Marshall University Marathon 2014 – Race Report

Marathons: Paul #47, Leah #37, State #31 : Marshall University Marathon 2014
2nd November 2014, Huntington, West Virginia, USA
Finish Time = 3:55:59

The week before the Marshall University Marathon we rented the very powerful film (/movie), “We Are Marshall”. It is based on the true story of the Marshall plane crash in November 1970 which killed almost all of the Marshall University football team as well as the coaches, trainers, crew, etc. The marathon and Huntington itself is so tightly linked to this event that we felt we should learn more and understand about what happened.

It is impossible not to be moved by it, even over 40 years on. Huntington is not a huge town, so practically everyone there was affected by the accident, people lost husbands, sons, brothers, fiancés and friends. A whole town mourned and each year the whole town pays tribute around a memorial fountain which continuously runs every day throughout the year except for that one day.

The film was very moving, probably even more so because we knew we would be there in a week, but if you have the time I would highly encourage you to watch it.

Memorial to the team on the side of the University building

Memorial to the victims on the side of the University building

West Virginia wasn’t the easiest for us to get to. It’s always a battle of logistics balancing our requirements for work along with how to get there on the airlines we need to fly with to use my miles. In the end we flew to Chicago on Friday evening, staying overnight at an airport hotel, then on to Columbus on Saturday morning, picked up a car and drove the 3 hour drive to Huntington.

We checked in to the hotel and went off the expo. When we left the hotel we noticed that the traffic lights which were working to direct the traffic when we came in, were no longer lit up. It was a bit of a free-for-all but we didn’t think much of it. The expo was quick and easy, not too big but had everything you needed. We also got some great jackets and a hat as part of the race gear. We bought food to cook our pasta dinner in the hotel and a bottle of red wine (often a pre-race item we look forward to) and went back to the hotel. It was only when we returned that we realised the impact of the non-functioning traffic lights. We found out that nowhere in the area had any power at all, the hotel staff told us that someone had stolen the copper from the local power station and everything was out. We had a load of food and no way to cook or refrigerate it!

We decided to go and do a 2 mile gentle tune-up run and stretching while we still had some daylight. After that we went back to the hotel and it was pretty dark at this point. They had put fluorescent tubes along the hallways to try to provide some light so you could find your way back to the room. I started searching for other nearby hotels in case we needed to request to leave, the nearest one with availability was 45 miles away. We were told they had an estimate of 7pm for the power to come back on. We went back up the pitch-black stairs to our 3rd floor, found our room and just as we opened the door our lights came on and refrigerator started humming again! 30 minutes earlier than planned. We started cooking immediately, just in case anyone decided to steal the replacement copper.

The morning of the marathon we parked at the football stadium and lined up at the start. It was freezing, well actually below freezing (25F / -4C). We tried to warm up a bit and then as we made our way to the start noticed our Marathon Maniac / 50Sub4 friends Heather and Gary.

Heather is also targeting 50 Sub 4 and always runs a great race

Heather is also targeting 50 Sub 4 and always runs a great race

We talked for a while and then the race began. We kept our foil sheets on for a couple of miles until we warmed up enough to leave them at an aid station. The course was good, nothing too difficult in terms of terrain or elevation, through Huntington and the surrounding area. It was a 2 lap course for the marathon and 1 lap for the half marathoners. As we started heading back towards the end of our first lap we saw Gary storming ahead in first place on his 2nd lap, he was running really well and had a considerable leading on the guy in second. We also saw 1,300 marathons Larry which is always is a good time. It’s impossible not to be happy when you see Larry!

Towards the end of the first lap we ran through the University campus and past the memorial fountain featured in the film, which was very surreal to see.

The temperatures remained cool in the second half too but we had judged it well, long compression tights, a t-shirt and long-sleeved warm North Face tops as well as gloves and warm hats were just perfect. Not too hot and not too cold. We were running consistently and on track for another Sub 4.

As we came to mile 26 we ran down a (steep!) path into the football stadium for the part I had been looking forward to the most. We ran onto the field (not a “pitch”, as I referred to it) at one end, turned around in the end zone (or what I had referred to as the “touchdown area” – after 4 years I still say things that show I’m not from here!), and then the volunteers held out American footballs for us to grab. We then ran the full length of football field, in an actual American football stadium, holding the football and through the finish line, set up in the opposite end zone. Seriously, it’s the area where you score a touchdown, what’s wrong with “touchdown area”?!


My first ever touchdown!

It was a very special event. Both as a tribute to the University and the team they lost and subsequently rebuilt, and also special for me as I had never even stepped foot on an American football field before, much less run the length of one carrying a football with cheering supporters around.

Hanging around in the finish area. I can call it that, right?

Hanging around in the finish area. I can call it that, right?

The organisers put on some great post-race food, with hot dogs and burgers being freshly grilled along with cookies and drinks. After a shower and change we drove the 3 hours back to Columbus airport, then flew to Nashville and then changed planes to Denver. It was a long trip but worth it for State number 31. West Virginia doesn’t have many marathon options and I can’t imagine there being a better one to choose for your WV checkbox.

Elevation Graph from my running watch:


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