Druid Hills 10K: Meeting The Challenge

Racing has always been a battle of wills for me, either to finish ahead of someone or to push myself beyond what I assumed was my limit. The dreaded Druid Hill 10K has always been the latter, an inner battle to push my body to do something amazing. I’ve run marathons and ultramarathons, but this small 10K race that takes place in the heart of the city I love so much, still stands with those achievements has something I’m proud of.

For a race that takes place in the heart of Baltimore city, it mirrors its toughness. With it’s seemingly never ending hills, this race tests your love of running, just as the city will test you. But at the end of the race, it will reward you, just like when you discover some quirky place, like Hampden, and reminds you how much you enjoy it all.

So how does this race earn the “dreaded” in the title? If you guessed hills, you’d be correct. Three massive hills to be exact. I remember the first time I ran the race, way back in 2007, I had thoughts of breaking my 10K PR, to say that I was humbled would be an understatement. I should have read the race website that specifically warns “THIS IS NOT A PR COURSE”. The first half of the course lulls you into thinking everything you’ve been told about the race was an exaggeration by your friends who have no idea what they are talking about. Sure there was a bit of a hill, but you are a veteran of Baltimore hills, you ran up freaking Charles Street for pete’s sake, nothing here is special. Don’t listen to that voice! It’s the runner’s high from running a couple of miles talking and I know just how confident I get after running a few miles and think I can conquer the world. Besides, those early miles are just an appetizer for the entree that’s just around the corner.

The first feeling you get of something different is after a return to what seems to be the beginning of the first two mile you just ran. For a moment you think that you’ll be returning the same way, but then you are directed to an unfamiliar part of Druid Hill Park. The thought occurs to you that you’ve never seen that part of the park before. You’d be right, these roads are usually closed off for the Baltimore Zoo maintenance staff. The flimsy gate you run past confirms this as you think about how much fun it would be finding a new running path in this massive park. That’s when the course as well as your heart begins to plunge down and I mean that literally. The elevation just drops way down, just like that. Going down that hill is so steep that, even though you love downhills, you think there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Even as the elevation drops, the road begins to wind around a bit more and your proceed all the way down something that feels like a canyon. I remember thinking, no canyons in freaking Druid Hill. Eventually you begin to level out with a bit of a climb and then plunge again. At this point, my quads are giving me a side-eye and then I began to see the lead runners on the way back. This is when I came to the realization that I was going back up the way I just came down.

To say that climbing back up was as struggle is laughable. The first time I made this climb I was determined to not stop, but I did. Not once or twice, maybe three times? I don’t remember because I blocked that from my mind. I do recall a particular hill summit seeming to take forever to reach and just as I rounded the winding road to finish it, realizing that the climb wasn’t over. Did I mention that there is a bit of a climb involving some switchback at some point in this race? That was the point when I duffed my imaginary hat at the course and mumbled, “Well played Balimore, well played!” That year I promised myself I would come back the following year and actually run those hills. In 2008, I came back and did run the hills all the way through. I helps to know the course as well as running hills in preparation for the race and mentally preparing to take on such a challenge. I’ve come back every time I could to test myself against this course with varying levels of success and like to get as many people to share this experience with me.

You might be asking yourself why in heaven’s sake you would put yourself through this ordeal of a race in the Baltimore summer heat for that matter. Well first of all, the race is mostly in the shade, so you have that going for you. Another reason is the same reason I keep coming back: the challenge. As runners we put ourselves through the epics that test not only our bodies, but challenge our ideas of what we think our possibilities are. I love rising to a worthy challenge and the satisfaction that comes with knowing I gave my best. Sometimes that’s good enough to conquer the course, other times it’s not. But even in that “failure” a new quest is formed and when you achieve it something invisible is added to your backbone and makes it that much easier for you to conquer the next hilly race you enter.

For a long time that 2008 race premium was my go to race shirt because I was so proud of beating that challenge I set for myself. I remember running the baltimore marathon in it and sharing a couple of miles with a guy who was wearing the same shirt while we reminisced about the dreaded druid hills. It’s organized by a local store, Falls Road Running Store, so you get a chance to support a local business.

Mostly though, do it for yourself. It’s a race you’ll remember, always a great premium you’ll be proud to wear and a challenge worthy of your runs. Hope to see you on the course.

To get the special November Project discount (thanks to Cory Donovan and Falls Road Running!), sign up under NPBALT, and use the code NP2019, and make sure to give a shout out to to Cory, Falls Road Running, and NP-Balt post-race!

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