For Jeff Hinte and five other "ultrarunners" striding a 200-mile trail across a scenic stretch of Maryland -- to raise money for a Baltimore homeless shelter -- the first stages of the five-day race have proved to be endurance tests against nature and the elements.
The runners, who finished the fourth day of their ordeal yesterday afternoon in the city, crossed rugged, slippery, leaf-strewn mountain ridges.
They've battled blustery, winterlike weather, including snow squalls, during a trek across Western Maryland that began Wednesday in Hancock.
Their feat is impressive in that for each day since Wednesday, they've each run 1 1/2 marathons (a classic marathon is 26.2 miles), at least.
And 39 miles more are to be run today before they're finished.
Today's final leg, from downtown Baltimore to the Pennsylvania line, much of it along the Northern Central Railroad Trail, is likely to be less gruesome for the runners, who also number athletes from California, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina.
Most of the runners -- including two Marylanders -- were apprehensive about a 50-mile stretch yesterday along well-traveled Route 144 through small towns and suburban areas in Frederick, Carroll, Howard and Baltimore counties. Yesterday's leg ended at the Inner Harbor.
The runners filled up with energy-generating pasta last night at the South Baltimore Homeless Shelter, for which they are raising about $6,000 through pledges.
"This is a chance to put our running talents to another use," said Mr. Hinte, 40, an engineer from Aberdeen.
Administrators and residents of the 46-bed transitional men's shelter said they appreciated the runners' efforts and endurance -- the same quality required to beat addictions.
"These guys don't know us or our plight, but they're willing to do something for the shelter that benefits us," said Stevie Thompson, who is undergoing addiction rehabilitation and is teaching adult basic education at Baltimore City Community College.
Earlier in the week, Mr. Hinte said, "the Appalachian Trail is always tough, and it's rocky." Then he said: "One of the reasons I did this is because I knew what the trail sections were like. But running roads is a lot tougher for me. I seem to lose energy on roads."
"This is a beautiful time of the year to be running," added Greg Zaruba, 29, a dietitian from Sykesville.
Mike Strzelecki, a Baltimore civil engineer and race director, said he and his wife, Kelly, organized the run -- claimed to be the most grueling running race ever in Maryland -- not only to raise money for the homeless but also to show off the state to runners.
Six of the nation's top ultrarunners were chosen from a field of 45 runners who expressed interest, he said. Each of the runners paid $95 and received a T-shirt, a free meal and aid along the routes. Runners had to collect pledges, and pay for accommodations in Frederick and Thurmont.
They spent the night free at the Hagerstown YMCA and spent last night with runners in Baltimore.
The race will raise about $6,000 for the South Baltimore Homeless Shelter, a 40-bed transitional shelter for men in South Baltimore. Mr. and Mrs. Strzelecki are shelter board members and volunteers at the shelter. The race was sponsored by Harbor Hospital Center.
"This race will not only bring us money, which, of course, we need, but it also heightens awareness of our presence in Baltimore and our ministry to homeless individuals," said Tim Williams, executive director of South Baltimore Homeless Shelter Inc.