Sunday, October 13, 2013

Delaware Distance Classic 15K Race Report


This race wasn't anywhere near my radar. Originally, I was supposed to run the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon, a fast, point-to-point race starting at GW's Mt. Vernon Estate and crossing the Potomac on the Woodrow Wilson bridge to finish at National Harbor. However, thanks to House Republicans' government shutdown the race was cancelled just a few days prior: parts of the course ran along National Park Service grounds and seeing as how they were starkly affected by the shutdown, could not provide personnel to  close roads to traffic. Thus began a frantic scramble to locate a race that same weekend, all other October weekends being fully planned while acknowledging the importance of a good tune-up race.

Thanks to the excellent race finder on "Running in the USA", I came up with a shortlist of alternatives: a metric marathon by the Annapolis Striders, the Great Alleand0ny 15K in Cumberland, MD and the Delaware Distance Classic in Wilmington, an hour's drive north of Baltimore. After ruling out the metric marathon (16 miles of rolling hills seemed a tune-up overkill), I briefly debated between a race in Western Maryland versus Delaware, but opted for the latter considering the much shorter drive. As an added benefit, I noted that the race was offering price money for the top three contenders, as well as the top team. A teammate from Falls Road Running, Graham Peck, was also in the market for a race and suggested we put together a team and shoot for a win at the team competition. We narrowly missed online registration, but thanks to the leniency of race directors got a green light to compete. Graham, his sister Kaylyn, Meg, Jeremy and I made up the team.

The hour and fifteen minute ride to Wilmington was made easy with Jeremy driving and a pit-stop at Starbucks. We arrived an hour early and found an excellent race-day registration setup. After a brief warm-up we were ready to roll. Race conditions were humid and warm but at least we were spared direct sunshine thanks to thick cloud cover.

From the left: Graham, Meg, Jeremy, myself and Kaylin.


Thanks to Pike Valley's generous price purse, the race attracted numerous regional competitors. Graham led the pack and pulled ahead, and I was at 10th place from the start. The course consisted of two out-and-back loops, the first three miles long, the last 6. While the first part of the course made for a good opportunity to lock-in the tempo, the second was much more enjoyable: it followed the riverfront deeper into Downtown Delaware along the riverwalk, and a regatta taking place simultaneously resulted in a large turnout of spectators and made for some interesting navigation through the crowds. After a 4 mile long chase, I was able to catch up to and take 9th place. Unsure of how close behind the competition was, I kept pushing the pace - or better, holding on. It helped having 2 racers in my sights, and with 3 miles remaining I hoped to catch them - one or two more miles more and I may even have done so! In the end, I finished 15 seconds behind 8th place, totalling 53:18 minutes, a new PR - though this came as no surprise never having raced a 15K before! I was extremely happy with my performance and felt invigorated to aim high at my goal race in Philadelphia, now only 5 weeks away.


I enjoyed a peach belini courtesy of one the race sponsors - quite the treat! There was warm pizza as well, which in hindsight I should have had after our 2 Mile cooldown. Bananas, pretzels and cold beer rounded off the spread. Following awards ceremy - in which our team took home the overall men's (Graham won it), 3 age group and the team competition award, we headed to nearby Iron Hill Brewery for a post-run brunch. When we discovered that they had no brunch offerings, we ordered beers and made it lunch instead! You know you're among serious runners when even after a race, 4 out of 5 order are salad.

What a day, and one that reminded me of why I love this sport so much!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Running routes in and around Baltimore

Canton via Harbor East to Inner Harbor with a turn-around at Fed Hill: that is the standard route for those living and running in Downtown Baltimore. While an excellent route, and one that I prefer to run most frequently after nightfall and in the winter when it gets dark early, the course quickly becomes routine, even repetitive. In the summer the Inner Harbor is filled with tourists and jogging is quickly demoted to crowd-dodging or crawling. In the winter, the snow-covered Promenade can become an icy death trap, with an accidental plunge into the bay waiting to happen at every turn. My relation with the Inner Harbor Promenade is one of love-hate: it offers a safe, illuminated, long and car free running experience (and there’s even a working water fountain - one of 2 in Baltimore!). But the monotony, the cobblestones at Fells, the constant construction, the sharp blind turns at Harbor East and the crowds lining the bridges adjacent to the aquarium never fail to bring me down.

Many a newcomer to Baltimore quickly learns his way around Patterson Park and Inner Harbor, but then gets stuck navigating the same stretch over and over again. And from my own experience, it’s ludicrously difficult to find any information online, let alone an overview of available routes. And so for those new to Baltimore, or those who have yet to discover some of the city’s hidden running spots and refuges, I dedicate this piece. May you discover your favorite running spot in Charm City. Happy trails!

Gwynns Falls Trail

This is a fantastic 8 Mile route starting at Security Boulevard (at the I-70 Park and Ride) and winding through the Gwynns Falls park. It offers solitude and switchbacks, is well marked and maintained and is easily accessible by car. Paved footpaths follow the course of Dead Run river, and become gravel/dirt at its confluence with Gwynns Falls for the next miles as it enters Baltimore through the city’s West neighborhood. The route becomes a little harder to follow in the later sections, but chalk marks on the floor usually point in the right direction. Finish is at the Carrol Park golf course near Pigtown, just a few miles west of the Inner Harbor. For those especially determined, it is possible to follow the route (now along sidewalks and roads) all the way to the Inner Harbor Promenade.

Jones Falls Trail

My favorite section of Jones Falls starts at Penn Station and climbs north, loosely following the bends of Falls Road. The trail offers a dedicated footpath all the way to and through Druid Hill, via a brand new section in Woodberry over Cold Spring Lane and Northern Parkway leading to Mt. Washington and the Cylburn Arboretum. Once at Cylburn, there are wooded trails and singletracks. One your way there, you’ll pass by Woodberry Kitchen and Artifact Coffee, but try to resist the temption to stop for an espresso. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, take a right immediately after entering Druid Hill instead continuing to the reservoir: you’ll hit what Falls Road Running Store so fittingly describes as the “Dreaded Druid Hills”.

Northern Central Railroad Trail

For the marathoner’s bread-and-butter workout, the weekend long run, there few choices are better than this. The NCR trail is a flat and virtually endless gravel footpath, formerly rail but now converted to trail. The best access point is at the Paper Mill Road trailhead, where there is ample parking except for the weeks leading into the Baltimore Marathon. At 6.7 Miles lies the town of Monkton, where restrooms, water and ice creams awaits. In summer there is tubing on the Gunpowder river, and in winter its one of the few spots that still offers good tread in the rare episodes of snowfall. I recommend doing your longest marathon training runs here, since upon passing White Hall at mile 10, you’ll soon enter the “Shire”, complete with mounds and gnomes - I invite you to go see for yourself (though be prepared for a 22 Mi roundtrip).

Herring Run Trail

This short but sweet trail runs near Morgan State University, and starts at the edge of Lake Montebello. It runs along both banks of Herring Run, but the trail along the southern bank is considerably longer. There are some nice views along the way, but also signs of disregard for nature as evident by littering of the waterways. With a circumference of 1.3 miles, Lake Montebello lends itself to good running as well. Locals frequent the Montebello loop for exercise from early morning to late at night.

Stony Run Trail

This hidden gem is unmapped and little known. It starts just north of the Homewood campus, from University parkway go down Linkwood Road and look for a trail running along the Stony Run river on your left. Follow it for 2 Miles to arrive at Gilman High School, where there is a 400m track open to the public on weekdays after 6:30 pm and all day on weekends. You can continue North to connect to the Robert E Lee trails or return to campus via Roland Avenue. Northbound, after the intersection with Cold Spring Lane, watch for a stream crossing on your right as there is another trail along the river’s eastern bank - wider, and less stony.

Robert E. Lee Park Trails

From the parking lot, cross over the bridge facing the dam and follow the paths to the park’s northern boundaries. There will be steps leading to the light rail crossing, and just beyond that begins a 2 Mi route coasting Lake Roland and crossing Jones Falls to arrive at Falls Road. There are a plethora of smaller single-track trails sprouting from the main route, a wide path and former rail bed. Make it a long run by following the road east of the parking lot along Woodbrook Lane to Charles, then south to Lake, and finally east via Hollins to return to the park. By the way, Robert E Lee park has the second working water fountain in Baltimore city (and probably only because it’s owned by the county).

Oregon Ridge Park

This a small park lies just a few minutes north of Towson. In the summer (or in the winter if you dare) you can cool off after the run at the nearby lake. There are a few trails, each of them blazed, but my recommendation is to start counterclockwise and follow the red, then yellow blazed trails for a 4 Mi loop. Be prepared for stream crossing. Four of them, to be precise.

Loch Raven Reservoir

Come here on weekends for a run along Loch Raven Drive when the road is closed to motorized traffic. This hilly route stretches from the eastern boundaries of Loch Raven Reservoir to Dulaney Valley Road, all the while winding up and down the hills surrounding it. Don’t be alarmed if you hear gunshots ringing in the distance, the BPD firing range is located at the opposite shore.

BWI Trail

The BWI trail loops around our airport for a total distance of approx. 10 Miles. The best access point is the Thomas Dixon Observation Area, where you can watch incoming planes on their landing approach as you’re getting ready to run. While well marked, taking a wrong turn means you’ll end up at the local Amtrak station or BWI terminal! For extra mileage, combine with the trail described below.

B&A Trail

Starting at the Sawmill Creek park in Anne Arundel county, south of Baltimore is the B&A trail. This trail proceeds to travel all the way to Annapolis, but most of us will have turned around long before then. It’s a good route with fair amounts of bike and foot traffic, but feels a bit too urban at times, often surrounded on both sides by residential or commercial zones.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of the plethora of running opportunities in and around Baltimore. In addition, those willing to travel the extra mile to the DC area will be rewarded with access to trails systems at Rock Creek Park, the C&O canal and many others. As part of our marathon training programs, we at the Hopkins Marathon Teams run at a different trail every Saturday during our 16 week training cycles. There’s no better way to become acquainted with the best running in Baltimore!

Here's a map with pinpoint location to all the trail-heads of the routes described above!

EDIT: I'm including a Gmaps link since there was an error with the embedded map: