My 2022 Baltimore Marathon Experience:
After my last marathon in Vermont, I felt I could push myself a bit and finally qualify for Boston. After seeing what some of my friends have done since they started to follow the Hansen method, I thought that was exactly what I needed. I purchased the book and went to work. Don’t let the “16-mile long run” fool you… Hansen is not easy! You put on a ton of miles and if you’re doing them at the right pace, you’ll feel tired all the time.
I had decided to train with a 7:00 min/mile pace as my goal but during training, I realized I could train faster than that. I thought a sub 3 marathon was possible though not probable as it would be a 12 minute PR.
On Friday, my wife and I drove down to Baltimore. I picked up my bib at the runner’s expo in the Baltimore Convention Center and walked around to see the vendors. We checked out the “Top of the World Observation Level” where we got to enjoy beautiful views of the Inner Harbor while the sun was setting to the west. We rented a couple of electric scooters and rode about a mile to Little Italy for a very pleasant pasta diner followed by a little gelato for dessert – Carboloading checked!
I went to bed around 10PM and got a solid 7+ hours of sleep (I don’t usually sleep well the night before a marathon). I got ready for my race and kept singing the song “Que sera, sera” (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) in my head – I did all I could in training and whatever happens today, it’ll be okay.
The Baltimore Running Festival consists of five races run on the same day – a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and the full Marathon. The logistics must be daunting for the organizers but they manage to pull it off.
I jogged to the starting line with my wife riding along on a scooter. There were only 10 port-a-johns near the starting line – this was not ideal for a field of 1600 marathoners and 1800 10K runners. The race starts at Camden Field – home of the Baltimore Orioles. It’s a beautiful stadium bordered by a long brick building on one side. The race heads north – there’s a slight uphill but with fresh legs, it’s hard to notice. I clocked just under 6:50 for each of the first three miles. At this point the course splits with the 10K runners making a right back towards the inner harbor while the marathon goes towards the Maryland zoo. Mile four consists of rolling hills inside the Zoo, past the penguin enclosure (unfortunately, I didn’t see any penguins). The course takes us out of the zoo and into John Hopkins University, past the Baltimore Museum of Art and back south towards the inner harbor. This segment is generally downhill. As we approach the inner harbor, the course crosses behind the finish line and the crowd gets much thicker with hundreds of spectators including several 5K and 10K finishers cheering on the marathoners. The cheering crowds motivate me to pick up the pace a bit and now I’m logging 6:40’s and 6:30’s miles consistently.
We go around the inner harbor all the way to the Under Armor Headquarters – a major sponsor of the race – where there’s a big cheering section. We make a U-turn on the road go back the same way towards the Inner Harbor. I crossed mile 11 and I start to feel my legs a little heavy. I’m still consistently clocking 6:40’s at every mile marker. We turned east on Pratt street and follow the contour of the inner harbor. I crossed the half way mark in an astonishing 1:28 thought I knew the second half was going to be slower.
We went around the National Katyn Memorial Park and the cobblestone roundabout that surrounds the beautiful sculpture. The cobblestones are in a bit or disrepair leaving large gaps and discrepancy in heights between the stones. I almost twisted my right ankle here. We went past several restaurants and bars along Aliceanna and Boston Street and right after mile 15, the course turns north on Linwood Avenue. This area of Baltimore has a hipster vibe – Brooklyn like – with nice row houses and a few bars in between. There were several patrons in the bars (at 9:30AM) cheering on the runners.
The course takes us thru Patterson park at the point where the half and full marathon courses merge. Fortunately, I got there well before any half marathoners did – they start at 9:45AM. At mile 16, we start to go uphill and my pace drops. The hill is not very steep but continues for several miles. I clock just under 7 min/mile at miles 16, 17, 18. At mile 19, I had my first split over 7 minutes and that took a toll on me psychologically. I could see my 3-hour goal starting to slip.
I got to Lake Montebello and crossed the 20 mile marker still averaging 6:50 over the distance but I was fading fast. My saving grace was the expectation that the course would be flat to downhill from here on. The loop around the lake is very scenic but when we come out of the park, there is a slight uphill followed by a slight downhill. That was an omen for the next 5-6 miles. It was all rolling hills. At mile 22, I clocked 7:37 and after that I broke… I had to walk a bit on the uphills. My legs were done! I had come here with three goals – set a PR, BQ, and break 3 hours. I knew the last one was not going to happen today but I could still achieve the first two. I started to do the math in my head. What pace do I need to keep to break 3:10? Is that pace realistic given how my legs feel?
I had memorized the course map and I knew there were a handful of turns to come – a left on Gilford Ave, a right on 29th street and a left on Maryland Avenue. I had to keep an 8 min/mile pace to be below 3:10. I ran the flats and downhills and slowed down on the uphills – sometimes to a walk. My watch ticked down the miles 7:48 at mile 24, 7:51 at mile 25. I tell myself “I can make it. I can break 3:10 and BQ.” I’m going to make this trip (and the preceding beer-free month) worth it!
I passed mile 26. I’ve got this. My legs are Jello but there’s not stopping them. I make the final left on Pratt Street – the crowds swells up and the cheers power the runners past our pain threshold. I cannot walk in front of all these people. They came here to see runners so I must run for them!
I’m not the only one tumbling down the road but all runners are encouraging each other. “Come on, we’ve got this!”
I see the finish line. I put on my best smile for the cameras, cross the finish line and stop my watch in an unofficial time of 3:06:44 (the official result was slightly faster). I get the coolest medal in my collection – a crab shaped locket. I found my wife and tumbled back to the hotel a couple of blocks away.
After a much-needed shower and some rest, we make our way to the finisher’s area to collect a couple of celebratory beers and spent the afternoon enjoying the city of Baltimore.
In short – the Baltimore Marathon is a really big deal for a city in the middle of a revival. It’s fairly well organized even though it could have better signage at some points. The course is very scenic – you get to see several of the city highlights including Camden Yards, the Maryland Zoo, and the Inner Harbor. The crowd support is awesome along the inner harbor and in a few other points but it’s sparse for most of the course. There are several local TV stations covering the event. The finish line and festival area creates a buzz of energy in the inner harbor. There are plenty of aid stations stocked with water and Gatorade but most importantly with cheerful volunteers. The city’s restaurants and bars are a great place to show off your medal, drink a celebratory beer (or 7, like I did) and eat some awesome seafood after the race. The last quarter was much hillier than I expected but I cannot be too upset after setting a five minute PR on a challenging course and BQ’ing for the first time.
I have 40 more states to cover in my quest to join the 50-state marathon club so I probably won’t be running Baltimore again anytime soon, but I do recommend it to my running friends who want to take on a challenge in a fun city less than four hours drive away.
Happy running my friends!