By Anica Butler
October 8, 2009
After months of grueling training, an estimated 20,000 people plan to wake up really early Saturday morning just to run the streets of Baltimore. If you are not one of them, you are so not alone.
But even if you're not lacing up your sneakers for one of the several races of the Baltimore Running Festival, you can still participate in the festivities. Hordes of city residents are expected to line the streets of the marathon course to cheer on the runners. And those runners mark an event record this year, with more than 20,000 from 44 countries and every state plus D.C., organizers say. Also expected to run on Saturday are five Olympians: two in the marathon, two in the half and skater Kimmie Meissner in the sold-out 5k.
"The enthusiasm and the energy from the city is quickly what the event is becoming known for," said Dave Gell, a spokesman for the event. "The energy, the Gummi bears, the cheering, it helps propel folks to the finish line."
Stuart Siegler doesn't even live in Baltimore anymore - he moved to New Hampshire in 2003 - but he's still part of one of the most popular stops along the marathon course. This year, Siegler, his brother and some volunteers will hand out 400 pounds of Gummi bears at Mile 23, at Guilford Avenue and 29th Street.
A veteran of 51 marathons, Siegler says it's his way of giving back to the running community. He has spent about $1,500 year on the carb-laden treats that give runners a boost just when they need it.
"I get a lot of 'We love you,' 'You saved my life last year' and 'You guys rock,' " Siegler said, adding that he can always use more volunteers.
But you don't have to spend any money or hand out treats to be a part of the Baltimore Running Festival.
"You'll notice that the majority of the course is lined with spectators or volunteers helping runners, people cheering, people helping to hand things out. There are large crowds from start to finish," Siegler said. "Baltimore is a really big small town, and that small-town feeling really comes out during the marathon."
The Baltimore Marathon Web site has published a list of road closures with the estimated times that runners will pass through each area. So stand outside. Cheer. Ogle the funny costumes. Those who are running need your support, Siegler says.
If you want to venture away from your home, or don't live on the race route, the Inner Harbor is a good place to view the runners, said race organizer Lee Corrigan, as are the start and finish lines, which are near Oriole Park.
"There's lots of parking near the start and finish line, which is very convenient. That's a great spot because you can walk to the Inner Harbor and see runners on Mile 6 when they go past Light Street, and then when they come back at Light and Key at 13 miles. You can see them twice there and walk back up to the finish."
Another interesting spot, Corrigan said, is Patterson Park, where the marathoners and half-marathoners merge onto the same course for the duration of their races.
If you're looking for more entertainment than just runners, several miles along the course will be themed (including the That's Italian Mile) and there will be live bands and DJs stationed at miles 13, 16, 20 and 26.
And at Lake Montebello, a 30-piece steel band will play music for four hours, according to race organizers.
Event organizers also are inviting people to "go interactive" this year. The festival has a site where people can post their photos of the event, and will publish any Twitter comments that include #baltrunfest.
"It will have Twitter and texts and blogs. ... You can get perspectives of the spectators and also of the runners going by," Gell said. "We're the first event of our size to try something like this and we are super-psyched."
Of course, most of the celebrating will be done at the finish line. Runners will get free beer. Spectators will find free concerts, food and games for kids. There also will be a Health and Fitness Expo at M&T Bank Stadium today and Friday - a place where you can browse running and health products, and maybe even find inspiration to run the race next year.
Copyright © 2009, The Baltimore Sun
Updated October 14th, 2009