Maryland - A Marathon in Every State
Capturing the Charm of Charm City - Sometimes the best trips are the ones that are put together on a whim.
Every fall I always have a yearning to explore the eastern states because of the sheer beauty and aesthetics. The fall of 2018 was no different, as I sat at the computer browsing through marathons happening in October on Running in the USA – a trusted site when I’m looking to plan a trip around a certain weekend.
That year I set an ambitious goal of running two marathons in one weekend. With how close some of the eastern states are in proximity, I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to cross off that lofty and idiotic goal, while also getting two states closer to my 50 state marathon goal. I stumbled across the Baltimore Running Festival, which was also listed as the top rated marathon for Maryland on RaceRaves, another trusted site I resort to. Since I had never explored Baltimore up until that point, I was sold on locking in the Baltimore Marathon as my first marathon for a very long and tiring weekend.
Since the Baltimore Marathon was happening on a Saturday, I had to find a marathon in a surrounding state that was happening on Sunday, that also wasn’t too far of a drive. After doing a search on surrounding marathons, I stumbled across the End of the Road Marathon just over two hours away in Waterfall, Pennsylvania happening the day after Baltimore. This unique race took place on the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike, which was where the 2009 apocalyptic film “The Road” was filmed. That alone was enough to sell me on making the marathon my second stop for the weekend.
Roughly two weeks before race weekend, I received an e-mail from a representative at Trivium Racing concerning the End of the Road Marathon. I was informed that they were not able to start and finish the race at their originally planned location. As a result, they would not be able to offer the option for a full marathon. My options were to either run a half marathon and be refunded for the cost difference, or drop out of the race completely and receive a full refund. Any logical person would have taken this as a sign that two marathons in one weekend is a bit much. As much as I looked forward to the race, I opted to drop out of it, and instead look for another marathon to fill out the weekend.
With the help of Running in the USA once again, it didn’t take me long to stumble upon the Atlantic City Marathon in New Jersey that took place the following day after Baltimore, that was also just over two hours away. Atlantic City was also recommended on RaceRaves, which boasted its history of being one of the oldest marathons in the nation. With the marathons locked in, I was excited to hit the road once again with my brother Joel to explore what the eastern US had to offer.
As we embarked on the nine hour venture to Baltimore, the beauty of the trees and fall foliage was all-encompassing from the window of the Buick Lucerne, especially throughout Pennsylvania. We were both eager to get to our Airbnb at a Hampden rowhouse, nestled right in the midst of the bustle in Charm City. The 100-plus year old home drew us in with the hardwood floors and original details, with a view of Wyman Park from the back deck. Upon arrival, the destination was everything we could have expected and more, providing a very euphoric and refreshing space to call home for the next few days.
After talking with our wonderful host Angie about local hot spots, and getting a little help from our trusted road trip buddy yelp, it didn’t take Joel and I long to discover some amazing wood-fired pizza at Paulie Gee’s Hampden and borderline life-changing ice cream at The Charmery as we wandered the cobblestone sidewalks and alleyways just beyond our rowhouse.
I’m not a huge ice cream fan in general, but I had a near religious moment in this quaint dairy establishment, and even signed up for a punch card while I was there. Because it wasn’t a question on if I would be back, but rather when. I’m only seven stamps away from getting a spin on the Wheel of Wonder!
It also didn’t take Joel and I long to stock up on beer at Keller’s Liquor Store. As we stocked up on some local favorites, we made small talk with the cashier. I told him I was going to be competing in the marathon the next day, and his response was that running through Baltimore made sense, as certain neighborhoods can get sketchy. All joking aside, he loved the diversity that Charm City had to offer. The city blocks were diverse in the sense that one block could be rough and have a lot of shady activity, and then the next block could be a nice and expensive neighborhood, only to have another shady block directly beyond that. To me, the diversity gave the city character that made it live up to its nickname.
The next morning, I woke up bright and early and eager to tackle the Baltimore marathon. Joel and I hashed out a plan the night before, where I would take our car to the designated parking lot just outside of M&T Bank Stadium where the beloved Ravens play, so I could prepare for the start of the race on my own. Joel wanted to hang back at the Airbnb and get some extra sleep, as a ton of eateries and shops were within walking distance of our rowhouse.
With Beartooth blaring to get my blood flowing as I pulled into the parking lot, I then proceeded with my pre-race rituals. I felt the charm in Charm City that morning as I wandered outside of the stadium in preparation for the race. Since I was about to attempt two marathons back to back, the pre-race jitters weren’t as strong, since I wanted to just have fun with the Baltimore Marathon and take it easy. Running a fast time wasn’t my top priority, only surviving the race and preserving my energy.
As the race began, I made a point to keep those ideas in the forefront of my brain. I tried my best to practice mindfulness and just be present and aware of each passing moment. I took the time to appreciate the workers at the Maryland Zoo who held penguins and eagles as they cheered on the passing runners. I even took in the smells of the restaurants on the cobblestone roads as I passed them, taking mental notes of which ones to look up later. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I made the efforts to slow down in the race and enjoy myself, and I was having a blast.
As I approached a hill prior to mile 20, I made conversation with another runner who was encouraging me along the way. I made a comment that I had to repeat the same thing tomorrow in New Jersey, and I believe his exact words were “Jesus, man.”
As I made the final left turn onto Pratt Street and proceeded to the finish near the USS Constellation in the gorgeous Inner Harbor, I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear as I made Maryland my seventh state in my 50 state journey. Cracking a Dogfish Head SeaQuench Ale within Inner Harbor remains the most satisfying post-race beers to date.
Despite taking it easy throughout the race, I was still certainty fatigued, and had to navigate through Baltimore traffic to meet back up with Joel. Rather than meeting up with him at a local breakfast spot, Joel decided to start off his morning with a few drinks at R House, where he had been spending the last few hours getting acquainted with the bartender who introduced herself as AMac.
R House had a unique atmosphere that reminded me of a mall food court. The place wasn’t just a bar, but rather a collection of eateries that offered an array of grub that satisfied whatever you were craving, and even catered to stubborn vegetarians such as myself. As I ate my custom built power bowl, we all sat at the bar top talking about everything from Quentin Tarantino films to conspiracy theory podcasts with the bartender and their patrons. Time was flying by with good food and conversation, but I figured I had time to kill before picking up my packet in New Jersey for my marathon the following day.
As we said our goodbyes at the bar and loaded back up in the Buick, I pulled up the map to get us to Bally’s Grand Ballroom to pick up my packet in Atlantic City. I came to realize the destination was close to three hours away. After looking at my e-mail, I also realized that the cutoff time for picking up my packet ended sooner than I thought, in roughly two hours. Using basic math skills, I came to the conclusion what we wouldn’t make it in time. I then called the bustling and busy casino to weigh out options, and was transferred to multiple people who didn’t have many details about the marathon. It was listed clearly in the e-mails that picking up your packet on race day wasn’t allowed, so I made the harsh realization that my back to back marathon goal would have to wait.
In the moment I was upset, but in hindsight I realize that it was for the best. Running two marathons in one weekend is a difficult feat for any runner, and while I believe that I’m capable of doing it, I still had a blast in Baltimore and we both just changed our travel plans as a result. Instead of venturing further east to New Jersey for the race, we instead decided to follow the mantra I set for myself during the Baltimore marathon and slow down. We decided to start heading back home the following day, but to take our time doing so. As a result, we made a pit stop to Gettysburg to soak in some history.
This entire experience taught me that life doesn’t always go according to plan. With the original marathon in Pennsylvania not panning out, to then missing packet pickup in Jersey, the trip took many twists and turns that I originally didn’t anticipate. However, I still had an amazing experience looking back, and get a smile on my face whenever I think about exploring what Charm City had to offer. Taking the time to slow down and embrace the moment is important while traveling, and navigating through other aspects of life as well. That impromptu and ever-changing fall road trip in 2018 helped me realize that.