A Change for the Flatter

Less-hilly course should uplift all

Baltimore Marathon

October 17, 2002|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,Special to the Sun

Pat Yevics-Eisenberg took her first marathon seriously. For months before the inaugural Baltimore Comcast Marathon last year, she built up her stamina with a group of fellow runners, slogging through long runs on the weekends and improving her speed with fast runs during the week. She also learned the course, planned her water stops, and even gave up drinking wine with dinner a week before the race to guard against dehydration.

Her hard work paid off with a respectable time of four hours and 24 minutes. For this year's marathon, though, she's training even harder, with the goal of finishing the 26.2-mile course in four hours, so she can qualify for the Boston Marathon.

"It's not going to be easy for me, but it's not impossible," says the 52-year-old.

The organizers of the Baltimore Marathon are hoping to improve their performance, too.

Although the city's maiden marathon went well last year, there was plenty of room for improvement, says Lee Corrigan, the event organizer. This year's marathon, which starts at 8 a.m. Saturday, differs from last year's in several important ways.

A flatter course

Probably the biggest change is that this year's course is considerably flatter. The 2001 route, which took runners through some of Baltimore's most attractive neighborhoods, also included some major hills, especially on Walther Avenue and Northern Parkway.

The highest elevation on that course was about 410 feet, at Lake and Roland avenues. This year, the highest point is 210 feet, at Guilford Avenue and 33rd Street, Corrigan says.

He says he knew the course had to be changed when he met a man who had run 100 marathons and thought Baltimore's was the most difficult. "We got a lot of feedback that it was difficult," he says.

"We were trying to show off the city of Baltimore and all its neighborhoods," Corrigan says. "And we did a great job of that last year. However, we found that if we continued to keep our route the same, we would, of course, be losing many runners year after year. We had to make an adjustment."

Yevics-Eisenberg and other marathoners who have run all sections of this year's course as part of their training note that the new course is easier, but not nearly as scenic. "There are some really ugly neighborhoods," Yevics-Eisenberg says.

There are attractive areas, too, with the course passing through Fells Point, Federal Hill, the waterfront area and Patterson Park.

This year's run will be less crowded than last year's. About 3,000 marathoners and 500 four-person relay teams have signed up, compared with about 6,500 marathon runners and 350 relay teams last year. That's about 5,000 runners this year, down from about 7,900 last year.

Of the signficantly reduced number of runners doing the full marathon, Corrigan says, "The inaugural Baltimore Marathon created tremendous excitement and we are not surprised to see a drop in registration this year. The groundswell of support for the relay along with the addition of the kids' fun run have added to the opportunity for fun and community involvement this year."

Last year's marathon winner, Luka Cherono of Kenya, will not be running this year, but another elite runner from that country, Erick Kimayo, will be. Kimayo, a two-time winner of the Honolulu Marathon, has a personal-best marathon time of 2 hours, 7 minutes and 43 seconds.

A run for everyone

Although the Baltimore Marathon does attract elite runners, organizers made extra efforts this year to involve as many runners of all abilities as possible. They heavily promoted the GEICO Direct Team Relay and the FILA 5K, and added a new race, the CitiFinancial Kids' Fun Run for children 12 and under. The latter will be 100 yards long for children 6 and under, one-third of a mile for kids 7 to 9, and a half-mile for kids 10 to 12.

Another change this year is the food on the course. In response to research showing the value of salty foods to runners, there will now be Utz pretzels and potato chips at the various refueling stations, as well as bananas, bagels, water, Gatorade and GU, an energy gel.

Community cooperation

Corrigan wants Baltimore residents to see the race as a boon to the city, not an inconvenience. To that end, organizers have sent letters to the affected communities, urging them to celebrate and cheer on the runners.

One new sign of community involvement will be the "hallelujah hill," at about mile 21, around the Alameda and 33rd Street. "We're going to have some church choirs out there, singing," Corrigan says.

The changes will continue through the marathon's home stretch. In 2001, the final yards of the course looped around Ravens Stadium. This year, runners will pass through the Ravens Walk, sometimes referred to as the "spine" between the football stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where bystanders will have plenty of room to watch. "It's better for the runners, better for the viewers," Corrigan says.

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