Experience some of the sights and sounds of the Baltimore Running Festival leading up to the beginning of the full marathon. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)
To understand Jordan Tropf's devotion to running, start with another of his loves.
Around his junior year of high school, Tropf went to cross country camp in Northeast Ohio. He met a girl there. Her name was Hannah Neczypor. She was from Cuyahoga County, like him. They started dating a year later.
In 2010, Tropf headed to the Naval Academy while Neczypor finished up high school. A year later, the high school sweethearts found themselves only an hour apart, close enough that, after a long run, they could've met each other halfway in Prince George's County. Which wasn't out of the question, either: Tropf was on the Midshipmen's cross country team; Neczypor did both cross country and track and field at Georgetown.
"She is definitely the better half of this relationship," Tropf said of his fiancée as a runner. Never mind that Tropf had just won Saturday's Baltimore Marathon, edging two-time champion Dave Berdan of Owings Mills by over three minutes with a time of 2 hours, 29 minutes, 6 seconds.
What he might have lacked in long-distance experience locally — Tropf never had competed in the Baltimore Running Festival — he more than made up for in accomplishments elsewhere. In this past April's Boston Marathon, he was Maryland's top finisher, placing 51st overall. Two weeks ago, he ran the Chicago Marathon and came in 58th.
In both races, Tropf had finished in under 2 hours, 30 minutes. Do that again Saturday, he told himself, and "I knew I'd be competitive." That might have been underselling it: After his first 5 or 6 miles, there was no runner within sight of the tall guy in the Navy singlet.
"All I remember is starting this race and looking around and thinking, 'Where is everybody?'" the Fells Point resident said. "It made me a little nervous, just because I don't want to go out there and torch myself early on. But I just stayed focused, tried to keep that lead, keep trucking."
He reached the halfway point in 72 minutes, his benchmark for the 26.2-mile distance, and steeled himself for the hills ahead.
Behind him was Berdan — on pace, for at least the early going, to finish around 2 hours, 29 minutes.
"I was just kind of thinking, 'Hopefully, he's going a little too fast and I can catch him later.' He definitely slowed down a lot," said Berdan, who finished almost seven minutes ahead of third-place Michael Wardian, 43, of Arlington, Va. "But I slowed down, too."
Berdan never passed Tropf. The only one who did: a member of the first-place Falls Road Running marathon relay team. It was late in the race, and Tropf started to worry.
The passerby told him not to.
"You know what?" Tropf recalled thinking. "I really appreciate you telling me that."
It had been a long road to the finish line. After graduating from the Naval Academy in 2014, he enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, deferring his active-duty service obligations until next year. All the while, he's kept running — in the city, on the trails at Patapsco Valley State Park, wherever and whenever he can.
Over the summer, surgery rotations and interviews for residency positions left precious little time during normal waking hours to run. So he'd get up at 3 or 4 a.m. some days to get his miles in.
"He is the most consistent marathon runner I think I've ever met," Neczypor said.
Victory didn't change the couple's weekend plans. They said they planned to relax and chow down on some food for the rest of Saturday, then rest up for the next big race.
After all, Neczypor would be running the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday.
No repeat: Tropf's triumph marked the second straight year a runner with ties to the Navy has won.
In 2016, Lt. Patrick Hearn, a graduate of Glenelg High and Maryland who now serves as an analyst for the Navy's independent assessment science and engineering command in California, posted a marathon-best time of 2:26:18.
Hearn was selected to be part of the Navy team competing in the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday and did not race in Baltimore.
Other winners: Silvia Baage, 36, of Rockville, a French professor at McDaniel, won the women's marathon with a personal-record time of 2:58:36. Beth Dollas, 40, of Amesbury was second, followed by Shannon Pyles, 31, of Baltimore.
Matt Jablonski, 25, of Cockeysville won the men's half-marathon (1:08:50), while Jennifer Paul, 30, of Washington took the women's event (1:23:46).
In the 5K, the top finishers were Andrew Madison, 30, of Catonsville and Laura Mortimer, 32, of Baltimore. Madison finished the 3.1 miles in 16:18, and Mortimer in 19:21.