This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. West Virginia was my 41st state.
I grew up in West Virginia and went on to get my bachelor’s degree at West Virginia University, so I spent the first 22 years of my life in the state. Surprised that I waited all the way until my 41st state to run a half marathon here? If you knew just how
hilly mountainous the state is, you’d understand. The entire state lies within the Appalachian Mountains, which means you’re hard-pressed to find an area with enough flat sections to run a half marathon that’s not super-hilly. In my opinion, a half marathon is hard enough without having to run up and down a mountain along the way.
For years I also put off running a half marathon in Colorado because of the elevation. That race was every bit as difficult as I thought it would be, but I did it when I ran the Boulder Rez Half Marathon. After that race, I thought I could easily tackle a half marathon in West Virginia, which should be much easier because the Appalachian Mountains are much smaller than the Rocky Mountains. As I mentioned, I was looking for something fairly flat, at least by West Virginia standards. I also wanted a place fairly easy to get to, that I could drive to within a reasonable time. In my mind, that pretty much left a race in either Charleston or Huntington, since both cities run along rivers and are relatively flat.
Enter the Marshall University Marathon and Half Marathon. Marshall University is in Huntington, a small town of about 45,000 people, in the southern part of the state near Ohio and Kentucky. There is a small airport here, but you’d probably be better off flying into Charleston, the capital, about an hour away, and driving a rental car to Huntington.
2017 was the 14th year for the marathon, so I thought it should be well-organized and most likely a good match for me. The only wild card was the weather. I remember trick-or-treating in my hometown in West Virginia wearing a heavy winter coat many Halloweens as a kid, and seeing snow in October wasn’t unusual. Since moving to North Carolina many years ago, I’ve become a weather wimp, especially when it comes to cold weather. The week of the race, the weather forecast for Huntington changed from a chance of thunderstorms the morning of the race to rain the day before, to no rain on race day, and back to 61% chance of rain at 8:00 a.m. during the race. So I had no idea what the weather was going to be like during the race.
Packet pickup was offered both Friday and Saturday (no race-day pickup) and was easy and efficient. Half marathoners received a short-sleeve technical shirt and marathoners got that in addition to an Asics jacket (half marathoners could purchase a jacket). People running the 5k got a cotton short-sleeve shirt. There wasn’t really much else in the packet other than a map of Marshall University and written instructions for the race. There was a WV magazine, which I flipped through, but that’s all there was and I was glad really. I always think it’s a waste to get a bunch of junk no one wants anyway in your packet.
Despite the not-so-great weather predictions for the race, what happened in reality was near-perfect racing weather (for me, anyway; probably a bit warm for most other people). The low Saturday night was 57 F, which is 17 degrees warmer than it was this time last year in Huntington. Although it was overcast and looked like it could rain any second, it stayed completely dry the entire morning. Hurray! So I ran the course with temperatures in the low 60’s and overcast.
The course was extremely flat by West Virginia standards. When I tried to look at course information on the website, I was unable to get a real feel for the elevation and how many hills there were on the course. When we tried to drive the course the day before the race, we were unable to because of all of the one-way streets and the fact that the course veered onto running/walking paths a few times. In the course description it said there was only one small hill and I was so happy I could have cried when I saw it was indeed a small hill, by anyone’s standards, and there were no more hills on the rest of the course. A flat half marathon in West Virginia is almost unheard of, but somehow I managed to find it.
Volunteers along the course were great and there were plenty of aid stations with water and Gatorade and port-a-johns. There were spurts where there were people cheering on runners and I thought crowd support was pretty good given the race is in a relatively small town. The best parts of the course were where it ran along the river and on the running/walking path in Ritter Park. With the trees in full peak time for autumn foliage, it was beautiful seeing all of the bright red, orange, and yellow leaves everywhere.
The finish in the football stadium was awesome. There were volunteers handing out footballs near the end, so you could finish running with a football if you wanted, which I did of course. The footballs were ours to keep too. It’s definitely one of the more unique things I’ve received from a race. The medals were on the small side, but they were individualized for each race, the marathon, half marathon, and 5k. Food at the finish was hot dogs, hamburgers, potato chips, chocolate milk, cookies, bananas, and water. I was nauseous prior to and during the first hour of the race, so all I felt like eating after the race was a banana and I drank some chocolate milk.
I did have a mishap the morning of the race. When I was filling one of my small water bottles that fit into my waist-pack for races with Nuun, I noticed I seemed to be spilling some of it, then I noticed there was a gash in my bottle. I grabbed the bottle and salvaged what I could by pouring it into my full-size water bottle I had been using for the weekend (and it was empty, fortunately). I decided I would just chug that immediately before the race started then hand the empty bottle off to my husband and run with just one small bottle of Nuun instead of my usual two small bottles. Although there was water and Gatorade on the course, I prefer to run with my own Nuun for races. However, I didn’t even finish the bottle of Nuun I was running with, so it turned out fine in the end. I still have no idea how my bottle got such a large cut in it, though. Fortunately these Nathan bottles are easy to find and replace.
Overall, I loved this race. It helped me remember why I run half marathons and I truly enjoyed myself during this one. At the last two races I ran, in New Jersey and Utah, I really struggled during those races and didn’t really enjoy them because they felt more like a slog to the finish. I was so glad I chose this race for my one in West Virginia and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun and well-organized marathon or half marathon in West Virginia. I later heard raving reviews from other runners about the full marathon as well, in case any of you are wondering.
My chip time was 2:00:55 (my A goal was 2:05, so I was thrilled with 2:00), and I finished 11th of 66 in my age group. I was the 93rd female out of 577. On a side note, my daughter ran the 5k and finished second in her age group, which is fantastic considering she was in the 19 and under group and she’s only 12! #proudmama
What’s one of the most unique things you’ve gotten at a race?