the Swarthmore Final Qualifier. I went into the race with an attitude I haven’t had since my freshman year of high school. I had nothing to lose. I was doing this race for me, for the joy of competing, not for a time, not for a PR, not for a scholarship, and not to keep my “college job.” It was simply a race.
The gun went off and we were 100m in, however upon breaking no one was making any moves to the front. I took the lead and never looked back. My usual panic wasn’t there. The splits didn’t matter. My competitors didn’t matter. I was racing. I finished the race with a SB (season best), a first place finish in my heat, and a time I haven’t been able to achieve since my freshman year of college four years ago. This time around I was working 12 hour shifts in the ER and training a third of what I did in college. I couldn’t be more ecstatic. I finally believed in myself.
That’s what running is all about, learning more about yourself than you ever thought possible. Putting one foot in front of the other. Challenging yourself and pushing not only your body to the limits, but your mind. I was always my biggest competitor, not the person standing next to me.
You recently became a member of the Pacer's Elite Running Team. Tell us a little about the team and any goals you have set for yourself.
The team is a group of post collegiate athletes supported by Pacers Running Stores and New Balance in the Washington, D.C. area. They allow athletes to continue training for competition at the national, regional, and local levels. We hope to make a lasting impact on the local community and the sport of running.
I had a personal goal to PR in the 800m this year. My fitness level was great and I came very close, however I ran out of time as there were a limited number of meets available. The championship season sets in for college athletes during the months of May and June, limiting the number of meets available for post collegiate athletes. With the sport of track and field rising in popularity, there will hopefully be more meets available allowing the gap to close between the few Olympic/Pro athletes and the many elite runners. I’m entering into summer training now and will continue on while in medical school.
In spite of being a middle-distance runner you recently tackled a longer race. How did it go? Do you have plans to keep racing the longer distances?
It went surprisingly well. As it took place in the middle of track season I was going to use the race more as a workout/tempo run. I was supposed to take it out moderate and then pick it up the last 3 miles. But things don’t always go according to plan. I got a bit excited the first half and ended up reversing the game plan. With the two big hills at the second half of the race I found myself slowing down. But all in all it worked out very well!
I plan to do some longer races later on in the summer and fall (5Ks and 10Ks) to get a good base in before track season starts next winter. For now the focus will be the 800m and possibly the 1500m. As I get older I will increase my distance.
How did you become a St. Jude Hero? Any fundraising advice for someone that wants to get started?
I became a St. Jude Hero through word of mouth. My boyfriend’s mother, Mrs. Ginger Race a retired naval office, informed me about the Marine Corps Historic Half taking place in May. I decided to run the 10K portion with her and raise money with her group for St. Jude’s. I immediately began sending out emails to friends and family for fundraising support. It’s easy to get started on the website:
Running as a St. Jude’s Hero gives you a chance to not just run an event for yourself but for a reason, to help support the fight against childhood cancer. I had a blast and recommend it to everyone.
What is the best running-related advice you have ever received?
Running is simple, something my type A personality often forgets. I tend to focus on the numbers and dwell on every last detail, constantly analyzing every aspect of my training or race. I lost the bigger picture – to actually have fun and enjoy the sport. Run for the escape. Run to relieve stress. Run to challenge yourself. Run to enjoy the outdoors. It’s a pretty simple concept after all, just get up and run.
Learn more about the St. Jude Hero Program.