Whelp, I knocked off state #11 last weekend in Huntington, West Virginia, with the Marshall University Marathon (I always called it the “Marshall Marathon” but saw so many spray-painted “MUM” signs on the course that now I can’t stop calling it the “Marshall University Marathon” so I can
cringe giggle at the memory of those “MUMs.”)
I flew into Huntington’s Tri-State Airport (HTS) on Saturday morning around 11 am, got my rental car, and headed to my hotel, the relatively new Hampton Inn. My room wasn’t ready yet so I continued on into town to get some lunch, since the expo wasn’t open yet, either. I went to Backyard Pizza, which supposedly has the best pizza in town, and ordered a large margarita pizza, with the thought that I’d have leftovers for Sunday after the race (since the Hampton Inn doesn’t have room service). It was pretty good pizza, but had a rich, oily crust that most NY pizzas don’t have, so I was just barely able to stop myself from finishing the entire thing to save a couple slices for the next day.
I browsed a couple of stores to kill time, but overall the town was eerily deserted and I didn’t feel entirely comfortable walking around. There was a big football game going on at that time, so I figured most people were there, but after the marathon I wonder if it’s just always semi-deserted. Regardless, I drove to the expo to get my race packet and do some (totally-unnecessary-but-marathon-justified) shopping.
When I got to the expo it was already semi-chaotic. There were huge lines and no signs or information on where runners should go, so there was overall confusion and sporadic line-hopping (the longer line was for the half marathon, the shorter line for the marathon, but I got a lot of dirty looks for switching to the end of the shorter line because people didn’t understand the difference). There was also basically nothing to see or buy (one local store set up a small area with some t-shirts and gels, but that was it), so I left immediately after getting my race packet. Shopping momentarily averted!
To my delight, there was a CVS right next to the expo center so I shopped there for water and Pop Tarts (and nailpolish… did you know they make scented nailpolish now? I can’t imagine that’s a good idea.). I felt like there was nothing left to do but head back to the hotel, even if I still had to wait for my room. Luckily, my room was ready early and I got settled in to a nice, clean room, where I spread out my supplies for the race and flipped through TV channels while carbo-loading (aka eating Kit Kats and Pop Tarts).
I wasn’t hungry for dinner but thought skipping it would set me up for problems the next day, so I walked across the parking lot to the Bob Evans for some chicken, potatoes, and dinner rolls bigger than my fist. I noticed the Bob Evans’ brand butter packets were a mixture of butter and hydrogenated vegetable oil, so I saved them as future collectors’ items before heading back to my hotel for an early bedtime.
I woke up screamingly early the next day so I could immediately pound some water to avoid my recent, consistent bathroom breaks during races (it worked!), and to give myself plenty of time to drive to the stadium and find parking. I needn’t have worried, as it was a very simple drive back into town to the stadium, and parking was ample and obvious (at least it was until about 30 minutes before the race – after that it might have filled up). The best part of the Marshall Marathon was the use of the facilities before the race. They opened up the stadium so you could see the finish line on the field, and so you could wait in the covered hallways and use any of the bathrooms (there were at least three large bathrooms, so there were almost no lines and no need to use any of the porta potties – plus hot water at the sinks!).
The luxurious indoor bathroom facilities were quickly followed by the most insane start of a race I’ve ever seen. They had spray painted a tiny little marker spot for the starting line, but there was no arch, no raised sign, nary a balloon – and NO TIMING MAT. That’s right, when the gun went off your time started, no matter when you actually started running. It wasn’t a overly large crowd, and it probably took no more than a couple of minutes to get to the start, but it was still very strange to have no chip time for the course (they even had free runner text alerts when you crossed certain timing mats, like at miles 10 and 20, but no starting mat? Doesn’t make sense…).
So we were off! It wasn’t a crowded course but there were always plenty of people around, right up until the halfway point when all the half marathoners peeled off to finish in the stadium and the full marathoners ran through the center of campus (tiny) and around the stadium to start our second loop. Now, I knew it was a looped course, but what I didn’t fully appreciate was that there were long sections that we would be running a total of four times. Four times is a lot for any race, but because those sections were neither scenic nor crowd-supported, it was just a slog all-around.
The other thing I was not expecting was how empty the course would get once it was only the full marathoners left. There were points where I had to ask the volunteers where to run because I couldn’t see anyone else. That coupled with the almost total lack of spectators made for an eerie ghost-town effect for most of the race.
I stuck to a steady 11-minute mile pace for the first 15 miles, when quite suddenly I felt tired and a little bored of running, and immediately slowed down to 12++. While I did walk for several long stretches, I tried to limit my walking because I simply wanted to finish and be done with it. It wasn’t miserable, it just wasn’t all that interesting after the fourth pass. And while the weather was beautiful, low 50s and sunny, there was a fair amount of wind and I was very glad I wore my windblocking headband around my ears.
Finishing in the stadium was a treat. You run down the field, pick up a football, and run back down through the finishing shoot (at least they had a finish line, if not a start). They had chocolate milk, water, hamburgers, and hot dogs as finishing food, and there was still plenty left even for a back-of-the-packer like me. The weather was absolutely gorgeous that day, and a lot of people were hanging around the field, taking pictures and even posing with the mascot. I had parked foolishly far from the entrance so I didn’t feel like walking all the way back to my car and back into the stadium again for photos, so I just drove myself back to the hotel (no worries there! legs felt fine for the drive back, even with a lot of traffic caused by the marathon route), climbed into an ice bath (telling myself that it could not be as bad as what I had just done), ate my cold pizza and more Pop Tarts, iced my knees, and read Game of Thrones until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. Ultimately, a great Sunday!
When I woke up on Monday I found my car covered in ice and I thanked my lucky stars we didn’t have such cold temps for the start of the race the day before. I also realized there wasn’t much to do in the couple hours before my flight, so I went shopping at Target and Marshall’s (not because of the namesake as much as we don’t have those big box stores in NYC, and I loooove them, plus it allowed me to stretch my legs and finish my frustrated expo shopping) before catching my flight home.
Today, Thursday, I feel pretty good and all my soreness is gone (it was basically gone by Tuesday afternoon). My knees feel ok but I haven’t run on them yet, and I’m still planning on taking some time off from running (anything over a few miles) to heal my body and rest my mind. I’m vigorously planning 2014, however, and am mailing in my 50 States Club application this week, so the quest continues…
Thinking of running the Marshall University Marathon?
I signed up for this marathon because I had heard of the movie (We Are Marshall), because it finished in the football stadium, because of the nice finisher jacket, because it was flat, and because I needed West Virginia. It turned out to be was one of the less interesting races I’ve done yet, since it wasn’t very scenic (save for a few blocks along the Ohio River and the mile or two in Ritter Park), didn’t have any crowds (spectator or runner), didn’t have a fun expo, didn’t have a fun downtown, and didn’t have much to do in the immediate area. There supposedly was a pasta dinner at the expo, but it was such chaos that I didn’t want to stick around to see. All that’s not to say I hated the race, it just was a very flat race in an empty, small town. There also were a ton of Marathon Maniacs and 50-Staters at the race, which was great, but also probably contributed to the low-key nature of the race (when everyone running is from out-of-town, maybe the town just doesn’t care?).
All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.
- Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 5/10 – Getting there wasn’t too terrible – connecting flight through Charlotte, NC, into Huntington Airport ($330 roundtrip from NYC on US Air) – but once you were there you definitely needed a car. Luckily, the rental car was only $20/day, so my total with taxes, fees, and $6 of gas was $66 for two days of car rental. There are no marathon shuttles or public transportation options, so you have to get to and from the start/finish on your own, although there was plenty of free parking there. One runner said some stragglers and ultra-runners had the course taken down around them, making for dangerous conditions near the end of the race, and I ran into a lot of traffic leaving the race, so take that into consideration, too.
- Staying There – 6/10 – The closest hotel was not all that close to the starting line (over a half mile away?), plus it got slammed online for having super-thin walls and generally being old and run-down, so I decided to stay at the Hampton Inn about 10 minutes away from campus. The Hampton Inn opened in July 2013, so it was still pretty nice and new, and they always had coffee and tea in the lobby area, plus a free breakfast from 6 am to 10 am every day (and mini fridges and microwaves in every room). The walls were pretty thin there, too, but they feature clean beds (they always wash the bright white duvet covers) and overall it was a pretty good hotel for $144 per night, all taxes included (hotel prices jacked up during the marathon).
- Cost & Registration – 9/10 – Definitely easy online registration, and if you register early enough, for the $82 registration fee (including service fees) you get a nice Asics jacket (and a short sleeved technical t-shirt for $10 more). The jacket is quality, but runs big, and even though I wear a women’s large, the unisex medium jacket swims on me. The medal is also pretty nice – they call it “3D” because the bull is slightly raised from the surface on both the front and the back. The short-sleeved technical shirt is only so-so, since it’s an impractical black plus has a ton of sponsor logos on the back (I think there are more sponsor logos than were spectators on the course).
- Organization – 6/10 – The expo was ridiculous – held only from noon to 6 the Saturday before the race – it was somehow a madhouse despite being a relatively small race. However, there did seem to be a packet pick up at the start of the race, which is a very nice option. There wasn’t much to the expo except the packet pick up (with no pins for your bib!), and one small store selling some shirts and gels. There was supposedly a pasta dinner at the expo, but I hightailed it out of there before all the annoyed people in line started a riot. Also, the on-course volunteers were great, but every water station was different in terms of how they passed out water vs Gatorade (without marked cups – sometimes the it was first vs second, sometimes on the left vs right, sometimes on both sides, sometimes held by a volunteer in each hand, etc.), and you had to ask and veer around to get what you wanted.
- Course – 4/10 – It is a flat course (with just a handful of very short, steep sections, but they are few and far between), and looped, but long sections double back on themselves four times. They tried to make it as scenic as possible, but there just isn’t that much that is scenic in Huntington, and once the halfers left the course, it was like a ghost town.
- Crowd – 2/10 – Besides the volunteers, there were almost no spectators for this event, which is really surprising considering it’s named after the University at which it takes place. If someone told me the school was shut down and no students actually went there anymore, I would have believed it. It was deserted.
- Other Factors – 5/10 – It’s supposedly the biggest race in West Virginia, and it was fun to finish in the stadium, but otherwise there’s not much else going for it.
- Overall Rating – 5/10 – I’m glad to have finished another state. I’m glad we had perfect weather. The stadium was nice. But if I had to run another loop of that course, I would scream.
Did you run the Marshall University Marathon? Are you enjoying your jacket? Share in the comments!