My favorite time is early in the morning -- 5 o'clock. There's nothing like watching the sun rise. It inspires me, it keeps me well-balanced and strong-willed. For me as a runner, it's that first cup of coffee in the morning.
Back in high school I ran spring track in 10th grade, but it was 11 years later that I began my real running journey.
One spring evening, I went with a cousin to walk / run around the Princeton (N.J.) High School track.
That's when I ran my first three miles. And from there the mileage grew. I ran solo for about six years. Then when I moved to Baltimore, I met a lot of other runners.
Running breaks down barriers. It's a great social event. We forget who we are and become one as we pace ourselves. It's all about the breath we take and the steps in our stride.
It's about staying strong and keeping a well-balanced life and being healthy.
The first running group I joined was the Druid Hill Park Brothers. They are elite runners.
I meet up with them on Sunday mornings, and we faithfully do the back hills, or "dead man hills," of the park. The brothers run them at a steady pace while carrying on full conversations. They are a very supportive group of guys, always welcoming new faces.
I also run with the Baltimore Pacemakers. They are a rainbow of people and are very down-to-earth and good-natured. Each Saturday morning, there may be anywhere from 10 to 60 runners. We start our summer training for the fall marathons in mid-June.
Our great leader, Bob Hilson, maps out our course to meet everyone's mileage needs. Bob is the kind of guy who supports everyone within the group. He takes time out with first-time marathoners. If it's a 20-miler for that Saturday and you are a runner with a slow pace, he will run your pace the whole 20 miles, laughing and joking with you while giving encouraging words. Bob and the Pacemakers give great support to one another.
My first marathon was the Baltimore race in 2001. I was so excited the night before that I could not sleep. During the marathon, I was so excited that I ran too fast and by the time I got to the15-mile mark I had gotten serious leg and stomach cramps. I hit the wall at mile 18 and did not think I would finish. But I did. I ran the 26.2 miles in 4 hours, 34 minutes and 24 seconds.
After crossing the finish line, all I did was sit straight up in a chair, and I could not speak for an hour.
That is one experience that I will never forget. I told myself that I would not do another marathon for a long time. Since then I have done 11 marathons.
So far this year, I have only completed the Nashville Country Music Marathon. I set a personal record, finishing in 3 hours, 57 minutes and 49 seconds. Now I am preparing for the Baltimore Marathon, which takes place Oct. 15. I would like to do it in 3 hours and 50 minutes, which would qualify me (age 43) to do the great Boston Marathon.
I figure I know the Baltimore course well enough. I run it on my training runs with the Pacemakers. I know Baltimore is not the easiest marathon, but I enjoy the course runs. I think I have a good chance at hitting 3:50, and if I don't get it this time there is always another time.
I will never be an elite runner. But I am content with who I am as a runner. I will continue to run as long as my health permits.
I dedicate this article to my mother, Patricia Ann Watson, who died on June 26 from a sudden illness. My mother was a great supporter of all my marathon races. I know she would have been at the Baltimore finish line to cheer me in. I love you, Mom.
For information about the Baltimore Pacemakers, write Bob Hilson at Hilson1111@aol.com.