Sunday, October 17, 2010

Baltimore 1/2 Marathon = Two Seconds

Yesterday marked the end of a crazy 5 weeks which saw 3 half marathons and my longest marathon training runs - 18 and 20 miles respectively. I never thought I'd survive it either mentally or physically, and did question at times whether or not all of this was really a good idea or not. I think it was a demanding schedule for even the most seasoned runners.

Not knowing what I would have left in my legs after weeks of use and abuse, I went into Baltimore with no expectations. One of the main reasons this was on my schedule for this fall was to finish the second half of the Maryland Double - a special medal given to those who finish both Frederick and Baltimore. Kim and I were going to run together, and I promised to help get her a nice PR, as this was only her second half. My main focus was to keep her moving and motivated.

This was a huge event for my Looper group, with 9 of us doing the half marathon alone. Other family and friends participated in the 5K and full marathon and others came from near and far to cheer everyone on. It was a wonderful day to spend with friends, and as the race grew closer I was more and more excited about running such a big race in my hometown.

The timing of the race was very odd compared to what I'm used to. The start time for the half was 9:45am. The full marathon and relay started at 8am, and the 5K went off at 8:30. With nearly 10,000 registered runners, the half was the largest event. Since I had to visit the race expo on Friday afternoon, I decided to spend the night just outside of the city with my parents. With over 22,000 registered runners for the Baltimore Running Festival, organizers urged everyone to take mass transit if at all possible. I decided to drive though, knowing I would not be able to stay for very long after the race due to other commitments. So, even though my race started so late, I left the house before 7am to get into the City and find decent parking in the stadium lots.

After we all got to the stadium complex and met up to cheer on the 5K runners, we headed to our corrals. The trick with them is that the half runners actually had to cross the path of the full runners in order to reach the start line for the half. Very odd. I felt bad for the full runners, as I know how much I hate having random people crossing in my path while in a race. I cannot imagine how it felt with that volume of people. Kim and I planned to start in the 4th wave, but as we were dropping some of our friends off in the 3rd, it was apparent from the crush of people that we might as well stay put rather than try and immitate salmon swimming upstream.

I had seen the elevation charts and knew this was a race known for nasty hills. I was prepared, or at least, thought I was, to take them on. The plan was for Kim and I to do 3:1 intervals and finish under 3 hours, if possible. Our wave started, we turned a corner and were greeted by our first major uphill. This had to be the worst, right? But, we made it through intact and kept plugging along, staying true to our intervals, even if it included walking downhills, much against my grain.

We were cruising along, every now and then doing some extra walks on the really steep hills. Sometimes you reach a point where the energy you're expending while trying to run them isn't really worth it and power walking will accomplish as much, if not more. We felt good and were joined by our friend Jen, and Tracy, someone Kim knew through the Howard County Striders. Our merry little band kept chugging along, feeling good and keeping a good pace. The weather was fantastic. While there were some pretty big wind gusts, overall it really helped keep you comfortable. One of the things that helped keep us going was knowing there was a pleasantly flat 1.3 mile loop around Lake Montebello awaiting us around mile 7, as well as our wonderful friend and cheerleader, Margaret.

Throughout the entire race, residents were out in the streets, whether it be cheering on the sidewalk and handing out high 5's, or waving from their porch stoops. In a couple of areas it was as if we entered a block party. This helped keep us so pumped up. After coming out of the lake area and making up out 33rd street, which had more hills for us to tame, we all looked at our watches and started doing the math. We were at mile 9 and began to think that 2:45 was possible. While we knew going into it that Kim would have a PR (just a matter of by how much), I had not expected to have a possiblity of one myself! Jen left us to see how hard she could push it those last 4 miles, and the 3 of us picked it up a bit, too. Fortunately, the worst of the hills were behind us, and we had a great downhill portion of the race left.

We passed mile 12 and I looked at my watch. Could I push it hard that last mile and actually manage a PR??? I handed Kim my watch we were doing intervals with and told her I had to see if I could do this. She and Tracy looked great and I knew would be able to make it in together. I would never had considered leaving her had it just been her and I.

There was a great downhill going down Eutaw Street and heading into Camden Yards and I was determined to make the best of it, and charged almost full steam ahead. In all honesty, I was having a blast at this point, but was also a little too focused on my GPS watch. Every second counted.

I allowed myself to take a minute or so walk break just before exiting the baseball stadium. I took a couple of deep breaths and charged towards the finish. Could I do it??? Then, I saw my watch hit 2:45 and knew I wasn't going to finish under 2:46. Crud. I kept charging ahead, crossed the finish line, and stopped by watch. I knew my time from Frederick was 2:46, but couldn't remember exactly what it was.

While standing in a very long food line (after being handed my finisher's medal in a plastic baggie!), I pulled out my phone and started looking it up. In the meantime, my ROTE friend Gina had already gone on the Baltimore website and looked up my chip time, 2:46:50. My Frederick time? 2:46:52. I had PR' two seconds. The smile on my face was ridiculous. This good of a time was so not expected. Frederick had been one of the best races fo my life, and it was quickly apparent that this was, too.

After exiting the finisher's area, I found Kim. Somehow she had managed to get past me while I was wandering around there. Her time? 2:48. She had PR'd by nearly an HOUR. So so so proud of her.

I didn't realize until afterward how much I mentally needed Baltimore to go well. The confidence gained from having a good 20 mile training run and then a fantastic race right after is immeasurable. I am now so pumped for MCM in two weeks, I can't even describe. And, if all goes according to plan, I will PR by well over 2 seconds.


  1. Nice job, Jen!! I love when race recaps have surpise endings like that! Congrats!

    Yeah, the Celebration Village was kind of a cluster wasn't it? I think the reason they stopped unwrapping the medals is becuase the finisher's corral got so backed up -- I heard it was backed up all the way to the finish and getting dangerous as runners were having to come to a screetching halt.

  2. Congrats on your PR!

    The whole "medal in a plastic baggie" was my big beef with Baltimore (well, I had others, too). A LOT of folks complained in 2008, so I'm surprised that they STILL are doing it. They can unwrap them well in advance!! ARg!

  3. Whoo Hoo!!!! So happy for you!!!! AND your friend! Y'all ROCK!