From running your first 5K to finishing a 100-miler at the age of 50, inspiring runners heading to the Baltimore Running Festival come in all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. Even more, all of them have valuable, highly motivating stories that will inspire every runner — whether you’re just getting into the sport or fell in love with it long ago. Finally, their secret weapon is their HOVR running shoes, and they’ll tell you why.
Here, stories from runners participating in the Baltimore Running Festival this weekend:
FIND YOUR COMMUNITY
Gail Betz might struggle with degenerative vision, but that never slowed her down, whether it was playing field hockey in high school or running cross-country. In college, she picked up running for the second time in her life:
“I did a couple miles just here and there, but then signed up for a half-marathon and really enjoyed it, so I tried a full-marathon. But what keeps me running now isn’t racing, it’s the people and the community that I’ve met through running,” she says. “We moved to Baltimore in 2013. It was our first adult move, and we were trying to make friends, which is harder as an adult. I got involved with the November Project in 2014, and the 5:30 a.m. workouts became my weekly routine. Running has also helped me feel more connected to my city: I can go a lot more places by foot and I know my city better. … Plus I like getting faster!”
On HOVR: “I love how bouncy they are and how lightweight!”
SNEAK IN STRENGTH TRAINING
Louie Karko needed to run on Saturdays, but he wanted to sneak in some strength training as well. Enter the 100-to-10 workout he hosts as part of the November Project. He frequently hosts his workout near November Project folks’ houses so he can help them when they are moving.
“We work through a list of exercises starting with 100 reps and going down to 10 — 100 mountain climbers, run 500 meters, 90 squats, run, 80 crunches … and so on. We’ve been doing this for three years now — we started with a shorter set of runs, but then we did the full number so it was a 10K, then we did the full version of the workout and 20 people showed up. Now we do it all the time. First timers, I tell them it’s their first workout: It’s not a competition or a race, just a way to get out and get moving on a Saturday. I don’t want anyone to feel intimidated.
“I’m not really into racing — I’ll do a relay with friends or a charity run, but I really just run for the fun of it. Honestly, races are pretty fun and everything, and as a competitive soccer player, I love team sports, but when I run, I’d rather just run to a race and be part of a cheer station and just enjoy watching the runners. I know there are a lot of people who don’t run and being on the side of the road cheering for people who don’t have anyone else cheering, and they’ve been trying so hard and the race means so much to them, you get to see their whole face light up.”
On HOVR: “I haven’t been able to run much lately, thanks to a calf injury, and since I have a tendency to push too hard, I’m trying to be careful! But they’re really comfortable and light, not at all restrictive, and I can’t wait to run in them and see how they feel.”
When it comes to runners who support other runners, you can’t race in Baltimore without getting to know Christina Manoto, who not only races but hangs around to cheer on the other runners after she’s finished. She embraces new runners in the area and will gently get you out running — and loving every minute of it.
“I remember running my first mile. Growing up, I had asthma and allergies and didn’t participate in sports. But a friend signed me up for a 5K a few years ago and I ended up loving it, and it grew from there, Manoto recalls. “Now I do half-marathons. I love doing these long runs — after doing a 5K and waiting for everyone else to finish the half-marathon while I was already eating cookies, I realized I wanted to do the half, too.”
She advises, “You don’t need to run the entire time. I do interval-style running, so I alternate between running and walking, and that works well for me. This year’s Baltimore Running Festival will be my 29th half-marathon. I go on run-cations with friends; we go to all these great races in cool spots, like Las Vegas and Niagara Falls. A lot of what made me love it came back to that sense of accomplishment, but that sense of community, too. I’m not the fastest runner out there, but I make it across the finish line.”
On HOVR: “I’ve started walking in the HOVRs and I love them — they feel absolutely great. And my son loves them. … He keeps stealing them!”
LET IT BE MEDITATIVE AND CATHARTIC
When you run your own business, like Patrick Rife of Pixilated — a custom open-air photo booth rental company — it can be hard to think about anything other than what fire you need to put out. But luckily, when Pixilated started appearing at a few running events, Rife discovered that logging a few miles helped him stay more focused, organized and mindful.
“Running has helped me organize my perspective. I lost my mom a few years ago, becoming caretaker of my 100-year-old grandfather in her absence, until he passed away a year later. I had businesses that were starting to grow, I was trying to be a good husband and father and all of that stress and anxiety and loss manifested in a really painful way,” Rife remembers. “I didn’t have the space to deal with this. I had spent tons of time passively thinking about everything, but then when I started running, it let me ruminate and meditate, and the places your mind can get when running your body at full capacity is so different. I found that the act of running let me have that alone time to think and move through that stuff on my runs. It was exceptionally cathartic. At times, I’d be running and sobbing, and I needed that.”
On HOVR: “They are great — they make me legitimately feel like I’m hovering, and I think Under Armour has come such a long way in their running shoe evolution to get here.”
IF YOU CAN RUN, YOU CAN DO ANYTHING
Run4allwomen ambassador Alison Staples has gone from elliptical addict to a main running staple in the Baltimore running community. She’s also the co-founder of RIOT Squad Running and a coach for Charm City Run, when she’s not busy in her day job as a physical therapist assistant. And she didn’t pick up running until she was in her 30s.
“I was looking for a new group to run with and found RIOT Squad Running — I work for a children’s hospital and seven years ago, we put together a team for the Baltimore Running Festival. I was just a strictly elliptical user at the gym, but a friend convinced me to train and do the half-marathon that year. It spiraled from that! I’ve done five full-marathons and nine half-marathons since then. I love the party atmosphere of races, seeing people of all shapes and sizes coming out and crushing their goals has made me a more dedicated person in general.
“Running has made me a more confident person, too. I have a lot of confidence now. I think to myself, I can do this because I could run 12 miles easily the other day!”
On HOVR: “I did a half-marathon — the Atlanta one — in them, and I had signed up the day before and those were the only shoes I had with me. I hadn’t even tried them on, but I loved them. They worked great.”
SET YOUR OWN PACE
The Boys & Girls Club of Westminster hasn’t just taught David Dulin how to cope with change after losing his mother to cancer when he was 13. He also learned how to make new friends, and try things he’d never tried before. When he heard about the Charm City Run, he immediately knew he wanted to be on the Boys & Girls Club team.
“Racing is a good workout and it’s been a lot of fun to train with my friends from the Club. I wanted to see how hard they will work and if the other runners will get it done. In a lot of ways, running is so much easier than boxing because you can set your own pace. In boxing, you can never slow down — it almost feels like they are trying to wear you down. Training for the race has been good for me because it gives me something productive to do every day: I know I have to make time for it — at my own pace that I choose!”
On HOVR: “Usually shoes take a while to break in but these were comfortable from the get-go! I love them.”
DON’T WORRY ABOUT RESULTS, FOCUS ON EFFORT
High school senior Destinee McCloud is a superstar on the track — last year, she helped her squad of junior women place sixth in the Junior Olympics in the 4×400 meters relay. Sadly, after that event, she found out her brother had been killed. She managed to survive that trying time with the support of her teammates and by dedicating her season to him. This year, she’s racing cross-country while keeping up with track workouts with her coach, Ron Jackson, who says that Destinee is one of the hardest working, talented runners he’s ever met, on top of being a team leader, great student and all-around wonderful person.
“Since freshman year, I’ve changed as a runner as I’ve started to take running more seriously. I know it’s going to take me far, in terms of college and my career,” reflects McCloud. “But more, it makes me happy. I can just run to get things off of my mind. When I was little, I was always running — way before I ever started racing on the track. I just ran and jumped around — I had to be moving. So even if I didn’t race, I would get up every morning to run, just to keep my mind clear and to stay in shape.”
On motivating beginners: “I tell new runners to just get out and run their race. You’ll see other racers who are going faster, but you can’t quit. I always push myself to be that person who is beating me! Now that I’m captain of the team, I want to give them confidence to run their race no matter who is in front or who’s behind them. You make sure you know you did your best. Don’t slack — just run your race. Even if you lose, you want to know you gave your best.”
On HOVR: “They’re so soft and comfortable, I use them for all of my warmup runs before cross-country and track races now!”
GOING FAST DOESN’T COME FAST
High school junior Josiah Grant has always known he was fast, whether racing his buddies or rushing down the football field. Now, with the love and support of his grandfather and family, he has become one of the top 16-year-old sprinters in the country, ranking in the top 10 in the country in both 100m and 200m dashes.
“I get intimidated by the competition,” Grant admits. “I see the other guys, and I analyze everyone before I’m on the start line. But once I get started, I stop thinking about that and just focus on my own race. I often beat the guys I thought looked fast! Everyone has butterflies though.”
“Everything takes time. I used to go out way too hot, and get really frustrated when things didn’t go my way. I almost quit my sophomore year. But I had to sit down and think about it, and I eventually realized that it was going to take more time and practice. You have to trust the process — as long as you work hard, you’ll see progress. You can’t give up on something because it’s not happening the exact way you want it to. It all comes in due time — talent only takes you so far, but you need to do the work.”
On HOVR: “Once I got them, I barely took them off — they’re so comfortable. They’re so soft when I walk or run, I’ve been wearing them everywhere, school, practice, everything. They feel different compared to track spikes, for sure, but in the best way.”
DON’T EVER STOP
A former boxer turned runner thanks to Back on My Feet’s Baltimore chapter, Desmond Townes’ life was changed thanks to logging big miles when he discovered a group of runners last December. Now, after being homeless, he’s back on his feet — literally and figuratively — and he’s teaching other new runners how to do the same.
“I kept seeing these guys circling up near Penn North in the mornings and wondered what was going on — I finally asked any they told me all about Back on My Feet and convinced me to start running with them. I liked it, so I kept going,” recalled Townes. “I’m a pro boxer, and I used to hate running: My coach couldn’t get me to run to save his life. But now, I find spirituality in running. I find peace there.”
“When I first started, I couldn’t run a mile. I tried to push myself to do it, but I couldn’t make it. Instead, I found that I might not be able to go a mile, but I learned that I could push myself just a little bit further every time. And I enjoyed it! Pushing to my breaking point made me better,” says Townes. “Conditioning your mind to tell yourself what you can do versus what you can’t made it a lot easier. That was told to me, and it transfers into everything in life.”
“With Back on My Feet, I tell the new people that instead of stopping in the middle of a run, pick a spot ahead of you — a pole, a mailbox, whatever — and just make it to that. Don’t ever just stop. I love watching new people come to Back on My Feet and discover running.”
SLOW AND STEADY FINISHES THE RACE
A later-in-life runner, Pete Mulligan has been running since the turn of the century, when a co-worker challenged him to run a 10K. He signed up, ran and never looked back. Since then, Pete has run more than 50 marathons and ticks off 100-milers like it’s no big deal — despite being in his early 50s.
Mulligan offers some wise words to older runners looking to tackle distance running: “You need to learn how to go long. Add mileage slow and steady, but it’s also about knowing you can do whatever distance you’re trying for. For finishing a 100-miler, the first one I tried, I DNFed at mile 76. If you had told me there was a million dollars waiting for me at the finish line, I would have had a million excuses why I couldn’t get it. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. But so much of the last miles of a marathon or ultra are mental. You have to keep moving forward, even if that means walking. Try breaking runs into chunks. The last six miles of a marathon is just two 5Ks. That’s what you would run just doing an easy run to the grocery store or something.”
On HOVR: “The HOVR sneakers have been absolutely great for going long, I just did Steamboat Marathon in them.”
JUST GET MOVING
Running for fun wasn’t enough for Devon Ritchie: She wanted to share her love of running with young girls who otherwise might not be getting out and speeding up. She’s worked at Living Classrooms, coached the Patterson Park Middle School team for years and started her own Girls on the Run team. She’s learned that when you’re coaching young runners, you need to be comfortable running and comfortable talking about the tough stuff, from gossip at school to the urge to quit a race.
“The middle school girls that I coached for the last few years, I feel like we still have a good relationship! Getting them started in running is sometimes tough, but teaching them that after the first couple minutes or miles, you do feel better, even when you didn’t want to get out the door for a run. I tell them what I remind myself all the time — just get dressed and go out and walk, and you’ll almost always end up going for a run instead. It gets the funk out of your head! Things are going to feel bad, you’ll be mad or sad or uncomfortable, but once you get going, that changes. I know how much I love the feeling of crossing a finish line, and I wanted to pass that along to the girls. I still cry when I hit the finish line, I get so emotional! I get emotional with the girls, too. It’s great seeing how they progress over the season. I had a girl in practice that I actually carried on my back for part of a practice until she was willing to start running, and at the end, she was saying she felt great!”
On HOVR: “It feels like running on a cloud, and I love the mesh uppers — they feel so light and I have so much freedom in my feet now!
TRAIN HARD, RACE EASY
Jordan Tropf is operating on an entirely different level than most recreational runners because most recreational runners wouldn’t come close to winning a marathon, but Tropf won the Baltimore Marathon last year. He managed that while balancing his service in the Navy, working as an a orthopedic resident and running 100+ miles a week.
“Running for me is relaxing. It’s a great way to break up my day. It’s the perfect break at the end of a long day to decompress and to focus on the next. When it comes to racing or training, the two feed each other. The training is something I look forward to every day and the racing keeps me honest. It’s also all for fun, which helps me keep my priorities straight. I don’t keep a running log or write anything down because my schedule is so unpredictable, and I will sometimes have to go days without running. No paper trail eliminates the tendency to look back into my training log and make excuses for days that don’t go great.
“I do most of my runs at 3:30 a.m. to work it in my schedule. The thing about running and racing is that there really are no shortcuts to the finish line. I’m from the ‘train hard, race easy’ school of thought. I know that all the training now will pay off on race day, so that keeps me focused. Further motivation is knowing that if I don’t get up and get a run in in the morning, I might not have time later in the day. For me, it’s as simple as setting a goal and then doing what you have to do to reach it. Everybody runs for their own reasons and I think that reason is what should get you out of bed every morning … even at 3:30 a.m.!”
On HOVR: “I have tried the HOVR’s—I’m impressed and definitely excited to see what is to come from UA in the future”
IT’S ABOUT NOT GIVING UP
Teacher Keri Engel has coached for Girls on the Run for years in Baltimore — and when she’s not coaching, she’s running as a SoleMate raising money for charity. She runs a lot — even when she’s on a hiatus from racing.
“I did the Baltimore half-marathon back in 2012 when I first moved to Baltimore and was figuring out who I was. I loved the energy and decided I was going to become a runner when I saw that I had friends doing that race. It’s a huge help when it comes to getting to know a new city, and honestly, figuring out who you are. Training for that first half was how I got to know the city. I would run from Mount Vernon to Fort McHenry and did sightseeing on the run. I have so many fond memories thanks to that.
“So much of running is about not giving up. For new runners, running a 5K is challenging. You have to learn to break down running into smaller goals, and for the girls that I’ve worked with, no one has really taught them how to space out a 5K and break it into miles and what that looks like in training. You learn it eventually, but that first run is challenging!”