Thursday, November 23, 2017

Baltimore Running Festival

This year was the second time I had completed the King Crab Challenge and I believe my fourth trip to the Baltimore Running Festival overall.  Given some other running events scheduled around the same time, I decided to run the half marathon and the 5k at this event instead of the full marathon as in previous years.

When you run both the 5k and the half marathon, you earn the BaltiMORON-a-thon challenge medal.  That coupled with the fact that I was doing the King Crab Challenge meant that I was on track to earn a total of five (5) medals at this event, and nine (9) overall as part of the entire King Crab Challenge series.  The details are as follows:

  • Frederick Nut Job - you earn three medals overall.  One for the 5k on Sat night.  One for the Half Marathon on Sunday, and then a "bonus" medal for doing both races called the "Nut Job".  Total so far, three.
  • Baltimore 10 Miler - you earn one medal, Baltimore Zoo Themed, for the 10 miler in and around Baltimore that starts and ends at the Zoo.  Total so far is now four.
  • Baltimore Running Festival - since I was doing the 5k and the half marathon I was able to get a medal for the 5k, a medal for the half marathon, the bonus "BaltiMORON-a-thon" medal, the Maryland Double medal since I also did the Frederick race, and finally the King Crab medal.  Final total is nine.

Now, the King Crab challenge has changed up the "bonus" gift in different years.  One year it was a fleece blanket.  Another year it was a small medal holder to display all the event medals for that year that looked like crab claws, and this year was a 2lb medal the size of my head.  I am not sure what next year will bring, but I do know the large medal was a big hit so perhaps it will be back.

The Five Medals from King Crab Challenge

Now on to the event itself...

There were several changes at this years event, several of which I did really like, and a few that I hope they will do better next year.  Since I am so late writing up this blog entry I already know that the start and finish venues will be the same next year, so they will certainly have the opportunity to make improvements, and I am sure they are already planning.

As in previous years I stayed at the Baltimore Hilton.  I really love this hotel and this year I was fortunate enough to get a concierge room which was great.  The lounge had some great snacks and drinks that we were able to take advantage of the evening before the race and after the race while we showered and changed clothes.  If you can get the right room, you can have a great view of Camden Yards.

View of Camden Yards from Baltimore Hilton

The Marathon race starts right in front of the hotel so if that is your race of choice, this location doesn't get any better.  The 5k used to start at the same location, but alas this year they moved it down by the intersection of Light Street and Pratt Street.  This is the same starting line as the half marathon and the same area as the finish line.  So, this is one of the positive changes in my mind, especially if you are doing the BaltiMORON-a-thon challenge as you start and finish in the same general area twice.  The only downside of this challenge is there is a long wait between finishing the 5k and starting the half marathon.  All in all the wait was about an hour and a half.  The 5k started at 7:30am, and the half marathon started at 9:45am.  All events did start on time.

5k Staring Line

Half Marathon Starting Line

The other positive change was the overall 5k course.  In previous years the 5k course had some good up hill climbs as you headed North into the city and then came back around and finished in Camden Yards.  This year the course stayed on the flat side along Key Highway towards the Under Armour headquarters, but doesn't go that far.  In fact, the Marathon course shares some of this route.

5k Strava Map

This was my first time running the 5k in Baltimore and it was a fun event,  Mostly because I ran this one with my daughter.  While we didn't set any speed records, we did it.  And we did it while in pain.  Well, she did it while in pain.  The previous day she had her toe hurt (or even broken) by a horse stepping on her foot during her riding lesson.  I was really pleased that she pushed through it and ran.  Although it was probably more for the medal than for me, but that's fine.  Whatever it takes, right?

Family Photo

The other really big change is that the finish area for all races was now McKeldin Square instead of Camden Yards.  The nice thing about finishing through Camden Yards and into the Ravens Stadium parking lot was there was lots of room for tents, food, and hanging out.  The bad part was it was a parking lot.  Not much to look at, and not many places to sit except the asphalt.

The down side of the new finishing area was that it was narrow and long.  While taking in views of the Inner Harbor was awesome, as well as having plenty of places to sit, stretch and hangout amongst the shops, everything was really far apart.  It was a long walk to get your beer (if you into that post run), get food, grab a smoothy, checkout vendors, or all the way to the very end by the Science Building to get your King Crab and Maryland Double medals.  Signage would have been better as well.  It was a hot race this year, and many runners were in need of a smoothy and didn't know where to go,  Since I had to walk the entire length for my medals I was able to give many runners directions, but signs would have been very useful.

Half Marathon Strava Map

The half marathon course, except for the finish, was largely the same as in previous years.  It is a nice course, but hilly.  According to Strava, the overall elevation gain was 1,089 feet.  You get to go through several different areas of Baltimore including, Little Italy, Patterson Park, Clifton Park and Lake Montebello.  On the far side of the lake is one of my favorite water stops as they have potato chips.  Right around that point I need the salt and they really hit the spot.  This year they had a much larger supply than in previous years, so my friends that were a little further back in the pack were still able to grab a bag.

Half Marathon Strava Elevation Chart

In the last third of the race going through some of the nicer old neighborhoods there is some great race support from spectators.  Lots of loud music areas and several "beer stops" are available.  I swear there was at least five opportunities in less than a mile.  The water stops are plenty and are fairly evenly paced out.  I never feel like I am struggling for water/gatorade along this course, even on a hot day like this one.  There really sins't a need to carry your own water, although I do see runners with anywhere from two to four bottles or large camelback backpacks on for some reason.  For a more detailed overview of the Marathon course you can review my post from last year.

The finishing area was very congested however, so I am sure they will be making changes to help in this area.  We were funneled down severely fairly quickly after the finish line to get medals, and then the area opened back up for water and snacks.  As in previous years if you exit the runners only area, you can only re0enter by walking around to the front entrance again,.  So, really, you need to take all the water and snacks you can carry with you the first time through.

The other area that could use improvement is the process for medal distribution,  I did like the fact that they had police offers helping hand out medals, but it was a little confusing which way to go for the half marathon, full marathon or BaltiMORON-a-thon challenge medal.  Better signage and direction to the BaltiMORON-a-thon area would have been useful and would have prevented folks from working their way side to side in this area causing additional traffic jams.

Overall, as with previous years, I would recommend this event.  It is scenic, challenging, well supported and energetic.  The hills are a challenge so regardless of your length it is important you train for this fact.

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