Erica Jesseman, 25
Erica Jesseman, a 25-year-old Scarborough native, has been a runner for roughly half her life. She took up the sport in seventh grade, at the behest of her middle-school gym teacher, David Currier (now assistant principal), after running the mile in class one day.
Since that time, Jesseman’s done a lot of running, and she’s had a lot of success. In fact, she started having success almost immediately, and it cemented her commitment.
“I won, in my age group, that summer, a 4-mile race, and that’s really what got me going.”
Jesseman ran throughout her four years at Scarborough High School, earning herself numerous state championships – in both the mile and the 2-mile, for instance – and then for her college career at the University of New Hamsphire, as well, where she set multiple school records, among them in the 5K and 10K. Her 10K time still stands.
To rise to Jesseman’s skill level, it helps to be talented, and Jesseman is. She did show a natural ability that day in seventh grade. But she’s humble about any natural endowments she might possess, and more proud of the hard work she’s invested in developing them.
“I have some talent, but I’ve worked really, really hard,” she says.
Her college experience gave Jesseman her first opportunities to travel to compete, and to test herself against upper-echelon runners. She’s continued her running career in her post-college years, and has taken part in some big-name races. She’s run the Hartford Marathon three times, winning in her very first attempt. That victory qualified her for the 2012 Olympic trials.
“I did OK. I think I came in 88th out of 150 or so,” she says of her first brush with the Olympics. “I was coming off an Achilles injury.”
Following Hartford, she dove directly back into her training – a mistake, as she soon realized.
“I wasn’t experienced enough to know, you need to take time off to recuperate,” she says. “Your body’s been through a lot.”
“I’ve put 100-mile weeks in, 90 mile, 80 mile. Most of the time I’m in the 80s at least,” says Jesseman, who’s already had four cortisone injections. “You’re putting 80 miles a week on your body for years and years, you’re probably going to struggle when you’re 50. It’ll be interesting to see what I’m like when I’m middle-aged. I don’t remember the last day I didn’t have some type of soreness.”
But, she said, women don’t peak until their late 20s-early 30s, so she retains high hopes about treating herself well and continuing to log personal bests for years to come.
She’s also run the Boston Marathon twice, including this past year, when she finished 29th among all women – among thousands of women – in a time of 2:42:32. That’s only a few minutes off her personal best of 2:38:13, which she set in her 2013 visit to Hartford, but in her mind, the two races are worlds apart.
“Hartford felt so good, just clicking off the miles left and right – whereas Boston this year was absolutely awful,” she says. “You get dead-legs-syndrome. It just hits you all of a sudden. Most of the time, it hits you beyond 20 miles, but in Boston this year, I got hit at like 14 miles. It was torture. It was one of those days like, ‘Where’s my family? Because that might be my last stop.’ I was in so much pain. I’m proud of myself for getting through that.”
She’s already qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials in Los Angeles, and is planning to take part. She notes that, to advance to the Olympics, she would need to finish top three or four at the trials. She would be happy, though, to finish in the top 30, of 150. But her real goal is to beat her current personal best.
It’s tough to know where the “sport” enters into running for Jesseman. She clearly competes against others, but she is first and foremost in a race against herself. Jesseman can win a marathon outright, but still be unhappy with her performance.
“If I win a race, and it’s not a good time, I’m not satisfied,” she says. “I can come across the line and be like, that stunk, and my parents and the people around will be like, ‘What’s wrong? You just won. You did really well,’ and I’ll be like, ‘That time wasn’t good.’”
It’s the long-distance races in particular that take a toll on Jesseman’s body, and she’s changing her training to compensate.
“I need to focus on my speed,” she says. “I need to get my 5K, 10K times down. If I get my 5K, 10K down, then my marathon time will get better, as well. I’d like to break 16 minutes in the 5K, and 33 in the 10K.”
Her best 5K time at present is 16:20, and her best 10K is 34:17, which she logged in last year’s Beach to Beacon.
She was the Maine women’s winner in that race, by the way. Beach to Beacon founder and 1984 Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson was waiting on the far side of the finish tape to hug her when she crossed. Jesseman has done some running with Samuelson, whom she admires greatly, describing as “not only the most accomplished female marathoner ever, at this point, in this country, but also a wonderful person.”
In this year’s Beach to Beacon, Jesseman finished in 34:16.5, but it wasn’t enough to win. She came in second behind Michelle Lilienthal, who finished as the top in-state woman in 33 minutes, 38.8 seconds.
In addition to her athletic ability, Jesseman displays an impressive skill for balancing the demands on her time. Those hundred-mile weeks don’t happen while she sleeps, after all, and neither does her schoolwork – she’s nearly finished a master’s degree in secondary education at Saint Joseph’s College. She’s in a relationship, and has started a new full-time job with Spurwink.
So she’s squeezing every mile she can not just from the roads, but from each and every day, as well.