Reworked course proves to be a winner

Runners say it's a `keeper,' though motorists find fault

Baltimore Marathon

October 21, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Last year Al Redmond covered the marathon in the inaugural Baltimore Running Festival in 3 hours, 43 minutes. On Saturday, he found a reworked course faster as promised, and the 46-year-old from Harrisburg, Pa., chopped five minutes off his time to cap a satisfying return.

"There were hills at the start, but nothing brutal," Redmond said. "I would have been back even if the course had stayed the same, because hills don't discourage me, but what I liked about this course is that you got a mixture of scenery and neighborhoods. There were a lot of friendly people out there, but one thing didn't change. I still heard angry motorists blowing their horns."

While neighborhoods to the north and northeast dealt with congestion last year, the reworked course included four passes through major downtown arteries. At 2:30 p.m., 6 1/2 hours after the start of the race, there was a minor backup on Pratt Street before Eutaw, as the final official finishers made their way into Camden Yards.

Four hours earlier, Elvira Kolpakova repeated as the women's champion. The Russian said that she would like to come back and make it a three-peat, but it remains to be seen if the course will remain the same. Race director Dave Cooley and Lee Corrigan, whose promotional firm oversees the festival, were aware of the impact on motorists and merchants near the Inner Harbor.

"So many people who said that they didn't mind last year, said they loved this," Cooley said. "To a man, I did not hear a negative word. I don't know about the impact on city traffic, but as far as the runners are concerned, they told me it was a great course. For us and the runners, we have a keeper. Do we have a keeper for the city? I don't know."

There were fewer numbers for the logisticians to worry about, as the field dropped from 4,800 finishers in 2001 to 2,100 on Saturday, with an additional 500 relay teams along for the haul. The field took a hit on both ends, as four men with 2:17 credentials were no-shows and slower runners pledging for charities were discouraged by a seven-hour cutoff, as the earlier close was dictated by yesterday's Ravens game.

Organizers may tinker with the date to avoid competing with other races in the mid-Atlantic region, but they also probably have to select one before the NFL schedule is finalized.

To compete as a major marathon, events need two of three components: a fast course, tradition and big purse money. Next year will be the third year for the event. There is no way around daunting terrain on the north side of the city, and until Comcast and other sponsors pump up the first-place prize of $3,000, it's doubtful that the Baltimore Running Festival will command greater numbers than it had in its inaugural year.

"The prize money is something we've got to look into," Corrigan said. "The inaugural drew a lot of people curious about a new event. This is our baseline, and we can build from here."

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