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!

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