Dig deep and explore the city at the Baltimore Running Festival

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Who would voluntarily get up at 6 a.m. to run in 40 degrees? Well, at least 11,000 people in Baltimore. Saturday, October 15 was the 21st Baltimore Running Festival, which included the 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon, and the BaltiMORON-a-Thon, which is a back-to-back 5K and Half Marathon. It’s really for the morons who are obsessed with racing – although that might be all of us.

As part of the Hopkins Running Club, I got up super early at 5 a.m. this Saturday to head to the start line in Inner Harbor. The cold and the morning alarm were a terrible combination, but it was the most beautiful sunrise I’ve seen in Baltimore. The horizon above the harbor was a hazy purple. Few people were still there, creating a silence before the storm.

The half marathon didn’t start until 9:45 a.m., but naturally we were there to support the teammates running the 5k early at 7:30 a.m. That’s really half the fun: running in the center -Baltimore City trying to cheer for teammates with different start and finish times.

The two hours we had to spare flew away with warm-ups and Porta Potty runs. Next thing we knew, we were standing in line and listening to the national anthem, except the lyrics didn’t quite click with all the adrenaline rush. Somehow the five of us running halftime ended up right up front where the pros belong – with our matching shirts we may have mixed together to look like a Division I cross country team.

But all the jitters and nervousness faded when the shot rang out. Replacing them was that sheer joy and excitement that blanketed the nearly 3,000 runners and the huge crowd cheering us on. I knew I had to be a little conservative with my pace or I wouldn’t be living in the Baltimore Hills, but running with the first group was just too much fun. I was barely aware that I was running when the first kilometer passed – 6 minutes and 51 seconds – way too fast. I needed to slow down.

Settling into a smoother and much more comfortable pace of seven minutes and 15 seconds for each mile, I locked onto autopilot and tried to take in the scenery as much as possible. Baltimore has a reputation for showing up for the running festival, and the party was definitely there. Patterson Park was the epitome of fun: a street DJ, fun signs, a full-length mirror, and huge crowds around every corner. Coupling all of this with a slightly downhill course, it was probably the most enjoyable mile.

The crowds died down a bit after that, the hills got a little steeper and the quads got a little tighter. But we were running north towards Hopkins – that’s home ground. The thought of that made the pain lessen a little. Just a little though, those miles hurt a lot. I still felt strong, the legs were still a bit cool, but I knew it was only getting worse.

And it got worse. Miles eight to ten, which was just a constant incline on 33rd Street from Lake Montebello to Homewood, was absolutely abysmal. It’s a route we’ve trained on countless times, so I felt a bit self-conscious about my struggles. Maybe knowing exactly how many hills I had to climb made the situation worse.

Seeing friends when I passed Homewood, however, gave me a new burst of energy. I started to quicken my pace and raced down Maryland Avenue. It was amazing, as if the descent was smooth towards the finish line. Then I was slapped by the hills around Mount Vernon.

If the Boston Marathon has the infamous “Heartbreak Hill,” it had to be Baltimore. Just two miles of hills until we got back down to the port, and that was the toughest two miles of my life. All I could think of was, ‘Come on Tommy, you can run two miles in your sleep, and dare not walk.’

I don’t remember the last two miles very well, but the final stretch is still fresh in my memory. Large crowds gather near the finish line; the cheers are loud but they seem so far away. In this final sprint, I felt like I was on my own and nothing around me mattered. The only thing on my mind was one step in front of the other.

After using what was left of my sanity to pause my watch at the finish line, I felt this overwhelming joy and gratitude wash over me. There’s something special about achieving a long-term goal and achieving a sporting milestone. I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything in the world.

Sitting here writing this article with a few blisters on my feet, a sunburned face and a lingering headache, I can only find fond memories of the race. Sure, running is hard, but I can’t think of a better way to see this city with all its charm.

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