At the time of writing this, I have been varying degrees of hungry and sore for roughly 48 hours.
But I have a good reason. On Saturday, I took my first crack at the Baltimore half-marathon, one of several races that took place that morning during the Baltimore Running Festival, which includes a marathon, a half-marathon, a marathon relay and a 5K.
The first thing that struck me after I arrived at the Inner Harbor for the start of the race was th
e crush of human beings that had assembled in a usually not-all-that-crowded space. It had become Times Square, only the neon had relocated from billboards to the reflective shirts of the runners.
Tents had been set up for water, bag checks, recovery, gear-hawking and ads for companies that called themselves Sports Science because that sounds a lot better than Pseudoscience. Determining which is closer to the truth is above my pay grade.
We, myself and the two friends who ran with me, watched the finish of an earlier race that seemed to be the 5K. We checked our bags, took a few last sips of water and Powerade, did a brief warm-up around Fed Hill and set about to enjoy every runner’s favorite part of a race: waiting nervously for it to start. I have a background in distance running, but it’s been four years since I last went through the rigmarole of fighting through crowds to get to the starting line on time.
Apparently I still find it stressful.
But without too much difficulty, we got in place in a swarm of runners over 8000 strong. And when that mass started to move — very slowly at first before separating out into five waves — it gave off a distinct “about to charge the Persian army” vibe, which felt appropriate on account of the origins of the event.
I queued up the The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme (which I am proud to say I timed quite well with the actual start of the running), and off we went.
The course was roughly a square. Starting in the harbor, it mostly went east until Patterson Park, where it turned to the north toward Lake Montebello. That was the hard bit: a long, steady uphill for about three miles. Then it wrapped around the lake, went west down 33rd street and turned south down Guilford Ave, where I got to run right past my house, which was kind of fun. From there it cut over to Cathedral Street for a straight shot to the finish back at the harbor.
Race-day adrenaline, the energy of the crowd, and the charming light of a clear fall morning made the first three or so miles pass quickly. I turned off my music shortly after the start to just take in the scene.
The plan was to start it up again when I felt I needed a boost. But for now the scene was well worth taking in. Besides the simple strangeness of running in the middle of a street in a downtown urban center, cool in its own right, the atmosphere of the run was really wonderful. There seemed to me to be an unspoken camaraderie, laced with perhaps a bit of competition, among the runners which was exciting.
But the thing I hadn’t budgeted for, which was perhaps the thing that struck me the most about the entire experience, was the amount of support from the spectators. In nearly every neighborhood we ran through, there were people up and down the streets holding signs, shouting out encouragement and offering cups of water or Gatorade or beer to tired runners. A man in East Baltimore repeated through a microphone, “Never give up, never give in.” Someone at the lake held up a picture of the great Christopher Walken captioned, “No time for Walkin’.”
Groups of children lined up on the curb to high-five those who passed near them. It was great. People are so nice sometimes.
I started my music back up at the halfway point, and around mile eleven I returned to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for my planned closing songs, not the theme this time but the songs from the film’s climax and final duel.
The last hill, near Biddle Street, gave me fits, but I was able to finish with the time I had hoped for. I wobbled to the bag check, called my mom, drank down all the fresh water I could get my hands on and reassembled with my friends, both those I had run with and those who came in support.
We then battled through horrific traffic, ate many pizzas and tried our darndest to avoid standing.
I had a great, if exhausting, time and found that the race isn’t nearly as scary as it might seem. For anyone from longtime runners looking for a challenge to curious parties interested in trying something new, I can recommend it.