I broke 20 minutes in the 5K at the Baltimore Running Festival

Last month, I broke 20 minutes in the 5K for the first time, taking almost a minute off of my previous PR of 20:29. I’m still pinching myself over it. 

I’ve run upwards of 50 5Ks in the last decade or so, at least. If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I’m not a big fan of 5Ks, despite having run so many of them! I prefer the slow burn of a longer distance. But I end up signing up for a lot of 5Ks because friends want to run them, so I agree to run them, too. (And every time, when I’m in the red zone at mile 1.5 and I still have another mile and a half to run, I swear I’m never doing it again!!) 

That said, breaking 20 minutes was always in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t a big important goal for me like qualifying for the Boston Marathon was, or breaking 1:40 in the half marathon. If I did it, cool. If I didn’t, that was fine, too. 

But then it actually happened! By a pretty big margin, too. I ran a 19:37 at the Baltimore Running Festival 5K. 

Here’s how it went down! 

A fast 5K 6 days post-marathon

On October 9, I ran the Chicago Marathon and PR’d with a 3:18:46. After marathons, I typically like to take at least 5 days off of running, sometimes 7 or 8 (though I’ll usually return to kickboxing if I’m feeling decent.) But I love the Baltimore Running Festival, which was taking place 6 days after Chicago. I’ve participated in it every year since 2016, and have run every distance from the 5K to the marathon. I even ran the half marathon virtually on the B&A Trail in 2020. It’s a fall running tradition that I just don’t want to miss. I also had a free entry for coming in second in the 10K last year, so I used it to enter the 5K. I’d last run the 5K five years earlier, and came in second in my age group with a 21:xx – can’t remember the exact time. It’s a flat, fast course! 

I genuinely had no idea how I’d feel racing a 5K 6 days after a marathon. I posted on Facebook that it would either be a PR or a complete dumpster fire. A few friends on Instagram encouraged me to shoot for sub-20. Of course it was in the back of my mind, having just run a sizable PR in Chicago. But 5Ks and marathons are completely different beasts. Still, I had nothing to lose by going for it! I also had run the Kensington 8K at a 6:30 pace just two weeks before Chicago, so that indicated to me like a sub-20 was possible.

We had great weather for the race, which is always the case with the Baltimore Running Festival. That may be why I like it so much– it always takes place on a gorgeous fall day.

The race started at 7:30 and I was in Baltimore by 6:30 or so, which gave me more than enough time to pee approximately 80 billion times and find my way to the start line on Light Street. 

We went off shortly after 7:30 and my strategy was the same as it always is for 5Ks and 10Ks– go out hard and see how long I can hold on! The course, which as I mentioned is flat, goes from the Inner Harbor and then down Key Highway and back again, finishing along Pratt Street. 

I tried not to look at my watch too much and worked on running by feel (and I could feel that I was working very, very hard!) I ran the first mile in a zippy 6:19. 

The turnaround to head to the finish is at mile 1.5, and that’s when I saw my friend John, who runs 17 minute 5Ks every weekend. He was obviously several minutes ahead of me, and I noticed he was probably in 10th place at that point– so I knew it was a very fast field. 

Somewhere around mile 2, I saw my friend Normailed, who was doing the Baltimore-on-athon, which is the 5K plus the half marathon. She snapped a picture of me where I actually don’t look like I am dying! I ran the second mile in 6:23 and thought, OK, just hang on for 1.1 more miles. 

The last mile was a complete blur. I just kept pushing and pushing. It hurt like hell. I remember looking down at my watch just before I hit the 3 mile mark and saw a 6:00 flat pace. Ran mile 3 in 6:16. Then I made the final right turn onto Pratt Street and saw 19 on the clock up ahead. I had done it!

I ran the final 0.1 in 37 seconds, stopped my watch, and grabbed a bottle of water from a volunteer. I couldn’t really speak for about two minutes! I hugged another runner who had also broken 20 for the first time– and then later learned she was an Instagram follower! – and then met up with John. 

To say it was a fast field was an understatement! My 19:37 got me 2nd in my age group. The top three women all finished in the 16 minute range, and the top three men were in the 14s! Maybe that helped me run faster, too. 

Afterwards, I spectated the marathon for a bit and saw my friend Josh around mile 9. He yelled out to me, asking if I’d gone sub-20, and it felt so good to say yes!

I joked afterwards that it’s time to retire from 5Ks, but of course I won’t. I am planning on the Greensburg Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day, a Thanksgiving tradition. Of course this is only 5 days after I run the Philly Marathon, but hey, I now have learned that I can run really strong 5Ks on the heels of marathons! This 5K course is extremely hilly, though, so not counting on another sub-20!

The 2017 Baltimore Running Festival: Two races, 16.2 miles

I almost changed my registration for the Baltimore Running Festival to the full marathon at the last minute.

It was tempting. I’m certainly in physical shape to run a full right now — I did one of my 20-milers last weekend, and a 19-miler before that as part of my Rehoboth Marathon training. But your body does need adequate time to taper and rest for the 26.2-mile distance in order to run your best, and I was afraid that pushing it too soon by jumping into an unplanned marathon would derail my overall training goals. So, I went with my original plan and ran the Baltimoronathon.

What’s that, you ask? It was actually two races — the 5K race at 7:30 a.m., followed by the Baltimore Half Marathon at 9:45 a.m.

And I am so glad I did! I ran better than I ever expected– second in my age group in the 5K, and third overall female in the Moronathon. The Baltimore Running Festival is a huge race and I never thought I would place in any of the races. I believe I have at least one award coming in the mail!

Runners most definitely got a nice boost from the weather today. It’s been so unseasonably warm here lately, and today was in the 70s. But for the 5K and at least part of the half, the temps hovered in the 60s, which, in my opinion, is perfect running weather. And I can’t complain about running in shorts and a singlet on Oct. 21.

The 5K and the half started in the same place at the Inner Harbor, but followed different routes. 5K runners ran down Key Highway and toward Port Covington, then turned back toward the Inner Harbor for a finish on Pratt Street. It was a flat and fast race (very much unlike the full and half marathons!) I clocked 21:55, fast enough for 2nd place among women in the 35-39 age group. I was really ecstatic over my splits, which according to my watch were almost perfect: 7:07, 7:04, 7:01. That never happens. Maybe I’m not so terrible at pacing myself during 5Ks after all.

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The only annoying thing about the race was the crush of runners at the start. I felt like I was dodging a lot of people for maybe the first quarter of a mile or so. But that’s typical for most big city races.

I finished the race before 8 and then had tons of time to kill before the half started, so I pretty much just walked around the Inner Harbor and tried to hydrate.

And didn’t that come back to bite me in the ass! About 10 minutes before the gun went off for the half, I realized I had to pee, and didn’t have time to hit the port-a-potties. So I tried to tell myself it was just nerves. NOPE! Had to stop around mile 3 to relieve myself. I hate stopping during a race, but I reasoned I’d be able to run faster if my bladder wasn’t screaming at me. This is always my struggle — I try to drink a lot of water, but then I have to pee constantly. Sigh.

I ran the Baltimore Half last year, and the course was like I remembered — HILLY. Especially miles 3-6 (which I believe correspond to miles 16-19 of the full marathon). It’s just one hill after another. It’s tough, but there’s a lot of downhill on the last few miles of the race. Still kinda brutal on the quads, but I try to look on the bright side!

There are two things I love about this race. One is the amazing crowd participation. Baltimore really gets into the Running Festival and so many people line the streets of each neighborhood the race goes through, holding up funny signs, ringing cow bells and handing out water, oranges and in some cases, beer. It really motivates me to keep running when I feel tired.

The other thing I really like is the loop around Lake Montebello at mile 7-8. It’s flat after several miles of hills, and it’s scenic — and you know you’re more than halfway done at that point and are heading toward the finish!

Speaking of the finish — all runners finished at the Inner Harbor, which was a much-hyped change from previous years. Before, the finish line was at Camden Yards. I ran into one of my Rip It friends afterwards, and we both agreed we preferred the finish at Camden Yards. If I remember correctly, the celebration village (AKA BEER TENT) was pretty close to the old finish line — not so much the case today. I mean, who wants to walk that far for post-race beer after 13.1 or 26.2 miles? (Of course I still did!)

To accommodate the new finish, there was a slight change to the course at the last mile and a half that involved a fairly steep, albeit short, hill. I’m pretty sure I yelled out “WHAT THE &%$%$ IS THIS HILL?” to another runner, who echoed my thoughts.

In the end, I finished in 1:45 and some change. It was about three minutes slower than last year, but then again, last year, I didn’t run a fast 5K first! Because I did the Baltimoronathon, my half marathon time wasn’t recorded as part of the results for that race. (UPDATE: I lied! My time was recorded after all. I finished in 1:45:29, 16th in my age group.) BUT I was very surprised to see that I was the Moronathon’s third overall female finisher! Total time was 2:07:25 for both races.

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I felt pretty good after finishing the half and obviously high-tailed it to the aforementioned beer tent. Runners got two drink tickets and I used mine to get two Dogfish Head Seaquench Ales, a favorite beer of mine. It’s probably more of a summer beer, but whatever, it still felt very summer-like out there.

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My friend Staci says I should see if a brewery will sponsor me, much like Nike or Wheaties sponsors Olympians. If any brewery owner is reading this, and is interested, contact me!

After hanging out for a little bit, I hopped in my car and headed home — and it was then that I realized I’d made a crucial mistake by paying a few extra bucks for parking near the Inner Harbor. Traffic was so bad after the race that I’m pretty sure I spent as much time sitting in my car as I did running. Had I opted for the free parking near the stadiums, I would have had a much longer walk to my car, but I think I could have jumped right on the highway. Oh well. Lesson learned.

Did anyone else do the Baltimore Running Festival this year? What did you think of the finish line changes?