I had a weird premonition last week that my time in the Baltimore Marathon would be 3:53.
And — it came true! I finished my 6th marathon in 3:53:21. It may have been the toughest course I’ve run.
It’s way off last December’s PR and BQ, but that’s fine. I didn’t train anywhere near as hard for this race as I did for that one, and PRing in Baltimore wasn’t my goal. My goals were to have fun, and more importantly, run with my friend Tammi as she conquered her first marathon — and hopefully help her accomplish her goal of a sub-4 marathon!
And she did it! We crossed the finish line at the same time (actually, she was a few seconds ahead of me!) Honestly, knowing what a great runner she is, I had no doubt she could and would run a sub-4 marathon. I am so proud of her!
The morning of the race was a bit of a cluster, but that was entirely my fault. Micah and I got up to Baltimore around 6:45 am, plenty of time to park and use the bathroom before the 8 am race start. I merely skimmed the runner’s handbook and all of the other bazillion emails that the Baltimore Running Festival organizers sent out, so I dragged us several blocks away from the marathon start line and toward the start line of the half marathon and 5K. When we realized my mistake, Micah, who was not running and was there to cheer me on and support me, was understandably annoyed.
“Why can’t you read directions?” he asked.
“I don’t know! Why did you bring that huge camping chair here?” I snapped.
(True story. He said standing for several hours to watch me run a marathon would be too hard — um, harder than RUNNING IT?! — so he brought a camping chair to sit in. I was nervous for the race and it pissed me off more than it should have, especially when I realized my mistake. My husband is really kind of a saint for putting up with me. But I digress.)
Anyway, after a bathroom stop at Starbucks, I finally got my shit together and we headed back to Camden Yards, where the marathon began. I got in line around 7:45 am and Tammi found me a couple minutes later. I told her we should start out with the 4-hour pace group and then see how we felt later on in the race. I thought we could stay with them for maybe the first half or so and then surge ahead in the second half to go sub-4.
Uh, yeah, best laid plans and all that. I think we moved ahead of the pace group by mile 4.
The thing about the Baltimore Marathon course is, the first half is kind of a breeze. It’s mostly flat with some big downhills, and that makes it tough to hold back. My favorite part of the race was running through the Maryland Zoo, where zoo workers stand along the course with animals, including a penguin and a rabbit. So fun. We ran miles 6 and 7 in the low 8s, but we also knew that the back half of the course was really hilly, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to bank some time where we could. (Yes, I know the strategy of “banking time in the marathon” isn’t usually the best, but I don’t regret it with this course.)
We hit the Inner Harbor at mile 9 and saw Tammi’s family, including her sister, her husband and little boy (who was holding a sign that said “My mommy is faster than your mommy!”) and her parents. Her sister was running her first half marathon, and she and their mom and dad flew in from Texas to watch. (I did not see Micah and his camping chair then, but I’ll let that one slide ;)) Mile 9 was actually our fastest of the day– we ran that one in just under eight minutes.
At that point, the course cruises down Key Highway and through Locust Point with a turnaround at the Under Armour headquarters, and then back through the Inner Harbor, so Tammi got to see her family twice! We also ran past the start line of the half marathon just as we were hitting the halfway point in the full marathon.
We also started to notice that our Garmin watches were not matching up with the mile markers, and we were hitting our mile splits about a third of a mile before we actually saw a mile marker sign. I realized that we probably added extra distance onto our race by weaving in and around other runners earlier. Whoops.
I was still feeling really good, though I was not thrilled to hit the Harbor East neighborhood and step onto those big cobblestones. Oof. Tammi and I jumped up on the sidewalk to run on a more forgiving surface, and fortunately, the road evened out soon after.
Around mile 15, Tammi told me she was starting to feel negative. “We’re more than halfway there,” I told her. “You can do this.”
Mile 16 is where the infamous merge of the half marathon and full marathon takes place at Patterson Park. I’ve heard a lot of runners complain about it, and for good reason. If you’re running the full, you’re cruising along at your pace and all of a sudden hundreds of half marathoners pour into the street and it really clogs things up. I ran the half in 2016 and 2017, so I remembered the merging of the races, but I definitely noticed it a lot more running the full. I definitely almost crashed into another runner and we added another tenth of a mile onto our race by trying to maneuver around slower runners.
Because I had run the half before, I knew we were in for some hills. (I’ve heard people compare this course to the Boston Marathon and its hills through miles 16-20, so I hope the Baltimore Marathon was good practice!) The course was hilly from about mile 16.5 until we hit Lake Montebello at mile 20 — then we had more hills from miles 21-22. By now, my feet were really starting to wear out, but we hit mile 22 at around the three hour, 14 minute mark — so I knew sub-4 was happening unless one of us got sick or injured. And we were tired, but determined.
This is where the Baltimore Marathon really reminded me a lot of the Pittsburgh Marathon, which was my first full marathon back in 2015. In that race, I remember hitting a steep decline at mile 24 and my quads just screamed at me. The Baltimore Marathon had a similar downhill at a similar time in the race. Downhills feel great in the first few miles of the marathon — they feel terrible in the last few miles, at least to me! (And again, I hear Boston is the same way, so now I know what to expect!)
Tammi told me she was starting to cramp up, and I encouraged her to keep pushing. We hit one last steep (but short) hill at mile 25 and my stomach started to churn. I drank Gatorade at just about every aid station and I may have overdone it — usually I alternate water with Gatorade.
“Let’s finish strong and sprint when we see the finish line,” Tammi said.
“I don’t know if I can,” I said (more like whined).
At mile 26 (our watches already showed 26.2x by then!), we turned onto Pratt Street and saw Kree and Matt yelling and cheering for us. Then I saw Micah smiling and waving. Tammi and I sprinted as fast as we could — my watch shows we did the last few tenths of a mile at a 7:05 pace! — and crossed the finish line.
She cried, I cried, we hugged, and then I promptly vomited into a grate in the road. My first finish line puke! I’m so proud! A medic came over and asked if I needed to go to the medical tent, but I was really OK. I just OD’d on Gatorade.
My final stats (Tammi was 13th in our age group, so she beat me by at least a second!)
Finishing a marathon in ANY time is quite an accomplishment, but going sub-4 for your first marathon is really something to be proud of, so HUGE congrats to Tammi! And by the way, she had some annoying stomach troubles early in the race and wasn’t feeling great, but she still pushed through and finished well under her goal!
If you’re looking for a fun fall race to do, I highly recommend the Baltimore Running Festival. In addition to the full and half marathons, there is a 5K as well as a relay option. You can also do the Baltimoron-a-thon, and run both the 5K and the half. I did that last year and it was a blast! The crowd support is great, and you’ve gotta love the crab-shaped medals (which open up to reveal a picture of the city!)
Just know that your quads are likely to hurt the next day. 🙂