Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities' Marathons

For the second week in a row it was marathon weekend for my family.  I did Steamtown on 10/9 and Patti did Baltimore (half) on 10/15.  Being a part of these two races so close together really brings out the difference between a small market and big city event.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both.


Baltimore Half Start
The first major difference is the size.  Steamtown has a field cap of 2800 runners (although the local paper in Scranton said there were 1800 participants this year - typo?)  The Baltimore Half had 11,500 participants, and I don't know what the full was but I would approximate about the same.  That's a lot - you are talking about a sea of people!  It was very difficult to find Patti once she slipped into the field, and in fact, I did not find her on the race course at all.  At Steamtown Patti and the boys waited with me in the field, and then found a nice spot on the corner about a 1/4 mile from the start to snap some pictures.  
Baltimore Half at 3 miles - 20 minutes after elite runners!

Running around with 2 little kids in Baltimore wasn't fun - especially around the finish line.  In Baltimore, the half marathon merges in with the full marathon at about the full's mile 16.  The start time of the half is offset so both groups are finishing together.  That's 22K runners that have families and friends waiting for them at the finish line.  The people lining the finish chute at Camden Yards were 12 deep - I had no hope of getting Patti's picture.  

By contrast, in Steamtown family and friends were single file along the roadside and my kids ran out to finish the last 385 yards with me.  There's no way that can (or I would even want) that to happen in Baltimore.  It was just as congested at the finish as it was at half's mile 3.  

I blogged about the course at Steamtown and it's epic elevation drop last week.  It's a 1000 foot drop over the first 8 miles.  It's a downhill course with an uphill stab near the end. 

Baltimore's full marathon drops, flattens and then rises again and tapers into the finish.  But the total difference between from the zenith to the bottom is 325 feet - one third of Steamtown's descent.
Baltimore is also a loop, so you pretty much finish where you start. There's something to be said for this, especially if you plan your accommodations near that point.  In Steamtown you're on a 45 minute trip to the start line which isn't awful but it does grind away a little bit on the mental focus (you must FIND the start line).  On the other hand, you do get ample time to enjoy the fall scenery at Steamtown (if you're out to enjoy it), do a few miles of trail running and spend time alone with your thoughts (for better or worse).  Baltimore winds through the zoo, parks and city streets, so there's a healthy variety of things to view along the way.  

How the events were run were notably different.  Steamtown is 100% volunteer and all proceeds go to charity.  Baltimore has huge sponsorship by Under Armour (Patti received 3 Under Armour give-away shirts by race day which alone exceeds the cost of registration).  As a result there's more "support" along the Baltimore course for the runner than in Steamtown.  I saw water stops handing out water, Gatorade, chips, pretzels and other assorted food items.  In Steamtown we had water or All Sport.  I would have given anything for something solid towards the end (and thanks to the area residents I did).  

Patti rocked the Half in 2:02!  How 'bout those apples?!?
In Baltimore's finisher area there were rock bands on stage, beer tents, face painting, bounce houses for the kids, food trailers, and a whole variety of things to make it feel like a festival.  In Steamtown there was just the finish area in the square, a bag-check pickup area and if you were willing to walk a mile, available showers at Lackawanna college if you could make it there by 2pm.  Food options were limited, but I suppose you could patronize one of the area establishments.  This is not a ding on Steamtown, it's just different and well suited for the crowd-adverse.

In Baltimore we stayed at the Hyatt in Inner Harbor - it's is the only way to fly.  I snagged the hotel room with a AAA discount rate of $215, and it was well worth it.  The half marathon start is right outside the front door, and we waited in the room until 30 minutes before the start. We saw the elite full marathon runners come by from our hotel room window, and the room accommodations were stress-free (clean, comfortable, etc.).  They also have a great workout room and Patti used the treadmill the night before and in the morning to warm up and stretch.  The Hyatt is a half mile from the finish line, so it truly is in the center of the action.

In Scranton I stayed at the Days Inn, which safe to say, is not the Hyatt Inner Harbor.  For the difference of $100 I would take the Hyatt anytime.    I really don't have to say much more.

Lessons Learned
After waiting 2 hours for pasta at Steamtown the week before, we planned a 5pm dinner reservation in Baltimore's Little Italy after we allowed a few hours to tour the Aquarium with the kids (all walking distance from the hotel).  We got to dinner at 4:30 and we were done by 5:15, just as some of the runners started coming in for their carb loading.  Relaxed, convenient, fast and stress-free - everything you want and need.

Baltimore Inner Harbor is a nice area (save a few panhandlers) and I was able to go for a 2 mile run along the waterfront the night before the race and never leave the view of the hotel.  Although not the size of NYC or Chicago marathons, Baltimore is quite sizable and offers all the things of a big market corporate sponsored event.  We plan on returning next year to do the full (without the kids!)

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