Baltimore Running Festival notes: Half-marathon begins with wedding bells

An assortment of bells rang during the 18th annual Baltimore Running Festival — cowbells, bike bells and even wedding bells.

Candace Chunkala and Eldrice Usher of Charleroi, Pa., were married in a brief ceremony before the start of the half-marathon on a stage at the intersection of Pratt and Light streets. Chunkala, a teacher at a high school in Pittsburgh who wore a white wedding dress, and Usher, a technician for a smart home company who wore a white tuxedo with black pinstripes, then ran the race.

Tying the knot before the half-marathon was fitting for the couple, who had participated in half-marathons in Pittsburgh and Johnstown, Pa., earlier in the year. The race also served as a backdrop for Chunkala, who said she began to run after battling post-partum depression after the birth of the couple’s second child, Angelina.

“He wanted me to start working out together because he thought it would help me,” Chunkala said of her husband. “Then I lost 100 pounds.”

Said Usher: “I just wanted her to get into it because I was into it a little bit. Then she just kicked butt.”

Chunkala said she now runs four miles every morning before making the 45-minute commute to work and participates in CrossFit classes after work. She credited her husband for changing her life, saying, “I would not be here without him.”

The couple shed their formal clothes for the start of the race, and Usher — who tucked a Pittsburgh Steelers handkerchief in the front left breast pocket of his tuxedo — carried a Terrible Towel in his waistband. Chunkala, 33, finished in 2 hours, 48 minutes, 38 seconds, and Usher, 35, was four seconds behind.

92-year-old finishes 18th half

As the oldest competitor in the field, 92-year-old Bob Gralley joked he is simultaneously the first and last finisher in the half-marathon. The Parkville resident completed his 18th half-marathon in 3:52:14.

Gralley, who ran his first marathon 50 years ago, said he has participated in 42 marathons, which includes eight 50-milers, and has calculated he has logged more than 56,600 miles.

Although he last took part in a marathon 10 years, he has run in each of the past nine half-marathons in Baltimore. He said he hopes to run the same race again next year.

“Some people consider exercise work,” he said. “I’ve always looked at it as enjoyable. Plus, it’s good for your health. That’s why I’m 92.”

50 in 50

When Jonathan Davidson crossed the finish line for the marathon in 5:09:33, the Tennessee resident completed his 12-year quest to run a marathon in all 50 states.

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001, Davidson, 47, began working out after the birth of his daughter Brookley and participated in his first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington in 2006. Twenty-one of his family members and friends surprised him by making the trip to Maryland and holding two gold balloons that spelled out “50,” and he was emotional at times after the race.

“It’s hard to talk about,” said Davidson, who qualified for the Boston Marathon next April as a mobility impaired runner. “I need to keep running. That’s one way God has blessed me to keep my brain and body connected.”

Running for the military

While some runners wore Halloween costumes with the holiday on the horizon, retired Army master sergeant Aquil Bey wore his full military uniform, including combat boots and a 70-pound rucksack, and completed the half-marathon in 3:09:46.

The 44-year-old Baltimore resident, who retired from the Army in 2013, participated in the half-marathon in 2015 and 2017 and took part in the full marathon in 2016. Although he could run the race in a much faster time if he wore the typical gear that runners wear, Bey said he is blessed to honor the military members he has worked with in the past.

“It’s not easy,” he said. “But I’m a retired Green Beret. So I’m used to pushing myself and not giving up. This is how we fight. We don’t wear Under Armour overseas. We fight in boots, the uniform and body armor. And it’s not for me. It’s for my guys.”

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