Becoming a Runner, Part 1

It started with one of those generic emails that campus security forwards from the city police: “Traffic Advisory for Charles Street 12 Footrace.”

Having just enrolled at Peabody, I didn’t know yet that getting a generic email from campus security was a non-noteworthy occurrence. But being fastidious about actually looking at every email in my inbox, I learned anyway that the street next to campus would be closed Saturday morning for a race that began out in the suburbs somewhere and ran 12 miles all the way to Baltimore Harbor. Having never run more than half an hour without stopping, I thought just the idea of such a race sounded slightly terrifying—but also slightly intriguing.

That Saturday followed my first week of classes, so I took the opportunity to sleep in. By the time I laced up my running shoes and ventured out my front door towards the harbor, all the streets had apparently reopened. Not knowing exactly where I was going, I followed the waterfront promenade as far as I could until it apparently ended at a boat ramp. By the time I got home, I had been running for a full 45 minutes—by far the most I’d ever done.

A few weeks later, campus security sent out another notice from the city: “Baltimore Running Festival – Additional Information.” This time, I scanned the email with real interest and was surprised to discover that a full marathon would be passing right by my front door that Saturday. There would be no sleeping in this weekend. I set my alarm early enough to watch the lead runner, with a police motorcycle in front of him and a TV helicopter above, steam past my apartment towards the harbor. The next handful of runners were lean and rugged athletes, but soon there followed a whole crowd of people who looked, well, kind of normal. Maybe I could do this, I wondered. But how could I ever run for long enough to practice for a marathon? I clapped and cheered for the runners passing my house for most of an hour. Heading back inside, I pulled up the event website on my laptop. It looks like there’s a half marathon too. Maybe that would be more doable. But the map says only the full marathon goes on the waterfront. And I really love the waterfront.

The rest of that year, I did my 45-minute runs along the waterfront a couple times per week (except for the month when my foot was mysteriously sore, and the month when Baltimore got abruptly buried under 2 feet of snow). Once those obstacles finally melted, I was able to whittle the time I took to complete the route down under 40 minutes.

The weekend after school let out, I jogged down to the harbor to check out an event my erstwhile-artist pastor had told me about. The Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race featured whimsical pedal-powered amphibious contraptions jury-rigged to travel around and through the harbor. Some of these traveled at a comfortable running pace for me, so I tagged along on the sidewalk between one sculpture that looked like an explosion in a John Deere factory and another that looked like an 8th-grade art project made of giant blocks of Styrofoam (which, as I learned from a teacher following on a bike, it actually was). I was shocked to discover I had ended up running for well over an hour. Maybe running longer distances wouldn’t be so hard, I thought.

That same afternoon, I was riding in the car to a church event with some of my friends when out of the blue, someone said, “You know that race that goes through our neighborhood in the fall?” “You mean the marathon?” I blurted out. By the time we got out of the car, we had agreed to run together on the weekends over the summer with the goal of racing together in the fall.

To be continued…

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