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Crowds cheer on Baltimore Running Festival participants

Cheering crowds have become an integral part of Baltimore Running Festival as runners look for the boost of encouragement and spectators find a way to participate without having to pound the pavement. Some say it's best just to embrace the race rather than fight the traffic.

Christine Warren clapped and cheered for passing runners along Lake Montebello on Saturday morning, scanning the crowd for her uncle.

She woke up early after working late as a chef so she could cheer him on, but also to be a part of the excitement along the race route of the Baltimore Running Festival, which took over neighborhoods across the city Saturday.

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"He's the one that motivates me to get up, but I like the excitement. I like doing it because they like the encouragement," Warren said, as she yelled to passing runners. "I get high-fives. They always smile. They thank you."

Cheering crowds have become an integral part of the race as runners look for the boost of encouragement and spectators find a way to participate without having to pound the pavement.

A race fixture known as "The Tiger Guy" was blasting the Survivor song "Eye of the Tiger" to energize runners along a hilly stretch of Guilford Avenue at 30th Street in Charles Village, where residents often line up lawn chairs or sit on their front steps, holding up signs and using noisemakers to create a party-like atmosphere.

For the past half-dozen years, Patrick McMahon, Meg Stoltzfus and their two children have been handing out tiny cups filled with five Gummy Bears apiece, which they give away on behalf of the Abell Improvement Association.

The 2016 Baltimore Marathon is seen in time-lapse as the runners start up Paca Street. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun video)

The family, which includes 11-year-old daughter Sadie and 9-year-old son Gabriel, stocked up on 25 pounds of the candy and about 1,000 plastic cups, which they set up on a table on a wide, grassy median strip near East 33rd Street.

"This is a really good community space," McMahon said. "But it's usually not available because it's surrounded by traffic. On the day of the marathon, the whole neighborhood turns out. It's almost like a second street fair."

One woman shook a tambourine as runners streamed past. Another resident played the triangle, while a third tooted a bicycle horn.

Along Lake Montebello, the crowds were smaller. "It's a little quiet. You got to find your energy here," said Warren, who has cheered in the past at different locations for her uncle.

To break up the silence, she sang the theme song to "The Lego Movie" — with slightly altered lyrics: "Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you run the city."

Nearby, a group of musicians — some of whom had run in the 5K event earlier in the morning — had gathered to watch friends running the marathon and decided to bring their instruments.

"We weren't planning on it," said Letitia VanSant, who held an acoustic guitar.

"Free Bird!" yelled one runner, referring to the Lynyrd Skynyrd song.

"That's like the third time," said Molly Williams, who strummed a banjo.

One runner lifted his shirt as if to flash the women, but had on a compression shirt underneath.

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"I think they like it. I would like it people were playing a banjo and guitar," said Erin Mellenthin, who also played an acoustic guitar.

Though smaller in number than other groups along the 26.2-mile route, the Lake Montebello neighborhood had its own dedicated crowd.

"It's a tradition," said Mary Alice Yeskey, who, along with her two young sons and neighbors, cheered on runners along the lake. Yeskey, 40, said she started the race day tradition after moving to the neighborhood 12 years ago.

She held a sign that read, "May the course be with you," while her son held a picture of Yoda from the "Star Wars" movies.

Her neighbor Christina Brunyate sat on a blanket with two of her children.

"Keep it up, you've got this," Brunyate yelled.

Neighbor Helen Atkinson, 59, waited with her dog, Sasha, searching for her daughter-in-law, who was running in the marathon relay. The first few runners began trickling in around 9:45 a.m. The faster, more serious runners remained focused, she said.

"When you've got a big crowd, they have the energy to give each high-fives," she said.

Baltimore police Detective Monica Alston, who was monitoring traffic and crowds along the route, said the race is a unifying event for the city. One man in Maryland flag leggings called out to her, "Thank you for your service!"

"It feels good," she said. "You get to be a part of it. I love it."

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