Bridget Flynn had just run three miles through a dark tunnel. She was thrilled.
Flynn was one of 800 people who either ran or walked through the northbound Fort McHenry Tunnel Sunday morning to raise money for the Special Olympics.
Sipping water while seated on a curb near the finish line, the 39-year-old Baltimore County special education teacher said her morning was an absolute success: She finished the 5K race (in 108th place, at 25:38.3 minutes) and did some good for the children she works with.
"It's a chance to appreciate what they do and how much harder it is for them," Flynn said.
"It's not something I would do every day," she added with a smile. "But it's great to do it for the Special Olympics."
Participants raised about $30,000 through fees and pledges, race officials said.
"We are eternally grateful to … everyone who came out to participate in this terrific race," said Jordan Bishop, a coordinator for Special Olympics Maryland. "We'd like to offer a sincere thank you to each and every participant on behalf of our 10,000 athletes statewide."
The morning couldn't have been better for the third annual Fort McHenry Tunnel 5K Run/Walk. A slight chill hung in the air but there was no trace of rain. And the partially overcast skies kept the sun from beating down too hard.
The easternmost of the tunnel's four tubes had been closed to traffic since about 7 p.m. Saturday, as representatives from the Maryland Transportation Authority and the MTA police readied it for the race.
Registration began at 8 a.m., and for the next hour a steady stream of runners and walkers headed for the starting line at the tunnel's northern end.
"It's pretty exciting," said Bruce Worley, 25, a Special Olympian who has run in races ranging from 1,500 to 10,000 meters. "And it's not just running. You're really giving back to the community."
This was the second time around for Bruce Citterman of Essex, 46, a service manager for CarMax. With the race's 9 a.m. start time about three minutes away, Citterman limbered up and explained what made the race — up and back through the tunnel, a total of 3.1 miles — so special.
"I love doing this race," he said. "When you're coming up, coming out from the tunnel, and everybody's clapping, it's just amazing."
Tristram Thomas, 24, crossed the finish line first, with a time of 16:10.8, nearly two minutes ahead of his closest competitors. He finished second last year.
The first woman to finish was 27-year-old Emily Von Hedemann of Freeland, who finished fourth overall with a time of 19:05.
The tunnel tube was reopened to northbound Interstate 95 traffic well before noon.
Most runners agreed that the start was a breeze, thanks to the downhill grade heading south. Things proved a lot tougher coming back up, especially the last hundred yards or so before the finish line.
"I liked the downhill part," said an exhausted Lauren Marelli, 14, of Arnold, leaning on her mother for support.
Eleven-year-old Maddy Armagost, however, barely broke a sweat. She had come to the race with her aunt, Gena Jordan, 46, and had no trouble at all.
"It wasn't really hard," she said.
And her aunt?
"I passed her," Maddy said with a grin.