About 245 runners skipped the $4 toll at the Fort McHenry Tunnel for a good cause Sunday during the 10th annual Geico Tunnel Run to benefit Special Olympics Maryland.
The 5K race, which begins and ends at the northern mouth of the tunnel’s fourth bore, brings about $25,000 in donations for the organization, Special Olympics Maryland CEO Jim Schmutz said Sunday. The organization provides year-round athletic opportunities to about 7,780 people with intellectual disabilities.
Schmutz believes the novelty of running through an engineering marvel like the tunnel is a draw for participants, though it could also be considered symbolic for the organization’s mission.
“We talk about creating inclusivity and respect,” he said. “It is symbolic as it relates to the funneling people together and the coming out of a tunnel as a transformative experience.”
Among the runners, 15 Special Olympics athletes competed to qualify for the state Special Olympics competition at Mount St. Mary’s University in the fall.
One such athlete, 29-year-old Annu Singleton of Baltimore, said though the tunnel is hot in temperature, the threat of a little sweat does not deter him.
"It’s warm, but good for me because it helps with my cardio," he said, adding that he has run the race at least five times before.
Singleton sprinted through the brightly colored finish line to the cheers of Special Olympics Maryland volunteers and supporters. A faint smell of exhaust lingered in the air.
“The uphill was tough,” Singleton said while catching his breath at the finish line. “I pushed it at the last part. That’s all that matters to me.”
The event is not the only tunnel run associated with the Special Olympics organization. The New Jersey chapter coordinated a similar event in April through the Lincoln Tunnel.
Some of Maryland’s runners passed time on their run reading information unique to the Fort McHenry Tunnel that had been posted along the walls of the race path.
Alexandra Dystant, the 24-year-old Odenton resident who placed first overall for the female category, tried not to dwell too much on the sign informing the runners just how far underground the tunnel goes.
"It was muggy in there and dim, but I like when you’re coming out at the end,” Dystant said. “You can see this tiny little light beam and you know the end is close.”
Despite an E-ZPass Lane to the finish line, some organizers described the final uphill leg of the race a "doozey."
Twenty-two-year-old Cameron Nasseri, of the D.C. area, called the ascent from beneath the Patapsco River “demoralizing.” Still, the Special Olympian was delighted to discover upon crossing the finish line that he had placed first overall in the men’s category.
Singleton’s advice for new runners thinking of attending next year’s race: train hard, increase endurance, drink plenty of water and remember that participants don’t have to run the whole way.
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“I’m just so happy I get to do this again next year,” he said.