Locals, not elites, are lifeblood of race

Bulk of regulars come from Maryland, many finishing in 4 hours-plus

October 13, 2006|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Reporter

More than 11,000 men, women and children from 23 foreign countries and 49 states are registered for one of the five races in tomorrow's Baltimore Running Festival.

Professional road racers such as Ukraine's Mykola Antonenko, Kenya's David Cheruiyot and Russia's Lyubov Denisova provide an international flavor. Tourists who see America with their feet abound.

The lifeblood of an event that started in 2001, however, remains those who will awake in their own beds, as nearly two-thirds of the runners are from Maryland.

Marylanders cover the bulk of the 120 who have participated in each running festival. A hard core of 43 have registered for every Under Armour Marathon, many finishing between four and five hours.

Stacey Hickey plans to pick up her race packet at M&T Bank Stadium this afternoon, take her twins to the National Aquarium, and be back home in Frederick before nightfall. Her boys were born March 31, 2001, six months before Hickey ran in the inaugural Baltimore Marathon.

"I was in transition," said Hickey, a dental hygienist who had been a regular at the more populous Marine Corps Marathon in Washington. "Marine Corps is gorgeous, but Baltimore is so much better. The field at Marine Corps is so huge, you can't run an even stride until you get to Mile 18."

Hickey, 40, is on a good trend in Baltimore; she ran 4 hours, 20 minutes in 2004 and 4:09 last year.

Though she had experience at 26.2 miles in 2001, Clifton Cole did not.

"I registered for the 2001 marathon two or three weeks before, without any proper training," Cole said. "I was 51, and I didn't have a clue."

Cole barely broke six hours, but got down to 4:22 in 2003. He'd like to go faster, but the Catonsville resident, an electrical engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, won't fret if he doesn't.

"Finishing, and the friends I've made, are reward enough," Cole said. "I'm 56, and maybe I'll have more time to devote to my running after I retire."

The perennials are more consistent than the course, which has changed every year. Last year's addition, a late climb on Hillen Road, was panned and promptly ditched.

Michelle Christensen, 29, moved to Canton in 2001 and is known as "Runner Girl" along portions of the marathon course near the Inner Harbor, where she does a chunk of her daily six miles.

"I did 5Ks and 10Ks when I was a student at UMBC, did the Pittsburgh Marathon in 1999, and was hooked," said Christensen, a corporate caterer. "For me, what's great about Baltimore is that you can train on the course, not spend money on a hotel and you get to go home at night."

Kathryn Shea, 47, jogged for fun as a Towson University undergrad and made a prompt response when a friend asked if she wanted to enter the 2001 Baltimore Marathon.

"No," replied Shea, a homemaker and mother from Owings Mills.

Instead, she did a 10-mile leg in the team relay on four months' training, moved to the half marathon in 2003, and made her marathon debut in 2004, in 4:30. Shea went back to the half marathon last year, building for New York.

"My goals," Shea said, "are to do something at Baltimore every year and to run a marathon a year until I'm 50."

Medical students who weren't around in 2001 have boosted the Baltimore running scene. John "Spider" Sillery, who makes his rounds at Maryland General, was 11th in the 2005 marathon. At the time, Phebe Ko was helping make Duke an NCAA power in cross country, but now she's a first-year medical student at Johns Hopkins.

"I'm still adjusting to running by myself," Ko said.

Finding someone to pass the miles with tomorrow will not be an issue.

Notes -- Under Armour has extended its sponsorship of the marathon through 2008. ... Under Armour co-founder Kevin Plank, a regular in the Legg Mason Funds Team Relay, is sidelined by an injury. ... Ruxton's Lee DiPietro, a national record-setter in the 45-49 half marathon, had to withdraw because of injury. ... With highs in the low 60s, tomorrow's weather forecast is favorable for marathoning. ... The CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield Half Marathon has 4,775 entrants. ... Elite athlete coordinator Clay Shaw said he had to turn down marathoners who had run 2:13, but a race that includes Antonenko, Cheruiyot and Joseph Kahugu (2:07:59 at Chicago in 1998) should be compelling.paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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