There is tremendous camaraderie in the sport of running. The bond can run deep, regardless of how long runners have known each other. Any doubt I had about that belief was brushed aside when I recently met up with the Federal Hill Running Club of Baltimore.
Thanks to the Internet, I found out that Federal Hill Running Club members meet every Monday night for a group run, followed by dinner, which was perfect for my recent trip to their city. So, there I was, meeting the group at its designated spot and time on a warm summer evening.
Part of my reason for joining the group was to test my theory, that runners share something special. I was particularly curious about something I had read on the club's website, that no one runs alone. For a variety of reasons, I believed I was going to be the slowest person (by far) in attendance.
Would the combination of being an unfamiliar face and very slow result in being welcomed or shunned?
When everyone appeared to have gathered, Ryan, the group leader, gave a quick introduction. He reiterated the website's pledge that no one would run alone and asked everyone to quickly give his or her name and preferred pace. Because I had placed myself off to the side, I was in a position where Ryan looked at me first.
I quickly introduced myself as being from out of town and explained my mission, to run, talk to members of the group and write about my experience. Apparently Ryan was a quick study because he responded with a very appropriate question.
"You going to be able to run with us?
"Don't worry about me," I replied. "I'm more interested in talking with some of you afterwards."
I then learned why Ryan had been concerned. Out of the group of 25 or so in attendance, about 20 runners ran a pace of seven to eight minutes a mile. This was no mid-to-back-of-the-pack gathering. I thought of heading straight to the restaurant and waiting for the group.
Then the Federal Hill Running Club lived up to its promise. No sooner had most of the runners taken off when two women, Jill and Christine, came up to me and said they ran at a 10-minute pace and would be happy to run with me. I appreciated the offer, so off we went.
We may have been the slowest in the group, but even a 10-minute pace was tough for me on this night. Three factors were making it difficult: how out of shape I was, the heat and mid-Atlantic humidity ... and the third factor? Did you notice the name of the club? Yes, the run took us up Federal Hill, not exactly the flattest part of the city.
I did my best, but after 15 minutes, Jill and Christine pulled away, so I turned around and ran back to the starting point. When others returned, I once again tested my camaraderie theory. For 15 minutes, Ryan and I traded stories about our respective running communities and learned we had much in common.
Then the real fun began. Seven members of the Federal Hill gang headed to a restaurant called Ropewalk and invited me to join them. There I was, a stranger in town, having drinks and dinner with Kim (the only female in the dining group), Brian, Desmond, Keith, Justin, Brendan and Jeff. Others came late but I didn't catch their names.
In short, they made me feel at home. Kim and Brian were seated closest to me, so I spent most of the time speaking with them. They were fascinated when learning about my professional race announcing and the experiences I had at races. What they most enjoyed, especially Kim, were my stories about my recent adventures at the Mount Washington Road Race. They seemed intrigued by a race that ran to the top of the highest elevation point in the northeast United States and how challenging the road was. I swear that if registration for next year's Mount Washington had opened while I was talking, the Baltimore running community would have been well represented.
By 8:30, it was over. Different members of the group finished their meals and went home. I said my good-byes and headed out the door.
My night with the Federal Hill Running Club had lasted only two hours, but it seemed timeless. Once again, my belief in the running community had proven true. Total strangers who share one thing in common, running, can come together and make each other feel like old friends. So, I leave you with this advice: If you are ever in Baltimore on a Monday night, look up the Federal Hill Running Club and join its members for their 6:30 run. Tell them Andy sent you.
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RUNNING SHORTS: How would you like to have been the race directors for the Bill Luti 5-Miler in Concord on July 20? A severe storm left downed trees and power lines on the course. Hours before the race, the directors had to come up with a new course. The winners were Jeff Veiga of Lowell, Mass., and Heidi Westover of Walpole ... Craig Fram of Plaistow, 54, and Elizabeth Danis of Nottingham, 15, were the winners of the Hugh Holt 5-Miler in Raymond on July 14. Find me a bigger age gap between the male and female winners of a race ... August is a big month for Thursday-night races in New Hampshire. On Aug. 1 it's the Thunder Chicken 5K in Portsmouth, on Aug. 8 it's the Cigna/Elliot Corporate 5K in Manchester, and on Aug. 15 it's the Saunders 10K in Rye ... Speaking of the Cigna event, it's time for my annual question: Will a New Hampshire 5K record be broken at Cigna, the site of the only two USATF recognized sub-14-minute 5K's in New Hampshire history?
Andy Shachat's column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.