The weather leading up to The Baltimore Marathon was abysmal. The remnants of Tropical Storm Karen combined with an early season Nor’easter had dropped over 6 inches of rain in some areas of the city over the two days prior to the marathon. There was a possibility that the race would be contested during some kind of rain event. I woke up at 5:45 on Saturday morning and checked outside as I was letting the dogs out and it wasn’t raining. That’s a good start. I had a little oatmeal, took care of some personal business and headed out the door. I had put everything I would need in the car the night before so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it on race day morning.
I arrived at the race site a little over 2 hours before the start time. I loathe to be rushed plus I wanted one of the cushy parking spots near the start line. There was still no rain in sight and as the dawn awakened, ribbons of blue sky started to appear through the otherwise dense cloud cover. It was shaping up to be a nice looking day for a marathon, though with temperatures in the mid 60°F range, it was just a bit warm for my taste. As I had parked so close to the start, I didn’t even need to don my throwaway fleece before heading to my corral.
The Baltimore Marathon is part of The Baltimore Running Festival which consists of five events. The Marathon Relay, the Marathon, the Half Marathon, the 5K and a Kid’s Fun Run. The full marathon is the smallest event with a little over 3000 competitors out of 27,000 total. The Marathon and Marathon Relay start at 8:00 AM and the Half Marathon starts at 9:45 and the courses merge at around mile 16. So, the start area is not very crowded at all. I tuck myself in between the 3:05 and 3:15 pace groups. This was a special year as the Official Starter for the race was Erika Brannock, a local teacher. She was severely injured in the Boston Marathon bombing, losing the lower part of her left leg in the attacks. She was the last of the injured to leave the hospital in Boston. She spoke a few very encouraging and motivational words to the runners before the start. She also had the honor of holding the yellow finish line tape as David Berdan, a local high school teacher, crossed the finish in 2:30:05.
After Brannock’s words and a few other comments from the Mayor, the race started right at 8:00 AM. There is a slight left hand turn as you come across the starting line and cross under a huge American Flag suspended between the ladders of two Baltimore City fire trucks. Being as close to the front as I was, and considering how small the field is, there was no stopping and starting as I’ve experienced at other, larger races. The first 3 miles of the race is a steady uphill, going from about 50 feet to nearly 300 feet above sea level. I take it pretty easy for the first mile, just trying to get my legs warmed up and finding what feels like marathon effort. Unlike Baystate last year, I’m really going to need to run by feel as this course is much hillier. The Garmin will just be a guide; the real pacing has to come from within. The top of the climb brings us to Druid Hill Park, where the Baltimore Zoo is located. The last two years, the race has run through part of the zoo, but construction has forced the race to be routed around the zoo. The handlers at the zoo didn’t let us down though, bringing a few of their avian friends out to great us as we started the trek around Druid Lake.
We pass the Baltimore Museum of Art just after mile 5 and start the gradual descent back to almost sea level. It’s not without its rises though as there are a few little upward bumps along the way, some fairly steep and taxing. I’m still managing the effort though this section and find that I’m able to run some marathon pace miles along the way. After mile 8, we enter the famed Inner Harbor area of downtown Baltimore. It’s here that I see my charming wife and cheerleader, Mary, for the first time. Her office is right on the marathon route, so she was able to bribe a police officer to let her pull into her garage under the guise that she had to work.
The journey down Light Street takes us past the Maryland Science Center, past Rash Field and onto Key Highway where we pass the Baltimore Museum of Industry. This section is heavily populated with crowd support as this area is part of the recent gentrification of the downtown area. There are lots of new homes along the water, owned by well-heeled families from around the area. The Baltimore Road Runners Club mans the water stop here and I see a couple familiar faces. We continue along Key Highway into the Under Armour complex. Under Armour was the title sponsor the marathon the last couple of years, but withdrew this year forcing Corrigan Sports, the race organizers, to forego prize money for this year’s event. UA’s contribution in previous years was about a quarter of the operating budget for the entire festival, so this was a big blow to the race. Consequently, no elite runners showed up and a time of 2:30 won a major city marathon. Under Armour still comes out in full force for the race though, with a DJ and announcer on premises to acknowledge and motivate the runners as we pass through their complex. We loop through and are on our way back up Key Highway for another lap around the Inner Harbor.
Between mile 12 and 13 is one of the most exciting sections of the race. Along the marathon route, runners in the Half Marathon are starting to queue for their 9:45 AM start. There is a buzz of excitement in the air as thousands of other runners and their family and friends line the streets on either side of the route, cheering enthusiastically for everyone that passes by. I go by the Half Marathon start line about 15 minutes before their gun, so the energy level is at a fever pitch. I run my fastest miles through this section, buoyed along by the throngs of spectators. The field makes the turn onto Pratt Street, where Mary awaits, camera at the ready. I’m feeling pretty good at this point with only normal fatigue from the effort, but I know that now is when the real race begins.
After a short trip into Harbor East, the hot new address for businesses in Baltimore, we head into the cobblestone streets of historic Fell’s Point. Thankfully we only traverse a small section of the uneven surface, before heading into Canton, the other hot new address in Baltimore. Spectator support through Canton is limited as most people there seem to just be going about their daily business. Canton is where the up and coming 20 somethings live and they seem to be disinterested with the events going on right on their doorsteps. Exiting Canton at mile 15 signifies the last of the easy, sea level miles of the race.
Mile 15 to mile 20 is primarily uphill. Not steep hills, but after running 15 miles at around 7:15 pace, any hill is going to be a chore. It doesn’t help that this section of the race is through some of the more depressed areas of the city. We run past boarded up houses, too many to count. I count three flat, dead rats on the streets through this part of the route. The few spectators that are out are genuinely happy to see us. They shout greetings and encouragement, much needed at this point, to every runner that passes. It’s getting more difficult to manage the effort now. I realize what a slave to my Garmin I have become from running most of my races on very flat courses. I don’t even want to see what my pace is right now. I just have to get to the top, to Lake Montebello, and still have something left for the last 6 miles. We cut through Clifton Park before the lake comes into view. What a relief to be through that section of climbing. The path around Lake Montebello is flat and I have some time to recover my HR and breathing as we do the 1.5 mile loop around the lake. Somewhere around the lake, I’m passed by the Half Marathon leaders. I do a full systems check as we pass the mile 21 marker, just as I did two years ago at my first Baltimore Marathon. My legs are really hurting at this point. My quadriceps are screaming at me. My second toe on my left foot feels like it’s been mashed with a hammer. My hamstrings are tighter than a violin bow. The bottoms of both feet feel like I’ve walked a day on loose gravel. Everything seems to be about where I expected it to be. Time to bring it on home.
The return to the finish is not all downhill; there are still some dips and rises to add to the challenge. I’m having a hard time keeping pace now, not because I’m out of fuel or lack of fitness, but because it just really hurts to run. I’m in a constant discussion with myself about what we should do at this point. Run, walk or die seem to be the three choices and the committee in my head is getting a lot of votes for “die”. I press on, along 33rd street past the former site of Memorial Stadium. Every mile marker brings on a fresh bout of negotiations with myself. Mile 23, just 3.2 more miles to go. Just? I should be picking up the pace now, but it’s all I can do to keep moving. I realize at this point that I’ll definitely positive split the race, but I feel like I still have a shot at a PR. I can’t even think straight enough to predict a finish time. I know I just have to keep moving forward.
Turning on to Eutaw Street just prior to mile 25, the crowd support really picks up. I absolutely need every bit of help I can get at this point in the race. It really is all downhill from here. With the crowd energizing me, and knowing that the end is nigh, I am able to pick it up for the last part of the race. The finish of the Baltimore Marathon is very cool. We run the section of Eutaw Street that goes through the Camden Yards complex where the Baltimore Orioles play. The ballpark is on the right and the Warehouse is on the left. Along the route are the brass markers that signify every homerun ever hit out into Eutaw Street as well as the lone marker on the wall of The Warehouse. Ken Griffey Junior is the only player with such an honor, having hit the wall in the Home Run Derby during the All Star Game festivities in 1993. I exit the Camden Yards complex and start down the last couple hundred yards of the race, on Ravens Walk, the pathway between Camden Yards and M and T Bank Stadium that is littered with vendors on Ravens game days. I can see the finish line up ahead, but it is eerily quiet here. Due to security concerns, there are no spectators lining the course. It’s very anticlimactic. I can see the clock and I hear and announcers greet me to the finish line. I cross and stop my Garmin. I am completely spent. I can barely walk at this point. I’m not sure if I’m going to need medical attention or not. I manage to walk through the chute and get water and Gatorade and I start to feel life coming back to me slowly. I check my watch. 3:10:15. A PR by 90 seconds.
I left everything I had out on the course in this race. I’ve now done four marathons and each one has it’s own personality. This is what it feels like to use everything you have. This one hurt, but oh so good.