Friday, February 24, 2017

Race Report: Baltimore Marathon

After giving a tour to some real estate folks in the neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens, where I work, I headed back to the office, shot off a quick email and then got on the Long Island Railroad to head to Penn Station, where I would catch a 6:30 Amtrak train that would take me to Baltimore in roughly 2 1/2 hours.  Granted, on a Friday, train traffic can be just as miserable as traffic on the roads, so I didn't arrive at Baltimore Penn Station until 9:20, about twenty minutes late.  There, my third cousin (we share a great grandparent) JoAnn, came to pick me up.  I would be staying with her and her husband Andrew at their condo in Harbor East before my race the following morning.  I hadn't seen JoAnn or Andrew since their wedding in Bermuda ten years ago, so it was a nice reunion.

A reunion over red wine!
And a reunion it was... over several glasses of delicious red wine (including a pricey bottle that we didn't realize was so pricey until we googled it, oops.  Sorry Andrew...) and some good pasta from nearby restaurant Sabatino's, we reminisced about their wedding weekend and just generally caught up.   By the way, Andrew was already asleep... as he was planning to join JoAnn early in the morning to set up the Pacing 4 Parkinsons tent at the M&T Bank Stadium where the NFL's Baltimore Ravens play, before running the half marathon.  And after a highball of Sagamore Spirit's rye whiskey (I apparently HAD to, according to JoAnn), I peaced out... or rather, PASSED out, to wake up at 6:30 the following morning.

A fanfare of confetti at the start
With little issue, I woke up at 6:30, got dressed, and out the door to walk the 25 or so minutes from their apartment to Camden Yards, where the startline of the marathon was at 8am.  I headed further south down to the stadium to meet up with JoAnn and Andrew, who had been there since 6am, checking in runners who were participating in the races that morning.  Andrew would be running the half that didn't start til 9:45, and started over on Conway and Light Streets in front of the Hyatt Regency at Inner Harbor. After dropping off my jacket and sweatpants with them (it was a little brisk walking over), I rushed back over to Camden Yards to meet up with Donna, Hollie, and Andrew, who were waiting near Gate G for the marathon to start.  We heard the national anthem (complete with the Oriole-inspired "Oh!" at the end of the song, made more famous on global television when Michael Phelps was flustered by hometown friends yelling it out during a medal ceremony at the Rio Olympics), and then we were off under a flurry of confetti on the route northward from the corner of Camden and Russell Streets!

Colorful murals down McCulloh St
As we started, and I began to try to pair my Bluetooth headset to my phone, I realized that despite my efforts in charging the headset (I even saw the blue light indicating a full charge!), it was completely dead.  I settled for my wired earbuds, which I conveniently brought with me, just incase the need arose. We headed northward on Paca Street through downtown Baltimore, before turning slightly onto McCulloh Street at Mile 1.  We then headed on a northwesterly direction along McCulloh Street along the rough boundary between the Upton and Madison Park neighborhoods.  Upton, historically, has been one of the economic, political, and cultural centers of Baltimore's black community and is one of the focal points of urban revitalization programs.  It was also known as staging grounds for much of the local and national civil rights movement. The streetscape consisted mostly of three story row houses, many of which are vacant - however, we did get to pass by some pretty murals along the sides of buildings that depicted the history of the area.  It was right around here where I realized my wired earbuds were not going to work either, as my Lifeproof case was too bulky to accommodate the earbud's connector plug. I decided to just run with my music blasting from my phone.  As we continued northward, we passed by the neighborhoods of Reservoir Hill and Penn North, also bastions of the African American community in western Baltimore.  We hit the three mile mark as we skirted Druid Hill Park, all the while, running uphill from 43 feet above sea level at the start to 343 feet above sea level.  We would pass by the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory building, and then make our way into the park via Greenspring Avenue.

Runners representing Pacing4Parkinsons, 250 participants strong

Runners running past the Rawlings Conservatory in Druid Hill Park.
Shortly thereafter, three white tailed deer decided to run through the race course.

Say hello to my penguin friend...
As we ran along Greenspring Avenue, making our way to the hairpin turn onto Beechwood Drive (which would then take us into the grounds of the Maryland Zoo), all of a sudden, three white-tailed deer, come springing through the open green lawn, making their way toward that hairpin turn, and into the path of runners.  Thankfully noone got hurt, but it was still quite a sight to see - not so crazy as what happened at Rock 'n' Roll Dublin in August, but nonetheless quite a surprise.  As we made the hairpin turn, we finally were able to run downhill, as we made our way through the zoo grounds, taking Safari Place into the treelined Buffalo Yard Road, and then into the zoo itself, where we were greeted by several animals that the zookeepers had brought out for photo ops (likely the most photographed was the African black-footed penguin).  We made our way through the zoo rather quickly (not as lengthy as the route that the Colfax Half Marathon takes), and then found ourselves on Mansion House Drive and East Drive, with beautiful views of downtown alongside Druid Lake.

Heading downtown past Druid Lake.
Running down St. Paul Street
We emerged out of the Maryland Zoo and Druid Hill Park by taking the overpass over I-83, taking Wyman Park Drive and its winding path toward Johns Hopkins University, where we'd reach the mile 6 mark.  After curving our way around the bottom edge of campus, we made our way down to East 28th Street, and then along St. Paul Street, where we would make a straight shot southward back toward Downtown and Inner Harbor.  We would make our way through several neighborhoods including: Charles Village, an area of two and three story rowhouses and apartment buildings that house many of Johns Hopkins University's staff and students; Station North, an arts and entertainment district marked by a combination of artistically-leaning commercial ventures, such as theaters and museums, as well as formerly abandoned warehouses that have since been converted into loft-style living; and Mount Vernon, one of Baltimore's oldest neighborhoods, and now a trendy area and the center of the LGBT population.  Along this southerly route, I ended up running alongside a woman named Michelle, running the second leg of the marathon relay, who was intrigued by my playing of a few songs from the cast recording of Hamilton on my phone (which at this point I was just holding, because I got more out of listening to it in front of me than it sitting in my pocket-- plus, easier access to take photos), and we ran together for the next few miles.  We had a blast as we ran through these historic neighborhoods, and we parted ways as I made my way through Downtown, as St. Paul Street became Light Street and we passed underneath a rainbow-lit I-40. As we approached Inner Harbor, I ran past the mile 9 mark on the southbound side of the street, while on the northbound side of the street, the half marathon was about 15 minutes from its start.

Running underneath I-40
Best signs on the course... we saw them twice!
Running toward the William Donald Schaefer Building in downtown Baltimore. 
Lovely to run by American Visionary Art Museum, with its iconic "O Say Can You See" neon sign tribute along Key Highway!
Reaching the out and back
at UnderArmour Global HQ!
We went on a two-mile long out-and-back along the Key Highway, heading toward the Under Armour Global Headquarters in Locust Point.  The crowd thinned out along this stretch until we got to the turnaround point, which was a raucous party.  On my way back, I spotted a few friends, including my RnR buddy Tiki, who was doing the same 39.3 challenge that I was attempting (along with friends Kimberly and Donna) by running in St. Louis the following day.  We came back around to where we had passed the long gone corrals of the half marathon, then turned right onto East Pratt Street, considered the main artery and gateway to the Inner Harbor and Downtown areas of Baltimore.  We passed right by the Port of Baltimore, the Power Plant Live! entertainment complex, and the National Aquarium, before turning right onto President Street.  As we headed down President Street, we made our way around the cobblestoned rotunda of the National Katyń Memorial, the tallest statue in all of Baltimore.  Encouraged to be built by Baltimore's strong Polish-American community, the statue memorializes the victims of a 1940 massacre of Polish nationals carried out by Soviet forces in Katyń, Russia.  We turned left onto Lancaster Street and then zigzagged onto Aliceanna Street, making our way through the trendy Harbor East and Fells Point areas of the city.  We even passed right by the JoAnn and Andrew's condo building, right past the mile 14 marker, where I had stopped to take a walk and eat break (mmmm... bananas!)

On the way back toward Inner Harbor along Key Highway...

Stopping at one of the many benches along the course, this one in good condition!

Pre election signage in full force...

Running by the National Katyń Memorial, the tallest statue in Baltimore. Also the part of the course with the most treacherous surface to run on, a short section of uneven cobblestones!
Running down Boston Street
By mile 15, we were headed southeastward along Boston Street, into the neighborhood of Canton, considered to be one of Baltimore’s most popular neighborhoods and continues to see growth as more development opportunities come into the area.  We passed by a beautiful waterfront marina, as well as many rehabilitated old industrial buildings, now a variety of office spaces, startups, and bars and restaurants - a prime example of adaptive reuse and preservation of historic landmarks.

Canton, and in particular Boston Street, also marked the end of the flat-ish part of the course.  For the next five miles, as we turned left onto O'Donnell Street and then turned left again onto S. Linwood Avenue, we would be gradually heading uphill from a low elevation point of 7 feet, eventually reaching 240 feet by the time we got to Lake Montebello.  The first 1.5 miles took us north from Canton into the neighborhood of Patterson Park (and through its namesake park), and finally into Elwood Park.  The change in the neighborhood is palpable; as soon as you pass Patterson Park, you've entered a more lower to middle-income area, and there were fewer folks out cheering for the runners.  Nevertheless, there were still a decent amount of folks out there with their own makeshift aid stations... and so many dogs!  i don't think I had ever seen a city during a race with so many dogs out (I would later see even more when I ran the Austin Marathon in 2017!)

Heading northward on Linwood Street toward Patterson Park, as the route gets uphill for a few miles nearing mile 16.

Cutest spectator ever!

The two mile path of Lake Montebello
We turned left onto Madison Street for 3/4 mile, then headed back north again on N. Washington Street, as we inched closer to Lake Montebello.  We ran through the heart of East Baltimore, through the neighborhoods of Middle East, which sits adjacent to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, and Broadway East, both lower income neighborhoods.  At Sinclair Street, we took a short out-and-back, before heading up to Clinton Park, taking a turn past the famous Clifton Park Valve House, an eight-sided gatehouse that was to be used as the former water transporter for the eastern part of the city.  We finally reached the highest elevation point in the second half of the course.  Before long, we were at Lake Montebello, a holding pond for the city's Department of Public Works regional water system.  Entering on the lake's southwest side, we circled the lake's entire two mile circumference. 

The Lake Montebello Pumphouse
Leaving Lake Montebello...
Tree lined streets along East 33rd Street
As we left the lake, we entered the treelined 33rd Street in the Ednor Gardens-Lakeside neighborhood. Originally designed by the Frederick Law Olmsted Brothers firm, 33rd Street is a long, wide, east-west parkway with a broad tree-shaded median strip. It was seen as a center point of their Baltimore Plans of 1904 and 1921, establishing stream valley parks and connecting boulevards. 33rd Street has a tendency to roll up and down very slightly, so by then, my legs were already beginning to scream at me to stop. This length of the course was only about 1 1/4 miles.  Of course, it's onward, especially at the pace I was going, where with 3 1/2 miles to go, I was about 4 hours and 15 minutes into my race.  I could easily make it under five hours if I kicked it into high gear.

Heading over Howard Street Bridge
So kick it in to high gear I did.  We turned left onto Guilford Street, where would go for about four blocks, before turn right onto 28th Street, and then left again on Howard Street, which we would tak eall the way down to the finish line.  We crossed through the neighborhoods of Remington, Charles Village, Old Goucher, and over the Howard Street Bridge traversing I-83.  Thankfully, from this point on, it was smooth sailing to the finish, as it was all downhill.  There were plentiful crowds as we headed into Downtown Baltimore taking a slight right onto Eutaw Street, and ultimately just past the famous Camden Yards, where our finish line was waiting for us.

Less than three miles left to go as we head down Howard Street in the northern Baltimore neighborhood of Remington.
I crossed the finish line in 4:58:23, which was the first time I had finished in a sub-5 hour race that wasn't a fll downhill (like Utah) since the summer.  I was very happy with my time, as it wasn't the easiest course - there were some decent hills that I had to traverse. And it was my first full marathon I could say I had run, for the most part, without music in my ears.

The homestretch, running past Oriole Park at Camden Yards where the Orioles play!(O!)

That's the way to do a #victoryheadstand... in front of the Ray Lewis statue at the M&T Bank Stadium! Finished in 4:58:23, a return back to sub-5 land!
After finishing, I retrieved my finisher medal (the coolest ever... a crab that opens up to reveal the Baltimore skyline!!), as well as the special medal for completing both Frederick and Baltimore in 2016, and then met up with JoAnn, who joined me at M&T Bank for my headstand photo.  I chose to pose in front of the Ray Lewis statue, even though I had no clue who he was (don't blame me, I don't watch pro football!) I suppose he's famous in Baltimore... LOL.  I headed back to JoAnn and Andrew's place to grab a shower, and get rolled out by JoAnn's friend Jason (Everyone check him out at Charm City PT, if you're ever in the area), and then ate a delicious meal to my heart's content.

An amazing way to celebrate another marathon in the books... a Peanut Butter and Bacon Burger from Abbey Burger Bistro, and Brewers Art Resurrection Beer! And a Zico Coconut water for rehydration purposes.

Andrew then took me to BWI for my flight to my next stop for the weekend... St. Louis!  At BWI, I met up with Donna and Kimberly, and we headed to Missouri for our next race for the weekend....

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