Recap of the 2019 Baltimore Running Festival

Last weekend, I participated in the Baltimore Running Festival for the fourth year in a row, running the half marathon.

Originally, I had planned to run this half as a training run for my goal race, the Philadelphia Half Marathon. But my training has been going really well and I’ve been crushing my weekly speed workouts, so I decided to just see what I could do. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to go sub-1:40, especially because the Baltimore Half is notoriously hilly. But you never know! And the weather was looking pretty darn perfect — no wind and low 50s at the start!

I ended up finishing in 1:42:11, a pace of 7:48 per mile. I’m proud of it, but I know I could have done better in a less crowded race. I wasted a lot of time and energy weaving in and around slower runners, and actually ended up with an extra 0.2 on my watch at the end of the race. If I’m calculating things correctly, I would have PRed with a 1:40:30 had I run a true 13.1. But I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

The race started promptly at 9:45 am. Why so late? The Baltimore Running Festival is comprised of three different races — a 5K, a half marathon and a full marathon — and so all the start times are staggered. The 5K begins at 7:30, followed by the marathon at 8 and the half at 9:45. The half begins at the 13th mile of the marathon, and the two races then go off in two different directions before merging at the 3rd mile of the half and the 16th mile of the full.

Kree and Matt were running the full marathon (Matt signed up for it the day before — who does that?) and Tammi and Cindy were also doing the half. It was Cindy’s first half marathon! We drove up early so we could see them start their race, then had plenty of time to kill before our race started. We decided to hang out at mile 9 of the marathon and cheer for Kree and Matt.

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I was assigned to wave 1, based on my expected finish time that I registered with (I can’t actually remember what that was.) But I was a bit late getting into the start corral because we were spectating, so I went off with wave 2. Almost immediately, I realized it was going to be hard to get into the rhythm I wanted because it was so packed. It was annoying, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I could either slow way down or I could add distance onto my race by going around people. I chose the latter option, but neither were ideal.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a hilly half marathon and the hills pretty much start immediately. (None are really that steep or that long — there are just a lot of them!) I ran miles 1 and 2 in 7:53 and 7:58, respectively. Then mile 3 has a nice downhill, so I logged a 7:28. However, at that point the roads get even more clogged since we were now running alongside the marathoners. But I was able to get into more of a groove then and my next two miles were both 7:39. Yay for some consistency!

Miles 5-10 are probably the hilliest part of the race, but there are also a ton of spectators out cheering the runners on, so that’s good motivation. I heard one local resident yell out “Wow, that’s a hell of a lot of runners!” or something like that, which made me laugh. Mile 6 is a long, steady climb, and I logged an 8:01, my slowest mile of the race. Then mile 7 is around Lake Montebello, which is super flat but also daunting because you can see allllllll the way around it and it looks like you have so far to run. When Tammi and I ran the full marathon last year, she said this was her least favorite part.

My watch was not syncing up with the mile markers at all — it was beeping nearly a quarter of a mile before each marker. That’s exactly what happened to me last year in the full marathon, so I should have known to expect it. But again, what could I do? I ran mile 7 in 7:46.

Miles 8 through 10 are rough. After you exit Lake Montebello, you run up a long hill, then down, then up again. Then there are more rolling hills through the Waverly neighborhood before the course (mostly) flattens out as you run back toward the Inner Harbor. Still, these are fun miles to run. The November Project is out around mile 9 cheering all the runners on extremely loudly, and so is the charity group Back On My Feet. There’s also a guy dressed up in a tiger suit who blares Eye of the Tiger on his boombox every year. This year, there was a group of African dancers, too.

Mile 8: 7:37
Mile 9: 7:40
Mile 10: 7:51

My last couple miles were truly awesome. I was tired, but I was so determined to keep pushing even though I knew sub -1:40 wasn’t happening. At this point in the race, you also get some nice downhills (which sucks in the full marathon because your quads are shot by then, but in a half it isn’t so bad!) There was apparently a church group giving out “holy water” around mile 12 or so, but I was so in the zone that I didn’t even notice. There is one last steep incline in the 11th mile, but it’s very short.

Mile 11: 7:37
Mile 12: 7:36

After I passed the 12th mile marker (again, after my watch had already told me I’d run 12 miles!) I knew there was just one more left turn and then I’d see the finish line. When I turned onto Pratt Street, crowds were lining both sides of the street and the finish line looked like it was so far away. I don’t have the last-minute kick in races that Tammi does, but I did my best to leave it all out there and finish strong.

Mile 13: 7:31
Last 0.3: 1:58

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It was a beautiful day to run a half marathon!

I was the first one of my friends to finish, so I waited to see everyone cross the finish line (although I somehow missed Tammi, who finished about 10 minutes after me.)

Overall, I’m really pleased with my performance, especially with how I was able to stay strong and consistent late in the race. I finished 6th out of 527 women in my age group, and 69th out of 3,725 women total. Super proud of those stats!

I think sub-1:40 next month in the Philadelphia Half Marathon is very possible, though that’s also a big half and I wonder if I’ll get hindered by the crowds then, too. Well, there’s always the Rehoboth Half Marathon on Dec. 7, which is a smaller race as well as a flat, fast one!

One annoying thing: I apparently didn’t show up in any race photos! I always look forward to the free photos from this race because I usually look completely absurd. But I keep checking and there are no photos of me. Weird. At least I show up in the results!

Life musings: Reflecting on the past 12 years in Maryland

On Sept. 1, 2007 –12 years ago today — I moved to Maryland. I packed up my life in small town Pennsylvania, where I had worked as a newspaper reporter for the previous five years, to follow my then-boyfriend to Towson, Maryland. Everyone but me could see it was a dead end relationship, but I was young and clueless. I took a job at the Maryland Gazette, a twice-weekly sister publication to The Annapolis Capital (way back before the papers merged.) It didn’t pay enough to cover the much higher cost of living in Maryland, and the commute to and from Towson was painful, but I figured I’d move on after a year or so anyway.

I wasn’t a runner then, and my exercise routine consisted mainly of evening walks with the BF.

My, how things have changed in the last dozen years.

I broke up with that boyfriend after years of treading water. I moved on to The Capital, then left the newspaper industry to work in online news for a TV station. Eventually, I left journalism and switched to a career in marketing. I moved to Annapolis. I joined a gym where I met my husband. And I became a runner.

How did that happen? Well, here is my story.

I wasn’t an athletic child, to say the least, preferring to spend my free time reading instead of engaging in any kind of sports activity. In gym class, I was a hot mess. I was a small kid who was usually picked last, and I usually embarrassed myself when it was time to play volleyball (did I ever get the ball over the net? I don’t think I did, even once!)

But the one thing I didn’t completely hate was when we had to run a mile on the track. In those days, I ran the mile in about eight minutes. I certainly wasn’t track star material, but I didn’t finish at the bottom of the class. Still, it never occurred to me to join the track or cross country team. That was for athletes, and I was no athlete!

So if you had told me 20 years ago that I’d be going to group fitness classes and running races for fun — let alone qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon! — I would never have believed it. (I’m pretty sure I had no idea what the Boston Marathon was back then, or why it’s such a big deal to runners.)

I can’t quite pinpoint when I went for my first run, but I know it was on the treadmill at the gym at my apartment complex in Towson. This was the first time I’d ever lived anywhere with a treadmill, so I figured I’d start to use it. I wasn’t particularly serious about it and my runs then were probably more like a slow jog, but it became part of my routine when I wasn’t taking walks or at the aerobics classes I signed up for shortly after my move to Maryland. At that point, I never considered running outside (only real runners did that.)

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In my early days in Maryland, I was more into partying than running.

When I broke up with my boyfriend and moved out of that apartment and into a new place in Annapolis in 2011, I no longer had access to a gym, so I joined the Pip Moyer Recreation Center. And that’s when I started to hit the treadmill religiously. As in, every single night after work. I was newly single and had extra time on my hands. This was a way to relieve stress and stay in shape. Still never thought about running outside, and certainly never considered entering a race at that point.

The treadmill became a source of comfort to me over the next year and a half as I navigated the dating world (boy, that was fun) and switched to a more demanding, stressful beat at the newspaper. It kept me sane. Then I started to see a really cute guy running on the indoor track who seemed to always be looking my way. After several months, he introduced himself to me and told me he was training for the Baltimore Marathon.

“Wow!” I said. “I could never do that.”

I did, however, sign up to run a Halloween 5K in Rehoboth in October of 2012 when my friend Staci suggested it. The race ended up getting postponed due to Hurricane Sandy, so Staci and I ran it in November. I think I wore sweatpants and a hoodie and finished in 27 minutes or something like that (we’d also been out partying at the Purple Parrot the night before and didn’t get to bed until after 2 am.) But I had fun, and so I decided to register for the Turkey Trot in my hometown on Thanksgiving Day.

This was about the same time the hot guy from the gym finally asked me out. We decided to go running together at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis and I was so intimidated. He was a marathon runner, after all.

But not only was that the beginning of a beautiful relationship (we’ve been married for three years now), it was also when I started to run outside in addition to running on the treadmill. In the spring of 2013, I decided to register for the Annapolis Ten Mile Run, since I was regularly running between five and seven miles for fun and for fitness.

The 2013 A10 was a true turning point for me. That was when I became truly hooked on racing and began to see myself as a runner.

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Almost immediately, I signed up for a half marathon. Then a year after that, I signed up for my first marathon.

Pittsburgh Marathon 2015

The 2015 Pittsburgh Marathon was my first marathon — and Micah’s last!

I ran more 5Ks, 10Ks, 10 milers, half marathons. In 2017, I set my sights on qualifying for Boston, and I BQ’d in December of that year.

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Just after finishing the 2019 Boston Marathon.

Running has remained a huge source of comfort and stability to me, particularly as I’ve navigated the ups and downs of my career. Journalism has never been an easy way to make a living, with the long hours, low pay and relentless deadlines, but the last 15 years have been brutal for the industry (I graduated college in 2002, meaning I entered the profession just as the bottom was starting to fall out.) In 2017, I left the field completely and to be completely honest, I’m still trying to find my way in this new world and figuring out what success means to me. Running allows me to feel like I am making progress toward a goal and doing something productive outside of work.

Would I have become a runner if I hadn’t moved to Maryland?

It’s hard to say how my life would have turned out. I wonder about that all the time — what if I’d split up with that boyfriend in 2007 instead of moving to be with him in Maryland? What if I stayed in Pennsylvania or just moved to another state? Of course, I would never have met my husband then, so I’m glad I came here. And I think there’s a good chance I might not have discovered my passion for running.

I don’t know what the next 12 years hold for me, but I hope I continue to be able to run. It’s become such a vital part of me.