From Cleveland to Beijing, CWRU Alumna Esther Erb is Going the Distance

From Cleveland to Beijing, CWRU Alumna Esther Erb is Going the Distance

For the typical NCAA Division III competitor, winning a National Championship represents the pinnacle of his or her career.  However, for Case Western Reserve University Cross Country and Track & Field alumna Esther Erb (CWR '08), her 2008 NCAA Title in the Outdoor 10,000-meter run was just the beginning.

"I am still in awe of how fast I was able to run," said Erb of the 2008 championship race in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, which she won in a CWRU-record time of 35:45.01.  "Something came over me in the final straightaway, and it gave me a glimpse of how much potential was untapped at that point."

Erb takes the lead en route to winning the 2014 Twin Cities Marathon

Seven years after her NCAA championship run, Erb's potential is being realized at a level that few thought possible, even during her formidable collegiate years.  Recently emerging on the running scene as one of the top women's marathoners in the country, Erb capped off a breakout 2014 season with a win at the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis-St. Paul, claiming the United States Marathon Championship with an overall time of 2:34:01.  The victory was accentuated by an incredible comeback, with Erb passing three runners in the final six miles to win the race by eight seconds.

Now, Esther will turn her attention towards the 2015 IAAF World Track and Field Championships in Beijing, which she accepted an invitation to after winning the Twin Cities Marathon.  Erb, who was one of three women selected to the U.S. marathon team for the World Championships, is scheduled to compete at 7:30 p.m. ET on August 29th

"One of the crazier things has been watching all of the big names in track and field this season and realizing that only a select few of those stars will be my teammates in Beijing.  It has been a huge honor to have become a member of that level of the sport."

Much of the foundation of Esther's outstanding career was built during her time as a Spartan, during which she accumulated a pair of Cross Country All-America finishes and four Track and Field All-America honors, including her 2008 National Championship.  Case Western Reserve Head Cross Country Coach Kathy Lanese emphasized to Erb the mental aspects of competitive running, something Lanese has incorporated into the program since 2003.  Esther continues to utilize those lessons today.

"Kathy showed me the influence that all of the other factors in your life have on your running.  She helped me to become more aware of the little things, and find my most successful mental space," said Erb.  "Competitive running is an incredible exploration of the mind-body connection, and I think that it is my curiosity for cognitive science that keeps me intrigued as much as anything else."

Esther's path to national marathon success was not a straight line.  After graduating from Case Western Reserve in the spring of 2008 as a Fulbright Scholar, she spent two years teaching English and attending school in Austria, in addition to singing as a member of the world-renown Arnold Schoenberg Choir.  Eventually, Austria presented her with an opportunity to compete nationally, but her heart was always with the United States.

Erb breaks the tape in a time of 2:34:01 to win the Twin Cities Marathon and the US Marathon Championship

"I thought about it," Erb told the running website Down the Backstretch in October.  "But if I get up there (on the awards stand at an international championship event) and they were playing the Austrian national anthem… It wouldn't seem right."

She returned to the United States in 2010, committing herself to competitive distance running once again.  Erb competed as a professional for ZAP Fitness and was a member of the New York Athletic Club, rising quickly to national elite status.  In addition, she served as an assistant cross country coach at NCAA Division I Rider University for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, where she has also trained under Head Coach Bob Hamer.

Following this month's IAAF Championships in Beijing, Esther's focus will shift towards the 2016 United States Olympic Trials in Los Angeles on February 13th.  And, while the idea of competing for the United States in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro once seemed like an unachievable goal for the former Spartan, the chance for Erb to realize her dream is becoming more possible with each successful race.

Should she qualify for the 2016 Summer Games, it will be one more step in Esther Erb's incredible journey from the Case Western Reserve University Cross Country and Track and Field teams to national marathon prominence.