City an old hand at marathons

Running: Baltimore first went the distance in 1939, or was it 1910?

Decades Of Making Strides

Baltimore Marathon

October 15, 2004|By Michael Reeb | Michael Reeb,SUN STAFF

When Mayor Martin O'Malley announced the formation of the Baltimore Marathon 3 1/2 years ago, it was the beginning of a new era in marathon running here.

It was not, however, the beginning of marathon running in Baltimore.

That had happened 60 years earlier or, give or take a few miles, 30 years before that.

A race between Laurel and Baltimore was held May 7, 1910. It was billed as a marathon, but is believed to have been a race of about 22 miles rather than the traditional distance of 26 miles, 385 yards. The winning time of 2 hours, 11 minutes, 11 seconds bears out that presumption because the marathon world record in 1910 was only 2:42.

An article in The Sun the next day told the story of the Laurel-to-Baltimore "marathon" from a decidedly local perspective:

"James D. Mahoney, Washington, is the winner of the inter-city Marathon race of 1910. The race was exciting from start to finish, and at the end Daniel Miller, of the St. Andrew's Public Athletic League, Baltimore, actually crossed the line a few seconds after the winner."

The race was run again in 1939, but this time as a true marathon. Olympian Pat Dengis beat Don Heinicke with a winning time of 2:44:30 4/5.

The next year, the race had a new starting point - Annapolis - but a familiar finishing line in Baltimore and a familiar winner in Heinicke.

"We just ran as fast as we could. It wasn't that hard," Heinicke, 89, said at his Ellicott City home last week.

On a course that began at the Governor's Mansion in Annapolis, Heinicke - who had established a national reputation by finishing second in the Boston Marathon in 1939 - took the lead after reaching Gov. Ritchie Highway and widened it to more than a mile by the finish at City Hall in Baltimore.

The Annapolis-to-Baltimore marathon was described in an April 7, 1940, article in The Sun as "one of the two most important marathons to be held in the United States before the Pan-American games."

Heinicke, who won in 2:41:03 1/5, turned out to be the thread that tied together the old and new eras of marathon running in Baltimore. That new era continues tomorrow with the fourth running of the Baltimore Marathon.

When the Maryland Marathon was introduced in 1973 on a course from Memorial Stadium to the Loch Raven watershed and back, Heinicke - then 59 - was still at it. He finished the 1973 race in 3:15:28, second in the 50-and-over division.

In the 1980s, Heinicke - a member of the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame - began to use bicycling and swimming more as his means of exercise. Even today, he continues to work out five days a week at the YMCA in Ellicott City.

"It takes longer to get the parts working," he said last week.

The Maryland Marathon, which ran annually through 1989, was organized when a group of Baltimore runners who would go to Boston each year looked around and asked themselves: If Boston, why not Baltimore?

"I'd started myself in 1968, as far as taking up a running program, when I was 46 years old," said Joe Holland, who as the first chairman of the Maryland Marathon Commission would organize the race with Les Kinion. "We all went to Boston in 1970 - that was the year Ron Hill won. We were just a bunch of novice guys - Kinion a firefighter and me a business guy."

Kinion, 68 and living in Ocean City, said: "We came back. We sat down with the Maryland Commission on Physical Fitness. It just sort of got laid down for a while. The next year when we went back to Boston, we started talking about it again. It was a three-year deal before it got going."

Once it did, the Maryland Marathon quickly staked out its reputation on the size and quality of its field and the way it treated its runners.

In 1973, the race drew a field of 482, at that time a record for a first-time marathon. The next year, it drew 797, which was in contrast to 500 in the New York City Marathon.

"In 1976, when New York went to five boroughs, Maryland was still bigger," Kinion said. "New York didn't really start to grow until it went to five boroughs."

The race attracted Hill, a British Olympian who had finished sixth when American Frank Shorter won the 1972 Olympic marathon, and Bill Rodgers, a four-time winner of both the New York City and Boston marathons who won Maryland in 1976.

The race also broke ground in the recruitment of an elite women's field, 11 years before the women's marathon was established as an Olympic event.

"I do take credit for paying expenses for women," said Holland, 82. "We got women from out of the country to come here and we were the first to do that."

In a letter of praise to the Maryland Marathon Commission after Kathy Switzer successfully defended her title in 1974, she wrote: "I'd like to tell you that Baltimore is a sort of hallmark in the long struggle for recognition in women's running."

Holland and Kinion agree that the biggest differences between the marathons of a quarter-century ago and today are in training and performance.

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