Let me be honest about something. I had written the first line of this race report in my head before I even got to Huntington, and it went like this in its original form: "This was the fourth in a row of mediocre small-town marathons -- nice for the community, logistically adequate, but totally lacking in any excitement for me as a runner." Then I actually did the marathon, and, wow! It is a really nice little marathon in every way.
I signed up for this race at the last possible minute, since I still wasn't sure whether there would be lingering effects from the Indianapolis Marathon two weeks ago. By last weekend I felt okay, so I went ahead and signed up, but not with very high expectations. The race reviews were generally good, but then again they almost always are, because (my theory) most people who write reviews pick their races based on the type of course they like, and they know the type of course the race is from reading previous reviews, so they are almost predisposed to like the races they enter. I, on the other hand, pick my races based on what's available at the last minute, how much money I can spend on travel, and which states I haven't done yet. So sometimes I end up in races that are not my type. I was pretty sure this would be one too.
I have to also say that I have never really liked West Virginia. (Sorry, Joan, I'm sure where you live is beautiful, but I've never been to that part.) I've been to four or five different places in West Virginia, and aside from the tourist part of Harpers Ferry, I have never found any part of it that didn't look exactly like what people outside the rural south thinks the rural south looks like. To me, West Virginia is one of those places, like the U.S./Mexico border, where stuff looks different the second you drive over a state line. Fences are rusty and sagging, sidewalks and streets are full of holes, porches have sofas on them and yard dogs are mean and the rednecks look like the dangerous kind. Huntington is kind of in the corner of West Virginia where it meets Ohio and Kentucky, and it didn't look any better than any other part of West Virginia I'd ever seen on the first pass. I was surprised by how big Marshall University was -- it looked like a real academic institution, which in my mind did not belong in West Virginia at all. Oh well, I was there to check off a state and not to look for a place to live.
It was cold, really cold, the night before, in the 30's with an icy cold wind blowing. Forecast was for sun on race day, but cold temps, low of 29. Luckily the forecast was wrong and it was 38 at the start line. There was plenty of free parking at the start, and we had access to the bathrooms inside the stadium, which was a total plus because they were heated. That is a serious luxury at a marathon start line. (Although it did mean I couldn't employ my usual technique for choosing a Portajohn line, which is to choose, not the shortest line, but the one where the last person in line is the most attractive guy who appears to be there by himself. Worst case scenario, you have a good view while you're standing there waiting; best case, you make a new friend!) The race started exactly at 7 (and let me say, it was nice having that extra hour this morning; the sun was actually up at race start).
This course was kind of like a figure 8 that the marathon loops twice. Well, kind of like a figure 8 except that the first part of the 8 was about 2.5 miles and the second part was 10.5. So, a grossly out-of-proportion figure 8. I had never done a double loop course and assumed I would not like it. I totally liked it, and wish all my other marathons could be double loops. The first part of the loop was strip malls and crappy houses close to the U. Huntington's roads are just like Michigan's, so watch your step. Once we passed the stadium again, we ran down to and through a park on the Ohio River. That part was very pretty, but then we got spit out into a 3-mile stretch of ugly industrial buildings. At least it was slightly downhill, although very slightly. The marathon is accurately advertised as flat -- amazing, considering the hills that surround it on every side. After that 3-mile stretch, we ran through "Central City" (which I am assuming is like Old Town Huntington) and then into another park. We were in this park, Ritter Park, for about 3 miles. The footing through the park was crushed limestone -- very compacted and such a relief for my feet! The park was pretty, with the path running right alongside a little creek (really more of a ditch) along the base of a really steep, wild hill, but it sort of had a scary, isolated feeling to it, like it would be the place where a local would dump a body. I wasn't worried about any body dumping today, though; there were too many people.
Once out of that park, we ran back up to Marshall U, with the slight uphill more than outweighed by a nice tailwind, and split off from the half-marathoners to run through the center of campus. It is a really pretty campus and actually reminded me a little of U of A, just because it was so pretty. The beauty took my mind off the fact that the half-marathoners were done while we were all going back for round two.
I had been feeling pretty good this whole time. My feet felt springy and nothing was hurting and the temperature was just right and I wasn't swallowing too much air this time. I figured the good feeling wouldn't last forever so I would just enjoy it as long as I could, but, surprise, it pretty much did end up lasting forever. I think that knowing exactly what was coming up helped a lot. None of the stretches were that long, so I knew I would feel like I was making good progress, unlike that horrible 6-mile out-and-back at Indianapolis. I did start to feel some blisters around Mile 21, but made up my mind to ignore them. I was wearing heavy winter socks and knew they were probably just bunched up and rubbing in the wrong places and would soon be rubbing again if I stopped and adjusted them, so I decided I would just let them rub.
I should have pushed harder to finish under 4 hours, but I just didn't feel like it, and got lazy in the last mile. I was thinking I was going to be about a half hour better than last marathon, and that was good enough and the actual number didn't matter. I did run the last half mile at a decent pace. The coolest thing about this race was probably the finish. As we ran into the stadium, volunteers handed us a football 100 yards from the finish, and we got to finish with a touchdown. That was admittedly cheesy, but also pretty cool. Ann Arbor's marathon finished in the stadium but there was definitely no football involved.
I felt fine afterwards. There was pretty amazing finish line food, chocolate milk and grilled hamburgers and hot dogs in addition to all the usual post-race food. I'm really not sore at all, except for some really random armpit chafing, which I have never had before. I guess it was the absence of hills or maybe I just had a good day. Maybe the secret of marathon training is to run them a couple times a month with only minimal exercise in between? Or possibly extended binging on Halloween candy? I don't know, but whatever the case, I highly recommend Marshall U. Marathon for any 50 Staters who haven't done West Virginia yet.