Erica Stanley-Dottin On Running 2:52:05 At 48 Years Old And Joining The List of Black American Women Who Have Broken 3 Hours In The Marathon

The CITIUS MAG Podcast

October 10, 2022

My guest for this episode is Erica Stanley-Dottin, who is a mother of two, a wife and runs with Black Roses NYC. She is a producer and also works as the Tracksmith New York City Community Manager. At 48 years old, she just ran 2:52:05 for a huge personal best at the Berlin Marathon. The time makes her the 25th Black American woman to break three hours in the marathon since 1973. It’s a list that started being tracked by Ted Corbitt and is now kept by his son, Gary. We discuss her running career from her sprinting days at Georgetown to what called her to the marathon. What started off as a fun hobby for herself in the mid-2000s, she eventually found the Black Roses and coach Knox Robinson in New York City which elevated her training. We talk about how she managed to do it all and the inspiration she serves to other women in her community.

You can now listen to our conversation on The CITIUS MAG Podcast. Catch the latest episode of the podcast on Apple Podcasts. We are also on Stitcher, Google Play and Spotify.

erica stanley dottin

Notable Quotes

First marathon story:

“It was New York in 2008. My entire family and friend group was out on the roads. It was such a big deal. They were shooting videos. Everybody had on these (custom) t-shirts. It was a great day! I went into it and trained myself by downloading a program off of the internet. I thought, ‘Oh I’m going to run under four hours because that’s what everyone does for their first marathon.’ I had no idea what I was doing. I did a couple of 20-milers but that was that. So I get out there and think, ‘I’m an athlete. I can do this.’ It was so fun just to run it. By the time I got to 5th Avenue, I was just dead. Just finishing became the goal. It was so much fun. I really enjoyed that experience. It definitely got me hooked.”

How did you get from a sprinter at Georgetown to running 26.2 miles for fun?

“I cheered someone who was doing it. All throughout my 20s and 30s, I would just run for fun – just to stay in shape. It wasn’t until I started running with a group of friends casually in the parks that one of the guys was training for the New York City Marathon. I thought that was cool. After I had seen him run and train and been part of it, something just clicked. All those runs and now he’s out here with all these other people?! This is wild. It’s a different sport. The track is its own thing. The spirit of the New York City Marathon is different and I couldn’t believe the different kinds of people that were out there running. The athlete in me said, ‘I can do that. I want to do that.’”

“I loved running but after college, I was a little beat up. I wanted to do something else with my life. Collegiate sports at that level can take a lot out of you. You don’t have the regular college life that everyone has. I watched all my friends figure out what they wanted to do with themselves and I did feel a little bit behind. Competing and trying to make it on the circuit to compete at something like the Olympic Trials was a tough decision but I was ready to do something else.”

Outside of running, where were you in life at this time at 35 years old?

“I was working and had my own consulting business. I was busy traveling all over. I was working in sports and entertainment – specifically with NBA players and their charities. It was busy. I was single and living in downtown Brooklyn. It’s interesting because this was all just months before I met my husband. Life changed completely. But this time was the culmination of my single life in New York City.”

Mother of two is also on this impressive resume. How do you balance all of that?

“The truth is I don’t. I try. It’s a lot. It’s a constant work in progress and juggling. Everybody is busy. My kids are older now at 9 and 11 years old. When I started running and doing this as part of a group, they were 5 and 7. It’s been a few years and they’ve matured. I can go out for runs and not worry about a babysitter for an hour at home. That’s been a game-changer. Someone once told me that coming back from a 20-mile run and plopping down on the couch for the rest of the day is what I love. They’re gonna remember seeing what it takes to pursue something. I’m proud they get to watch that…They know I do it and get excited about it. They’ll get excited about it sometimes if they’re out there and see me. Generally speaking, they have no idea (how good I am) but I know they’ll know later. I know when they grow up, they’re going to remember all of this. My mom ran but not at this level and you remember what your parents did. I’m constantly reflecting on that. All these seeds that we’re planting definitely come out later on for sure.”

It took 10 years to BQ. What do you remember about that long process to get to that point?

“To be honest, I didn’t even know what a BQ was until 2016 or 2017. As a preschool parent, I had a fellow parent who was a runner and he was the one who knew I ran New York and came back after having kids and did it again. He said, ‘You should try to BQ.’ I was like, ‘What is that?’ He explained the whole thing to me. I’m so competitive and immediately thought, ‘I can BQ.’ 2017 New York was when I broke four hours for the first time. 3:56 is what I ran. Then, I was on this mission to BQ in the spring of the following year. I trained myself and ran the New Jersey Marathon. For my age group at the time, the qualifying time was 3:45. That’s just 10 minutes. My husband was out there with the boys. They missed me at Mile 18 with my fuel so I was dying. I crossed the finish line in 3:45.20 so I BQ’ed that year. Everyone laughed because if I hadn’t done it, it would’ve been bad. That was April 2018 and that’s when I decided to figure out a coach and run with people. Now I’m on the path to elevating because I’m going to run Boston so I should get serious about this. That’s how I ended up with the Black Roses.”

What was the connection to The Black Roses?

“I had been following along here in New York. It was probably around 2016 or 2017 when they were big and they had a lot of women running fast. So once I started following Knox Robinson and the other journeys on Black Roses, I was fascinated. It was cool that this collective was out here doing that. It was part of the whole 4% movement. My other passion and love is gear + fashion so I was mesmerized by all of that. The other side of it was that I could see how they trained. That’s why I went into it. I’m trying to get faster so here’s where I need to be. That’s what made me take a gulp and head to an open session.”

When did ‘The List’ get introduced to you?

“Two of my Black Roses teammates, Sharada Maddox and Dannielle McNeilly, were the ones who I was watching from afar and thinking, ‘I want to run like them. They’re amazing and so fast.’ There was a woman in the 2018 Chicago Marathon named Ingrid Walters, who was I believe 47 years old and she ran 2:47. That was the first time I was aware of the sub-three list. Knox had been talking about it under the Ted Corbitt and Gary Corbitt lens but it was the first time I understood that this is a very specific thing. I was running 3:20s/3:30s. Sub-3 was not even on my radar. I thought my teammates would do it and that was really cool. It didn’t really become a thing for me personally until much later. First hearing about the list was an amazing thing and I would love to see folks get on it but I was not a part of that in my mind.”

How important is it that part of your story is that this all took place in a group with other Black American women under the guidance of a Black coach?

“It’s important. First off, there are not a lot of women in the sport and then there are not a lot of Black women – specifically Black American-born women in the sport performing at a certain level. When I became obsessed with the idea that we’re not just out here running and representing to be out here, we’re actually performance-based. We’re training and running fast. I didn’t feel like that was an elitist position. I felt like that story needed to be told too. We get painted into a picture where it’s Black American women who are runners and doing this but nobody thinks of us as performers. I became more into that…It became a way of telling all of our stories and the history. The first one Marilyn Bevins was in the 1970s. There’s such a long history of Black women breaking barriers that it was bigger than me. It’s not about me being on the list. It was about being a part of that.”

“What I love about being out here and doing this is that I didn’t think it was accessible. I didn’t think I was going to run sub-3. Why would I think that? That’s crazy. But what I’ve been able to do is inspire people, which I wasn’t trying to do but I feel good about that. I just want us to all feel – especially Black American women – that we can do that. I started because I wanted to train and get faster. There’s nothing stopping anyone from doing that.”

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There was this discussion after the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials about the lack of diversity in that race. Aside from some of the African-born American women, there were few Black women represented. That’s the case at many of these races when you look around at the starting line. You can obviously do a lot by showing up and having your own presence there. But there are other things out of your control. What are some of the things you think can be done to help improve the problem?

“Personally, I think that a lot of these races, companies and organizations, NYRR included, when there are lotteries for these races and World Majors, I feel like a certain amount and a large number of spots should be reserved and given to women. I know there are women applying for these races but there’s just not enough of us. I can’t imagine that every woman applying gets in. We should because when you look at the corrals, you start to wonder, ‘Where are we?’ Especially the faster you are. I felt that in Berlin. There are certain corrals and pace groups where you’re going to be surrounded by dudes and that’s cool. But the lack of women in those European races is stark. Even here, I think the companies need to do a better job of being intentional about it to get more women out there.”

Does improving on the diversity side of the sport begin at the community level? I think about how often younger Black athletes are pushed to the sprints but we also have these role models like yourself and Marielle Hall on the track that success can be done at longer distances.

“Prior to Tracksmith, I was a social impact producer for a Netflix film called Sisters on Track. I worked really closely with a track club here in New York called the Jeuness Track Club. Coach Jean Bell is now pretty well known but she was a mentor of mine from when I was a kid. She is an example of a coach who is paying attention to that kind of stuff. They recruit girls from 5 years old. Typically, we’re pushed into the sprints because that’s what kids want to do also. She’s been doing this for a long time and can spot when kids have the talent for distance. She’ll push them in that direction and not let them fall back on the sprints. From an educational component and a coaching component, there has to be that willingness to let kids do their thing. A lot of the clubs have a good handle on that in New York particularly.”

I want to get into this rapid improvement you had because I’m sure people are curious about it. 3:15 at the Philadelphia in 2019. The pandemic hits. There’s a split where people can take running: Keep at it to try and improve or relax and come back to the sport whenever it feels right. You chose the first one. What was it about running during the pandemic that meant something more?

“I started off the year in Mexico with Knox, Maddox and a couple of other teammates who were doing a training camp. We thought the year was going to go on. I left on Jan. 2 and was there for 10 days at German Silva’s cabins. We were doing all these workouts that I heard of on Instagram years before. I think starting the year having that experience and then the shutdown sent everyone for a loop. I was feeling like that experience awoke something in me about the next level of training. Running outside became a stress relief and just getting away during this crazy time in New York City when no one was outside. I felt it was necessary to be outside to see what was happening but also for myself. I needed that.

Getting through the summer and going into the fall of 2020 amid a lot of the protests and Black Lives Matter going on, I started reading a lot about the Black Panthers and Black August. So I was thinking about my parents but also thinking about my own politics and trajectory in running. One of the Black August principles is movement and it was connected. I decided in August of 2020 that I was going to run every single day. I had never done that. I’m going to run every single day no matter what, even if it’s a mile. I did it. I didn’t get injured.

Previously, if you would’ve told me that I was going to run more than 50 miles a week, I would’ve said, ‘No way. I’d snap in two.’ But once I did that, I was in close contact with Knox and we were talking about it. He said, ‘You can just start jogging and see where it takes you. How far can you push it?’ I just started running. There were no races but I hit 50 miles a week. Then I hit 60 miles a week. Then I hit 70 miles a week. In the winter, I was out there in the cold. I might’ve hit 75 miles. I had never run that kind of mileage in my life. Now we’re in 2021 and I’ve got all these miles on my legs. I wasn’t injured. I was fine. It just really made me want to take it further. It was almost like a radical thing in my mind: This woman in her 40s with two kids running high mileage, which I never thought I could do. That’s what set me on this journey to training at a higher level. I started feeling like my workouts started getting faster. My training runs started training because I had never done this kind of volume and experienced that before. In 2021, I started doing a few races as things opened up a bit and noticed I had gotten faster. It was wild because we were still working out – a lot of it solo – but that was the breakthrough in training.

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You unlocked something physically for sure and the results show it. In London, you ran 3:07. In Boston earlier this year, you run 3:01.

“Nobody knows this because I’m not into the recaps when things go wrong but I’ll tell you…In my mind, I’ve already broken three twice. London, I ran 3:07 and my hamstring pulled at like Mile 20. It was the kind of situation where I told myself that I wasn’t stopping. I finished and I still PRed. So that was one. Then, getting into Boston, I was ready to go. Somehow on the course, I got dehydrated and made a lot of mistakes. I had too many caffeine gels. The sun came out and I didn’t have on my shades. All of these things added up and I had to stop a few times. I didn’t pull up my splits from Boston until after Berlin. I never looked at them. It was too painful. Another teammate of mine and I ran together and she ended up running 2:56 in Boston. I ran the 3:01 and was massively disappointed. I was just trying to finish the race in those last four miles. After Berlin, I did look at the splits and saw I had it until about Mile 22 or 23 in Boston.”

When did you start to think you could add your name to The List?

“Philly was the first time I felt like I was racing a marathon. I was like, ‘Oh! This is fast!’ Before when I was running 3:30 in New York, I was waving around and acting crazy. In Philly, it was raining and I was by myself and the only one from the team running. The squad was there. That feeling was when I thought: I can do it. We were having lunch afterward and one of my teammates said, “All the women on the team are going to break three eventually.” I thought, ‘She’s not talking about me.’ That was so matter-of-factly. I went from 3:30 to 3:15 and if I’m cutting off 10-15 minutes, maybe I can run under three hours. During my training blocks for London and Boston after the pandemic volume, I started to see my training change and thought, ‘OK. I can do this. This is within reach.’”

In Berlin, you get perfect weather. On that starting line, did you feel like this would be the day?

“I had been feeling like it would be the day for a little bit. Mentally, I was into it. Knox was teasing me because he says I was being super difficult leading into the race and that just means you’re ready to race. I was complaining about workouts. I was crabby. He was like, ‘She’s ready to race.’ I was just so focused. I felt good. Physically, I got to the line healthy. There were no shenanigans over the summer with my hamstring. In the weeks before, there was a lot of visualization and thinking, ‘I can do this.’ I knew it was going to be a fast race. All of the distractions around me were no permeating. I did not have time for that. I had something to do. When I was in the corral, I was ready to go. I like to race. It’s a good feeling to be ready like that.”

What were Knox’s final instructions beforehand?

“He told me weeks before that we don’t talk about the race until like the Thursday before the race. He made it clear that Berlin is an experience. It’s not like any other race. It’s very flat with well-paved streets. One of the things that he said at the pre-race dinner that he said to everyone was 15 to 20 minutes into the race, I want everyone to look at their watch. That’s your pace. Don’t freak out if it’s too fast or not as fast as you want. He knew we were all going to be running fast. You then have it in your mind that you’re running fast and I’m going to keep going. You check in again at 9 miles and then at Mile 15 or 16. You make some decisions by Mile 22 on whether you’re going for it. Those were the instructions and I did all of those check-ins. It’s all a blur. It was a wild experience that race. I ran with my teammate through the halfway point and I looked up because I was just so zoned because there was no one around that I knew. It was a blur and went by so fast. This is what it’s like when you’re just moving. I got to Mile 20 and had never felt like that 20 miles into a marathon. That’s when I knew I was going to do well that day.

That last 5K is always tough – just hold on. I’m already ruminating about that and how I just need some more fast finishes in workouts. People fly by you at the end and I’m like, ‘How are you running that fast at the end of a marathon?’ I’m already fixated on that. It was an experience.

When you see the time and result at the end, what are the emotions?

“I was in disbelief. I was doing the math. The goal was to get to 20 in under 2:10. I got to Mile 20 in 2:09 so you start calculating. ‘OK, that’s 6.2 and if I just keep this pace…’ There was a point where I was moving and thinking I could break 2:50 but then my body said, ‘OK girl. Not today. You’re doing too much.’ I crossed the line and Knox was there. That’s only the second time since I’ve been on the Black Roses that he wasn’t running the race too. He was coaching and I heard him yelling on that finish straight. In the end, he yelled for me and I ran over to him before we both started crying. It was so emotional. I cried like four times before I even got my bag. It was so emotional because we had been working on this and talking about this for a really long time. He was so happy and excited. I was as well.”

You told The Tracksmith Journal that you don’t want this sub-3 journey to be the end of your running story. So what do you want to do next?

“I definitely want to run faster. At this point, I want to see how far I can push this. I don’t know how many more I have in me. I want to see how fast I can go. Also, the collective and group that I’m with and watching these folks chase after their goals and do their thing is so inspiring to me. The New York City running community is amazing. All of the friends and people I’ve met along the way, especially in this job, have made me plugged into that in a different way than I had been before. Even after I’m not running, I’m still going to be in the sport somehow. I can’t see myself coaching because that sounds like a thankless job but I’m still going to be involved in the sport because it’s brought so much into my life.”


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Chris Chavez

Chris Chavez launched CITIUS MAG in 2016 as a passion project while working full-time for Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and grew his humble blog into a multi-pronged media company. He completed all six World Marathon Majors and is an aspiring sub-five-minute miler.