Race Recap: Baltimore Marathon

A week later, and I’m now getting around to a recap of the Baltimore Marathon. It wasn’t as solid a run as I had thought I could do: the weather was warmer than normal, and I had an issue with numbness/tingling and pain in my left foot during the race (that I’ve since realized is a Morton’s neuroma…and I will be going to a doctor this week to figure out what to do for this), but I crossed the finish in what I felt was a ‘respectable’ time for me considering the outside factors for which I had to adjust on the course.

One of the best things about this weekend was seeing family and friends. I grew up in Baltimore, so my family lives close to the city. It was a fast trip state-side, so I didn’t have much time with anyone, which is always a bit frustrating. I did manage to talk a few others into joining me on this journey, except they wisely stuck with the half marathon, and in the case of my friend Melissa who was running Marine Corps Marathon the next day, she used the 5K as a shakeout run. Our Meg’s Miles team was in full force and ready to take on the streets of Charm City.

The Expo/Packet Pick Up

We met Blue!

This expo is sadly a small expo for a race that attracts 27,000+ runners between all the races (5K, half marathon, full marathon and relay). I found that the best part of this expo is the race merchandise. Far and away, the Baltimore Running Festival has some of the best designs for their event merchandise. All of it is Under Armour, so it is quality clothing. I mean, Under Armour IS the title sponsor of the marathon, and Baltimore IS the home of Under Armour. You cannot go anywhere in that city without at least one piece of Under Armour on every person you meet. Baltimoreans love their Under Armour.

I was gifted this race entry for my birthday, and it was a nice and easy process for my dad to complete. He registered as a gift registration and paid online; I was sent an email confirmation notifying me that I received the gift. I then had to complete the registration with personal details to make it official. It is a great idea to give a runner a race entry that way. Smart move, Corrigan Sports.

The expo was at the Convention Centre in downtown Baltimore, about two blocks from the Hilton Downtown where we were staying. Our group entered, took a picture with Blue (the mascot) and then picked up bibs. You had to then make your way past the awesome merchandise (which I somehow resisted, but I will be online shopping at some point) and around every booth to reach the t-shirt distribution area. They change the colour of the shirts every year, and only the half marathoners and marathons receive long sleeve shirts (relay and 5K runners receive a short sleeve shirt). I have never been in an out of an expo so quickly as I had there. It was then time for lunch, so Chris, Lashell and I headed to Dempsey’s which is adjacent to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Lashell laughing that we managed to get Chris to run the 5K

I mention this only because over the course of lunch, Lashell and I convinced Chris to register for the 5K. Once lunch was complete, we headed back to the expo hall to complete the transaction. Chris was most excited about the shirt. And the medal he would receive at the end, a shiny crab shaped medal that had an overhead view of Ft McHenry inside the shell.

Lashell registered for the Baltimoron – which is for people who wanted to run the 5K then also run the half-marathon. This got her a special bib – and a special medal, in addition to the medals for each the 5K and the half. (To complete her weekend, she also ran the 10K at the Marine Corps Marathon in DC on Sunday.)

Before the Race

Pre-race dinner with friends

On the Friday night, I organized a dinner at local favourite restaurant, Olive Grove. We had a nice turn out with my dad and stepmom, husband, a bunch of Meg’s Miles friends and Keri, who started 22 Too Many. The restaurant was accommodating to our group size, and we had a fun night of catching up, sharing laughs and enjoying chatting through some pre-race nerves. Dinner complete, we took a few group photos and headed to our respective homes and hotels to get a good night sleep for the race in the morning.

Baltimore has a very interesting race day schedule: the 5K starts at 7:30am in one location at the Inner Harbour. The marathon (and relay) starts at 8am in another location near Camden Yards, and the half marathon begins at 9:45am also in the Inner Harbour but heading in a different direction than the 5K did. What this means for the race course is the half marathoners end up joining the marathoners at the half way point, running a parallel course for another 2.5 miles and then fully integrating these two races by mile 16. This means that as a marathoner, you are running the second half of your race with those who have fresh legs and are just starting. But it means that you finish with lots of people on the course and spectators cheering you in. So I’m not against this set up; it is just different than any other race I’ve run. I know a lot of people who don’t like it. But it’s a personal preference.

5K start!

I walked with our small group from the hotel to the 5K start line. It was dark still, with the sun just starting to rise. The energy from the crowd around us was palpable, and race day excitement set in. Because my start line was a few blocks away, I couldn’t stay for the start of this race and make my start (comfortably, anyway). So I wished them well and headed west towards my own start line.

Sun rising in Baltimore on race day

As I walked to the marathon start, a Baltimore police officer stopped me and asked about Sgt Deana Orellana (Martorella), for whom I ran in Baltimore. I had a moment to tell him about her service, and why I was running in her honour. He thanked me for remembering her as a hero, as he apparently is a former Marine. I continued on, touched by his interest in learning about Deana. It always means a lot to be able to share these heroes as I run.

Wendy and Robyn at the start line of the Baltimore Marathon

Arriving at the start, the area filled in with runners rather quickly. With minutes left to go, someone jumped in the corral in front of me, and it was Wendy, the runner who so graciously offered to run for Capt. Michael Lawlor USMC, a high school classmate who was KIA during a training mission in 2004. Amazingly, we found each other in the sea of runners; more amazingly, we had only connected on Facebook two days earlier.

Being the birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner, the Baltimore Running Festival celebrates the city’s role in the creation of the national anthem, and they have it sung at each of the three races. In fact, they invite selected runners to sing the anthem. When you hear the anthem, you know it is go time. Sure enough, a short time later, the starting gun was fired, and we were off.

During the Race

How could I not stop and get my picture with Peaches the penguin? Thanks Maryland Zoo!

I have previously run the half marathon; in fact, it was my first half marathon (October 2014), so I had an idea of what the second half of the course would look like. But I definitely didn’t anticipate the first half of the course, the one that took runners through the Maryland Zoo, past the penguin exhibit. We started out going essentially on a 3-mile uphill path heading towards Druid Hill Park (pronounced ‘droodle park’ by Baltimoreans). It was a bit crowded at first and my first mile was spent dodging everyone (probably why I ended up with about 0.45 mi long on the entire course). By the time I reached the park and the first downhill, things had spread out a bit, making for an enjoyable stretch along the lake and into the Zoo. I was very much looking forward to running by the penguins, and when I saw they had a penguin out, I had to stop and get my picture with him/her! Definitely a huge highlight of this race.

We continued on past the John’s Hopkins University campus, eventually making our way back to the harbour, having a few little up and downs as we navigated the city streets. It was about mile 9 that we ended up back in the harbour, running along the stretch where half marathoners were making their way to their 9:45am start. Our course took us south of the inner harbour, with an out and back section to the Under Armour headquarters that was probably my least favourite part of the race – but this was where they got a very funny picture of me taking some pain meds mid-run. By this point, I was having a lot of tingling/numbness in my left foot, to the point of pain (and it only got worse). Additionally, it was getting warm so I took out some salt to help replace what I was sweating out. Unfortunately, my salt packet was all but empty! Ugh. So I got what I could from it and hoped I could find more along the way.

Funniest race picture – they got me taking some pain meds mid-stride!

I was happy to see that all aid stations had the same flow: gatorade then water then food. I was very happy they had bananas; I was unhappy that they were whole bananas and everyone who got one ate a few bites then discarded a huge amount of the fruit. It’s a bit wasteful and something the organisers can easily change for next year.

Heading back towards the harbour and the half way point, I saw my dad with his signs and camera, followed a short time later with seeing my husband – and as a surprise, my mom and friend Kristi! I didn’t get to see any of them after the race, so it was a nice boost to see them on the way. I appreciate how they made time to come out and cheer runners on. Apparently, my mom liked ringing the cowbell for all runners.

As I headed through Fell’s Point and around Patterson Park, I knew we were going to hit a rather desolate stretch of the race. One thing I love about this race is that it shows Baltimore – warts and all – to the runners. Baltimore is a very beautiful city in many places, and it is a gritty city in other places. Baltimoreans are proud of their city and don’t shy away from the harsh realities of some of the areas that resemble scenes from The Wire (filmed in Baltimore). Amazingly, even in some of these less than desirable areas, residents came out to cheer runners on. I tried to thank many of these people for their support by waving to them. It certainly means a lot to the field of runners to have spectators.

In spite of foot issues and not feeling 100%, I think I smiled a lot during this race, just running for the sheer joy of it.

At this point, I needed salt, and the medical tent didn’t have any. They pointed me to another runner who coincidentally was Wendy, the person that I met at the start! She had an extra salt tab to give me, which probably saved my race.

By the time I got to Lake Montebello, my foot hurt so much and I was a little dizzy, so I had to slow down to a walk until I felt better. I had made it 20 miles before I decided to slow it down a little bit, and honestly contemplated walking the rest of the way. But of course I can’t just do that, so I started to run again slowly, just making the determination that I wanted to finish running.

In more than one place, Baltimoreans were out offering free beer to runners with their impromptu aide stations on the course. I did stop at one with about three miles to go, and let me tell you, Natty Boh has never tasted so good as it did then! Fueled with some carbs, I tried to pick my pace up again, enjoying the feeling of heading toward the final miles of a long race. As we continued on, the crowds got a bit bigger until you hit the last mile, when there are many people out to cheer runners in. You hit a couple nasty little uphills at mile 25 to keep you honest, and then you go downhill, make a left and enjoy the final 0.2 miles of cheering crowds on Pratt Street as you head toward the finish.

My 16th marathon was run in 4:35.

I just can’t stay away from hills in 2017!

After the Race

This year, the race finish was moved to the Inner Harbour, rather than the traditional finish through Camden Yards. I was pretty bummed by this change, but it was something that had to be done due to a burst steam pipe on Eutaw Street in the final 0.5 mile of the previous course that is still undergoing repairs.

We entered the finisher’s chute and were given our medals by Baltimore City police officers. I started grabbing Utz chips, cowtails, water and a couple other post-race goodies they had – then realized I had no where to put them! Ooops. I definitely wanted to get a photo with the medal at the harbour, so I made my way to the designated spot. Photo finished, and I wanted my beer.

The ‘Spice Girls’ of the Baltimore Running Festival 2017

Following the signs to the beer tent, a couple minutes walk away, I realized I would be standing in line for probably 20-30 min to get my free beer (you received two Dog’s Head beers with your race entry). I also bypassed the Phillip’s Restaurant tent, where the first 15,000 runners to get there received Maryland crab soup – my favourite. But not on a hot day. I instead turned my feet back to Pratt Street to go to the Pratt Street Ale House, our designated post-race meeting point. Our Meg’s Miles group had a few minutes to chat, show off medals and enjoy a bit more time together before life took us in our many directions again.

Pros

  • great communication from race organizers
  • crab medal that opens and reveals a scene from Baltimore (last year was the inner harbour; this year was Ft McHenry)
  • very organized event
  • fantastic race shirts (I love my Under Armour, too!)
  • free stadium parking on race day ($5 flat rate parking in two of the lots for the Friday to go to the expo, along with a free shuttle to save the 0.75 mi walk)
  • Camden Yards bathrooms were open at the start!
  • small marathon field of about 2500
  • amazing support by Baltimore police! They love high fiving & cheering on runners and even were the finish line volunteers – handing out medals and even cutting up oranges
  • free race photos from a sponsor!
  • race merchandise available at the finish

Cons

  • hilly course
  • finisher’s festival was crowded and the beer line was WAAAY too long
  • crowds are sparse in some areas
  • app wasn’t working properly during the race

 

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