Anthony Blue

Anthony Blue, who lives at Helping Up Mission (rear), will compete in the half-marathon Saturday at the Baltimore Running Festival. Before moving to the mission, Blue struggled with drug abuse. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun / October 10, 2012)

He sees them, on occasion, while jogging city streets — the vagrants, addicts and pushers who were part of Anthony Blue's past.

From the shadows, they watch him, all cleaned up and going somewhere, with suspicion.

"Blue? Is that you?"

"Of course it's me," he tells them. "I'm just not using now."

And he keeps on running.

On Saturday, Blue, once a skid-row junkie and drug dealer, will compete in the half-marathon in the Baltimore Running Festival. The man who used to run from the law now runs for a cause: The Helping Up Mission, his home since 2009.

At 51, Blue has turned his life around. Drug-free for 21/2 years, he has two steady jobs and a dream to get his own place, maybe even a car.

"Never had one before," he said.

Until then, his legs will carry him everywhere — including, he hopes, the finish line of Saturday's 13.1-mile race.

"I'm going to do my best to pull this off," he said. "I'm not running for speed or anything. It's just a goal that I've committed to. I'm going to run, walk and crawl, whatever it takes to get across the finish."

Last year he ran the 5K. For someone who was homeless for seven years, he said, the sense of accomplishment was overwhelming.

"I liked hearing the crowd. As I passed by, in my team's lime green shirt, they yelled, 'Go Mission!' " he said.

"It gave me a boost of energy to run, oh, at least 20 more feet."

Those who know Blue said they won't count him out this time around.

"He can do it, if he has the patience to pace himself," said Barry Burnett, captain of Team HUM and a staffer at the mission on East Baltimore Street. "Anthony is part of our group that gets out there at 5:30 in the morning to train — rain or shine."

When Blue finished the 5K in last year's festival, Burnett said, the light bulb came on. Blue knew what hard work could do.

"I remember the smile he had on his face afterward," Burnett said. "We are guys who've always doubted ourselves, failed so much and beaten ourselves up mentally. As runners, we find we can push ourselves past our comfort zones, go the extra mile and succeed where we never have before. Running helps us to believe in ourselves and to wonder if we have any limits."

It's a heady feeling for Blue, a graduate of Southern who used to roam the streets he now runs.

"I'd sleep wherever I could, in abandoned buildings with no windows, no heat," he said. "Before I lay down, I'd try to clean it up a little bit. If there was broken glass on the floor, I'd find a piece of cardboard and sweep it out of the way.