Pugh didn't hitch her star to road racing yesterday


Catherine Pugh won public office in 1999, when she was elected to a seat on the Baltimore City Council, but it was hardly the first race she had run.

The councilwoman from the Fourth District figures to finish in the middle of the pack in the Comcast Baltimore Marathon tomorrow, but she was a front-runner in the effort to bring major road racing back to her adopted hometown.

It's billed as the inaugural Baltimore Marathon Festival, but as a two-time veteran of the Maryland Marathon, Pugh knows that it's not the first 26.2-mile test in Baltimore.

Growing up in Philadelphia, Pugh watched her sisters excel in basketball and track and field. Her athletic interests were limited to cheerleading when she was a student at Morgan State, and she remembers a curious introduction to running.

"Dorothy Brunson, a friend of mine, was interested in a guy who ran around the reservoir at Hanlon Park," Pugh said. "She didn't want to go there alone, so that's how I got started."

Pugh logged some serious miles in the 1980s, when she was the dean and director of a local business college, and the effort translated into some solid marathon times.

In 1984, she finished 17th in the Maryland Marathon in 3 hours, 20 minutes, 30 seconds. A year later, returning to the course that included notorious Satyr Hill, Pugh dipped to 3:10:55. She was first among women 35 and over and seventh overall.

Pugh remembers a year in which she entered 48 road races, nearly one a week, but tomorrow will mark her first road race in nearly a decade. While she cut back on competition, she didn't back off her commitment.

Pugh has had some 20-mile runs in preparation for the marathon, and used her running shoes to tour her district and many city neighborhoods.

"I run all over the city," said Pugh, who has drafted legislation that led to bills that banned dirt bikes and the sale of body armor to youths. "I like running downtown from my home in Ashburton. I've run by Katie's house to get water."

That would be the mayor's wife. Shortly after the 1999 election in which Pugh and Martin O'Malley were elected, she and Katie O'Malley, a fellow runner, brainstormed about ways to promote the city.

"Katie and I were at an Urban League function," Pugh said. "She was training for the Marine Corps Marathon. We were talking about running, and we said, 'We ought to have a marathon of our own.' We pulled on Martin's coattails, and here we are."

Corrigan Sports Enterprises, the marketer of the Baltimore Marathon Festival, had floated the concept four years ago, and Pugh was impressed by the legwork they had already done when the city weighed five proposals to stage a marathon.

Pugh and Katie O'Malley are the honorary co-chairs of the Baltimore Marathon Festival.

"I know that a number of major marathons are run in cities," Pugh said. "If we do it right, I'm convinced Baltimore can be a major contender in the marathon community. To me, an elite marathon means 8,000 to 10,000 runners. In our first year, we're almost there."

Pugh file

Age: 50

Home: Baltimore

Marathon debut: 1984 Maryland Marathon

Personal best: 1985 Maryland Marathon, 3:10:55.

Baltimore goal: "I want people to see that Baltimore isn't just a good place to live and work, it's a good place to run."

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