Runner's Resource - A Running Blog
February 25, 2017 Lindsey N. Dyn
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The First Step to a Running Lifestyle
After running hundreds of miles and training for months, it was time to put my new feet to the test. Baltimore was my first marathon after dual foot surgeries so I wasn’t aiming for any major time goals (but secretly hoping for a PR); my only real goal was to finish. I’ve run several marathons before, but after almost a 3 year hiatus, a certain anxiety hid beneath the surface. Friends and family assured me it was no big deal, saying “Hey, you’ve done an ultra. This will be easy.” While well-intentioned, anyone who has essentially started back at square one running-wise knows that, yes, a marathon is still a big deal regardless of your previous running credentials. But enough of the prologue, let’s get to the real race report info you’re dying to hear…
Runner’s Expo & Packet Pickup:
Since the running festival was held on Saturday, the runner’s expo and packet pickup was held on Thursday and Friday at the Baltimore Convention Center. Free parking was offered a few blocks away around the Camden Yard area, making for a nice walk to burn off some of the typical nervous, pre-event energy. The vendors and festival volunteers were plentiful and friendly. Vendors offering various running apparel, running shoes, headbands, shoe charms, and registration for other races abounded. If your heart desired it, you could probably find it. I tend to be on the frugal side, more of a window shopper, if you will, but with some prodding and encouragement from the hubby, I left one booth approximately $125 lighter. Yes, I got sucked in to the compression apparel booth. Admittedly I had been shopping around for some previously but could never pull the trigger. But the essence of the running expo…yes, that did it. (Plus the vendor was kind enough to supply some of the scientific data behind their products and the competition.)
So what did I buy? And was it worth it? First off, to put your mind (or maybe mine) at ease, I was not a total sucker. There were some really nice discounts. But getting back to the apparel…the brand I locked in on was 2XU, which as I stated before specializes in compression gear. After a couple of measurements, some good conversation, and a look at the data, I finally settled on the 2XU Elite MCS Compression Calf Guards and the 2XU PWX Mid-Rise Compression Tights. I generally like to use the calf sleeves during training runs, as well as races, because these allow me more freedom than pants. In my experience, the pants I’ve run in previously bunch at the back of the knee, which is very annoying. I had brought some CEP compression calf sleeves with me to run the marathon the next day but the vendor (an elite athlete) assured me that I could not go wrong with the 2XU sleeves, even if I hadn’t tried them out before. Everyone who has run endurance events before knows you shouldn’t try anything new on race day. But spoiler alert, I did…and it turned out OK. More on that later. I chose the compression tights primarily for the recovery phase. According to the manufacturer, the tights can be worn during running as well. I’ll let you know how that part goes when the time comes.
So what other freebies were offered at the expo? One of the race’s sponsors offered a spin wheel (think The Price is Right on a much smaller scale) for various goodies. As I spun that wheel I was hoping and putting out good cosmic vibes, aiming for that coveted cowbell. Because everybody needs more cowbell. Alas, that was a prize which alluded me…I won a pen instead. There were a few other race organizers at the expo, advertising and offering race discounts – everything from semi-local 5K’s to the Philadelphia Marathon. If you wanted to wait in a decent (but not horrendous) line, you could get a personalized shoe charm. I don’t really have much need for those, but I thought the concept and the fact that they were giving them out and personalizing them for free was pretty cool.
Race Day Parking/Transportation:
The hubby and I stayed the night at a nearby hotel since an hour drive early in the morning did not sound like a barrel full of fun. I think a large number of runners did the same since there was a constant wave of people walking to the starting area. Due to several (obviously necessary) road closures, it was hard for the hubby to see me more than a couple of times along the course, but the partial out-and-back set-up did allow him to see me both at miles 9 and 12.
Course & Course Support:
The starting line was positioned at Camden Yards and the race organizers were kind enough to open up a small section of the ballpark for bathroom stops pre-race. Security (by way of the brave men and women of the Baltimore Police Department) was present throughout the entire course. As I stood on the sidewalk stretching, my husband joked that we may need the bomb squad to come take a look at my GPS watch. Remember that reference to being frugal before? Well, yes, I still have the same Garmin 305 GPS watch from college (which is well over 10 years old). It takes forever to find the signal and takes up almost my entire wrist. Holding up my wrist to the sky while balancing during a quad stretch is quite a sight to see. With a good-luck kiss I slipped off the sidewalk into the mass of runners lining up at the start.
Despite waking up with a tight hamstring, I filed in behind the 4:30 pace group (way faster than I’ve ever run) and proceeded to dodge runners, hopping on and off sidewalks, weaving in and out of parked cars, for the first few miles. The marathon portion of the running festival started at the same time as the marathon relay so the streets were packed for miles. Around mile 3 the course weaved into the Baltimore Zoo, with an extra special treat…penguins! The night before the race I was re-reading the runner’s packet and had seen that the zoo was planning on bringing out some of the animals as a reprieve. Knowing that a PR was unlikely, I had already decided that if there were penguins, I was going to see them. So as I ran down the hill will hundreds of other runners around me, a lone penguin sitting up on a table caught my eye. I zigged through a herd of runners until he was standing in front of me in all his formal attire. Did I mention I LOVE penguins? But I digress…
After the penguins we continued through the zoo and nature started calling. Up until this point the lines for the Porta Potties had been long so when I saw a lone stall at the bottom of another hill, I thought I’d seize the opportunity. Unfortunately, four men were in line ahead of me by the time I got there and with frustration, I watched the minutes tick by, completely derailing my pace. I mean, come on guys! That’s what trees are for! Back on course, the sun kept rising, and it was time for the throw-away shirt to get tossed. About half a mile after ditching my shirt, something felt off, like I was missing something. Reaching up to my head I soon realized in the shirt-shedding process I had lost my favorite headband as well! I was pissed! I better PR now! Trying to forget about my unnatural amount of anger over something so small, I turned my focus to looking for Dan who said he’d be waiting somewhere around mile 9. Scanning the mass of spectators, I finally spotted him and my face absolutely lit up. The power of seeing a loved one cheering you on is amazing. Take a look…he snapped this pic as I was running towards him.
I stopped briefly to give him a kiss (because hey, I figure it’s the least I could do considering the guy got up before the sun to stand around in the cold by himself for an hour and a half). I trotted off towards the Under Armor headquarters, the turnaround point before heading back for another glimpse of Dan at mile 12. After scanning the crowd for a mile, I finally see Dan with our friend Mack and his son right before the half-marathon mark. Even with the penguin stop, extended porta potty break, and high fives for my crew, I was PR’ing at the half-marathon distance. If I could keep up the pace, I’d finish in 4:20!
The next few miles were pretty much a blur, a painful uphill blur. Even though the total elevation gain paled in comparison to my ultramarathon endeavor, mile 15 to 21 was pretty much a constant uphill climb, forcing many runners (myself included) to take walking breaks. While running through the inner city didn’t provide much in the way of scenery until mile 20 at Lake Montebello, the residents were out in force cheering, with little kids lining the streets for high-fives.
On course support was manned with hundreds of volunteers handing out water and nutrition at regular intervals. Gatorade, gels, and Utz brand snacks were distributed to hungry runners, along with Dunkin Donuts at one stop around mile 20. While donut holes sounded sooo appetizing, I resisted the urge for fear of tummy troubles later. I didn’t come this far to drop out because of bad nutrition choices.
The weather was perfect! A little chilly in the morning, but to be expected for a mid-October race, a ‘throw-away’ shirt kept me just warm enough for the first few miles. Sunny skies made for cheery running and warmer temperatures later in the race.
Swag Bag & Medal:
The swag bag, which consisted both of a virtual and physical gift bag, was good. The race shirts were long-sleeved and consisted of the technical fabric we runners have become so accustomed to. While gender specific, I found that the sizes ran a little large. Thankfully shirt exchanges were offered and after a brief fashion show in the bathroom, I settled on a smaller size. Even though multiple race distances were included in part of the running festival, I liked that the shirts were specific to the distance you signed up for. The shirts also had thumb holes which can be nice in the cooler weather. Once aspect of the shirt that I wasn’t thrilled about was the cut. While the shoulder to waist length was just right, the sleeves were a little long and the neck cut was of the scoop-neck variety, exposing a little more than I’m used to when running.
The finisher’s medal for the marathon was a five-inch gold grab which hung from a thick, satin-like ribbon with “Run 26.2” cut out on the front. As an added surprise, the medal opened up to reveal a view of the Baltimore inner harbor. The size of the medal was massive, and equally heavy; it seems the race organizers wanted to ensure everyone knew about the finishers’ accomplishments.
The virtual gift bag: Since the marathon was located close to the Baltimore Inner Harbor, the virtual goodie bag included offers from a number of local restaurants. Discounts for future races such as the Baltimore 10 miler, Frederick Running Festival, Shamrock Marathon Weekend, ASA RunFest, Delaware Running Festival, and Kentucky Derby Festival also had prominent features; discount race entries – part of a runner’s dream wish list. Other running-related virtual discounts were included for sports drink formula, running support/braces, and a free YMCA membership when registering for one of their local 5K races.
I quickly (relatively speaking, post-marathon) hustled through the post-race goodies to meet up with my wonderful cheering squad. I grabbed a few waters, a banana, and some Utz pretzels. The refreshment tents were well organized and well manned. Several flavors of Utz potato chips were available as well. But in my excitement to embrace my peeps, I totally forgot about the free beer! Arrg! No worries, though folks, we made sure to enjoy some pizza at Joe Squared, along with post-race beers at Leinenkugel’s Beer Garden.
Overall I would rank the race 4 stars. The finisher’s medal and other swag was what every runner hopes for from a large running festival. The course support was great but having nearly all of the events run along the same course at the same time caused undue course congestion. There was a steady pack of runners from sidewalk to sidewalk nearly the entire length of the course. Some scenic spots highlighted the course and while the rest of the course was somewhat lackluster, the crowds from the local community that came out to cheer us on made for a pleasant race experience.
Until next time, happy running!
All previous images copyright by Lindsey N. Dyn, 2016.