West Virginia | Morgantown Marathon #YesItsHilly

One of the most asked questions when people look at my race map is “why? Why would you put your body through that?” Which, to be fair, is a quite logical question. My response is always “why not?” The second most asked question is “how come you have done all these states but still haven’t filled in the hole of West Virginia since it borders Ohio?” Now this one is a little harder to answer. There had not been all that many races that caught my attention taking place in WV. The ones I did find interesting did not end up really supporting a cause and we know that is a no-no in my book when choosing a race. 

A few years ago the Morgantown Marathon started and I was definitely interested in the challenge of the hilly city and also supporting a great cause in helping veterans. However, every year since the inaugural it has been on a weekend that something else had been previously scheduled. This year the date worked out in the calendar. Well, kind of…

Race: Morgantown Marathon
Location: Morgantown, WV
Date: September 22, 2019
Time: 5:01:46

As you may or may not know, I am a big Mets fan and try to go see them if they’re playing in Ohio. There is a Mets fan group called “The 7 Line Army” that travels to opposing ballparks every year to bring together fans and make an away game feel like a home game. This year was the first year they were heading to Cincinnati but it just so happened to line up with the weekend of the race in WV. I had the idea that it would be a fun adventure to drive from Columbus to Cincinnati, back to Columbus, then out to Morgantown all in the same day. Just writing that out just now made me laugh at how I tend to have pretty outlandish ideas.

So much driving!

Saturday, September 21st
5:01 am – I woke up to get in a final shake out run. I took it easier than normal knowing that I would be on my feet a little bit for the baseball game.
10:00 am – Made my way out to Columbus Running Company to get a few gels as my supply was low
12:00 pm – Left Columbus to head to Great American Ballpark
1:50 pm – Arrived at Hofbrauhaus Newport for the meeting spot for The 7 Line Army. Lines were crazy long for beer so between that and trying to be somewhat prepared for race, I opted out of participating in the drinking.
3:00 pm – Made the mile walk from Newport across the Purple People Bridge with 850+ other Mets fans
4:10 pm – First pitch. I had two slices of La Rosa’s pizza ($6.50 per slice) to try and get a little bit of carbs during game. Between cheering, chants and jumping out of my seat in frustration, I was up and down quite a bit during the game.
6:30 pm – Left the game in the middle of the 8th inning as we set a scheduled goal to leave at that time unless there was a no hitter being pitched or some other historical type event occurring.
9:00 pm – Arrived back at home to shower, eat dinner and get Bella for the trip to Morgantown

Sunday, September 22nd
12:57 am – Arrived at our hotel in Morgantown. Kaela was a saint and let me get some sleep on the drive out while she drove into the late evening. Also pretty funny but the exit with our hotel was the same exit that we had to pull over with a blown tire on the way to Delaware.
1:22 am – Laid down to sleep
4:57 am – Alarm buzzed to wake me up

Yeah, we had a few folks in the group
Beautiful sunset over Cincinnati skyline
Arrived at our hotel in Morgantown
All of the alarms

So yeah, maybe I don’t make the best choices in scheduling. Just over 3 hours of “sleep” and I was getting out of bed to get ready for the race. I decided to not have the typical eating plan race morning as that would require me finishing all food 2 hours prior to race start. Considering I woke up 2 hours before race start I didn’t want to consume as much and end up pooping myself mid-race.

I had a toasted bagel and a Honey Stinger waffle, while taking care of Bella so Kaela could sleep in a little bit. My buddy Chad was supposed to be running the full marathon with me, but because of something about him being an old man he decided to drop down to the half. He was smarter and showed up at an appropriate time on Saturday and actually was nice enough to pick up my bib for me. I made my way up to his room to get the bib before getting back to our room and getting ready quickly to meet him back in the lobby at 6:15am. 

There was not any parking at the start/finish area of the race so we were directed to a parking lot at the baseball stadium across the river to shuttle in. Instead of having Kaela get out of bed to drop me off and then sit around for 1.5-2 hours to see me on the course, I rode with Chad to the shuttle lot and told Kaela that I would see her whenever she felt like getting up and out of bed. The shuttle service ran pretty smoothly with a handful of school buses taking runners, volunteers and spectators to the start.

Once we arrived at the start, I made a quick stop at the porta-potty before heading towards the corrals. Chad and I had talked about running the first part together and then I would finish the race myself when the two courses split, but we then found out that the half marathon started 15 minutes after the full. He made a joke about trying to catch me, but we quickly ruled that out when we started doing the math on it. As they called a 2 minute warning to the start I wished Chad luck and made my way into the starting corral. 

GO!

I positioned myself just behind the 4:30 pace group and once we made it out of the tight start area, I asked the pacer if the plan was even splits for the course. He said that he was going to run a 10:10 pace to bank two minutes on the front half and then another 2 minutes in the second before hitting the big hill. The announcer prior to the race had mentioned something about some big hill to finish the race and now hearing this a second time, I started to think that maybe I should have prepared more. Not necessarily trained on hills more, as I knew it was a lot of hills, but I really had no idea about the layout of the course. I couldn’t tell you where the course was going, where the hills would be, how long they would last or even where the water stops would be. Speaking of that, I didn’t bring my handheld so I had to rely on the water stops and not knowing where they would be made it interesting to guess when the next time I would get fluids would be.

Yeah, do as I say. Not as I do.

So based off the pace estimates, I jumped ahead of the 4:30 group and just kept the 4:15 group in my sights. The first few miles were some easy rollers that helped get my legs used to the up and down of the course. Spectators must have still been asleep on the side of the road because there was no cheering or excitement at all. There were two ladies outside a Starbucks just blankly staring at us. I let out a big “WOOOOO” to try to get them to mimic but all they did was give a light chuckle. *tough crowd* The police at the beginning of the course blocking streets were also not in a “way to go” mood with their lack of acknowledgment as the runners thanked them for being out there keeping us safe.

We wrapped in and out of a neighborhood with some nice houses. Every few houses a couple would be outside, sitting on their porch or in a chair near the road cheering us down the street. It’s also uplifting that people choose to wake up early just to motivate us running down the road. Aid stations were light and more spread out than I was comfortable with, especially not having my handheld. The first aid station had clear Gatorade in addition to water which caused some issues when asking for cups of each. That being said though, the volunteers were very nice and efficient in their “handing off water” abilities.

Just before hitting mile 4, the leaders of the half marathon came zooming up behind me. Now remember, they started 15 minutes after me and still caught me that early in the race. As we continued through the neighborhood more and more half marathoners came up behind us. I bet that wasn’t a fun process for those fast half marathoners having to get around large groups of the slower marathon groups and since their course was mostly an out and back, they would have to head directly at the slowest of the groups.

There were lots of police officers, firefighters and other emergency services officials monitoring intersections but because it was a neighborhood there were still a lot of cars driving in and out of the street we were running on. That made me uneasy at some points. Just before the split for the half and full marathon, the leaders of the half marathon were heading back towards me which elevated my concern having two way traffic of runners and cars also on the road.

The split was around 6.5 miles with the half marathoners taking a right and full heading to the left up hill. We were told prior to the race to follow the blue arrows for the full marathon but the sign had blue arrows for the half marathon. Luckily I was in a thick pack of marathoners so I wasn’t worried about getting lost. Chad did tell me later that he ran a little with someone that got mixed up at the turn around and went the route of the half when they intended for the full. 

After the turn we were at the beginning of a long climb, on the side of an open road, with the sun directly in our face. There was a short dip which revealed the even longer climb ahead of us. “Seriously?!?”, I said to myself as it didn’t seem to end. I asked the guy running next to me if he had run this race before to get any insights from the rest of the course, but it was also his first time. He was from Pittsburgh and was actually in training for his first 50 miler coming up in a few weeks. We chatted a bit about ultras while we slowly climbed the hill.

I heard a familiar voice coming from the side and noticed Kaela was driving beside us as we approached a stop light. It was nice to see her at this point to help power me up the hill. I was powering through aid stations, drinking both water and Gatorade at every stop and doing so in stride so I didn’t slow myself down with the rollings hills. At the top of the hill Kaela was pulled over taking photos and checking in on me. I had left some body glide with her in case I needed it but at this point the 2Toms was holding up nicely on the thighs.

The “mean” lady lol

The lady with the sign in the picture was yelling at the runners as we made it to the aid station at the top of the hill. “You are not even sweating, are you even trying at all?” She made me laugh a good bit as I made the turn to the aid station. Right after the aid was the start of the long decline, negating all of the climb we just did and a little extra. With the 4:15 group still in sight, I tried to hold back from the pull gravity had on me. I could feel with each step my quads just screaming at me. Dropping just over 300ft in a mile, the pace seemed effortless but I knew I would pay for it later.

As we exited the tree lined roads and headed towards the WVU campus, I let out a sigh of relief that the steep decline was finished. A guy was beside me that acknowledged his agreement with me. He was from NC, running his first back to back marathon as he did the Air Force marathon in Dayton the day before. This was state #10 for him and he was really just out to enjoy the experience. We talked about our favorite races and goals for the next year for the next mile or so before he pulled away. He seemed to want to run his own race, so I pulled back just a little to give that initial separation. The area around the campus and downtown Morgantown was back to being a little bit dangerous with cars being let through to drive just behind runners. There was one turn that we had to cross in front of cars to continue on the course.

We headed out of downtown and hit a few steep rollers that had me power hike for the first time during the race. Coming out of one of the climbs I met a lady from DC that had done the course last year and gave me some insight on the hills for the remainder of the race. She had also done the Air Force marathon the day before. In fact, she had done Cleveland marathon, Flying Pig marathon and the Air Force marathon just getting a tour of Ohio. She was also throwing around the idea of doing Columbus but she had Marine Corp marathon coming up. (See, I’m not as crazy as some people).

I hit the half mark at 2:08 feeling good but definitely a little beat up. I knew I didn’t have another 2:08 in me for the second half so I backed off the pace a little bit to make sure I would at least make it to the end. The course made its way to a bike path and shortly after we found our way back in the sun. The temperatures kept increasing and with little to no cloud cover it was sucking the life out of me. Shortly after mile 14, we popped off the bike trail and onto a road that put the sun in my face. At the next aid station I grabbed an extra cup of water and walked shortly after it to drink it. While I was walking I saw Kaela and Bella just sitting on the sidewalk waiting for me to show up. I appreciated her waiting especially with the little sleep she had, knowing she was just as exhausted as I was at that point. She grabbed some great photos of me smiling as I got back to my stride.

The course continued down the road before circling back on itself to get on the bike path that ran parallel to the road. I had a short walk break once I got out of the sun to gather myself before getting back at it. It doubled back near where Kaela saw me and she was cheering me in from the path before we headed out on a country road. She let me know that she was going to be heading to the finish at this point and would be waiting for me. I knew I had to pull the energy from within for the rest of the race as I wouldn’t be seeing her again.

Bella just enjoying the fresh air

I pushed through until the aid station at mile 17. I had a volunteer dump a few waters on my head to try and cool down and I spent a good bit of that 18th mile walking. When I hit the mile 18 marker I told myself to make it to the next marker without stopping. My pace was slow but I powered through my heavy legs. Thank goodness it was mostly downhill to help me “fall forward” but we were out in the open so the sun was doing its job to slow me down. I was really feeling the impacts of not taking in enough calories the day before or even in the morning.

Just before mile 19 we took a side trek off the road for a small 2.5 mile loop. It started with a steep hill that brought me back down to a walk. I noticed the 4 hour pacer coming at me struggling and walking with no one else hanging out with him. The heat was getting to everyone. At this point the 4:30 pace group came and went past me like I was standing still. I was slowing down more than I wanted to but I knew it was better to be smart and not to push myself to a bad point. At the next aid station there was a guy hooked up to an IV at medical, further solidifying my point of being smart with my effort levels.

I spent most of this section in a run/walk trying to keep my legs turning over as quickly as I felt they could. There was a guy in front of me struggling with tightness that I saw start and stop a few times with a frustrated look on his face. I offered him my last salt tab to help him out and he accepted and seemed surprised and very grateful for the gesture.

Around mile 22 the 4:45 pace group made it to me. The guy from Pittsburgh was with them and still in good spirits. Honestly I was too at that point. I was frustrated that my body was breaking down and it was really hot out but I still had a smile on my face. Leaving the loop we had a decent climb of 100ft in just ½ mile. That was followed by a long descent dropping 200ft in another ½ mile. The descent ended down at a bike trail that hugged the Monongahela River. 

Knowing that I had just over a 5k left felt great, but I also knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I was spent. At this point I was wishing for more aid stations, especially ones with real food options as my gels were no longer cutting it as I was just plain out hungry. A guy came up behind me at a steady pace saying “less than 5k left let’s pick it up and go!” So I got off my pity party wagon and joined in stride with him. He was from Colorado and also run Air Force marathon the day before and this race was going to be state #14. He had commented that he wanted to run as much as he could on the trail since he was going to walk the long hill at the end of the race. We run/walked while talking about races I should do out west, giving me plenty of options to research but more importantly the conversation helped me get out of my own head.

He picked up the pace after an aid station and I fell back wishing him luck for the last few miles. The trail wrapped around some construction and when it joined back to the trail there was a large snake just hanging out on the side. It was at least 4-5 feet in length and scared me just enough to get back into a run. The last two miles of the race were uphill starting from the trail. We hit the final aid station before turning off the trail and powering up to Beechurst Ave to start what I found out later was named “Son of a Beechurst Hill”.

I decided not to just walk the hill by default (even though it looked daunting) and was going to try to power up at a slow pace. I passed a few people that looked at me like I was a crazy person for not just succumbing to the hill and walking. I made it about 80% of the way up the hill before my legs said they had enough. There was a lady with a rabbit on the back of her shirt that had passed me on the trail before starting the climb and I kept her in my sights as a goal while powering up the hill. I kept a good hiking pace and actually had a faster split than my previous two miles on the flat trail.

At the top of the hill I took a deep breath, picked up my pace and turned into the parking lot of the coliseum. With the finish line in sight, I let out a sigh of relief and had a huge smile on my face as I made it in.

5:01:46

Kaela was set up in the shade because I had obviously had her waiting just a little longer than she had expected. I got my cool handmade medal, slammed a water and made my way over to the food. The free beer sounded like a good idea at 7am before the race but after the hills and the heat, I wanted nothing to do with it. They had local pretzel twists and Cici’s pizza set up for us. I started to grab a few slices when the lady offered me the entire box of pizza, which I of course accepted. There was a small sitting section but with no available seating we just made our way back to the car where I could sit on the curb and eat. After I ate, I cleaned up with some Dude Wipes and changed into some fresh clothes before making the drive back home.

This race was definitely an adventure. The entire weekend made it into something that was mostly stupid with all the travel and time on my feet with little rest going into the race, but it also gave me some motivation. I ran at pace for the first 17 miles on very little sleep and energy which made me realize that I may actually be getting a little stronger as a runner. This was a big win in my book. 

Overall the race itself was fun. The course was really tough and adding in the heat made it that much harder. The volunteers were nice and helpful in handing and calling out the drinks they had. The police officers in the second half of the race were a lot nicer and actually looked like they were having a great time motivating runners to push through the pain we were feeling. One negative point was some of the areas where traffic was still allowed on the course with runners that could have very easily resulted in a runner getting hit. And one other point was the frequency and options available at the aid stations. Now I know that if I need something special I should have carried it myself but the aid stations seemed to be spaced out a little too far towards the end of the race and other than a single aid station at the half/full split, there were no additional nutrition items offered at them. Other than those points I was very pleased that I held out to make sure I could complete Morgantown as my race in WV.

Now for a few weeks off before heading out to attempt my first races in New England!

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