It’s a hill…get over it.
Last weekend my wife and I ran the Baltimore Marathon (one of the events of the Baltimore Running Festival). It was my wife’s 3rd full marathon and my 10th (I cannot believe I just said that). It was a great weekend and even before I go into the race recap I will say that I would have to recommend the race to anyone looking for a Fall marathon.
The reason we chose to run this marathon is that we had originally hoped to run the Philadelphia Marathon again but had a family wedding leading up to the date and would be out of town on marathon weekend. We looked around to see other races which were within driving distance around the same date and we considered Hartford and Atlantic City as these didn’t have lotteries like New York City, Chicago and Marine Corps, and ultimately decided on Baltimore. This was definitely a good choice for us.
I have to say a word about the race directors from Corrigan Sports. They did a great job at communicating with the runners before, during and after the event. Their enthusiasm for this event really shows and it made for a smooth and memorable experience.
There were a couple of minor bumps in the road before race day. First, I called our hotel, the Days Inn Inner Harbor Baltimore, on the Tuesday before the weekend just to check on the reservation and to request a late checkout so we would have time to get back and shower after the race. This was a partner hotel and very close to the start/finish line. I didn’t think that would be too much of a problem, however, the lady who I spoke to said that the hotel didn’t offer any late checkout and that we had to be out of our room by 11am. What?!?!?
My reservation said 12pm but she said adamantly that we would have to be out by 11am. Now, if you haven’t noticed yet, my wife and I are not elite Kenyan athletes. Even with the start of the race being moved back by 1 hour to 7am (this was announced earlier in the week in the event that the Baltimore Orioles would still be in the post season) there was no way even with a PR that we would be back at the hotel by 11am. I spent the next couple of hours frantically trying to call around other hotels to see what I could do. No options other than spending $500 for an extra night at the Marriott. We had planned to sleep in Baltimore on Friday and come home after the race so our boys would only be out with my in-laws one night. Hmm…we needed to figure something out or we would be achy and stinky on the drive home. This is where my wife came to the rescue. I will explain later (I have to give some suspense to this blog post otherwise it is just me writing endlessly).
The second bump in the road was that both my wife and I (my wife more than me) started to suffer some really bad cold symptoms in the days leading up to the race. We both ended up calling into the doctor for a prescription the day before we headed out so that we could get some meds in us prior to race day. Thankfully they were quick acting although we were pretty much knocked out early in the evenings and so managed to catch up on a little sleep prior to race day.
We dropped our boys off at school on Friday morning and headed to Baltimore. It took about 2.5 hours and was a fairly easy drive (with the exception of the extra 10 miles when I missed the exit). Once in Baltimore it was fairly easy to find our hotel and park. The Baltimore Convention Center was opposite the hotel and so we checked in, freshened up and headed over to the Expo to pick up our bibs, race shirts and spend money (the last thing being optional but inevitable).
We got in line for our bibs before entering the main hall. Our numbers were 2390 and 2391 and we lined up to get our bibs from none other than Sid Busch (the human mascot for the BRF and all round great guy). It was nice to see Sid again. We had first met him back during the 2013 Walt Disney World Family 5K and I had met up with him for lunch back in January of this year. This was to be his 196 marathon. Sid runs in memory of fallen soldiers carrying their pictures on the back of his race shirt and he carries the Stars and Stripes with him the full length of the course. Like I said, great guy.
Once we got our bibs we headed into the expo to get our race shirts. Baltimore is the home city of Under Armor who also provided the official race apparel. I only have one piece of Under Armor gear (a compression under shirt that I wear on cold days to run) so wasn’t too familiar with their stuff although I knew the brand. I have to say that the race shirt was really nice. They didn’t skimp on the quality of any of the race apparel. When I signed up I had requested a men’s large shirt. When I tried this in it looked a little loose and baggy and I was wondering if they would let me exchange. One of the volunteers pointed me to an official exchange station. I thought this was quite a clever idea. I got to go over and try on the other sizes and exchange my shirt for a medium means still sealed in the bag. Nice.
The expo wasn’t too big and my wife and I went through quite quickly. Nothing really different stood out that we hadn’t seen in recent expos. It was much smaller than the recent Rock ‘n’ Roll expo we had attended in Philadelphia last month. The biggest presence by far was the Under Armour area. Hey, they were on home turf so I guess they got the biggest share.
With the expo over we dropped off our bags of swag back in the hotel room and set out to explore a little of the Inner Harbor area. We have visited Baltimore as a family a couple of times but without the boys in tow we could walk around and take our time. We eventually made our way across to the Little Italy area as we had an early dinner reservation. They have done a nice rehab on the area by the water and we stopped to look in a couple of the stores (Lululemon for my wife and I stopped to look in the Under Armour store). We didn’t know that we would be running by this area the next day. Frankly I hadn’t really studied the course map too much as I didn’t really know the city layout too well. I should have taken more attention of the cobblestones along the streets (more on that later) but at the time I was sticking to the pavement.
We had a great dinner at Amicci’s in Little Italy. I am glad we had a reservation as the place was packed. People were lining up in the street outside but the time we left. It seemed to be a very popular restaurant for some of the visiting marathoners. My wife had found this by doing some on line research but coincidentally it was also recommended by people we know who used to live in the Baltimore area.
After dinner we took a leisurely walk back towards our hotel and as we were close by we decided to take a walk down to the starting line area. It was fairly early and the roads were still open so the start line had not yet been set up. We did look in the direction of where we would be running in the morning. Yup, it was definitely uphill. We headed back to our room, set out our gear and got an early night (no kids so we managed an 8pm bedtime) and waited for the alarm to go off the next day. I must say that I slept really well the night before the race which is quite unusual for me.
I set up my gear the night before and chose to run in my INKnBURN ‘Ganesha’ t-shirt. Ganesha is considered to be a remover of obstacles. Quite appropriate for one about to run a marathon.
The alarm went off bright and early. As we had to check out the hotel by 11am I decided to head down to the car around 5:45am with our packed bags while my wife waited for me in the lobby. We then headed down towards the starting line area and the bag check. At the last minute both my wife and I decided to take off the arm sleeves we had been wearing. That was a good idea as it was fairly mild at that time and did look to be warming up later.
Walking through Camden Yards (Orioles Park) was really cool. I had never been here before. It did look like we were walking through part of a film set at times. It seemed very different than I had expected for a ball park. We checked our bags and headed to the start line after a brief port-a-potty stop and time to stretch. We were not assigned corrals (there weren’t any) but there were signs set up based upon pace per mile. We slotted ourselves into a 10 minute per mile group and next to the 4:45 pace group. We figured that was pretty reasonable. Neither of us was planning to race this as we wanted to get to the finish line healthy and able to start our training for the Goofy Challenge the following week.
We listened to the introductions prior to the race and as we listened to the National Anthem we were taken by surprise when all the locals yelled “O” when the line “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave” which apparently as an Orioles fan thing. We jumped a little but it was funny as we had no clue to expect it. With the National Anthem sung, the wheelchair racers were set off and then a few minutes later the horn declared the start of the marathon. We gave each other a good luck kiss (that is my wife and I…no-one else was involved) and headed towards the start line which was under an arch of red, white and blue balloons streaming with confetti and headed out.
The first stretch of the race was uphill (the first three miles) which I had expected as we ran up to Druid Hill Park and the Baltimore Zoo. I had at least read the first part of the course description. The first mile or two was a little crowded but not too much that we didn’t have enough space to move about. We ran through a couple of neighborhoods until we made the turn into Druid Hill Park. Well, the ‘Hill’ in the name was a clue. You can see from the elevation chart that those first 3 miles were all uphill. We were using run/walk breaks of 4:15/0:45 coupled with the first 3 uphill miles and my wife commented that this stopped us going out too fast and the walk breaks definitely helped pace us up the hills.
Once we entered the park we made it into the Baltimore Zoo. They had some of the zoo keeping staff out with various animals, birds, etc. We ran past a raven (this was Baltimore obviously), an American kestrel, a cuckoo bird (I think) and we managed to get a picture with one of the penguins outside the new penguin exhibit. Pretty cool and my boys were impressed with that.
Once through the park we ran down towards the city and Johns Hopkins University and past the local hospitals. Around mile 5.5 we passed the Dunkin Donuts ‘Munchkin Mile’ where volunteers were holding out large boxes full of ‘Munchkins’. If you know me I’m very much a ‘by the book’ guy and if common sense says don’t try any new foods on race day I will stick with that rule….well, maybe for a munchkin I can make an exception. I guess that was my dessert after having just taken a GU energy gel around mile 5. We passed the first relay exchange point just after this (did the second relay runners get a munchkin?) and headed back towards the center of the city. The good part about having the relay exchanges along the course (separated into 4 members per relay team) was that there was always really good crowd support and energy along each part of the route.
We had to dodge a couple of cars which the local police had let through during a gap in the runners. Eventually we made a left and we headed downhill all the way to the Inner Harbor. This part of the course is a flat out and back around the harbor (I have yet to see water go uphill) so it gave us a bit of a break with no elevation. The out and back was from mile 8.5 to mile 13.5. We could see the relay exchange and the half marathon start line as we set out along the harbor and the crowd support was nice and loud as we ran along the course. As we passed the heavily trafficked part of the harbor the crowds thinned a little as we ran out further than along the course. We had run here with the boys in the double stroller a couple of years ago but we hadn’t gone this far down. I wasn’t sure where the turnaround was until we turned a corner and saw the ‘Under Armour’ headquarters which we ran through as the turn around point. That was cool. I was carrying a water bottle on my race belt so I stopped at the water station and refilled it to take with us and we headed back towards the crowds around the main part of the harbor.
As we circled around the harbor we approached the start line of the half marathon. The half marathon had started at 8:45am so the runners were gone by the time my wife and I arrived around 9:20am. We hit the 13.1 mile split at 2:17 on a pace for a 4:35 marathon (which included one port-a-potty stop). Not bad, averaging a 10:30 minute mile pace. The half marathon takes a slightly different course from the marathon for the first 3 miles or so and joins up with the full marathoners around mile 16. As a result the miles from 14 to 16 were probably the least crowded in terms of runners and crowd support for the whole course.
Remember that I mentioned the cobblestones earlier? Well, we revisited that area around mile 14 as we rounded the harbor. Although it was only a short amount of time on the cobblestones I almost went down. A bit scary. I was very glad to get over that stretch of the course. Then it was a gradual but long uphill from mile 15 to mile 19 at Clifton Park. At mile 16 we hit the half marathoners and it definitely got more crowded. We may have hit the rear of the half marathon as there were a lot of walkers in the groups we were passing. Granted, this was all uphill so not too many were running this part. We were running through neighborhoods at this stage of the race and many folks were sitting on their front steps out cheering for the runners. Crowd support was great for the course.
As we passed through Clifton Park there was a slight downhill to Lake Montebello. This again was another flat part of the course as we ran around the lake. As we entered the park I saw a sign which said 25 and having not memorized the route I told my wife that I thought once we had run around this lake we are almost home…duh…we were nowhere near the end. As we made it around the lake it was only two miles. I had read a date on a banner in the park…it said October 25 not mile 25. Maybe I was hallucinating at this point. Interestingly as we hit mile 20 and the flat part of the course my wife began to struggle. Here hip and knee started to ache and we stopped at the med tent so she could grab some medicated cream to rub on her knee. She actually struggled from there onwards. When we ran the Philadelphia Marathon back in 2013 she had a similar issue but that had occurred very shortly after halfway so she had made it further this time before she ran into difficulty. We did a little bit of walking around the lake and slowed our pace quite a bit but we were determined to finish. As I said earlier, I am pretty regimented and I make sure to take my energy gels every 5-6 miles. My wife on the other hand is a go with the flow person. She takes an energy blok if she thinks she needs them and at that point she hadn’t taken many, I think less than 100 calories of fuel all the way to mile 20. I think in hindsight she under fueled herself during the race and this was her body beginning to get tired which may have caused her to be uncomfortable on the way back in.
Exiting the park at mile 21, not 25 😦 , we headed back (uphill) through various neighborhoods before hitting mile 23 and the long straight downhill to the finish. As we ran through these neighborhoods the crowds were out in force, encouraging the runners and providing them with treats such as gummy bears, other candy and beer, (or is that boh?). My wife took the gummy bears and we both avoided the beer. She was suffering a little going up the final hills and I got one of ‘those’ looks that told me not to ask how she was doing.
As we ended our run through the neighborhoods and headed back into the city proper we knew we were going to make it. It was a matter of ticking down the final 5K to the finish. As we got closer and closer we could feel the excitement that we were almost home. Soon enough we saw the stadiums as we approached and we ran into the entrance to Camden Yards. The finish line however wasn’t in the stadium so we may have gotten our hopes up too early, however we were not too far and finally the finish line was in sight. Holding our hands high above us we crossed the finish line together. Shari had finished her 3rd marathon and I had just finished my 10th marathon. We hit 4:45 which was pretty much what we had planned even though we had slowed over the last 6 miles.
We grabbed our medals and made it through the finish area to get some fuel. We sat down for a while to catch our breath and finally relax a little. Although Shari was struggling for the last few miles after sitting for a while and stretching she felt fine. It shows that she was just tired and not injured which is a good thing. We were both pretty tired but happy and very pleased that we had run another marathon together.
Looking at our results we noticed that Shari had improved her marathon PR by a minute from her last marathon in Philadelphia last year. She also said she had another PR in that she didn’t get mad at me until past mile 20 which is way longer than normal despite all my chatting and high fiving folks along the course. I call that a win!!!
So now what? We couldn’t get back to our hotel to shower so we went to ‘Plan B’. Shari still has membership with the LA Fitness gyms and that gives her access to any of their gyms in the US. She had a spare 2 day guest pass so we found a nearby LA Fitness and drove there, checked in and showered. Once we were all clean we decided to head over to Fells Point along the harbor rather than back to the Inner Harbor area. This was a great choice as it gave us many options to find a place to eat and also gave us a chance to walk around and stretch our legs before getting back in the car for the drive home.
We found a great place for lunch (the Green Turtle) and after lunch Shari walked around looking at each of the boutiques in the area. I didn’t mind too much as most of them had couches for me to sit down on. Ultimately we ended up at Kilwin’s for some ice cream as part of our post marathon refueling. We totally went to town as we had earned it. Try the cinnamon crumb cake ice cream if you ever go there.
During lunch I noticed that the back of the medal said ‘It’s a hill…get over it!’. Ha ha, so true. Funny.
It started to get a little cold and windy so we called it a day around 6pm and headed home to pick up the boys. It was an easy drive home and we picked up our boys around 8:45pm. They were all dressed in their pajamas and waiting to go home. Nice.
This was a great choice to run. It was a great course (though hilly) and took us all over the city. I would highly recommend this. We were lucky to have perfect weather, the trip to and from Baltimore was easy and other than the issue with the hotel it was a perfect trip. In summary this was a great course, great support, great race organization, great shirts and a great medal. I’m glad we chose this and this being my 10th marathon I will remember this one for a long time.
I know this was a really long post but thanks for hanging in there.