On the road: Parkersburg, WV

The weekend of August 21, I traveled to the great state of West Virginia for the Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half-Marathon. I used this race as a tune-up in preparation for the Twin Cities Marathon in October.

I had a nice buzz going on Friday morning– primarily from the 3 cups of coffee I had while sitting at a Panera Bread in Parkersburg, West Virginia. The day before had been a typical travel day for me: a 2:30AM shuttle ride from Flagstaff to Phoenix, 2 flights with a generous layover in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and a 70 minute van ride from Charleston to this charming aforementioned town. And Thursday’s excitement had culminated once I arrived at the hotel, set my bags down, laced up my Brooks Glycerins and headed out on an 80 minute excursion in the balmy 80 degree night. After 15 hours of travel and completing a 12 mile shake-out run, it was easy to fall asleep that night. Needless to say, coffee was essential that next morning.

While planning out my marathon training with Coach Jack, I had decided to include the Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half-Marathon in my schedule as a ‘tune-up’ race. I felt it would give me a good opportunity to whet my competitive appetite without compromising my current training demands. This historic race has been held annually since 1987 and was  site for the USA 1/2 Marathon Championships from 1990 to 2001. For the past 5 years, Parkersburg has also hosted the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) National Championship. Given the race’s history, challenging course and competitive field, I was excited work this event into my racing plans.

I spent Friday performing my typical pre-race day rituals. I did an easy run on the course in the morning followed by some stretching and a few light strides. In the afternoon I went to the grocery store to plan out my next few meals. Sadly, my only nearby grocery option was a Super Walmart, although they had the essential ‘vegan-friendly’ foods I needed to make it through the weekend:

I had a light lunch consisting of vegetables with bread and roasted red pepper hummus. Later on, after picking up my start number and touring the course, I headed back to my room and heated up a bowl of Amy’s Black Bean Chili with 1/2 a cup of couscous for dinner. Aside from my vegan dietary preference, I like preparing my own foods when I am at races to prevent having any issues from eating unfamiliar foods. 

Fastforwarding to the race day, I felt good both on my early morning shake-out run at 4AM and during my 1 hour warm-up before the start. I lined up on Juliana Street wearing lucky bib #7, and found myself positioned next to a few other Team MarathonGuide.com athletes, including Alene Reta, George Towett and Julius Kogo. Even with its reported strongest field in race history, I was fearless and assertive at the start.  

The first mile of the race was quick, as we winded through the byzantine neighborhoods of Parkersburg’s Historic District before heading out on the open highway, Route 68. By 3 miles, I was situated in a select chase group behind a very busy front pack. I was running with a familiar competitor (later I learned it was Worku Beyi) and slowly reeled in Bado Worku Merdessa, who I had battled back and forth with at the Boilermaker 15K in July. The rolling hills of the course disrupted me from finding any rhythm, however I felt strong and ran more aggressive on uphill sections to distance myself from my competitors.

Around 10K, the race ahead of me was strung out. I was beginning to labor in the hot, humid conditions and only had a few athletes within striking distance. I knew the second half was not going to be an easy, but my resolve was to finish and run as hard as my body would allow me; dropping out is never an option for me. Between 15K and 10 miles, I had moved into 7th and was pulling away from one of my MarathonGuide.com teammates (maybe George?). The next athlete in sight was Canadian Eric Gillis, who was clearly struggling down the road. I was able to make some ground on him until making the turn onto 13th Street, where I hit a wall of a hill. It didn’t take long to climb up, but the effects of the hill and the sharp downhill that subsequently followed were debilitating to my legs. It took me until about 20K to recover my legs, but I still closed as hard as I could to get the most out of this race.

I crossed the line in 7th, finishing in 1:06:06. The time was testament to the difficult course and tough race conditions, being 2 minutes over my personal best for half-marathon. However, I consider my race to have been a very good performance. I raced aggressive early on, put myself in the mix with the better athletes in the field (and well ahead of any other American), and didn’t give in when it started to hurt. I think it’s easy for an athlete to run a fast time on a flat course in perfect conditions with pacers. However, I think the better athletes– especially in the marathon– are able to push themselves through walls while running on their own in less-than-perfect conditions. And that’s why I felt this race was the ideal marathon tune-up.

Overall, I had a great stay in Parkersburg. Chip Allman and the race committee did a fantastic job organizing the event! I also got to catch up with a friend and former Flagstaff athlete, Molly Pritz, who had an excellent performance in preparation for her marathon debut in Chicago (she is going to do great things with her new training group in Michigan!). I also had a great discussion with road race veteran Gideon Mutisya about recovery and training. Whenever I go to races, I always enjoy interacting with the other athletes and the running community. This little town in the confluence of the Ohio and Little Kanawha Rivers proved to be a very enthusiastic and welcoming race weekend host. I will definitely put the News and Sentinel Half back on my calendar for next year!

So now I continue with marathon training for Twin Cities back in Flagstaff. I love this time of year; the Summer is beginning to cool off, but my training is just heating up!  –JDE