This past Saturday was the last leg of my King Crab Challenge: the Baltimore Marathon. In the days leading up it hadn’t hit me that I was running a marathon that weekend. I felt great, relaxed, and not too worried. I was happy because I had completed my training plan – all of it – without a hitch, something I had yet to do. I was ready. I was more than ready. I would own that course.
The Nava Health and Vitality Expo was held the Thursday and Friday before race day. It was at the Baltimore Convention Center and, as they have before, Corrigan Sports Enterprises was providing a shuttle service from the M & T Bank Stadium parking lot to the convention center. Parking was free at these lots so it was a great deal. Plus, if you didn’t feel like waiting for the bus you could always walk to the expo. It was a short 10-15 minute walk into the city. When I attended the expo 2 years ago I took the shuttle and it was a good experience. This time around the weather was lovely and I really wanted to bring my stroller with me so I walked. It was a pleasant walk to the center and we went through a community of townhouses that surrounded Camden Yards. Once at the convention center the entrance was easy to find.
Inside you were immediately greeted by volunteers and directed to the correct bib locations. They had a line for those who had their registration e-card and those who needed to print them out. I had both mine and my daughter’s so I headed on over to bib pick up. Pick up was quick and easy. The volunteer offered me a smaller bib that stated “Full” on it letting me know I had the option to wear it on my back. I remember that from the previous marathon I ran but I didn’t wear it then. I decided to grab one this time and wear it on race day. From there I headed over to the shirt pick up then into the vendor area.
I was a little surprised at how small the vendor area felt. It may be because they held it in a larger area this time or maybe my memory deceives me. It just seemed like there weren’t as many vendors there. I stopped by the Mazda booth because they were giving out free shoe ID tags. I snagged one for my shoes because I have been meaning to get myself a legitimate Road ID. I figured the Mazda one would be a good placeholder in the mean time. Afterwards I stopped at the Falls Road Running booth to grab a fuel belt. I’d been looking for one the weeks prior to carry my gels in but everything I found was either not what I wanted or too big. I lucked out in that they had the right size for me and I bought it from their shop. I looked around a bit, checked out the Pandora charm exclusive to this race, then headed back home. I didn’t want to splurge at the expo since experience told me that the race merchandise would be at the celebration village on Saturday. I could wait until then to buy something.
Given my experience at the 2014 Baltimore Running Festival I made the decision to spend the night before the race at a hotel downtown. Basically, back in 2014 we thought we could just drive into the city the morning of (we live about 30 minutes from the race start area) and be okay. We’d done it before in Virginia Beach and figured it would be the same deal here. Wrong. So, when they say there are 4,000 marathoners and about 3 times as many 5Ker they’re not kidding! We ended up parking a few blocks from the stadium because the stadium lots were filled and they were directing cars to overflow. I made it to my corral in time for the National Anthem. I hate barely making it like that so this time around I was going to make sure we did it right.
The perks to staying downtown were that my family got to sleep in and I got to get up whenever I wanted (I like to get up early as heck for race day). We arrived at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel in the Inner Harbor around 7 PM and settled in. One of the great things about this hotel was that the parking garage was under the hotel, they gave you a parking pass that allowed in-and-out privileges, and they catered to our children and me! What I mean by that is that they saw our children in the stroller and immediately came over and let them pick out a small stuffed animal. For me, when the front desk heard I was running the next day the lady handed me a bag with all sorts of post race goodies: trail mix, granola bars, water, and a listing of their race specials at the hotel restaurant. They also had hot cider in the lobby. It was a very welcoming environment and was happy that my husband chose there to stay.
Once I had the children in bed I laid out my race gear, checked the schedule of events for the next day, then scoped out coffee shops for my AM fueling. My husband had to run out to 7-11 because I forgot to pack contact lenses solution (oops) and found that Dunkin’ Donuts was only 2 blocks away and opened at 5 AM. The hotel had a Starbucks bar as well but that didn’t open until 6 AM. I like to start fueling right around 6 and since the bar didn’t serve the typical Starbucks food fair (I’m partial to oatmeal for my pre-race food), I decided to hit the DD the next morning. Once I finally felt settled I went to bed.
I set my alarm for 5 AM. I wanted enough time to get ready and nurse my son if need be. I got up, got dressed, put on some layers, then headed out the door around 5:20 to get breakfast. Dunkin’ was empty (big surprise) so everything I got was hot and fresh (well, as fresh as it can be at a chain coffee shop). I stopped by the 7-11 as well to get my children some bananas then got back to the hotel. It was about 5:45 when I ran into a fellow runner in the elevator. He was shocked I had found coffee as he had come down for the Starbucks but wasn’t aware that they didn’t open until 6. I told him where the DD was and he was instantly put off on the idea of having to walk there and said he’d just wait until the coffee bar opened up. He then joined up with a few other runners that had wandered in and waited with them.
Once back in the room I fed my son and tried to start eating. He wasn’t having it (me eating) so I waited patiently as he finished and went back to sleep. I ate in the dark (the joys of hotel rooms with babies 😉 ) and then made sure everything I would need post-race was in my shoe bag that my husband would bring me. I then pinned on my number and said goodbye to my husband. The walk to the start wasn’t so bad. It was about 15 minute or so and I made it just as the 5Kers were starting their race. It was fun to watch them all take off. They then switched up the signs and opened up the corrals for the marathoners. I made my way to the midway point between the 8:00/mi and 7:00/mi corral. I eventually fell in with the 2:25 pace group since the pace group after them was 3:35. I was shooting for a 3:30 so I figured pacing with 2:25 would at least give me some cushion if I slowed down during the race.
The usual pre-start events took place. They introduced Olympic wrestler Kyle Synder (the honorary starter), sang the National Anthem, then before I knew it they were counting down. Bang! We were off!
The start was wonderful. It may be because of where I seeded myself but it didn’t feel overly crowded despite the 4,000 runners present. The pace group started well enough and the pace felt like an easy effort…a little too easy, to be honest. Still, I told myself it was early in the race so of course it felt easy. I had all this energy stored up. I knew that the longer I ran the more depleted those energy reserves would become. Instead, I saw this as a plus because it meant that maybe a 2:25-2:30 was possible.
The route headed north on Paca St (which became McCulloh St) for the first 3 miles. The gradual incline was noticeable but not completely impossible to run through. A few members of our pace group dropped out during this point which was disheartening since it was only the beginning. I slowly moved from the tail end of the pack to the front alongside the pacers. I made this move after the second time the runner ahead of me slowed suddenly and almost tripped me. After Mile 3 we veered right into the Maryland Zoo for the run through the zoo and Druid Hill Park. The majority of this was a downhill and the break was much appreciated. I tried to maintain pace with the group but I found myself having to pull back the reigns a lot. I felt as though I was holding back a lot. I looked at my watch and noticed we varied between 7:40 and 8:00 in pace. We were ticking off 7:45ish paces according to the pacers. I knew from my last half that this was a bit slower than my average pace for races. I was also starting to worry about the hills that were going to come up from Miles 15 to 22. It’s one thing to beast your way up hills during the first 3 miles but it’s completely different when you’ve run 15. I made the decision at the first relay exchange point to push on and maintain a 7:30 pace as closely as I could. This way I would increase my time cushion just enough so that if the hills did kill me later it wouldn’t hurt my BQ chances. Probably not the greatest plan but it usually works well for me.
After we exited Druid Hill Park and passed John Hopkins University (mile marker 6) we made the turn south towards the Inner Harbor. This was entirely downhill which was great and terrible at the same time. There really isn’t much to report on this park other than it was fairly easy to keep my 7:30 pace consistent. I felt like I could’ve flown down the downhill but I didn’t. This made me realize (post race) that I’ve grown as a runner. Rather than get cocky I kept at my pace and got ready for the flat portion.
At Mile 9 we ran past the half marathon start and made the turn east towards the Under Armour Headquarters. I really enjoy this portion because the 5Kers are typically there to cheer you on as well as the half marathoners. I also used to drive through this area regularly for doctor appointments. Unlike when I drove I was actually able to take in all the scenery and check out the small restaurants along the road. I was glad I could because I saw a new coffee shop I’ll definitely be visiting in the future! The run to UA HQ and back to the half marathon start was pretty uneventful and covered Miles 10 through 13.1. The turn around at Mile 11 was also a gel refuel spot so I grabbed one from the volunteer just in case I needed it (I had enough in my belt but you never know!). I also ended up grabbed a granola bar because I mistook it for a protein bar. I shoved both in my belt and kept moving, grabbing water and sipping what I could. Passing the half marathon start I noted that the clock read 1:40 so I knew I was pacing close to the Frederick pace so I was in a good place. I felt recharged at that point thanks to all the runners and spectators there. Hearing “great pace 126!” really gives you that boost.
From the halfway point we headed further east around the Inner Harbor and into Canton. There was a portion of cobblestone road at the President St. and Lancaster St. which kind of blew but it wasn’t anything that threw me off. I made sure to step gingerly and try to stick to the shortest distance covered by the cobblestone. As we ran through Canton I smiled a bit because we lived in that area for about 2 months. I didn’t really take in as much of Canton as it had to offer and now I regret it. Seeing it again reminded me of all the great shops and restaurants there are to visit in the area…plus all the lovely views one gets running along the harbor. I felt good throughout this section but I knew the most mentally and physically challenging portion of the run was coming up.
I bit past Mile 15 we made the turn north towards Patterson Park, Clifton Park, and Lake Montebello. This is where the next major climb began. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t relentless. I felt good running uphill the next 2 miles. Once we made the 2nd turn north onto Washington St. I really started to feel those inclines. The push towards Clifton Park and Lake Montebello was tough. I kept telling myself to just keep pushing and that it would be flat along the lake. At this point my pace went up 30 seconds. I knew that as long as I maintained an 8:00 pace I’d be okay. That was the net pace needed throughout the marathon for a 3:30 finish and since I covered the first half at roughly a 7:30 pace I knew I had the cushion. At just past Mile 19 the 2:25 pace group passed me. I noticed their crowd had thinned out, sadly. The trucked along and I admired their strength up the hill. I knew at this point that as long as they stayed in view for a bit it would motivate me to keep moving. I also made sure to remind myself that I needed to keep moving because i f the 3:35 pace group caught up to me, my BQ goal was over. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we reached Lake Montebello.
Although I thought I would enjoy the flat portion along the lake, I didn’t. Not. One. Bit. I would have enjoyed a downhill much more because it would have given me the momentum I was yearning. At this point I was near the point of throwing up because I really gave it what I could up the hill. I couldn’t stomach anything so I skipped the Gu at the water stop and grabbed some Gatorade in hopes that it would help. I continued around and geared myself for the final uphill push ahead of me. I knew that once I got through the next 2 miles after the lake I’d be able to relish in the downhill. I knew I felt like hell at this point and it really made me laugh when I looked at my photos at that point of the race. I definitely had the “this sh** is unreal” face going.
Miles 22 and 23 headed west and were all a gradual incline. I remember this portion vividly from 2014. This was the point where I stopped and had to walk because my back tweaked out. There was no sign of that pain here but my left heel was starting to irk me. It had started hurting a little when I had reached the Inner Harbor earlier but I took it as a result of the downhill and my gait. I focused on running on the balls of my feet both to help relieve the pain and to get me up the hill. This portion was mentally tough mainly because this is where you see a lot of people stop and walk. This is also the spot where I was passed by relay runners with fresh legs and half marathoners. That is definitely tough to witness because I was pushing so hard to get myself uphill without slowing my pace. So many half marathoners told me I was doing great and amazing (probably noticed how much I was struggling) and I was so thankful for their kind words. I might have felt like hell but others felt I was doing great. That’s all I needed to hear to keep pushing. Finally, we reached the mile marker for 23 and we turned south towards Camden Yards.
Now, although this was a net downhill elevation change this is actually the hardest portion of the marathon. While I did enjoy the nice downhill run for the next 2 miles the Howard St bridge was there waiting for me right before Mile 25. I saw it coming and I knew I had to grit right through it. I was so close. There was no way I was stopping now. I pushed up that bridge and didn’t look down until I had crested it. This is about where some serious runner’s high hit. I saw Mile 25 and I knew I had it in the bag. The timer showed me that even if I ran at a 10:00 pace I’d still be under BQ time by 3 minutes. I was determined to just kept moving. My legs were numb at this point and my heel no longer hurt (probably due to the numbness, lol).
The next 1.2 miles were an unreal rush. There were so many spectators everywhere and the knowledge that the finish was right there gave me my final boost. I passed over the running festival street banner and into Camden Yards. This was it. I saw the Kid’s Race start line. So close! I turned slightly and saw the finish line…I saw the clock. I broke out into a huge smile. I pushed hard and got across that line. I haven’t been so happy to cross a line in so long. I looked at my watch. I did it. I hit 3:30. I didn’t stop moving through the chute until I reached the water. I so needed the water. I asked if I could have 2 and moved on to the Gatorade table. I poured 2 half cups together and chugged it. Having run the last 8+ miles without Gu worried me a bit because I didn’t replenish any electrolytes as a result. I then went over to pick up my medal and take the obligatory medal shot. The smile on my face was ridiculous. I was so happy.
Finish Area and Village
Immediately after the finish the volunteers offered up cold towels. I skipped that portion because despite the fact that it was a bit warm I was freezing. I walked over to the heat blankets instead and grabbed one. I went through the runner refreshments tables and grabbed a banana, demolished an orange slice (I was craving salts at this point), grabbed a potato chip bag and power bar, then drink another half cup of Gatorade. I was starting to feel the pain at this point. My legs were on fire and my heel was starting to seize up. Still, I was in such a euphoric state and I kept moving, completely unbothered by the pain. One of the security guards near the runners’ exit stopped me to ask if I needed any help. I just smiled and said nope and thanked him for asking. He laughed and told me “That’s the spirit!” I finally spotted my family and we headed to the celebration village.
Here is where the pain became unreal. I unloaded my few food items into the stroller and put on my long sleeve shirt. The pain started becoming excruciating so I tried to stretch it out. Squatting helped but only for a bit. After stopping to get my Maryland Double medal and my King Crab premium I went to the medical tent. I just wanted ibuprofen. My husband went over to buy the Pandora charm I was eying (it was exclusive to the race) and I got the pills and some ice. I was then on a mission to get food and some soda. My craving for a Coke was ridiculous (again, probably from the sodium loss). I know it wasn’t a smart refuel choice but I didn’t care. I had taken down so much water at this point that I just wanted something different (I had killed both water bottles by this point). I got a Pepsi and we went over to the merchandise tent. It was much nicer looking around this time as there weren’t that many people. I found the running tights I loved and a nice technical 3/4 zip. I also grabbed a pint glass because they were pretty awesome (they have the course map on them). I then took the time to switch my shoes and that made a huge difference.
Once the ibuprofen kicked in I was able to take everything in. There was so much to look at in the village. The only annoying thing was that we couldn’t enter the UA shop because we had a non-clear bag with us (the diaper bag). Really? I wasn’t too heartbroken about it, though, because it was just standard UA items and not race specific ones. We checked out the Mazda booth then decided to get a snack and some alcohol. I splurged on a margarita. This was only my second one since January 2015! I don’t drink often so this tasted like heaven. I also grabbed a soft pretzel and we just hung out for a bit. After we had finished our drinks, we headed towards the exit and back to the hotel. On our way back we did stop by the Fleet Week celebration going on in the Inner Harbor. We looked around and admired the booths. We also stopped at the Cheesecake Factory to pick up some celebratory cheesecake for later then headed out.
I am so happy with the outcome of this race. I was aiming to finish around 3:30 and I hit that goal. Things went close to the way I hoped they would, minus the missed GU refuels at Mile 22. I had planned to take them at Miles 4, 9, 13, 18, and 22. After I took one at Mile 18 I thought I was going to throw up so I decided not to take the next one. I did take some Gatorade at the water stops at Mile 21 and 24 to help get me through to the end. I did manage to ensure I got some sips of water at all the water stops except the first 2 stops. I had decided to not run with my water pack because it was chaffing me every time I used it during training runs and I was too cheap to buy something better (it is probably the cheapest standard Camelbak one can buy).
As for pacing, I had semi-hoped I could maintain the watch 7:30 pace throughout but I knew realistically that probably wouldn’t happen. Pacing near 8:00, though, was amazing to me. That cushion I gave myself helped tremendously in the end and I was happy to see that reaching 10:00 didn’t happen, something I feared. Though I did slow a little at the end I’m glad I didn’t crash and burn. More importantly, I was able to run the entire route. I didn’t stop once and never hit a wall. This has only happened to me once before and that was at my previous PR race at Shamrock 2013. It feels great to know all the early mornings, long runs, and runs against my will paid off.
I’m currently taking a zero week and enjoying the fact that I don’t have to get up at 4 AM anymore or run 10+ miles. I was only sore for about 2 days post-race but my muscles are definitely still fatigued. I’ll be starting a short 3-4 week post-marathon recovery training 1so that I’m ready for my half in November. After that it’s definitely break time from training. After a year of non-stop training I’m beyond ready for a break. I do have some race goals (aside from Boston 2018) planned and I’ll go over those in another entry. Until then, I’m going back to having somewhat of a social life 😀