Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Baltimore Marathon

The first thing I have to mention is that this was my first marathon race!  Prior to this event I had done the distance twice before as practice, but had never participated in a full marathon race.  At this point in my racing career I have done a few 5k's, 10k's, 10 milers and 11 half marathons.

The Baltimore Running Festival is a huge event in Baltimore and has amazing support from volunteers and the city in general.  Although I do think some of the motorists were getting annoyed at all the road closures.  The event offers a run for everyone across a wide range of abilities.  They have a 5k, Half, and Full marathon option as well as Kids Fun Runs.  The time limit for the Marathon this year was the standard 7 hours, but since the Half shares the last half of the marathon route, they were provided a full 5 and a half hours to complete, which is great for runners that may be slower or are attempting their first half marathon.  Overall there were over 24,000 runners participating in the various events, and we all raised over a million dollars for local charities.

The Baltimore Running Festival also partners with the Frederick Running Festival and the Baltimore 10 Miler and offers some fun incentives if you run all three like the King Crab Challenge which I did this year, or the Maryland Double if you do the Half Marathon in Frederick and at least the Half Marathon in Baltimore.

This year if you completed the King Crab Challenge you were awarded a medal holder with four crab claws for you to hang (from left to right) your Frederick Half, Baltimore 10 Miler, Baltimore Full/Half and Maryland Double medals.

King Crab Challenge Medal Holder

Close-up of King Crab Challenge Medal Holder

The Baltimore Marathon Medal (left) and the Maryland Double Medal (right)

This was the 15th anniversary of the Baltimore Running Festival so they went all out with the event this year, including ordering specially designed medals to represent Maryland's love of crabs, the 15th year, and Baltimore's nickname of "charm city".  The Marathon medal uses a crab mallet as the number "1", has a dangling charm of a crab in the "5", and is surrounded by crab claws.  Very cool, and substantial medal.  The Half Marathon medal was very similar in look, but was slightly smaller than the Marathon medal and didn't have the dangling charm.

Baltimore Marathon 15th Anniversary Medal

The Marathon started "on time" exactly at 8am.  The wheel chair division started a few minutes earlier to give them a head start, and then 4,000 marathon runners (event was sold out) were released into the streets of Baltimore.  In addition, there were 1,500 teams (also sold out) of 4 doing the marathon as a "relay" event.  Again, a great way for a beginner runner to get involved, and challenge themselves with a distance that might be more appropriate but yet experience all the excitement of a race environment.

Starting Line for the Full Marathon

After the marathon runners were released, the 5k event was held at 8:20am.  There is a 1 hour time limit for this event so that they can get the half marathon runners out the door.  The half marathon started exactly at 9:45am and was released in 5 waves based on projected pace.  There was a delay of approximately 3 minutes between each wave.   This was great considering the half marathon event was also sold out and had 11,000 runners.

One thing I didn't expect was all the hills.  I went to undergraduate school at Towson University and spent time at the Inner Harbor and Fells Point, but I haven't run much in Baltimore and for some reason I just figure the area around the Inner Harbor was flat.  Not so much as it turns out.

The first half of the Marathon runs North after starting near Camden Yards (Orioles Stadium) and you make your way to the Baltimore Zoo.  The first 3 miles are basically up hill until you turn into the zoo and catch a break with some nice descents and some happy zoo animals out to great you along with way along with their keepers.  One of the critters was a young penguin who looked very content at just watching us go by.  Of course there also had to be some ravens out there as well given this is Baltimore Ravens territory, not to mention the home of Edgar Allan Poe.

Baltimore Marathon Strava Map

After coming out of the zoo, the course heads East as you pass Johns Hopkins University, then South back down toward the Harbor.  This is mostly downhill at this point as you make your way along the Inner Harbor and around the Under Armour World Headquarters.  As you work your way back to mile marker 13 you run past the half marathon starting line where I could see runners preparing to leave.

Giving the Marathon runners a full 1 hour and 45 minute head start is as great idea for the competitive runners so they can get ahead of the half marathon runners.  I am not "that fast", so while I got there before everyone had left, the first wave or two were already on their way.  While we do join the Half Marathon runners, the first three miles are still slightly different.  The Marathon makes it's way along the harbor through Fells Point, and then heads North to Patterson Park.  We join the Half Marathon runners at the South East corner of the park (approximately mile 15.8), but the Marathon runners have their "own lane" for at least a half mile still in order to prepare to merge.  I have included the half marathon map as well so you can see the merge point highlighted with the blue arrow.

Baltimore Half Marathon Strava Map
After merging with the Half Marathon runners we share the remaining parts of the course make our way uphill for about 3 and a half miles to Lake Montebello.  Going around the lake is nice and flat and gives you a break before heading up hill yet again as you make your way West for about a mile and a half before heading South again back towards the Inner Harbor for the last 3 and a half miles which again is mostly down hill and very welcome at this point.

Overall, the elevation gain for the Marathon was a surprising 991 feet according to Strava.  I have included the elevation profile for reference.  For the Half Marathon runners the elevation gain is approximately 538 feet.

Baltimore Marathon Elevation Profile from Strava

The spectators for this event were amazing.  Not only were their a lot of people along the entire course, but they were full of energy.  Some were playing loud music to boost our energy levels, dancing in the streets, wearing costumes, holding signs and even handing out candy.  There were even a few beer stops long the way.  At one point the ground was littered with Swedish Fish, it almost looked like some kind of natural catastrophe took place.  Too bad I couldn't have stopped to take a photo.

There were plenty of water stops and several stations had Gu, Chews and even potato chips along the way to the help the various runners refuel.  Most of the water stop stations (perhaps all of them) also had port-o-potties as well.

At the end of the event after working your way down the runners chute, you received your medal, had water and gatorade available, were presented with a photo opportunity, and then made your way down the food line.  They had bananas, chips, oranges, bars, bagels and additional Gatorade available.  The one downside was once you left this area for runners only, you could not re-enter.  I left to get my King Crab Challenge Medal and Holder and to look for additional food options (unfortunately I had no cash, only a debit card, and all food vendors were cash only), then realized I couldn't get back in to meet my wife who was doing the Half Marathon.  I would also have liked to grab another water given I couldn't buy anything in the village area.

I tried not to go into this event with a preset time goal, but of course I did, I am competitive with myself that way.  I ended up setting a PR of 4:00:05 according to Strava and a chip time of 4:01:06.  I would have liked to come in under 4 hours, but with the elevation gain and this being my first full marathon event I just need to be satisfied with the effort.  It took several half marathons for me to settle into my 1:44:24 PR so I am sure the marathon time will continue to come down as I do more of them and get more comfortable with that distance, and better at managing my energy levels and pace.

Overall this was an amazing event.  I highly recommend folks look at the Baltimore Running Festival as well as the Frederick Running Festival for Half and Full Marathon options.  For the Baltimore event there is no race day packet pickup so if you aren't local, staying in a local hotel Friday night to get your race packet and then running the next morning is the best bet.  If you are local, I didn't have any issue with traffic or parking.  Traffic was well managed the morning of the event, just make sure you give yourself enough time to arrive and get there at least an hour before the full marathon start if that is your event, or just before 8AM if you are running the half marathon.

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