20-mile run whets appetite of trail fans for more

Crowd races to Charm City

September 05, 2006|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

Heather Papadopoulos woke up at 4:30 a.m. yesterday in Annapolis, while friends were sleeping and dreaming of Labor Day barbecues, and wondered why she was doing what she was doing: going up to Freeland, clear up near the Pennsylvania line, only to run 20 miles south.

But she had no doubts as she crossed the finish line of the Charm City Run, an arrow-straight, 20-mile race on the Northern Central Railroad Trail through northern Baltimore County.

"I fell in love with the trail, the scenery and stream," said Papadopoulos, the owner of a biscotti wholesale bakery.

Like many of the 224 other runners yesterday, Papadopoulos had her eye on bigger prizes down the road. She is training for the Marine Corps Marathon, a more competitive race of the classic marathon length, 26.2 miles, through Virginia and Washington.

"It's really a good training run," Papadopoulos said of the Charm City. Her time of 2 hours and 35 minutes put her in first place for her age group, the 30-39 category.

With the Baltimore Marathon and Marine Corps Marathon coming up next month, the relatively new Charm City Run has emerged as an important tuneup for area competitors, said Kelly Dees, an organizer of the event.

Starting in Freeland and finishing in Hunt Valley, the course is a straight shot south from near the Mason-Dixon Line to Gunpowder Falls State Park.

The third annual Charm City Run drew a healthy mix of runners, from semipro racers to recreational joggers from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

"It's a good event before the [Baltimore] marathon, a good long training run," said Denise Knickman, 38.

Knickman is a physical therapist who lives in Cross Keys in North Baltimore. Sidelined by an injury, she set up and tended a water station at the course's Mile 15 marker in Sparks.

The tension of a marathon was pleasantly absent along the sun-dappled trail, bordered on either side by yellow wildflowers and sycamore trees, which follows the route of the defunct railroad.

Michael Wardian of Arlington, Va., streaked across the finish line first with a time of 1 hour, 50 minutes and 51 seconds.

He said he's competed in marathons and longer "ultra" runs, in places as diverse as Detroit, the Himalayas and the Sahara Desert near Morocco.

The seven-day Sahara race over 150 miles was, the 32-year-old Wardian said, "the most beautiful race ever."

Wardian works as an international shipbroker, he said. His sights are set on the Olympic Trials in 2007. For him, yesterday's run through the woods was another step toward that goal.

He got a little help from a friend who trains with him, Chris Farley, who placed second.

Compared with Wardian's other adventures, the state's Northern Central trail still rated as "pretty neat, fantastic, rural and rustic like the [Washington] C&O," he said.

Nathan Nudelman of Annapolis, who coaches the U.S. Naval Academy long-distance runners, got his wife and two small daughters out of bed at 5 a.m. to accompany him to Baltimore County. And at 2:09, his 17th-place-overall finish was fast enough to keep a smile on his face for an hour afterward.

"I've got 25 guys and girls on my team," Nudelman said. "I'll bring them next year."

Several women, including the winning one, said 20 miles was the longest distance they had ever run.

Vicki Cauller, 33, an elementary schoolteacher from York, Pa., came to compete in the race with her husband, Greg, a high school teacher.

Somewhat to her surprise, she finished first among the women, at 2:22 - averaging about seven-minute miles.

"I've never done 20 miles in my life, and I'm very tired," she said, flushed.

Then there was a contingent of Baltimore women who took away with them a sense of psychological victory: They proved they could finish.

Nancy Kass, 45, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University, came with her sister-in-law, Lorraine Doo, a federal government employee. Kass, a Roland Park resident, said she was not athletic until her 40th birthday, when she took up running.

The two might do a marathon in the fall, they said, with confidence that they could complete the Marine Corps race boosted yesterday. "If you can do 20, you can do 26," Doo said.

Alicia Morgan-Cooper, a pediatrician, mother of two and a former basketball player at American University, said she was transferring her skills to running. At 35, it took her more than four hours to cross the finish line - one of the last finishers in the race.

"It's the farthest I've ever run," she said. "And I feel good mentally."


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