The third Baltimore Running Festival blends the fresh with the familiar. The course has been tweaked, there's a new major sponsor and another race, but the head of the pack could look the same.
A pair of special K's, Erick Kimaiyo and Elvira Kolpakova, will try to make history tomorrow, when the Kenyan attempts to become the first man to win two marathons here and the Russian woman the first of either gender to win three titles in Baltimore over the classic distance of 26.2 miles.
They'll start on Paca Street, just north of Oriole Park, and finish near M&T Bank Stadium. Along the way, a field of 2,800 will retrace approximately 20 of the miles that were on last year's course, which for the second straight year appears to have been altered for the better.
At the midway mark, they'll be joined by 3,000 entered in the inaugural CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield Half-Marathon, which gives the festival a fifth race. With 350 four-person teams entered in the Geico Direct Team Relay, 1,000 in the Fila 5K and a Legg Mason Kids' Fun Run on tap, more than 8,000 are expected to race.
The signature event has a new sponsor. Baltimore-based Under Armour is more closely associated with sports such as football and lacrosse, but if its brand can do for the marathon what it has to the performance apparel industry, then the festival is getting a major shot in the arm.
There has been a modest increase in prize money. The marathon champions will earn $4,000, as opposed to $3,000. It wasn't until late August, however, that Under Armour signed on with Corrigan Sports Enterprises, which organizes and promotes the festival. The purse here may never approach the six-figure prize that goes to winners in London and New York, but that aspect of the Baltimore Marathon should change.
"Our sponsorship is for three years, but we're looking beyond that," said Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour, the second-fastest-growing private company in the nation. "The event is not anywhere near where it will be. We have some pretty grandiose ideas."
Entrants in the two longer races will receive Under Armour shirts. While some are lured by that giveaway and it's a work day for the elite runners, a considerable percentage are "fund-racers" doing this for a charitable cause. Marathoner Robert Stastny teaches social studies at Calvert Hall, his alma mater, and he's trying to raise $1,000 for the school's scholarship fund.
Runners should find favorable conditions. Tomorrow's forecast is for a high of 60 and no precipitation.
Kimaiyo, who coaches in Fila's Discovery Kenya program, brought a friend along from Camp Kapsait, which sits nearly at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. Christopher Kipkosgei is in similar shape, and they hope to better Kimaiyo's winning time from last year, 2 hours, 17 minutes and 43 seconds.
Kolpakova, who will be pushed by countrywoman Viktoria Zueva and Ruxton's Lee DiPietro, will run on her third course as many years, although there was nothing as drastic as last year's makeover, which discarded Northern Parkway and the climb required to get there.
The first nine-plus miles are the same as last year, with an uphill stretch into Druid Hill Park disposing of any 8 a.m. adrenaline. The route from Key Highway to the Clifton Park Golf Course - from 11.5 miles to 19.5 - also remains, along with the 23rd, 24th and 25th miles, down 33rd and Howard streets.
City officials asked race director Dave Cooley to ditch the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge, so the wide-open spaces there and near Port Covington were traded for a jaunt out Fort Avenue. Federal regulations prohibit such a large field entering Fort McHenry, hence the turnaround at Andre Street.
Additional mileage was picked up with a stretch around the south side of Lake Montebello, although a second turnaround there was penciled in when the start of the half-marathon was pushed from Pratt Street at the Inner Harbor to a few blocks south on Light.
Marathoners and half-marathoners will merge further east, on Pratt. Visiting pros and tourists can't imagine the scene there last month, when a paddle was needed to navigate the floodwaters left by Tropical Storm Isabel.
Fewer than 50 marathoners could be past the Inner Harbor when the half-marathon commences at 9:30 a.m. Though the marathon and its larger purse will command more attention, the inaugural 13.1-mile test has the greater numbers. Kenyans Gabriel Muchiri and Julius Gwako are among the favorites there.
The half-marathon sold out but had a negative impact on the team relay, which drew 500 teams last year. The Falls Road Running Store is looking for a threepeat, but with Dave Berardi and Chris Chattin opting for the full marathon, Joel Brusewitz, Jesse Williams, Shawn Pinamonti and Mark Gilmore will try for the honors.
Runners to watch
Lee DiPietro: The 45-year-old from Ruxton qualified for next April's Olympic trials marathon with a 2:47:14 in June.