Meet Catherine Pugh: senator and marathon runner

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Senator Catherine Pugh (left) helped create the Baltimore Marathon, which is special to her both as a runner and as someone who's tried to create change in the city.

State Senator Catherine Pugh is running one of the most watched races of 2016: the Baltimore mayoral race. Tuesday, the city's residents will head to the polls and decide whether Pugh will succeed Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The Democratic nominee is serving her third term in the Maryland state senate representing District 40 in Baltimore, but Pugh is no stranger to tough races. In addition to being a competitive runner and athlete, Pugh founded the Baltimore Marathon 16 years ago, and it has grown into the Baltimore Running Festival with more than 25,000 participants.

Sen. Pugh spoke with espnW about her love for running, Baltimore and how she manages her time.

Running Baltimore

The idea of the marathon was my idea, but the business of running Baltimore is about being an inclusive city, becoming more diverse and realizing that the area has such great things happening. At the same time, we, like many urban cities, suffer from issues that are decades old. Yet, we have great universities and hospitals in ones like John Hopkins and the University of Maryland Medical System, so we are a city of opportunities -- one that is just spurting and starting to grow. So it's a very exciting time and envisioning the future is easy, because I have so many assets to work with. At the same time, it's how I pull it all together, so I think it'll make it a difference in the future of our city.

Marathons in Maryland

I was actually at an event with former Mayor Martin O'Malley and Katie O'Malley, his wife, who is a runner.  I'm also a runner, so I asked her at that event what she was training for, and she said she was training for a D.C. Marathon. I said, "How upsetting is it that the city doesn't have its own marathon?" We used to have what we called the Maryland Marathon, which was really great, so I said, "The city needs its own marathon." I then walked over to her husband, who was mayor at the time, and said, "The city needs its own marathon," and he said, "OK."

That was an OK, but there was no money. I remember working for [former Maryland Gov.] William Donald Schaefer, who said, "When you see a problem, bring me a solution." When he said "OK," that meant I had to come up with the way to get it done. So I went to the city's law department and said the city doesn't have any money. It was my thought that we would create a big proposal, advertising for bidders who created a Baltimore Marathon that would be inclusive of half marathons, team marathons and a 5K that would occur on a Saturday. People said, "Why Saturday?" and I said, "Because it would increase participation. It would get people coming to our city earlier, participating in our running festival prior to the marathon and staying in our city that Thursday night, Friday night, run the marathon Saturday and Sunday stay and enjoy our city." And that's in fact what has occurred. We started out with 6,600 runners and are now at 25,000 runners.

Timing is everything

I am such an individual runner. Have you ever seen anyone who likes to play golf and really likes to play by themselves? That would be me. Running is not only relaxing, but it gives me time to think and gives me time to spend with myself. It's not just a sport and an exercise for me. It's a moment of peace and tranquility.

Running is not only relaxing; it gives me time to think, it gives time to spend with myself. It is not just a sport and an exercise for me. It is a moment of peace and tranquility.
Catherine Pugh

Now, I have run with running groups and trained with other people. Marathon training requires a certain concentration and certain dedication, and sometimes it really is helpful to be in a group because it helps you stick to your agenda. I know when I was running marathons, we ran 80 miles a week and the person that I trained with was very meticulous about what you had to do every day. One of the things he taught me, which is why in my first marathon I ran a 3:19, was that you didn't run for distance -- you ran for time. He said that I had to build my body up to the point that I could take a three-hour run, once a week, for 11 straight weeks, and I would feel the impact of that for when I finally got to the marathon, and he was absolutely right. I am certain that at some point during the marathon training, I got close to 26.2 because people will tell you that you crash at the 18th mile, but I did not and I never had that experience of crashing. I've always been able to run through. In fact, I think I'm more competitive in the end then I am in the beginning. In the beginning of the marathon, I'm just trying to stay on pace.

Weekly races

[I ran] 48 races in one year -- placed in almost every single race. What was really funny is that there was a race in Annapolis where they only award the top 10 women, no age groups or anything. I came in 11th and I was sitting on the side dismayed, and someone walked up to me and said, "What's up with you? Why are you looking all sad? You're the first black girl in?" I said, "S---, ain't no awards for first black girls. It's about the top 10. I missed it."

Running for a purpose

We want people to be healthy. Whether it's running, walking, skipping, hopping or jumping, you just have to move your body. We are trying to create more bike trails in the city for people to be able to ride safely.

Baltimore is different than most big cities and the streets are not that wide. Our marathons have five different starts because of that, but we're getting better at addressing it. I always tell people when they are running through the city, I like running on the street -- on the tar of the street -- because it gives more. The curbs are made of cement, which creates problems for us as we get older with our knees because of the constant pounding. You want shock resistant shoes. You also want a comfortable setting and the tar is more comfortable then the cement. It is important for runners to A: Run against the traffic, and B: Be conscious of your surroundings. I don't wear earphones. I run to my own beat that's in my head.

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