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Dave Berdan during the 2013 Baltimore marathon.
Dave Berdan during the 2013 Baltimore marathon. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore Running Festival's organizer thinks it's pretty cool that an Owings Mills man won the marathon last year, the first time a local runner has crossed the finish line first.

The running festival didn't have prize money to award after Under Armour declined to renew its title sponsorship. That thinned the elite running field in 2013, opening up the course for Dave Berdan, who finished in 2 hours, 30 minutes and 6 seconds — still quick, but about 17 minutes slower than the previous year's winner. Berdan won by more than 8 minutes.

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"Last year, I talked to the lead biker a lot," he said.

As the running festival looms on Saturday, the marathon is again without a title sponsor and Berdan is the favorite to repeat. Lee Corrigan, president of race organizer Corrigan Sports Enterprises, is excited about that.

But he still used the festival's kickoff luncheon Thursday "as a bit of a display" for potential future sponsors. The festival's corporate partners played the role of cheerleaders, and charities received oversized checks as they posed for photos with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh and the marathon's new mascot, a crab named Blue.

The festival is still very much in search of a title sponsor, Corrigan said.

"We had some near misses this year," he said. "I can make arguments for it and against it. There's a level of prestige [with a purse]. If you don't have a purse, there's more emphasis on the community."

The world's top runners might not converge on Baltimore this weekend, but the absence of an elite field apparently hasn't doused interest among recreational runners. More than 25,000 have signed up to run in either the marathon, team relay, half-marathon or 5K.

More than 26,000 participated in the race last year and a similar number raced in 2012, the last year a purse was offered. Corrigan said he felt good about this year's registration numbers, which could still increase by a few hundred if participants sign up for the marathon or half-marathon at the festival's health and fitness fair today. The team relay and 5K are sold out.

Berdan, in his first year as Stevenson's cross country coach, leads the field. His personal best in the Baltimore marathon came in 2011, when he led the first half of the race before finishing 10th in 2:21:19. Stephen Muange of Kenya won in 2:15:16 and earned a paycheck of $25,000 — a chunk of the $145,000 purse. Muange won in 2012, too, finishing in 2:13:08.

Berdan, 33, had fun running last year because the crowds were so supportive, but he wonders how spectators would react to a nonlocal winning.

"If there was no prize money and some random person from out of town was winning," what then? Berdan said.

Despite a recent hip injury, Berdan said he'll try to repeat. He'll be happy with anything in "the mid-2:20s" up to 2:30.

"I want to win but you never know what's going to happen," Berdan said. "The marathon's tough, too. There's a lot of things that could go wrong."

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