Sunday, November 13, 2016

State #33, Marshall University Half Marathon,Huntington, WV, 11.6.16, Part

I had a pretty good night of sleep before the Marshall University half marathon which was helped along by the “fall back” of the clocks giving me an extra hour. Sort of. I still had to get up at 5 am to get going. It was an easy morning though. Everything went according to plan, and I managed to get myself to the MU stadium parking lot at 6:30 am, a half hour before the race started. 
Mugging with my morning coffee!
I tried to eat my oatmeal breakfast in the car when I got there, but for some reason, it just wasn’t going down. I don’t know if it was the oatmeal or the blueberries in it, but it just didn’t taste good. I chomped down a banana followed with a couple swigs of water and left it at that. 
Stadium view upon arrival.
It was pretty chilly (39 degrees) and very foggy when I arrived at the stadium. Runners seemed enthusiastic despite the cold. I made my last porta potty stop before heading to the starting line. I chatted with a couple of women while we waited. A student from Marshall University sang the National Anthem (and did a great job, by the way). The starting cannon was fired, which scared me out of my wits, and we were off. 

At the starting line with my garbage bag.
Starting line area.
The first loop of the race was done around the MU campus and residential area. There are also some commercial parts mixed in like fast food restaurants, the grocery store I stopped at the day before and some other shops. It was a pleasant, flat run to start, and the fog stayed with us to keep the sun out of our eyes which was good. 
After passing underneath the footbridges that connected university buildings over the road, we curved to the right and headed in to a more industrial area along the Ohio River. This was where I got my first glimpse of the flood wall I had read about in the Runner’s World article. I can see how it blocks the city from a beautiful part of nature. We passed by the businesses down in that area which were largely in warehouses and then curved down through a small park (Harris Riverfront Park) that ran along the river. It was beautiful, but we couldn’t see much of the river due to the fog.
We continued marching along through mostly residential areas, but it still had the flavor of an industrial location. I found myself running alongside a young boy as we turned left and up a hill past some antique shops. He was chugging right along, and I gave him some encouragement as we both pushed up the hill. It always blows me away when I see a kid of 12-13 years old out on the half marathon course. I never would have done anything like that as a kid! I give him a lot of credit. 
We continued through the residential areas and passed a Railroad Museum. It had old steam locomotives and railroad cars, and miniature buildings such as a gas station, train station, etc. The next main part of the race brought us along a wooded area that ran along a creek, called Ritter Park Trail. It was very pretty and a nice change from the industrial feel we already completed. The paved path gave way to a crushed gravel/packed dirt trail that followed the creek. The homes in this area were absolutely gorgeous! They were large and varied in architecture. It was a really different neighborhood than those I saw near the downtown area. 
The creek path opened up into Ritter Park which was lovely. It is a large park with footpaths, bridges, sculpture and green space in this neighborhood area of Huntington. It was my favorite part of the run up to this point. There were many spectators throughout the park, which is always helpful. 
I have to say, the West Virginians were quite creative in their handmade signs. Instead of seeing the usual "Worst Parade Ever" or "Run Faster! They are drinking all the beer at the finish line!" signs, I saw emoji signs (including the dreaded poop emoji), "You are running better than the government," and a bunch of others that I, for the life of me, cannot remember at all right now. This is one of those times I wish I could have a teeny, tiny camera mounted on myself during a race in order to capture all the fun moments. 
We ran a loop around Ritter Park and through a really fun water station at the corner of the park. It was filled with volunteers, including one in a gorilla costume, and they were blasting dance music...just what I needed to get me started on the return trip to the finish line. Exiting the park we had to diagonally cross an intersection (I think of 8th Street and 6th Avenue) and with all the excitement of the water station, the spectators and my general lack of focus at that moment, I got a little confused and didn't know where to go. Luckily, the volunteers in that area were ready and shouted/waved/pointed to guide me along. 
The last few miles back brought us back along the industrial area near the Ohio River and back through Harris Riverfront Park. We backtracked along the MU campus the way we originally came out, and the full marathoners took a turn to run through the campus and loop around to begin the whole route a second time. I was glad to be heading straight on toward the football stadium to finish.
I finished my run along the main road and entered in to the ramp bringing me onto the Marshall University football stadium field. As I ran through the tunnel and on to the turf, I was handed a football to run with (so much fun!). My first impression of the field was that it was so green! Green is the color of the MU team, so I think they must have had the artificial turf made to match their school colors. Wow! Talk about vibrant!
Inside the stadium, looking toward the finish line.
I ran the length of the football field, which was lined with American flags, and then turned the corner and ran back along the length again to the end zone. Along the way, I high-fived the buffalo mascot of Marshall University who was standing alongside our path, and then I finally crossed the end zone line where I spiked my football. Run and done! My finishing time was under two hours, 1:56:56, and I finished 10th in my age group. Hooray!
Selfies after finishing. 
Selfies after finishing.
I made my way through the finishing chute, collecting my medal and a bottled water, then I walked along the side of the field to find a place to stretch out. I took my time stretching and watching other runners finish. It was a really nice environment for all who were there. Eventually, I made my way out of the stadium and back out to the street where the starting line was. Other runners were continuing to come in, and I spied the food tent. They were giving out hamburgers and hotdogs! Since I hadn't had a substantial breakfast that morning, I scored a hamburger, and it was probably the most excellent hamburger I'd ever eaten. Just the perfect thing on a cold morning after you've just run 13 miles. YUM!
Walking along the street, cheering for full marathoners and halfers about to finish.
I walked along the main road, passing the university buildings and shouting encouragement to runners along the way. I was hoping to hit the campus bookstore to grab a couple of magnets for my kids, but it was closed. I decided to go visit the memorial fountain on campus that was erected to remember the people killed in the plane crash. I walked through the center of campus and found the fountain. To my surprise, the full marathoners were heading through this area (where they split from the course to do the second loop, they came through the center of camps and past the fountain) carrying carnations and laying them at the fountain as they ran by. Wow. What a moment. 
Memorial fountain. Note the runners leaving their carnations on the edge.
Closer view of the memorial fountain.
I met a man from Nebraska who was also visiting the fountain. He was there that day to run the 5K. He could no longer run long distances because of problems with his knees, but he still gets out there to race when possible. We chatted about the fountain and the tribute taking place with the runners that morning. We also chatted about races in Nebraska and elsewhere. We wished one another well, and I began my walk back to the car. I made one detour in to the local CVS to see if they had any MU magnets, but they didn't. I ended up having a nice chat with the woman working there. We chatted about Huntington and the university, the plane crash and the memorial service they do every year on November 14th. It was apparent that this community still feels the scars of that horrible tragedy.
I drove back to my hotel to shower, pack and rest a bit before heading to the airport. My flight wasn't until almost 4 pm, so I had some time to kill. I asked the guy working at the hotel desk if there was a gift shop somewhere nearby that I could visit to try to get the magnets. He directed me to the local mall, about 10 miles away, and off I went. Thankfully, when I got there and found the Hallmark store, they had the Marshall University magnets I so desperately sought. Mission Accomplished!
The return trip home was fine, despite a small delay getting out of West Virginia. The Marshall University half marathon was a great race, very well-organized and the course was varied enough so that it was interesting all along the way. West Virginians are super friendly and the Marshall University campus was a poignant place to visit. I'm glad I ran this race and feel as though I can say...I am Marshall!

Monday, November 7, 2016

State #33, Marshall University Half Marathon,Huntington, WV, 11.6.16, Part One

I arrived in West Virginia without any travel hang-ups, happy to be here in time to pick up my race number. The drive from the airport to the Marshall University/St. Mary's Medical Center area didn't take very long, and I easily found the race expo at the medical center.
As I drove into and through Huntington, though, I could see what the Runner's World article was getting at. Many homes in the area were run-down and many businesses were boarded up or closed. Aside from the grand university buildings and some surrounding homes, much of the area I drove through looked downtrodden. It made me sad to see the town this way.

Number, shirt and duffel bag from expo. Love the buffalo in running shoes!
The expo was lively and I got my number without a problem. I even managed to meet the race director and get a couple of last minute questions answered. Thanks, mister! I mentioned to him that I had read the article in Runner's World and that it must have been some good publicity for the race. He responded that he was rather upset by the article and the way it portrayed the town. He thought the town was painted in such a poor light and that all the people who lived here were generalized as Appalachian caricatures. I told him that I hadn't had that feeling about the article, but rather that it was showing a growing momentum for health in the area, thanks in part to events like the marathon. He was glad to hear that perspective, but I could see how someone from Huntington would feel differently about the way the city is portrayed in the article.
Placard sign at Marshall University.
Engineering building at MU. 
Science building at MU.
Campus housing along Fifth Avenue.
When I left the expo, I drove around the University campus a bit to get back around the one way streets to the grocery store I passed on my way in to the medical center. I grabbed some fruit and water and gatorade there (the usual), and some garbage bags (so I'd have one to wear in the morning), and then headed to my hotel which was a few miles outside of the downtown area.
Garbage bags for the morning chill.
Once at the hotel, I settled in, called home and then researched where I could get a decent plate of pasta. I settled on Rocco's in Ceredo, WV which was back toward the airport. The restaurant was already very crowded when I arrived at 5:30 pm, but I was able to grab a single seat in the bar for dinner. I ordered my usual spaghetti and meatballs, and it was perfect! 
Carb-ing up for the big race.
The restaurant was obviously a favorite in the area, and crowds kept coming in and the wait got to be fairly long. I ended up chatting with two women who sat next to me while they waited for their table. One lived in Indiana but was originally from WV and was back visiting her friend. They were nice to chat with. We talked a little bit about the race and Marshall University and a few other topics. They wished me well on the run when they left for their table.
It was really dark inside the restaurant, so when I left and walked outside, it felt really weird that it was still light out. Thankfully it was still early (and we turn clocks back an hour tonight for extra sleep!) so that was good. I drove back to the hotel to get my things ready for the morning, do some blogging and turn in on the early side.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Heading to Huntington, WV

Just two weeks ago I was in St. Louis for my 32nd state half marathon, and now I find myself enroute to my 33rd in Huntington, West Virginia. Selecting this race wasn’t difficult, as it seemed like one that was well established (having been around for 12 years), was linked with both a medical center and university, and was accessible in the sense that it wasn’t completely in the middle of nowhere. I registered a few months back and put it on my calendar. 
Fast forward to my race trip to Milwaukee in September. I was reading my latest issue of Runner’s World magazine on the plane, and there was an article all about Huntington, WV and its status as the fattest/unhealthiest city in America (as determined by the CDC in 2008). The article went on to chronicle the rise in obesity, heart disease and diabetes in the area as being related to the demise of the coal, steel and chemical industries (and closing of factories there), the lack of a welcoming green space along the river (instead a wall was built separating the river from the community), and the repercussions still felt from the plane crash that killed the Marshall University football team and staff back in 1970
Two young men were profiled in the article, the local running store merchant and a local running enthusiast. These two men have worked to help improve the health and well-being of their community, and the half marathon I had registered to run there is a big piece of the shifting momentum. After reading the article I was really glad I had selected this race and that I’d be supporting the efforts to highlight healthfulness in Huntington. 
The article also prompted me to borrow the movie We Are Marshall from my local library. Matthew McConaughey plays the coach who came to Marshall University to rebuild the football program after the devastating loss of nearly the entire team back in the 70’s. The cards were stacked against him and his players, but they persevered in their goal to reestablish a football team for the University and its town. There is a memorial fountain on the Marshall University campus remembering the boys who perished in the crash. It surely is a bit of history the school will never forget. I’m glad I watched the movie so that I could learn about these events and keep them in mind during my time there. 
One of the neat perks about this half marathon is that the finish line is on the Marshall University football field. Runners who are interested can have a football handed to them as they enter the stadium so that they can run the field and make a touchdown at the finish line. I already know I’m going to do that. And as I run to the finish, I will keep all those young men who lost their lives in my mind and in my heart. I look forward to the experience. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A very good fall running season

Pumpkins for sale at a roadside stand along my running route. 
So, Runner’s World magazine beat me to the punch (sort of) last week when they posted a gif-fy article on their Facebook feed about the merits of fall running. I’ve really been enjoying my autumnal running this year, which is unusual for me, as spring is always my favorite running season. I love the spring because everything starts sprouting, the air and sun begin to feel warmer, people are in happy moods because it is getting lighter out and warmer. Little league sign-up signs appear all along my running routes. It is an optimistic time of year. I love that.
View of woods along my driveway as I left for my run. Gorgeous!
Fall used to be my favorite season when I was a kid. I loved the changing colors on the trees, the cool air so I didn’t get so hot outside while playing in the neighborhood, apple pies. Now when fall comes, I mostly just feel the impending dread that long, dark, winter is heading our way. It is a pessimistic time of year for me.
Tree on the corner of my street. 
Gino tree in a nearby neighbor's yard. Stunning!
Maples a couple of blocks from my house.
This year, however, fall has been really nice, especially for running. The temps have mostly been mild, but mornings are cool, helping to edge me out the door to take in that sweet chill in the air. It has reminded me of my days running on the cross-country team in high mornings and warm afternoon practice runs and meets. The colors on the trees have been amazing, too. I stopped and took some photos during one of my runs a couple of weeks ago because the colors were just show-stopping. I’m a bit surprised by this, as the summer was so dry I thought for sure the leaves would go straight from green to brown this year. Not so!
I also had to adjust my running route this fall which really helped make being out on the road more enjoyable. My most regular route is currently under construction and has been for several weeks. I’ve had to try some new places to get my mileage done, and the change in scenery has been very enjoyable. Funny how breaking out of one’s regular routine can really liven up one’s experience. 
Farm field dotted with Canada geese.
It is early November and the temperatures were in the low 70’s here today. It was sunny and warm and beautiful. Not only was I able to bang out a 7.24 mile run, I also started a project outdoors…refinishing a table. How nice to be outdoors sanding a piece of furniture on a November afternoon! Lucky me! 
Gorgeous foliage along my return route.
Bright sun on stunning colored trees.
However, I also realize that the Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a colder and snowier winter than normal. Although it isn’t predicting a complete snowpocalypse or anything, just a bit more than normal. I can deal with that, especially since we have a family ski pass this year. I’ll be getting my miles in on the slopes, I guess. 
For now, I will enjoy my out door running while it lasts. I already had to use my gym membership twice due to very cold morning temps and the threat of rain/snow. My gym knows I’m back for the treadmill. Hey, gotta have a back up, right? But I hope that the remaining weeks in November allow me to follow my sidewalks and smell the fresh air with an occasional whiff of a warm fireplace mixed in. Feeling like a really fortunate runner these days getting to take in all the spectacular views. 
Sign o' the times!