Twas’ a beautiful day to run on Sunday the 6th of March. The start was at the Severna Park H.S. parking lot as we assembled early in the brisk morning air. The new course directors,Lisa and Craig, had a nice pre-race setup with many Spring/Summer race applications available; and a small, single vendor displaying typical runner ware. While I’m not a big fan of the half/whole combination coming down together, it actually made for a nice crowd of folks with common purpose. Could be the time of year. My first marathon of any calendar year makes for an exceptional amount of anticipation and set purpose. In a brief and pleasant meeting with RD Lisa, she said she’d received an e-mail warning her Team Slug was coming. She assured me this was meant as a joke. You know in a “nice” way. However, many of you are well aware of the Slugs run-ins with the Striders over the years. And despite their involvement in this run, the entire morning was going perfectly.
The Secret Order of Slugs was ready. We were assembled, and the session was about to begin. And, while it’s been written about a million times that the start line was a gaggle; it really was. The start was Slug-like as I didn’t hear the go signal but rather just saw the crowd lurch. And we were; off. In time-honored tradition I was starting last, trying to burn off some Winter Fat, and searching for new Slugs. Many hundreds strong we rumbled up the road. I immediately began passing folks and 15 minutes into the marathon realized I needed to re-assess my position. Slyly, and glancing over my shoulder, I pulled over to re-lace my shoes, and look for my stashed piece of candy. Runners streamed by oblivious to the fact my small caramel cream was missing. Rather than reroute the course, or pat down passing runners, I plodded ahead, accepting the possibility I may have to run the entire 26 miles without a piece of candy. My suffering is endless. There are some nice early molehills to walk as the sun crept over the trees. About 3 miles through the neighborhood and we arrived at the rail trail. Now my position was secure. I was way back; with the Real Runners. With My People. Where I belong. Aid stations were positioned perfectly, stocked immaculately, and staffed by kind and caring folks. In fact, the strength of this run probably lies in its stash of volunteers. No doubt, some Striders were involved, which proves they’re not all bad. Got that Slugs.
Around four miles I had the good fortune to run upon one Mr. Robert Hildebrandt. A 50-Stater and a Vietnam Vet from Fairbanks AK, currently proprietor of a general store. He told me lots of good stuff. Some of it even concerned running. This was his 80th marathon in 41 states. New Jersey will be his next in April. We talked about a million acre wildfire in Alaska, which would decimate most states. Fortunately, Alaska is full of 4 thousand million acres of open forest. That’s a Lot my friends. We talked politics and the military and family. He is truly an interesting man. The type of person you would expect to live out their lives in the frontier. The type of character books are written about. A true American hero. We shuffled through serenity as the rail trail rolled toward a turn-around at 9 miles. Then back through the half, where we lost a lot of the starting field (the Halfers'). All of a sudden it got real lonely except for some Slug slather from time to time, along with the non-participant bicyclists and joggers/walkers out to enjoy a most awesome late winter day.
The course was well-monitored as the local Police force took an active interest in our safety. While some large city marathons have security that often lacks enthusiasm for the runner, most of these officers seemed genuinely interested in our plight. Many smiled back at me after my greetings of thanks. This offering while seemingly small, is actually greatly appreciated in the latter miles. The course then continues along the Baltimore and Annapolis trail to just over 19 miles, where it turns; and returns, to the finish. While I enjoy a point to point, a race this size is nice on out and backs, because you can gauge your relative position in the field, and you get to eyeball all the competitors. Naturally, Slugs tend to be towards the rear. Many folks think this is because we’re slow. I suppose that is quite accurate.
At around mile 22 and preparing for the final assault, the death march towards my next beginning, I ran upon a most incredible scene. Pulling up beside, Kelsey Shroades, of WV, I could see tears streaming down her face. Just 18 years young, in her First marathon, she was experiencing the incredible physical discomfort that grabs you, consumes you, and eventually for most folks, demands even more. I wasn’t sure what to say, or if she even knew I was there. It didn’t matter. This race is your race. It is a completely personal experience, regardless of how many runners/friends surround you. I know this like I can count to 10. I know this animal the marathon. We are the oldest and most intimate of friends. I know what it can do to your soul and your psyche. I know how it can treat you so incredibly wonderfully, yet turn around and leave you crying on your knees. It is real my friends. Let there be no doubt about that. The vision of Kelsey running was fascinating. Sobbing, she refused to slow down. She was the picture of determination as she struggled slowly and surely along. Fact is, I was absolutely incredulous at the inspiration this tiny young girl was providing. Through the aid stations she was bringing tears to volunteers’ eyes. I really had no choice but to stay with, encourage, and monitor her performance. She made me thankful I was at the race, and alive in this place and time.
The last miles clicked off, and we continued on. Marching as if to our deaths. Putting new meaning into what it means to slug along. Casual walkers could have blown by us. Just past 26 with a slight incline to go she began to wobble. I reminded her to go ahead and wobble…just do it in a forward motion. Now we could hear the finish, though we were over 5 hours, folks were waiting for us. The rest of the Slugs were already on their second beer as we crossed the finish line. Unfortunately, the finish line volunteer tried to hand Kelsey the medal. This was completely inappropriate. I intercepted it, and placed it around her neck. This young lady was a real marathoner, and a true champion with the heart of a tiger and the will of Rocky himself. Suddenly the sobbing began to quiet, and in earnest she only wanted to sit down. Oh, how I know how she feels. Her father helped her to the bench, blanketed her, and began giving her fluids. She would live to run again, and one day many days from now, she will think she had a great time out there. And, she will be right.
The B & A marathon is a well-organized event. TSI hereby decrees it Slug-worthy and hopes to see more of you all out there in the upcoming years.