Thursday, October 3, 2013

Runner in a Strange Land

So many bloggers have already waxed rhapsodic on the glories of discovering a new place via running, so I'm not going to try to reinvent the wheel on that topic.

Instead, I'm going to tell you how I went about figuring out how to fix the problem of getting in a long run (15 miles+) in a city you hardly know and whose recent runner-centered headlines have all been about female joggers getting assaulted.

Ah yes, Baltimore, Maryland. Since I am a Marylander, it is perfectly OK for me to say that Baltimore is definitely NOT my favorite city. In fact, it is in my list of "Top 5 Cities That I Hate". Nothing personal to any Baltimore readers, but I just can't really find anything redeeming about the place. And yes, I've been all over the city, not just to the Inner Harbor.

So you can imagine how excited I was to learn that Husband was going to be a groomsman in a wedding that was taking place in Baltimore. And that it was going to happen on the day of my first scheduled 20-miler.

(The answer is "not very")

Being the Planny McPlanerston that I am, as soon as I discovered that I was going to need to cover 20 miles  at some point that weekend, I hit Google in search of a Baltimore training team. The thought of running 20 miles on a tread mill at our hotel seemed like a fate worse than death and going it alone seemed like a bad idea too. I know Baltimore from a tourist/visitor perspective, but not well enough to know where the best areas to run are. So it seemed like the best bet was to find a group that was training and try to reach out to them or bandit a run.

I ended up connecting with the Baltimore Road Runners club, who have a marathon training team. Unfortunately their scheduled mileage didn't work out for me (they were tapering and only doing 10), but the very helpful lady I emailed with suggested I check out the Baltimore Pacemakers group. A quick jump onto Facebook and a wall message later and I was set to join the Pacemakers on the Saturday morning of the wedding.

I carefully researched a carb-loading opportunity for Friday night and happily discovered Grano's Pasta Bar, which was fairly close to our hotel in the Hampden neighborhood. Authentic Italian build-your-own pasta? I'm there.

I wanted everything on the menu, but settled for bread and olive oil, penne pasta, and pomodoro sauce. I desperately wanted to have a giant meatball, a cannoli, and a cappuccino, but knew that those could be a very big problem the next day. My pasta was cooked to Italian al dente perfection, the olive oil was absolutely divine, and the bread was just the right amount of squishy.

It was probably the best carb loading I've ever engaged in.

On Saturday morning, I was very nervous as I drove myself to the meeting point. Per my usual modus operandi, I arrived extremely early. Happily, our meeting spot was a Starbucks, so I was able to go inside and use the facilities. Also happily, the organizer of the Pacemakers, a very awesome man named Bob Hilson, was already there and wearing a Run RVA hat! I introduced myself and answered the usual set of questions that happen when a runner meets another runner for the first time:

Where are you from? Richmond, but I grew up in Maryland in Hagerstown.
What race are you training for? Richmond
Is it your first? Yep
How long are you running today? However long you guys are.

Bob dubbed me "Hagerstown" and we chatted for a few more minutes as the gathering grew to about 50 runners. I started asking around to see who else was planning on doing 18 and wasn't having much luck. Most of the folks there were training for the Baltimore Marathon on October 12 and were therefore tapering. So, when Bob handed out the route, I diligently tried to study it - I say "tried" because although I've been all over Baltimore I'm not overly familiar with the city and the written route meant pretty much nothing to me.

Heck, usually the written routes for our Team Navy runs in Richmond mean nothing to me, and I live here!

When we took off, I was nervous. I was afraid of getting lost, so I let the group dictate my pace. I fell in with another runner and started chatting with her. We stuck together for the first 8 miles, which was basically an out and back down to the Inner Harbour, up Federal Hill, then back to our starting point in Charles Village. Going down to the Inner Harbor seemed easy... the climb back up the hill not so much.

After a quick regroup at the Starbucks, a core of 5-6 of us continued on to the next 7 mile leg, which took us north through Loyola's campus and through the fancy-pants neighborhoods of Baltimore. Again, this was all uphill.

I lost Kim but fell in with another woman and we got to talking. I never asked her name, but we stayed together for the last 6 miles or so. We talked injuries (she has delicate feet too), past race experiences (she has done I can't remember how many marathons - but a lot), and admired the architecture of the fancy houses we were running past. She was very speedy... I stuck with her pace of 8 min miles, but it felt fine because the last 3 miles were downhill.

My elevation chart ended up looking like quite the roller coaster:

I ended up with 16 miles instead of 20, but I wasn't worried. I could have kept going but honestly, I didn't want to run the last bit by myself. There are two more opportunities for me to run 20. My companion said, "You breezed through that. You're going to do great in Richmond."

That made me feel really good.

As more runners joined us back at the Starbucks, we were all standing around chatting jovially and I realized that one of the best things about runners is that they are pretty much the same everywhere. Whether you're in Baltimore or Germany or Richmond, you will always have something to talk about and share that same special brand of crazy.

As I left, Bob called, "Hey Hagerstown, good luck at Richmond!"

That made me feel like part of the family.

I am so very thankful that I found this great group to run with, and eternally grateful for their hospitality to me! I left feeling great, and like I earned the Starbucks Bacon Egg and Gouda Sandwich that I couldn't resist.

Getting my run in also let me relax and enjoy myself for the rest of the day. It was fun to accomplish the 15 miler in the morning, get all sweaty and gross, then take a nap, shower, and get fancied up for the wedding festivities. Kind of like Cinderella.


Husband looks handsome, doesn't he?

So, in conclusion, a big huge THANK YOU to the Baltimore Pacemakers and Bob Hilson. Because of you guys, I have finally (after 30 years) found something redeeming about the City of Baltimore.

And, if you find yourself in Charm City, do yourself a favor and go to Grano's. It was the most authentic pasta experience that I have had outside of Italy. I loved it so much that I insisted on going back for lunch on Saturday, this time taking Jason with me. We had a meatball. And cannoli. And I had a moment of Italian cappuccino zen.

Doesn't get much better than this.

1 comment:

  1. That's so fun. I've honestly never thought of looking up local running clubs -- I normally just use mapmyrun to find routes near wherever I'm staying and hope for the best.