Hopping on and off cracked sidewalks, ever vigilant for dangerous litter, runner Keith Boissiere is about five miles into his daily constitutional -- a 20-mile run that will take him, among other spots, to Mondawmin Mall, on a bridge over Interstate 95, through an industrial park in Arbutus, past St. Agnes Hospital, and into the turf of a pit bull loose at the corner of Frederick and Monroe.
But right now, running lightly along Washington Boulevard on muscled but crane-thin legs, Boissiere is talking about a different run. He points to a rise in the hazy distance, an anonymous piece of road wedged between a strip of gas stations and convenience stores.
That's a place where he always feels good. Whenever he crests that particular hill -- which isn't very often -- he enters the limitless, head-clearing world of ultrarunning. Reaching that spot means he's running all the way to Washington. For him, it's a pleasure roughly equivalent to leaving school for summer vacation.
Boissiere, or the Running Man, as he's known to many, savors the 50-mile run from Baltimore to Washington. He travels the old way, down U.S. 1. He runs along Washington Boulevard until it finally turns into Rhode Island Avenue. Then he runs along that, turning left on North Capitol, until he reaches his destination: the steps of the Capitol.
It takes about 7 1/2 hours from his studio apartment in West Baltimore to the Capitol, he says. He runs alone, stopping occasionally to buy drinks along the way. Once he's touched base and tasted that priceless view, he walks to the Greyhound terminal on First Street, buys a ticket and heads back to Baltimore.
There's never any fanfare, and he doesn't expect it. This runner is all about the journey.
Boissiere runs the D.C. route six times a year -- it's unquestionably his favorite -- but never in winter. So today he's just putting in his regular distance -- the 20 miles he says he's run daily for the past decade. In that time, he's developed 15 routes throughout the city, using downtown Baltimore as the center of a giant running wheel.
Because he doesn't have a car to measure his courses, he developed his distances based on a low-tech method: timing himself on a 20-mile track run, then figuring out his pace -- roughly nine minutes per mile. Then he plotted his routes based on that formula. Some of his routes are a little longer than 20 miles, he says. And some days, when he's slower than a nine-minute pace, a three-hour run comes closer to four.
On this cold, drizzly day, Boissiere is wearing shorts and four layers of shirts: A tank, a rainbow tie-dyed shirt, a long-sleeved cotton jersey and a sweat shirt with "New York" written across it. He's also wearing a wool hat, tied under his chin, and mittens. A plastic rain poncho is cleverly tucked up his sleeve. So is a cell phone.
But there is no water bottle. There is no energy bar. This man doesn't even wear a watch.
Most runners buy new shoes every 400 miles or so. Boissiere's shoes -- Adidas, size 13, purchased in late October at the Locker Room near Lexington Market -- have seen roughly 1,800 miles at this point. He laces his shoes so loosely that he can slip his heels in and out at will. Thanks to this system of lacing, he says, he never has foot pains. He's never even had a blister.
"Hey there, Running Man!" a young guy calls, giving him a thumbs-up. "Hey man, you rock!"
Known to many
Boissiere's grown used to daily acknowledgments by strangers. A creature of deep routines, the 53-year-old native of Trinidad and Tobago tends to show up in the same place, almost at the same time, on many of his routes. People look forward to seeing him.
While many runners balk at running down streets they've seen only on Homicide, Boissiere embraces the city's many communities. He tends to run from midday into the afternoon, alone, preferring neighborhoods where there are always plenty of people outside.
His definition of playing it safe has made him one of Baltimore's more familiar characters.
Pennsylvania potter Deborah Tinsman, who has known Boissiere for 10 years, first thought he was a celebrity because she noticed so many people pointing at him when he visited her booth at Artscape. Sometimes they would approach him, shake his hand and introduce themselves.
"I thought he was a musician, maybe, because so many people knew him," she recalls. "When I asked him, he said `Oh no. They just see me running.'"
One day as Boissiere was running near Towson, independent filmmaker John Chester persuaded him to be interviewed for Euphoria, an artistic documentary about the nature of long-lasting happiness.
His grizzled beard, ascetic physique and soulful face suggest wisdom and serenity. In the years he's been running, he says, he's heard more people refer to him as Jesus than as Running Man.