Months of sweat, a little pain, a lot of nerves, and a lot of dedication all came to a crescendo on Saturday morning at the Baltimore Running Festival. My first half marathon.
It’s really hard to describe what I was feeling in the moments before the start, but one thing is for certain. I’ve lived here nearly my entire life and I’ve never seen the streets of Charm City packed this way, unless you count the Super Bowl victory parade in February. That time it was a sea of purple happiness. This time it was all neon excitement and tension. The anxiety was thick in the air.
As we waited, we had an excellent view of the full marathoners at their halfway point, running past us looking fresh-faced and energetic. I chatted with a couple of girls near me about how much we expected to NOT look like that when we were done our race! Marathoners are just so amazing to me.
I walked as part of this slow procession of thousands toward the start in an on and off light drizzle, up a street that is usually reserved for bustling inner city traffic. Just beyond the starting line, I could see the brightly colored shirts start to bob up and down as their owners took off on their journeys. The anticipation was reaching a fever pitch. I switched on my iPod and the first song on my carefully crafted half marathon running playlist, Bob Marley’s Could You Be Loved, filled my ears. I danced my way to the start while people around me looked on in amusement.
And suddenly it was my turn. I was about to see if my hard work had paid off. I started to run.
Months ago when I signed up for this race, we were asked how long we estimated our finishing time to take. This was before I was running longer distances and had been working on my speed. I’m not the fastest runner by any means, but I definitely wasn’t as fast then as I am now. Based on my answer, I was seeded in the 4th wave and at first I thought this would be to my disadvantage. I had a personal goal for this race and it was to finish in under 2 hours. The crowded streets were a bit frustrating as I was forced to start very slow. In the end though, the 4th wave would be the best thing to ever happen.
From the very beginning this run felt perfect, even effortless, which is so weird because usually it takes me a couple miles to warm up. I glided through the streets of my hometown smiling and waving at spectators, laughing at some of the silly signs they held up, and high fiving adorable children along the way. Occasionally the route would take us by a stage featuring a band playing live music, which was really cool. I toured through some neighborhoods that I normally would avoid, but the police presence was great and I never felt unsafe even for a moment. The crowds were so boisterous and fun everywhere we went.
One thing I had heard a lot about prior to this race was the hills. The hills were terrible apparently. Hearing about the hills stressed me out. So I trained for them. My training runs take place on a lot of rolling terrain and as I ran on Saturday I found myself wondering where these epic hills were that everyone had been groaning about. Maybe it was the adrenaline pulsing through me, but I felt like they literally never happened. Before I knew it I was past the halfway point, making a beautiful and scenic lap around Lake Montebello. My wonderful friends Angelica and Sara received text messages to inform them of how I was progressing. We all live in different places, but I couldn’t have asked for a better support system as I prepared for this day.
Things just kept getting better. I had put together my music playlist to start off at a slower and more relaxed pace and hopefully the upbeat songs would kick in just as I needed them. I glided past the mile 9 marker lip synching along to Applause and tossed back a Gu Roctane. Smiling people were handing out gummi bears. A quick peek at my Garmin showed me that I was on track for my goal. I gave thanks to Wave 4 for forcing me into that badly needed slower start. Even the weather, which I had been obsessing over all week, was perfection. Overcast and cool with the occasional short sprinkle that always seemed to happen right at the best time. A short time later, I was turning onto Eutaw Street and beginning my final descent into Baltimore’s baseball stadium, Camden Yards.
When I spotted the statues of famous Orioles’ numbers that stand just outside the gate, I kicked into overdrive. The crowds of cheering people were thick on either side, giving me an extra boost of energy. I felt much stronger than I expected to feel during my 12th mile. I breezed through the stadium complex and past the marker for mile 13. There was a photographer from Marathon Foto stationed there. I saw the pictures he took this morning and in every single one of them I have an enormous smile on my face.
And then…the finish line. As I crossed, I threw my arms in the air and tears welled up in my eyes. I never thought I could do something like this and I had done it. I felt AMAZING. As for my time goal, I killed it:
8:19 average mile and though I only have one other 13.1 mile run to compare it to, it is a personal best. As I filed away from the finish, I was handed the coolest medal ever. I had the time engraved on the back.
There will be more medals in my future, but I suspect this one will always mean the most. It was the run of my life and really could not have been any better. I sipped my free beer and ate my crab soup in the Celebration Village and smiled. I think next year, I’ll be putting the full marathon on my agenda.
I’m so proud of myself and so glad I started running.