Antics keep wacky pace to long race

Runners in costume and cheering crowds offering snacks and encouragement give a fun feel to Baltimore's annual marathon


The sun emerged for Baltimore's marathon and running festival yesterday, bringing along enthusiastic crowds who lined the 26.2-mile route, sat on stoops, handed out snacks, cheered until their voices were hoarse and - in the final yards - waved you-made-it signs and offered you-made-it hugs to the weary masses who ran, walked, jump-roped and otherwise crossed the finish line.

"I had to stop clapping because my hands burn," said Margaret Franz, 74, of Timonium, who was sitting along on 33rd Street, about three-fourths of the way through the course. "You clap and their faces are so drawn and they smile and say `thank you' and your heart goes to your throat ... Some look like they can't make it, but they keep pushing and pushing."

She pulled off her glasses, wiped her eyes, then settled back in her folding chair. She was waiting for her 20-year-old grandson to pass. "I want to grab him and hug him but I wouldn't dare - it will break his stride," she said. "If you hear a loud scream, it will be me."

Ingrid Johnson stationed herself around mile 20, just after a big hill near Lake Montebello. A running coach and a runner herself, she figured the 3,000 participants would be in need of some love just about then - especially because the temperature, which was 63 degrees when the race began and rose to 74 degrees, was unusually high for a marathon.

She and some other members of her running club had set themselves up with signs, Skittles, M&Ms, pretzels, orange slices, bananas, Advil and salt tablets. Johnson was holding a "nice butt" sign. Others were taking turns on a makeshift amplifier, shouting, "Marathoners, looking sexy!" and "Good job, guys."

"Mile 20 is where most people hit the wall," she said. After that, "it's 50 percent body and 50 percent mind. With the heat and hills, they need encouragement."

They got their encouragement. They got water and Gatorade. They got dogs dressed up in "You go girl!" signs. They got extra hoots for outrageousness.

One man ran in a powder blue tuxedo. A woman from New Jersey wore black bat wings with glittery purple lining and matching purple ears. She ran to shouts of "Go, Batgirl" and "Keep flying!" One man jump-roped his way along the route; another juggled.

Runners met with an especially boisterous crowd in Charles Village. Residents had signed up to volunteer, and John Spurrier, who had worked as a disc jockey in graduate school, had hauled out his sound system and was playing hip-hop, Motown, oldies, reggae and dance music from a front porch. Families came out with their kids and dogs. People were dancing in the street.

A little farther along Guilford Avenue, a woman dressed in a furry tiger outfit was boogieing on the roof of a white Toyota. And farther yet, two kids were spraying runners with a hose and Stuart Siegler had returned, for the fifth year, with 120 pounds of gummy bears.

"It's the perfect late-race snack," he said. "You can hold it in your hand, it won't melt, if you inhale you won't die. The best part is you can bite their little heads off."

Siegler moved to New Hampshire two years ago, but he returns every fall for the race. "This is my way of giving back," he said.

Back at Camden Yards, where the marathon began and ended, spectators watched the 5-kilometer runners and the kids' race. They saw the wheelchair racers and elite runners glide through the finish line. And they kept cheering as runners - the "real people," as one man put it - continued to push through the finish. Some limped. Some threw hands up into the sky as they crossed the line. Others put their heads in their hands.

About 1 p.m., five hours after the race began, scores of runners milled in the parking lot, munching on potato chips and standing in line for massages. They lay in the grass in flip-flops inspecting blisters and they posed proudly for photographs, participation medals around their necks. They talked about the deadly hills, about the 11th mile, about the beer they planned to drink.

Runner Ann Polites, 22, of Canton was exuberant. "It's surreal," she said. "I've never done this before. I'm not a runner. I have asthma. But you just get through it. Your mind goes other places. Each mile you think, `I've done that. I've done that.' Then people cheering keeps you going. You think about your family."

In particular, Polites thought of her father. She was part of a group of runners who had raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Her father has myeloma, she said, and she ran in his honor. On one arm, she had written "my pop, my hero."

"Hopefully," she said as she walked off to find her family, "my dad can run with me next year."

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