Running of the Preakness Day

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It’s the third Saturday in May in Baltimore, the self-proclaimed Greatest City in America. It’s noon, I’ve consumed a little coffee, and not enough food or water. It’s 75 and sunny, in stark contrast to the last few third Saturdays in May. The last Preakness Day with no recorded rainfall was 2014. The BWI weather station has recorded a total of 1.11 inches of rain over the last five third Saturdays in May (which is stupid, because I don’t know anybody who lives at the airport). What a Preakness Day it could have been.

I took our newly adopted dog Churchill (brought home on what would have been Kentucky Derby Day) for a walk in the morning. I dawdled around the house until the hottest part of the day, and eventually found the wherewithal to step out the door and run. I was operating at around 50 miles and eight beers a week in March, but have adjusted that to 30 miles and 20 beers a week in May. We’re all living differently now, right?

I stepped out the door and went north on Eutaw Place. The same Eutaw that forms the standing room only section of Camden Yards. No shirt, 12 ounces of water, $2 (emergency Gatorade fund), and a cell phone (so I could prove I did all this). Eutaw slopes uphill from Bolton Hill, into Reservoir Hill, and eventually into Druid Hill Park over the course of a very uphill mile. Druid Hill, a 700-plus acre urban park, is beautiful and very worth stopping by if you ever find yourself in the area. It rivals Central Park in size and photogrability. 

The Garmin watch I’m beholden to clicks off mile 1 in 7:52, with 103 feet of elevation gain. A rude awakening on a warm day. I run past the empty parking lots of the Maryland Zoo. I can’t imagine trying to make ends meet at a zoo without selling tickets, but readers can take solace. The elephants and giraffes, visible through the fence, seem a lot more active than normal. 

Mile 2 goes in 7:36. It’s 86 feet of elevation gain, with a bit of downhill. I run past the Frisbee golf course, which has a black contractor bag over each basket. It’s a formality that discourages hardly anyone. The discs still land in the baskets. I exit Druid Hill Park and head north and uphill on Greenspring Avenue. Mile 3 goes in 7:49. The streets haven’t gotten flatter or cooler.

I continue up Greenspring for entirely too long, past the Loyola University Athletic fields. Another venue that won’t see much action in the near future. Greenspring meets Northern Parkway at mile 4, 8:05. Fortunately, at 450 feet above the Inner Harbor we’re nearly at the upper limit of elevation within Baltimore city limits. 

I turn off Northern Parkway onto Belvedere Ave to avoid the six-lane thoroughfare. Belvedere takes me through Mt. Sinai Hospital. I’m not enjoying the heat, but wouldn’t trade places with anyone inside the hospital campus.

I reach Preakness Way at about mile 4.5 and get within a hundred yards of Pimlico’s half-mile pole. There’s a tunnel under the backside from there that most Preakness patrons (especially the sober ones) don’t know about. I take a selfie with the board presenting the schedule for a race meet that won’t happen. Mile 5 goes in 7:48. The hills are behind me and the Pimlico grandstand is in front of me – the same grandstand deemed too unsafe for racegoers a year ago.

I take pictures of the starting gate and the stakes barn along Rogers Avenue. The Derby winner’s Stall 40 and the rest are empty behind a locked gate. No one is checking credentials. 

Pimlico3Pimlico2A flat mile 6 along Rogers Avenue and Winner Avenue was 7:07. I take another bad selfie in front of the “PIMLICO – Home of The Preakness” sign on the wall of the clubhouse. A few contractors are working to take down scaffolding intended for roofing above the clubhouse turn temporary seating. I turn right onto Hayward Avenue past a half-dozen National Guard tents. A portion of the parking area is being used as a Covid-19 testing site. It’s not open today, which is reassuring, maybe. I pass a man mowing a quarter-acre lot on Hayward who probably would have earned 2,000 tax-free dollars parking cars today.  

I turn onto Park Heights Avenue to head southward and homeward. Miles 6, 7, and 8 go in 6:52, 6:33, and 7:01. The downhill and the Indian food leftovers at home make the turnover quicken. I pass boarded-up houses, overgrown lots, corner stores, and people waiting for the bus. I cross a few corners with “No Shoot Zone” scrawled in spray paint on the sidewalk. It’s an often criticized grassroots initiative to curtail the gun violence in neighborhoods that have been the victims of political negligence for 100 years. 

Nearing home at the hour mark, I do the human equivalent of switching a car into economy mode. One foot in front of the other, let’s just get home. The metaphorical empty light has come on. Mile 9 goes in 7:01 along Auchentoroly Terrace (listed in the National Register of Historic Places and my favorite street name) and Madison Avenue.

I reach home at about 9.3 miles. I have an enormous amount of respect for anyone with the willpower to ignore the urge to finish a run with a GPS watch on anything but a round number. My Strava posts almost entirely end in .00 or .50.  You may think you’re easygoing enough to ignore those details, but buy a GPS watch and you’ll prove yourself wrong. 

I continue around my block to end the day at 9 1/2 miles. Eight times farther than the Preakness’s traditional 9 1/2-furlong distance. The 12 ounces of water I started with were long ago converted to sweat, inside whatever bodily organ is responsible for that. 

I heat up the Indian food leftovers and check in with Churchill, who had been waiting impatiently for me to walk back in the door. I take a cold shower. I’d love a black-eyed susan, but a beer from Dundalk’s Key Brewing Company will do. Let’s hope I’m too busy to run 9 1/2 miles on the third Saturday in May 2021. 

A civil engineer, runner (and potential regular columnist) Ryan Clancy is the son of TIHR co-founder Joe Clancy and lives in Baltimore.