The Casual Runner

Got Crabs? Race Review: Baltimore Running Festival Half Marathon

Event: 2014 Baltimore Running Festival Half Marathon
Event Date: October 18, 2014
Event Location: Baltimore, Maryland

Why I decided to run this race.

I never really made a conscious decision that the Baltimore Running Festival was something I needed to run.  At the beginning of the calendar year, as I started to plan my race calendar, I saw that I had a nice gap in my calendar where the half marathon would fit.  Plus, as I began to look more at this event weekend, I learned that by doing it and the Frederick half marathon in May, I could earn an extra challenge medal.  All told, by doing three races I could get five medals: the Columbia Iron Girl half and the Frederick half on back-to-back weekends would result in the Titanium Girl Challenge medal, then the Fredrick and Baltimore halves would result in a medal for the Maryland Double.  Five medals for the price of three?  Sign me up!

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Got crabs? Maryland does, and they love everything about them.

Getting there/the lead-up to the race

I’d had a great race in September at the Navy/Air Force half marathon, and had had pretty good training runs since then.  Jeff Galloway had given me a recommended plan for running Baltimore and I thought it was reasonable for where I was at in my training.  I was pretty confident going onto this race.

There was a bit of uncertainty in the weeks leading up to the race about the iconic course that usually has runners going through Camden Yards right before the finish line.  Because the Orioles were having a great post-season, there was a chance they would have a game scheduled at home the day of the race.  Working closely with the team and the Baltimore police, the race organizers scrambled to come up with several contingency plans that would allow them to still give a great race experience but allow for a baseball game just a few hours later.  There were slight changes to the starting time of each of the races (moved an hour earlier, which I liked), new locations for the finish line and celebration village (I’m glad we didn’t have to use them), and changes to the hours and rules for the expo (hours were extended and we were allowed to pick up one other person’s bib, which allowed me to help out a co-worker’s husband since he couldn’t make it in to the city).  As it turned out we didn’t have to give up the traditional finish line because the Orioles didn’t take their series to 6 games.  (While I certainly wasn’t cheering against the O’s, if they had to lose I’m glad they did it quickly so as not to mess with my race.  Yes, I can make a World Series run all about me!).

The race Expo

The Baltimore Running Festival is a huge race and holds a pretty big expo.  I’d never attended before this year, so I can’t compare it to any previous ones.  But I thought this was a good expo.  They held it over 2 days at the Baltimore Convention Center, right in downtown Baltimore.  There would be no packet pick-up the morning of the race, so runners had to attend it unless they made arrangements for someone else to get it.

I took the light rail onto the city for the expo.  I could have driven but knew I planned to ride it the morning of the race and I wanted to make sure I knew what to expect.  The train stops just a few miles from my house so it was really easy.  I got off at the Camden Yards stop and walked a few blocks to the convention center.  Due to the contingency planning, the race organizers had suggested that people try to go to the expo early on Thursday.  According to Twitter and Facebook, this caused massive queues right when the expo opened on Thursday.  I got there a few hours later and there were no lines.  I walked right up, got the two bibs and shirts I needed, and was ready to hit the booths.

The first series of booths held official race gear with swag for each of the major race lengths: 5k, half, and full marathon.  They also had official gear commemorating the Maryland Double and deeply discounted gear from previous years.  After the official merchandise booth there were booths for several local running stores and some major brands I see at a lot of races (Bondi Bands, Sweaty Bands, etc.).  I did pick up a pair of cute calf sleeves since I would be getting on a flight to London the day after the race and couldn’t risk cramping.

As I headed back upstairs I saw that they were bringing out the festival mascot—a giant Maryland crab.  Of course I couldn’t leave until I got a picture with him!

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When in Maryland, Under Armour it up.

Swag review

After being spoiled by a good bunch of swag at my last 5k (the Victoria Gastro Pub Running Festival), the swag here felt a little lacking.  The only thing we got was a long-sleeve logo shirt.  Don’t get me wrong, they were nice quality Under Armor shirts (do you really think a Baltimore race would use something other than a hometown brand?) and each race length had its own color so you could tell at a glance what people were running.  I even wore it the next day for my flight.  But for a major event it just seemed to be not quite enough.

The gear

I did not wear a costume for this race, though I did see a few on course (a Buddy the Elf, a pilgrim and turkey, several guys wearing kilts).  I did, however, celebrate the Orioles’ great season by wearing orange and black.  (Random tip: If you want the local Baltimore fans to cheer extra loud for you, wear Orioles or Ravens colors during their respective seasons.)

I wore an orange skirt from Sparkle Skirts, black Under Armour running capris, black Nike tank, purple Adidas sports bra, black Bondi Band headband, Injinji socks, my trusty Brooks Adrenaline GTS 14 shoes, Garmin Forerunner 620 and Gymboss interval timer, and Camelbak Marathoner hydration vest.

The pre-race

Because the marathon kicked off almost two hours before the half, they advised all half marathon runners to take light rail into the city to avoid the road closures.  I took the 6:50 AM train into Baltimore and was there less than 30 minutes later.  The train was filled with fellow runners and we chatted about nerves over the hills and congratulated one lady for being about to do her first half marathon.

Stepping off the train at Camden Yards the weather was perfect.  It was a little cool, but nothing I needed long sleeves for.  I joined the line of runners heading over to the starting corrals for the half, near the Inner Harbor.  I’ve never participated in a festival that also had a full marathon, but I thought it was really cool that the half started at the full’s 13-mile mark.  So as we stood there we could cheer on the marathon runners who had started 2 hours before we kicked off our race.  Our courses eventually merged at our mile 3 and their mile 16.

When I first arrived at the corral, the marathon leaders had not yet passed us.  But as I stood in line for the potties, we heard cheers from a roaring crowd coming toward us.  It was the first marathon runner!  Cruising past the 13-mile mark in under an hour!  Wow!  The rest of the leaders followed over the next few minutes, and shortly after I finished with the potty I saw the first female runner flying past with a Baltimore motorcycle cop following close behind and raising his arms encouraging cheers from the growing crowd.

We had 5 waves, each released about 3 minutes apart.  I was in wave 4 and we got started just a few minutes before 9:00, under a blanket of confetti.

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Got wine? Got beer? Fueling up on the course.

Along the course

The Baltimore Running Festival is a big event that takes runners through many neighborhoods that most of us never visit.  But that doesn’t mean the residents don’t support us.  Little old ladies sit in their rocking chairs along the street wishing us well.  Kids stick out their hands waiting for a high-five.  Groups wanting to help us refuel along the way gave out cups of local beer and white wine (those count as carbs, right?).  People hold signs with references to The Wire (filmed in Baltimore) and Hairspray (set in Baltimore).  There is clearly a local feel to this race, making it somehow feel like a small-town race despite the fact there are tens of thousands of runners.

Baltimore’s streets are tore up.  Between the ruts worn down by cars and the cracks and potholes, it’s very easy to hurt yourself if you’re not careful.  That meant I had to look down at the street more than I normally like to.  But that also meant that I saw some randomly cool things, like the hopscotch board painted into one of the crosswalks and the crosswalk that was painted like a zipper.

Baltimore is hilly.  The first few miles were gentle ups and downs, but miles 4-10 were pretty steadily uphill.  Despite sticking pretty close to my running plan and starting out conservatively I wore myself out by mile 11.  I’m writing this review a week later and I’m still disappointed in how I gave up at the end.  It wasn’t just that I was tired and couldn’t go faster, it was that I could do it but I chose not to.  I was just ready for the whole thing to be over and I didn’t even care about that iconic run through Camden Yards that I’d been looking forward to for weeks.  I finished, and it wasn’t a terrible time (pretty typical for my pace), and my husband even congratulated me on a good race.  But I know I didn’t scale that mental wall when I needed to and I disappointed myself.  (Random tip: We Casual Runners tend to be ridiculously hard on ourselves, beating ourselves up over perceived failures.  While there’s nothing wrong with setting goals and striving to achieve them, we shouldn’t let one missed goal overshadow whatever it is that got us out and running in the first place.  Now if I could just get myself to believe it…)

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SMOs: We said, crabs, not carbs!

The SMOpinion 

I love my SMO for the Baltimore half!  And I love that every runner gets one regardless of the race length.  The basic design for the medal was the same for every race: a Maryland crab with a bottle opener for one of his claws.  But just like the shirts, the background color and the ribbon for each race was different.  I’d been looking forward to this medal since they unveiled it several months ago.  LOVE IT!

I also earned the Maryland Double SMO (running the Fredrick half in May and the Baltimore half or full in October equals the Maryland Double Challenge).  The shape isn’t as unique since it’s just a square.  But I love that it has the Maryland flag and a crab on it.  And it was great to hear them clank together as I walked to the light rail stop to go home.  And, yes, I clearly wore them the whole way home and to the pizza place to grab lunch!

The post-race experience

I hung out for a little bit after the race to eat a little food, check out the official merchandise one last time, and pick up my second medal.  They had a live band and several good food stands, and I think it would have been fun to hang around.  But since I was flying overseas the next day what I needed to do was get home, start my recovery process, and pack for my trip.

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The great finish at Camden Yards.

Playlist Peak

Unlike many runners, I don’t plan out a playlist.  I just put my iPod on shuffle and take my chances.  This is one of the few times in my life that I don’t plan out.  I prefer to let the universe or fate or karma (whatever you believe in) take the lead.  Sometimes this creates magical moments, sometimes it doesn’t.

At this race, it created a magical moment before I even crossed the starting line.  Waiting in the corrals and watching the marathoners pass at their mile 13, several of the Athletes Supporting Athletes Wingmen (check out my Charles Street 12 recap for more about the Wingmen) passed with their runners.  As I watched these amazing athletes, “Wasted” by Carrie Underwood started on my iPod.  It was an emotional start to the race to think about how people come up with all kinds of excuses or make poor decisions that waste their abilities.  But here were athletes who so badly want to compete but can’t do it on their own.  They aren’t wasting the opportunities they’ve been given.  Instead, they do whatever it takes to make their dreams happen.  They are an inspiration to me.

A second magical moment happened that was completely outside of my control.  One of the water stops (I think around mile 9-10) was blasting “Good Morning, Baltimore” from Hairspray.  How can you not smile when that song is playing and you’re running through historic Baltimore?  Although I didn’t really consider doing a costume for this race, I just might have to be a Baltimore Hon next time.

Looking back now

Despite my disappointing finish, I enjoyed this race.  There is no mistake this is a Baltimore event and although I’m not a Maryland native I’ve lived here long enough to appreciate the local flair.  I think I’ll probably run it again, though perhaps not next year depending on the other races I want to do.  Someday I’d like to prove to myself that I can beat the hills in Baltimore and have a great race that I’m proud of.

 

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