Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Marshall University Marathon Review

Marshall University Marathon
November 11, 2012
Huntington, West Virginia
23rd Marathon Completed

Runners: 595/Full, 862/Half
Course: Flat, 206ft Elevation Gain
Temp: 45 Degrees
Wind: 4 mph ESE
SWAG: Marathon jacket & tshirt
Volunteer Support: Good
Water Stops: Great
Crowd Support: Sparse
Time:  3:20:42
Pace:  7:40
Place: 56th/595 Overall
          7th/62 in 40-44 Age Group
Total Experience ... 1 2 3 4 5

Bullet Points
        - Awesome Brooks $70 (retail value) jacket included in race fee for marathoners who signed up early
        - Great personal communication from race director both pre/post race
        - Flattest marathon course I've ran, only 206 ft of elevation gain - perfect for PR race
        - Finish line located in historic Joan C. Edwards Stadium, home of the Marshall University Thundering Herd
        - Volunteers toss you a football right before you cross the finish line - I fumbled mine
        - Marathon course is a double loop through Marshall University and Huntington, WV
        - Good pasta dinner & great post race food with grilled hotdogs, hamburgers, cookies, fruit, etc.
        - Literally parked 50ft from the starting line and porta-potties
        - Absolutely perfect weather, the best I've ever had on marathon morning at 45 degrees & almost no wind
        - No host hotel, most of the hotels in the area were about 10-15 minutes from the University
        - Missed PR by about 30 seconds
        - One of the best small  marathons I've ran and great overall experience!

Finisher Medal
2012 Marshall University Marathon Medal - front & back
Packet Pickup & Expo
Packet pickup at the Marshall University Recreation Center
The packet pickup and Expo for the Marshall University Marathon were both very quick and very small.  They both were held in the Marshall University Recreation Center with a few great volunteers handing out materials.  Michael and I didn't have to wait in line at all to get our race bib number and SWAG, which was nice.  And the Expo was a few small racks of shoes, shirts, and clearance gear from the local running store.  I also had a chance to meet Tom Dannals, one of the race directors, who was really great at pre and post race communication.  He sent out several emails before the marathon, and even personally responded to a few questions I had about the event.  The race shirt was a really nice Brooks technical tshirt with the marathon logo of the Marshall bison from the Thundering Herd in the center.
2012 Marshall University Marathon technical tshirt & great $70 value Brooks jacket with marathon logo as part of the $55 entry fee
But the highlight of the packet pickup ... and maybe the race ... was the AMAZING Brooks jacket that marathoners who signed up before September 1st received as part of the $55 entry fee.  This wasn't a cheap, paper-thin pull-over that some races call a jacket.   No, this was an actual $70 value Brooks running jacket with the marathon logo screen printed on the chest.  It was probably the best "give away" I've ever received from a marathon and awesome keep-sake from our trip.

Enjoying Giovanni's Pizza before the race - PIZZA POWER!!!
Marshall University & Huntington, West Virginia
Most of us are familiar with Marshall University from the 2006 movie "We Are Marshall" starring Matthew McConaughey.  It's a drama about the 1970 plane crash that killed 37 Marshall football players, 5 coaches, 2 team trainers, the athletic director, 25 school boosters, and 5 from the flight crew.  And even though it's been over 40 years since the horrific accident, you get a feeling that these folks live on stronger than ever as evidence of their memory is everywhere.

My wife Michael, grew up in the Eastern Kentucky area, about an hour from Marshall University.  So when we decided to make the trip to Huntington for the marathon, she was excited about going back home.  It was like having a personal tour guide as we made our way from Kansas City, across four states - Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky - and finally to West Virginia.  We've both made this trip a few times, and it was just as beautiful as always.  Most of the coastal folks in the U.S. just dismiss this area as "fly-over" country. But driving through the Midwest, you experience many of the great sites it has to offer from the banks of the powerful Mississippi River, the thoroughbreds galloping through the blue grass of Kentucky, the Daniel Boone National Forest, and the coal mines and miners that help keep this country moving.  The West Virginia area is very dependent on the mining of coal.  And even though I can appreciate the whole Green Energy movement, it's sheds a completely different light on things when you meet the people who's lives depend on this industry flourishing.
Many of the great sites of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia
One of the staple pizza places in this part of the country is Giovanni's Pizza.  Their slogan is "PIZZA POWER!"  So after the packet pickup on Saturday, Michael and walked over to the Giovanni's campus location and enjoyed some of the best pizza I've ever had.  It was simply awesome.  And since I ran fairly well the next day, PIZZA POWER must have been just what I was looking for.

Screwin' around after packet pickup and the Expo ... yes, Michael is kissing the bison

Me & Michael at Decades Italian Grill
One of the few downsides to the race was there just weren't very many hotels available in the immediate Marshall University are in Huntington.  For marathons we typically stay at Hampton Inn because I can stay there on points from all my stays with work.  And the "local" Hampton Inn called itself "Hampton Inn of Huntington/Barboursville".  But we soon found out that it meant 100% Barboursville ... as in about 20 minutes from the campus.  It really wasn't a big deal though.  Hwy 60 ended up being a direct path from the campus to our hotel and made commuting pretty easy.

On Saturday night before the race, we enjoyed another local favorite at Decades Italian Grill in Barboursville.  The decor was pretty cool in that each section of the restaurant was plastered with scenes from various decades.  I think Michael and I ate in the 50's section.  It was pretty cool to read all of the trivia and check out all of the art.  We also overheard folks a few different tables talking about the marathon.  We had a great meal that really hit the spot before the race. After dinner we headed back to the room and tried to get some sleep.   But I think there was a travelling soccer team staying there that weekend too with the typical "couldn't care less" parents because there seemed to be a slamming door and children running up and down the hall every 10 minutes.  But we finally fell asleep and got ready for a big race day.

The Race
We woke up early at about 4:30am for the 7:00am start.  I had taken a lot of heat from several folks over the last few races for not doing the World Famous pre-race dance.  And frankly, since I hadn't ran well in the last few race, we knew it had to be because of the lack of dancing .  For some reason every time we do this dance, I run pretty well ... so pre-race dance we did!  We must have danced for like 2 hours!  No, not really, it was only like 3 minutes.  Mostly because I can't dance and Michael just tells me how to stand for the picture - ha!

World Famous Pre-Race Dance Party before the Marshall University Marathon

The great thing about smaller races is that you don't have to deal with the big race crowds and congestion.  And this was true at Marshall.  When we got to the University that morning, we  literally parked about 50ft from the starting line.  There were also several porto-potties available, which was great.  As the start grew closer, we began to warm up a little and also look for our friend Coy of First In Philly.  She has become a really good friend of Michael's ... and I think she tolerates me - ha!  We've all been fortunate enough to run a few races together, and are even planning on meeting next month at a Santa race in Indianapolis.   It was great to see her!  She was running with some friends from Lexington who were running their first marathon.  They were really excited and nervous and eager to get started, like we all were.

Me, Michael, and Coy before the race
I warmed up for about 20 minutes before the race.  The weather was basically perfect at 45 degrees, and almost no wind.  But I think the humidity was really high, like about 90% because you could really see your breath and it seemed a little chillier than the temp indicated.  So I ran about a half mile and stretched a bit before heading over to the starting line.

This was probably one of the most non-eventful starting lines I have ever experienced.  There was no starting chute or sign to run under, just a flag that said start.  I also immediately noticed that there was no starting line timing mat, which seemed a little odd.  Without a chip time at the starting line, they would basically just give everyone a gun time as their official result.  This meant if you were in the back of the pack, you would have a little extra time added to your official time.  I had never ran a race like this before, but I was literally one second from the starting line, so it didn't really matter to me.  After the typical pre-race music over loud speakers, a pastor said a prayer, someone else sang the National Anthem, and then basically the race director said "Runners take your marks ... get set ... GO!"  And just like that, we were off and running.

I had made the trip to Huntington with no real pace plan - which is unusual for me.  I had really gone through a recent string of what I considered race failures, so I just wanted run comfortably and have a good time.  I knew that if I knew if I didn't think about anything else, I would be okay.  I just relaxed and eased into the race.  The first two miles were a loop that took us out and back, just East of the campus before returning to run back by the parking lot where we started.  I noticed immediately that I had not adequately emptied my bladder before the race.  So I found a few cars off to the side in the parking lot and made my first of two pit stops.  I probably pee'd for about 90 seconds - which was a lot.  I just couldn't seem to stop.  At the time, I wasn't that worried about the clock because I had decided to just run mostly by feel for this one, and whatever happened, happened.  So I basically lollie-gagged a little and then just jumped back into the pack and resumed my easy pace, taking a while to get back up to speed.

After running past the Marshall football stadium and leaving the campus area for the first time, we headed West and made our way down 3rd Avenue, past Giovanni's Pizza, toward the West Virginia State Line along the Ohio River.  The course took us through beautiful Harris River Front Park, a concrete path lined with a few trees that still had some of their leaves.  At this point we were still in the pre-sunrise hour, so there really wasn't a great view of the Ohio River, but there was definitely that familiar river smell in the air as we ran this portion of the race.

As Michael pointed out at packet pickup,
the course loop instruction got a little confusing at the end
The next couple of miles were pretty uneventful as we continued West on 3rd Avenue, which becomes Virginia Avenue.  It was mostly a light industrial area with warehouses and a few homes sprinkled in.  But at some point I'm pretty sure we ran by a bakery because I smelled the wonderful scent of bread in the air. As we ran, the sun was starting to come up and we could see most of road that we had before us.  It was flat ... flat ... and more flat.  I've ran some pretty flat marathons, but when I finished, my Garmin elevation tracker indicated that this one was the flattest ... there are just simply NO inclines for the whole race.  It is the perfect race for someone trying to run a personal best or qualify for Boston.

At mile 6, we hit a gravel & chat path that runs along Fourpole Creek, and through Memorial Park, and the North edge of Ritter Park.  It was a beautiful portion of the race.  This 3 mile stretch of the marathon changed things up a little from the asphalt paved streets we had been running, and even though most of the leaves from the trees that lined the path were lying on the ground, it was still a beautiful view.  There was quite a bit of moisture on the ground either from heavy dew, or a recent rain, so the chat was pretty well compacted and traction was never an issue.

After that, we headed back toward 3rd Avenue to retrace our steps back to toward the Campus.  This chunk of the race made for the first out & back of the day, running past the same area we had passed about an hour prior.  As we approached the Campus at 16th Street Road, we split from the half-marathoners.  We turned right and they went straight.  There were a lot of helpful volunteers pointing the way and flagging the marathoners toward the center of Campus where we would run by the John Marshall statue toward the football stadium.

Final stretch through the stadium
At packet pickup the day before, Michael and I had noticed some spray painted arrows and what seemed to be confusing directions on the sidewalk, just outside of the Recreation Center.  During the first lap of the marathon, runners would follow these instructions and stay to the right. On the final lap, we would stay to the left and run toward the stadium entrance.  At this first lap, there were volunteers standing there pointing everyone in the correct direction and there was no confusion.  That would change on the second lap.  As we turned right, we followed the same two mile loop that we had began the race with, but in the reverse direction.  We were about 15 miles into the race at this point.

As we approached mile 16, we began passing runners who were either on their home stretch of the half-marathon, or on mile 12 of the full.  I was feeling pretty good and keeping a good steady, fairly quick pace, but at mile 16, I was reaching the point were I needed a few distractions from the course.  That's when I saw Coy and her friends running toward me.  It was great to see a familiar and face, and Coy's typical huge smile.  She shouted some encouraging words as we passed and I did the same.  About a mile after that, I saw Michael which was awesome!  Michael and I run several races together, but rarely do I see her during the race because of the way the courses lay out.  I saw her from about a quarter mile away in her bright yellow shirt and we high-fived as we passed.  She looked great and ran a really good half-marathon on Sunday!  Seeing them at this point in the race was a great boost and helped me bear down for the last third of the race.

From there it was simply a repeat of the earlier portion of the race.  Back through both parks along Fourpole Creek, and then back to the stadium.  The gravel path was obviously a lot less crowded by then and the runners were fewer and farther between, but the volunteers were still great.  There were about 14 water stops during this race, several doubling on the out & back.  The folks handing out fluids were very courteous and encouraging all day.  As we approached  mile 24, we made the final of four trips past Harris River Front Park.  I finally got a beautiful view of the sunlit Ohio River. By this point it was lit by the morning sun, and it was beautiful through the trees along the River Walk ... plus it meant we only had about two miles left in the race.

Good race!  Missed a PR by about 30 seconds, but it was a good solid race!
Mile 25 was one of the only downsides to the race on Sunday.  Not because of the way I felt ... no, I ran my fastest mile of the marathon at mile 25.  But because of the disappearance of all volunteers at this point ... and because I made a wrong turn that cost  me about 30-40 seconds in the race.  This was the area where we ran back through the Campus, and looking back, I'm still not sure how I did it, but somehow I strayed off course.  The sidewalk was spray-painted with arrows pointing the direction, but I'm color blind and they kind of blended in with the concrete.  Plus, at this point in any race, you are fighting  to hold it together  mentally and physically and you're not really in a good state to navigate anything.  All I know is I looked up and thought, "Man, I didn't pass this building the first time". I looked back past the corner of the building and saw runners about 250 meters away from me.  I muttered, err ... shouted a few choice words and then ran back toward the other runners and then made my way toward the football stadium and the finish line.

The area outside the stadium at about mile 25.5 seemed to be a little confusing also.  There were people just wandering around on the course, near the parking lot, with no one really directing runners where to go.  But as I entered the stadium, everything was roped off pretty clearly.  At the Marshall University Marathon, about 50 yards from the finish line, volunteers attempt to toss you a football to carry with you into the end zone and across the finish line.  I held up my hands and motioned for a ball and one of the ball-boys standing there tossed it to me ... way behind me!  This kid didn't lead his receiver at all and it barely touched my finger tips.  I thought about stopping to pick it up, but my legs were ready to be done, plus I knew that I was close to a PR so I kept running.

As I approached the finish line, I got a glimpse of the clock ... I was about 30 seconds slow on my marathon PR.  Man ... that sucked!  I really hadn't watched the pace that closely on Sunday, just running by feel and trying to keep  my heart rate at a lower manageable level, and I had felt really good about the run, figuring that I was close to my fastest time. But I barely missed it.  I was pretty disappointed at first.  I never stop to pee, and I had stopped twice during the race.  My Garmin later showed that I had been stopped for a total of about three minutes during the race.  That, combined with another 30 seconds because of the mix up at mile 25 meant that I had actually ran about 3:17 but my actual race time was 3:20:42.  I'll be honest, I wasn't happy at first - missing a PR by only about 30 seconds.  But after I thought about it, it was a really great race based how easily I had ran all day.  I hadn't really pushed it all, and the next day I wasn't even sore - which was also a good indication of how easily I had ran.
Michael & me at the finish line of the 2012 Marshall University Marathon

At the finish line I met up with Michael who had gone back to the car and got the camera to take a few great shots of me at the finish line - really cool of her!  After we got some recovery snacks, we headed to the hotel to get showered and head home.  On the way to the car we ran into Tom Dannals.  He asked how the race went.  I told  him it was a great race and great event, but also told him about the mix up at mile 25.  He was very apologetic and concerned, but it wasn't his fault.  I think his volunteers had bolted on him and it just made that last mile a little confusing.  At the point I was talking to him, I thought the course mishap had made me miss a BQ, but later, I discovered that it wouldn't have made a difference.  He did a great job with the race.

After Michael and I showered, we headed back into Huntington to try to meet Coy at the finish line.  We barely caught her before she headed out and we all grabbed lunch again ... at Giovanni's!  After that we said our good-bye's and Michael and I started the 12 hour drive back to Kansas City.

I would highly recommend the Marshall University Marathon.  The course is flat, the people are great, I got an awesome commemorative Brooks jacket, and it just seemed to be the perfect fall marathon.  I ran one of my best marathons to date ... third fastest in fact ... and had a great time in Huntington.  This one was definitely worth the trip.
... be great today!


  1. You guys are awesome. Love those pre-race dance pics!

    Great job on the marathon. You had that PR had it not been for that last mile. The jacket looks sweet! Hope to one day run this one.

  2. Good thing you put the pre-race dance photos on there. That is seriously one of my favorite parts of your posts. Good job on the race too :)

  3. Well done on another fast marathon finish! This looks like a really great race. I'm not always sure that a too flat course is easy. Running flat for a marathon distance is hard work. Some hills with some downhills feels better to me. Maybe at your pace this is different. Awesome report!

  4. I absolutely LOVE the pre-race dance party. HILARIOUS.

    Cool jacket and tee and medal.

    I almost had this as my WV race... Maybe I'll do the full there in 2013...

  5. Sounds like a great race for you. Glad to see a strong bounce-back for you. I may have to add this one to my list of targets if only for the jacket - very nice. Feels like you are on the verge of a major PR breakthrough.

  6. Another great race. Sounds like a really nice small marathon. How the heck can your two sit in a car for 12 hours after running a marathon/half marathon?!?!

  7. Job well done! Another fast marathon. Love the jackets!

  8. That was a great race recap...and so close to my home stompin ground!!! Waht a cool jacket and medal you received.

    Well done on another completed marathon indeed!

  9. Fumble! Though that is really cool that they throw you a football at the finish line haha

    Sounds like the race went perfect - other than veering off course at the very end. Without that sounds like you had a PR in the bag. Great job!

  10. I wouldn't have just fumbled the football--I think I would have let it hit me in the face at that point.

    Great race report as usual, Jim, and congrats on the unexpected almost-PR!

  11. A good race, indeed! I like it!!!
    Happy for you!
    Clearly the Pre race dance must never be skipped!

  12. What a great run you had! I think being so well hydrated may have helped - as well as slowed you down. Love the jacket! It's the best race gift I've ever seen.

  13. Congrats on the race and almost PR! Also, I like the jacket!! Very snappy.

    That is pretty darned flat for a marathon.

  14. I can't blieve that you finished ahead of me. Do you have any idea how long I've been training?? Thanks for the pizza :) I was still eating it at 6pm that night! You and Michael are my favorite people from Missouri.

    Way to smack that race in the ass with the flipper!

  15. I love the medal and the jacket. Sounds like a nice course but not sure about the double loop. Great job Jim(and Michael)

  16. I'm considering this event for my WV race. Thanks for the thorough race recap!


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