If you're looking for a last chance race for a Boston Qualifier, the Erie Marathon is a great choice. That's the position I found myself in when my spring marathon didn't go as planned. I signed up for Erie, ran it this weekend, and got my qualifying time. You can read the race report here.
The timing is perfect. It always takes place in early September, typically the weekend before Boston registration opens.
The course is fast and flat. It runs through Presque Isle State Park off the coast of Erie, PA. About half the course is shaded by trees, and the other half is open with views of the bay and the lake. The entire course is paved, but you can run on the dirt next to the road if you want. There is virtually no elevation change throughout. It's a two loop course, and there are water stations every mile.
Things were well organized. Packet pick up is Saturday afternoon, and it only took a moment. You could also pick up your stuff early Sunday morning, if necessary. There wasn't much of an expo, although there were one or two vendors there on Saturday. The water stations were well manned with volunteers from local colleges and youth teams, and the finish area was well staffed with volunteers to hand out goodies. There were course photographers at several points.
There's a pretty decent field of runners. Almost 1,000 ran the day that I did. There were plenty of people finishing around all the major BQ times, so you don't have to worry about running alone. There were also pacers for the slower times - starting at 3:20. But if you're targeting 3:00 or 3:10, you'll be able to find a pack of runners with a similar goal.
At first, the bathroom situation at the start didn't seem well thought out. There was one building with a long line. But there was a bank of porta potties just south of the starting area, and that line there went pretty quickly. As long as you don't wait until the last minute to line up, you'll have plenty of time.
I liked the way the start was organized. They had signs up in the parking area with paces, and you gathered around your target pace. It was wide open, and you didn't have to worry about pushing through the corral to get where you wanted to be. A few minutes before the start, the whole crowd then walked into the starting corral already lined up. The whole thing came together in about five to ten minutes - quite impressive for a crowd of almost 1,000 runners.
One downside to this race is that there is not a lot of crowd support. There were plenty of spectators near the starting area. Due to the looped course, this meant crowds from miles 12 to 14, and again from 24 to the finish. But the rest of the course is pretty quiet and lonely, except for the water stations. If you're looking for dense crowds - this isn't the race for you.
The other possible downside is the weather. You don't have a lot of choice if you're running an early fall race, but you're gambling that the weather will be nice. It was warm and humid when I ran, but typically the weather on the lake is pretty nice in early September.
A final thing that you may not like is that you can't drive into the park on race day. It's completely closed down for the race - which is great while you're racing. But it means that you and any spectators have to park outside the park and then walk a little over a half mile to get to the start. It's not bad getting in, but that walk can feel pretty long after you've finished running a marathon. It's also one of the reasons why the only spectators are clustered near the starting area, which is by the entrance.
After the race, they handed out bags with your medal, a water bottle, a subway sandwich, and a cliff bar. At registration, you also got a long sleeve shirt, a Coleman lunchbox, a small flashlight, and some chap stick. Decent swag, but nothing amazing.
All told, this is a great, medium sized race organized by a local running club. It's not a big budget production, but it's well organized. If you're looking for a last chance at a BQ, this is definitely the place to do it.