Race: Marshall University Marathon
Place: Huntington, WV
Date: November 10, 2013
Yep…just like the movie. And as a self-proclaimed lover of Matthew McConaughey, who starred as head coach Jack Lengyel in the film about the 1970 plane crash that killed 37 football players on the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, as well as 5 of the coaches, 2 athletic trainers, the athletic director, 25 boosters, and a crew of five. I loved this movie and watching how the university, the football program, and the community begins to rebuild and heal from the tragedy.
So, here I am…just a month from my first marathon (Chicago), and I find myself in the city of Huntington, West Virginia. Aside from Marshall University being located there, some of you may recall that Huntington got a lot of notoriety back in 2010 when Jamie Oliver rolled into town for the television program, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, in which he set out to reform the school lunch programs, help American society fight obesity, and change their eating habits in order to live healthier and longer lives. Why Huntington? Because in 2010, Huntington, West Virginia was recognized statistically as one of the unhealthiest cities in the country.
So, ultimately, I knew about Huntington, West Virginia. Because…well…I watch anything with Matthew McConaughey and I am a foodie and totally drank in everything that happened when Jamie Oliver rolled into Huntington, West Virginia to attempt to change the way people there lived.
I also was unaware that Marshall University hosted a marathon, half marathon, and 5K…until my roomie, Cathy, stumbled upon it.
So, I signed up.
And that’s why, after a very fast 3 mile shake-out run on Saturday morning, a shower, and some gluten-free pumpkin chocolate chip pancakes (homemade because…I’m chef-y like that), Cathy and I finished packing, loaded up the car, and made the almost 3 hour drive to Huntington, West Virginia.
We rolled into town around 1:15 p.m. and immediately set out to find the expo. We weren’t staying in Huntington, rather just across the bridge in Ohio. And check-in time at the hotel wasn’t until 3 p.m. We had some time to kill. The directions to the expo were quite vague. All we had was that it was located on the corner of 5th Avenue and 29th Street. Should be easy to find, right? I saw it…but Cathy said it wasn’t there and kept on driving. So we made a couple of loops before I told her to head back to the corner of 5th and 29th. She spotted it this time. So, we pulled in…parked…and headed to the very small expo. Oddly enough, the Website for this marathon said the venue for packet pickup was moved to a more spacious area…we were in a hallway…so I wonder how small it has been in the past few years…
Anyway…the longest line in there was for the half marathon, which seems to be the most popular of the races that they offer this weekend. I stepped in and was asked which race I was running. I said the marathon and they directed me to the table immediately to my left, that had virtually no line at all. None. Just a few people getting their bags with their swag inside. Oh…and their bib number. I gave my name and they grabbed my t-shirt and jacket…yes…jacket and passed that over to me with the little backpack. My number (#529) was given to me and I snagged a few safety pins. That was done. Having learned my lesson at previous races, I pulled out the t-shirt and noticed that the medium was definitely going to be too big for me. So…I went to find where to exchange it for a small. Unfortunately…there were no more women’s smalls. There was an extra small…so I tried it…and it’s a perfect fit. They did say the shirts were running big this year. No kidding. My jacket is a little big…but I like it that way. Room for layers. It’s an official Asics branded jacket with the marathon logo on the back. Oh…but the fun doesn’t stop there, friends…
Because Marshall University is known for its football team…the Thundering Herd…you also get the opportunity to purchase a Marshall University football. It was $30…but I had to have one. I mean…who else does this?!! I love something unique with a race. Even better…you could have your football tossed to you as you run into the finish line. That’s actually one of the draws of this race. About 100 yards from the finish, you have the choice to carry a football with you. Some you can keep…some you have to give back. I wanted mine. So…I was given a green ribbon to hook onto my bib that said “FOOTBALL” on it. GAME ON. I was way too excited for my own good. Over a football.
Oh…and it just so happened that Bart Yasso was at the expo as well. He was near the table with the footballs, and as no one was in his line I stepped over to talk to him. I told him that I had missed the chance to see him in Chicago, my first marathon, so I was excited to get to meet him now. He was very nice and we spoke a lot about races and upcoming events. He was so easy to talk to. I asked to get a picture and he graciously complied. SO much love for this guy. Makes me want to give those Yasso 800s a real try.
That was pretty much all there was to the expo…so Cathy and I left and headed downtown. I really wanted to see Huntington’s Kitchen (formerly Jamie’s Kitchen from the aforementioned Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution television series. It was closed, but we did find it and I got my foodie nerd on by taking a picture out front. Then, we headed across the street to the small little shopping center and went into a bookstore and just walked around. The wind was gusting hard at this point, so stepping into a shop was nice. I ended up purchasing Bart Yasso’s book, ironically. Go figure. It was still too soon to check into the hotel or get dinner, so we decided we’d hit up the local frozen yogurt place for some dessert. I mean…break the rules at times and get dessert first. It was really delicious…and they had so many gluten-free options. I was in heaven. After getting dessert, we headed to the hotel in Ohio and checked in…watched some Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on Food Network…then…around 4:30, left to go get my prerequisite gluten-free pizza from a place called Husson’s. It was recommended to me by my friend Keith…and I trust Keith (he is also a gluten-free runner). Cathy and I split the 10 inch gluten-free pizza, which we topped off with tomato and pineapple…and it was…okay. I’ve had really, really good gluten-free pizza…so this was just mediocre. The sauce, however, was killer. With that taken care of…it was time to get back to the hotel so I could foam roll and relax before getting to bed. I even laid out my race outfit and had everything ready to go for the early morning alarm. Then, I settled in to watch more Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives…because that’s how I do race weekend!
At 9 p.m., however, it was lights out. And I actually fell asleep in good time. However, around 2 a.m., I woke up from a dream where I was 20 minutes late for the race. No joke. Restlessness set in the rest of the night, because while I knew I had an alarm set for 4 a.m., I was now worried I’d not hear it or just not make it to that start line in time. Stress!
That alarm went off at 4 a.m., and I had a bit of trouble turning it off, but I managed without waking Cathy up. I think she’s immune to my alarm on my phone now. Anyway…I got out of bed, went into the bathroom and began to go through my race morning routine. I got dressed, did my hair, and then got out some water and the cereal I brought with me. This race it was Van’s Gluten-Free Cinnamon Heaven cereal. I ate it dry, as I always do on race morning. Cathy got up around 4:45 and she fixed herself up some food to eat and then went and got dressed. I got my water bottles loaded with regular water and one with electrolytes, then loaded up my GU packets to take at similar intervals as I did Chicago. I grabbed some wet wipes from our bathroom and tissues…just in case. Then, I laced up my Newtons for the first time I’ve worn them over 13 miles. I was ready. So was Cathy. So, she got her hotel key and I grabbed the bananas for pre-race fuel. We were out the door and down to the car to make the short drive over to Huntington.
We made fantastic time, pulled into the stadium and parked without a problem. It was chilly out that morning, so we sat in the car with the heat going until around 6:15 a.m. After that, I finally knew it was time to get out and get acclimated and ready to race. We headed toward the stadium and stopped to admire the really cool statue built into the facade. I had to get a picture with it. Then we stepped inside out of the cold. I made use of the flushing toilets and then came out to get some stretching done. It was still chilly inside…because stadiums aren’t full enclosed, but it was better than being completely out in the air. Around 6:30 a.m., I ate my banana, did a little more stretching…then stepped out to honestly get acclimated.
Runners for all the races were beginning to line the sidewalk on 3rd Avenue. I kept getting asked if this was where the start of the race was. I kept saying I had no clue…but this was where the pacers were, so we were in the right spot. Soon, they completely closed the road and runners took over the entire width of 3rd Avenue. I wasn’t lining up with pacers at all, so instead I met some new friends who were so much fun to talk with at the beginning. It really just kept nerves down. The announcer came on and gave a few short announcements. Bart Yasso came on the speaker to wish everyone luck. The national anthem was sung…although I couldn’t find a flag. And then…we were given a blessing for a safe race for all. Then…we were given a count down and a horn.
All the runners around me were asking where the start line was. Apparently the timers were off to the side near a flag, but everyone was looking for the strip on the ground…and there wasn’t one. I just started my Garmin and hoped for the best. Off I went…Marshall Marathon!
The first two miles of this race were really, really bottle-necked. I mean, runners were running tight, so there was really no getting around them. You just had to wait for a break and hope you could make it through. I did a little bobbing and weaving, but this did help me keep my speed in check coming out of the gate. So there is the positive. The course for the marathon was a loop that is run twice. So, even though this course was advertised as fast and flat (which…it is not flat! Remember…if a race says it has a flat course, you better believe there will be some hills!), there were some more challenging aspects. The roads were not completely closed throughout the course, for one thing, so we were running in one lane. The streets in Huntington are really, really, banked, and with the road partially open, I couldn’t switch sides like I did in Chicago. UGH! But, you just make it work as best you can. As I rounded into Mile 2, Cathy was standing on the corner, waving my sign, and screaming at me. It was awesome. Of course, then a little further in, the road changed from pavement to brick. Not just that…we tackled the first hill.
There wasn’t a lot of crowd support in this race, which definitely makes it more of a mental challenge. In Chicago, I forgot I was running at times. There was just so much going on and so much to drink in. At the Marshall University Marathon, while there were some clumps of people here and there, much of the race was pretty solitary. Just you…the other runners…and the road. It was a huge challenge.
As I rounded out of Mile 6, we entered onto the park area, which meant we went from pavement to this sort of worn dirt trail. There was loose gravel and it just really meant changing up the stride. It was around here that I had one of the worst side stitches ever. It was painful. So, I eased up on my pace, pressed on my side, drank down some water, and breathed deep. It last through around Mile 9, and I was just focusing on the path I was running. The side stitch did subside, just as I neared Mile 9. Which was perfect timing because who was standing at that mile marker? Bart Yasso!! He spotted me, pointed at me and said, “You’re looking good, girl!” Pardon the minor fangirl runner squee. We were finally dumped back onto the actual road soon after that, thank goodness!! I was already dreading that portion in the second loop. But, it was best to focus on the task at hand. The next few miles were enough to get my warmed up enough to ditch the gloves after we ran by the Ohio River. This was around Mile 12. I figured I wouldn’t need them anymore. Lesson…learned! But, I reached the split where the half marathoners were sent into the stadium to finish and the marathoners were sent through campus. I went the way fewer people were going. I was told at the entrance to follow the green arrows, so…I did. And eventually I came out of the campus grounds and onto the road. Mile 13…and who is standing there? Cathy. And she is screaming. And she has people standing with her who are screaming my name and cheering me on. She recruited people…that’s awesome! I hit the halfway point with a great time, I felt, at 1:43:43. Not too bad.
Fierce, strong, and crazy winds that stuck with those on the marathon from Mile 13 to Mile 19. A strong headwind that was 14 mph with gusts up to 21 mph. It was stupid insane. At points, I felt like I wasn’t even moving. I saw some runners come to a walk because they didn’t want to expend too much energy just battling the wind. I eased up. I drank some water. I just was determined to finish strong. The wind, however, was definitely adding a new level of difficulty to the course. And I was not happy about it. It was a cold, strong wind…that apparently, according to Cathy, was ripping down the banners inside the stadium. I saw some runners lose their bibs. It was stupid strong. I did have one more Cathy sighting at Mile 15 where she shouted and screamed and waved the sign…but after that…the crowd support was pretty much limited to the volunteers and maybe the people in the park. When you’re running 26.2 miles, that crowd becomes your lifeline. And I definitely missed having that noise and distraction this time around.
The second loop felt so much harder than the first one did. The wind was part of it, and I did have to push harder than I would have liked to get through. But, you just do what you can. Race day can be so unpredictable. I actually welcomed the trail this time because at least the wind was no longer at my head. It was coming at me from the side. It was a little reprieve. I ticked off those miles as well as I could, but I was really starting to feel the lack of oomph in my stride. What I needed was a crowd. Some cheering. Something. But…there was none to be found.
Instead, I put my head back into the game and focused on the task of finishing. Miles 22 through the finish were back on the streets and off the path…which made it a little easier to run. I did what I could…but knew the magic I felt in Chicago was not coming back for this race. I pressed on, feeling determined to reach that finish line. I’d go mile by mile…taking it one step at a time. I had no time goal for this one, being that it was so close to my last marathon…so that was not an issue for me. I just felt a little let down with myself. Like…I could have done so much better.
Finally, the stadium came into view and I knew I was nearing the end of the race. We were sent back through campus and then turned to the left this time to head toward the stadium. Almost there. I pushed as much as I could at this point. At least there was a crowd here. The steep hill down into the stadium made me pull up. I didn’t want to tear up my quads…and it was really steep. Once I hit the AstroTurf, however, I was ready to cross that finish. I rounded the corner and headed toward the guy passing out footballs. He tossed it to me. Somehow my hands functioned enough to hold onto it and I ran it all the way to the finish line. I wanted to spike it, but I had people in the way, so, I simply held onto it and “Bolted” as I said I would. Then I handed it to the guy collecting footballs and moved on.
Cathy met me at the end of the chute. I looked over at her and said the first thing that came to mind:
“That one hurt.”
And it did. My knee was twinging at me, but I made my way over to the big vat of ice that held water bottles. I grabbed two of them and went to move out of the way. I wanted to get my feet up. First things first…I put my name on the list for a massage. Then, it was over to the dirt path to settle in and put my feet up. I called my mom at this point, but she was busy doing inventory at her job so I kept it short and she promised she would call back later. After about 5 minutes, I sat up and drank down some water. Cathy had my phone and was checking the results.
Despite having one of the hardest races of my life…struggling with the wind and my own mind…I placed third in my age division. IN. A. MARATHON. I was elated. I was shocked. I was ready to get up and move around some more, because I knew that after the race and a quick trip back to the hotel, the car was my destiny, which meant I wouldn’t have the opportunity to stretch it out and keep moving like I did in Chicago. I moved around the field for a bit until it was time for my massage. I, thankfully, got the guy with the giant heating pad, which he put over my back. The massage felt awesome and I was so glad I got one. While that was going on, Cathy set out to find out about age division awards. She wasn’t successful, and returned just as my massage was finishing.
After that, we set out on a mission to find out about awards. It took awhile, but we finally spotted a guy carrying an award and talking to one of his buddies about it. Cathy asked where he got it and he directed us to the other side of the red tent on the field. I went over there and spoke to the gentleman behind the table. He only had the half marathon results so we had to wait. They were having printer problems trying to do the full marathon. About 20-30 minutes later, it was resolved and I received my age division award…a gorgeous blown glass vase done by a local company. It is really beautiful. I had to stick around to get the award because they weren’t mailing them this year. The staff of this race is all volunteers and it makes that task nearly impossible.
After I picked up the award, it was time to head back to the hotel. I made it up an incline, past the statue in the side of the building and to the car. I got inside and it was a quick zip over the river to Ohio and the waiting hotel. We asked for a late checkout time, but it was going to need to be later now since we had to wait on the age division award. I went up to the room to shower…Cathy made arrangements for us to check out at 1 p.m. Except the hotel key wasn’t working. So when she got up there, she had to go back down to the desk and get the key working again. Finally…I was in the room, heading for a nice, hot, relaxing shower.
I was dreading the car ride…but it had to happen. I was also craving grapes. So we stopped off at a travel center and I managed to find this huge cup of grapes. I had to have it…and some more water. Then, the car ride to Lexington. I was starving and while I had wanted to stop frequently to stretch out my legs…I wanted to get to my gluten-free pasta for lunch more. So…we drove through to Lexington, stopping at Bella Notte, my favorite place to eat in Lexington, where I can safely get gluten-free pasta. After that, we walked over to the nearby Half Price Books, where my mom called me back. I talked to her and shopped…and ended up buying a couple of things. Then, it was a hike back to the car, and our last leg into Louisville. We got into town, went to Whole Foods to finish up grocery shopping for the week, hit up the Comfy Cow for some ice cream as a reward for a great race, and then…HOME!
Despite the conditions with the wind (you can’t predict mother nature!), I did enjoy this race. The lack of crowd support does mean you are quite aware of every moment you are actually running in this race. So, if you love to have that crowd as a distraction…this is not the race to run. It was very well organized, however, and it was a lot of fun. The course, while not flat as advertised, wasn’t bad. Loops are a bit daunting though…because you know what’s coming the second time around. But that’s both good and bad. I fought hard for this one and am quite proud of what I accomplished in Huntington.
Official results of the Marshall University Marathon are that I finished in a time of 3:35:55…which I’ll take with a smile on my face. Considering I was down and out for that second loop, the fact that I finished in sub 3:40:00 is still a mystery to me on how I manged it. I do wonder, though, had conditions been different, had that wind not been so defeating, would I have bettered my Chicago time? I can’t dwell on that, however. Because this race wasn’t meant to be run for time. And as disappointed as I am with some of my mile splits, I fought for this one. I dug deep and I really found my strong. I was 84/614 runners overall. I was 10/235 women to cross the finish line. And I was 3/35 in my age division. Despite it all…I’m still smiling.
I’m also enjoying my rest days. I’ve earned them.
Running two marathons within a month of each other will tear you down, and now I am in the rebuilding phase. This marathon really got into my head. It was a mental challenge and a physical challenge. And when I am back out on the roads, I am going to keep in mind how much I fought on this one…and come back ready to get stronger and better. Part of me feels defeated by this one…like it bested me…but the other part of me reminds me that I finished and I finished strong. And while this wasn’t a “good” race as far as how I felt during the event, it was a good reminder that good days and bad days happen…you just roll with it. And if the results you get aren’t want you hoped for…adapt and overcome. It’s hard…but it sure beats the “WHAT IF…” questions your mind will throw at you. I hold my head high and stand proud. This took a lot out of me and showed me just what I was made of.
Huntington, West Virginia…thank you for giving me this opportunity. I will forever treasure the lessons I learned on the roads through your city.