When a race is a little bit more than you expected...

I completed my six half-marathon yesterday in my current hometown of Baltimore. Due to a recent injury to my right hamstring, I had to condense my training into just five weeks. If you had told me three years ago when I began this process of running long distances, that in three years time I would only need five weeks to train for such an endurance event, I would have wondered what planet you came from to tell me such magical tales. 

I hate to sound jaded about this, but half-marathons are just an end game for me now. I run because it's good for me and helps me stay focused on a task. Race day is an opportunity to get a medal and admire many in-shape people. As my roommate Abby drove me to the race, I explained that most likely I would never run this race again, because it's just a local race and the appeal of what could come from it has sorta passed. 

This is where I remind you that I've only done five of these races. 

Abby ran this race a year before, her only half-marathon, and told me her experience of running through a city that tells such a unique story. She saw the plight of neighborhoods she never would have ventured into without this race. "You get a sense of the economic divide this city has," she explained. "You see what is beyond what the news shows you." 

Mostly I was ready to get it over with, but her words did spark an interest. I don't run with headphones during races; I like to hear the crowd (if there is one) and I want to be ready for anything that might happen (like an emergency), but mostly I want to be able to take in everything and having music blasting in my ears prevents it. As I began the race my mind began to focus on what I could potentially see. 

I've only lived in Baltimore since Memorial Day, and overall I don't know the city at all. Minus The Wire, and Homicide, Baltimore is a place where I lived for less than year (really I lived in the county) and has a football team I really don't care for. When I worked for Catholic Charities I would come up to the churches here and speak, but that was really it.

I did know that the half ran in front of my house, but other than that, my general lack of direction really kept me in the dark as to what I was going to experience. But what I did was pretty great. 

This was by far the most fun I have ever had on a race course. I set a personal record by eight minutes (wow!), but everything I saw an experienced first hand, really left a positive feeling in me.  Here are few highlights:

1. Everyone in the city seems to come out to this event. It's called the Baltimore Running Festival and it truly feels that way. There were very few times where I didn't experience people cheering me and the other runners on. That's a big deal, because not every race is like that. 

2. I saw neighborhoods Abby explained to me earlier. I saw busted out windows and shuttered doors. I saw businesses that closed their doors decades before. But I also saw people out cheering us on. I high-fived neighborhood kids. I saw an abandoned movie theater that displayed signs announcing a new food market would soon be there. I saw police clapping along encouraging us and guys with their phones out taking pictures from their bedroom windows. 

3. I saw older woman tell me how proud she was of me and everyone for doing this.

4. I saw another woman tend to a runner who was experiencing cramps. This is by far the most unique and meaningful thing I have ever seen during the middle of a race. The woman was black, the runner was white. That will be forever archived in my memory bank. 

5. I saw people dressed in costumes, along tree-filled sidewalks passing out beer while blaring music from their trucks. I saw huge houses, a lake, and about 400 hills. 

I can go on and on, but really what I saw was a community in spirit and action.  It goes behind forgotten neighborhoods, or gentrified hideaways. Races are about people, and for me, people can always show you more than what you expected. 

I didn't expect to run so fast. I didn't expect I'd enjoy myself so much. Saturday, October 15, 2016 was a good day to get a little more than you expected. 

Thanks hometown for giving me this experience.