Race day rocks, and we all win

Real Life

True Tales From Everyday Living

October 07, 2007|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,Sun reporter

Six years after Baltimore and I each participated in our first marathon, I can tell you a few things about race day.

The road is filled with squashed rats and angry motorists trapped behind orange cones. There is crazy litter from 172,000 used water cups and not enough port-o-potties. There are no rain delays.

But as thousands descend on Baltimore for this year's Under Armour Baltimore Running Festival on Saturday, I can tell you something else about race day.

It's a good day.

Everyone is welcome in everyone else's neighborhood. Strangers cheer for you and little kids want to high-five you. Your friends hold signs for you, and the brave ones even jog a mile alongside you. Your parents tell people about you, even if you haven't given them grandchildren.

And you get to prance around with a medal around your neck like an Olympian, no matter how long it takes you to finish.

One year, when I was running out of steam and was nearly crawling up a steep hill, a lady jumped into my path and said: "You are a marathoner and you rock!" I got up and kept running and now I say that to myself, sometimes when I'm not even running.

At some point in every race, I want to just sit down in the road. A marathon is just over 26 miles. Or 26 laps around Fort McHenry. Or 104 laps around your high school track. Or just shy of the mileage from Baltimore to Washington.

And it's not just the 26 miles. The race is a culmination of months of training that has left me with a constant distraction from hunger and a wicked Pop-Tart habit. I've gotten egg-sized blisters on my feet and an evolving collection of aches, pains and rashes.

I've endured eye rolls from non-runners, and had foul comments-- as well as the occasional bottle -- hurled at me. I've lost precious lazy mornings and countless Saturdays.

The guy who won last year's Baltimore Marathon finished in 2 hours, 16 minutes and 26 seconds. All that training and my best time is twice that, or just over the average for the 2,174 runners who finished last year, which included 748 women.

You can watch two-thirds of the original Star Wars trilogy in about the same time.

But I like to think that I get to enjoy more of race day, which includes the marathon, a half-marathon, a team relay, a 5-kilometer race and a kids' fun run.

I have time to take in more of the sites. I'm not talking about Fort McHenry, the only National Monument on the course of a U.S. marathon, according to race organizer Corrigan Sports Enterprises. Though, that's not a bad distinction.

I'm looking forward to the guy who juggles the whole way, and sometimes wears a blue tux. There's the guy who hands out Natty Boh from a wagon. And Corrigan says there's a guy named Stuart Seigler who supplies 150 pounds of Gummy Bears at Mile 23.

There are tear-jerking stories scrawled on the backs of runners' T-shirts about tackling a marathon in memory of a relative or a fallen war hero. Organizers say there are a few really inspiring stories of people battling back from illness and one man who is running after being hit by a truck.

There's more: Special Olympics rounds up 1,000 people to volunteer to hand out Gatorade and direct runners, and an estimated 30,000 fans come to cheer at the finish line -- more than this year's 27,000 average attendance at Orioles' home games.

Last year, the festival brought in about $15 million to the city, and in the last four years, $2.5 million to charity.

On race day, you see hope. You forget we may be vying for another 300-murder year, the bulk of public school kids don't graduate and the Orioles recently set a record for losing by the most runs.

On race day, Team Baltimore is a winner. Like when the Ravens won the Super Bowl or when Hasim "The Rock" Rahman toppled world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.

Runners from a couple of dozen countries and nearly every state buck other fall marathons in Chicago, New York and Washington to experience Baltimore for a day.

I hope people come and cheer. I hope drivers are patient. I hope I finish. (Disclaimer: I'm only running the half-marathon this year.)

Hunger, rats, trash. Whatever.

Blue tux guy, beer man, Baltimore. You rock.


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