- Flat, fast coarse
- Reliably cool temperatures
- Uncrowded starting line
- Hydration stations every 1.5 mile
- Parts are quite scenic
- Well organized
- Huntington, WV is inexpensive
- Unique experience laying a rose at We Are Marshall memorial
- Running the final 100 yards carrying a football across the goal line/finish line in Marshall’s football stadium
- Real food at finish line.
- Great 50 Stater
- Excellent choice for personal best or Boston qualifier.
- Repeat 2 loops through coarse
- “Dumbell” shaped coarse with middle third passed twice each loop for 4 times total.
- Much of coarse is industrial and not scenic.
Huntington, West Virginia
Huntington, West Virginia lies at the edge where West Virginia meets both Kentucky and Ohio. The Ohio and Guyandotte Rivers join here. Steel, oil, and coal as well as trade along the Ohio created a thriving manufacturing city. With the downturn of the steel industry over the past 60 years and more recent downturn of oil and coal, the region has fallen into decline with large population losses.
Today, Huntington seems much more like a small college town than a manufacturing center. The city has developed the Pullman Square with hotels, restaurants and shops and Old Central City with crafts and antiques. Parks and museums are added attractions.
My only other venture to Huntington was over 20 years ago, driving through on the way to interviews in Virginia. I remember the smog and the strong sulfur smell. This time, the skies were clear and the air clean.
My drive across Kentucky from Louisville to Huntington along Interstate 64 proved quite scenic. The hills, woods, and farmland from Louisville to Frankfort transition to the rolling pastures of Kentucky bluegrass. From Frankfort, through Lexington to Winchester, thoroughbred horse farms with painted wood fences, ornate barns, and beautiful horses stretch in all directions. Past Winchester, you enter Appalachia, with forest covered hills and hollows of pines and cedars mixed with oaks and maples in full fall color.
The Marshall University Marathon teamed up with multiple local hotels like the Hampton Inn that provided reduced rates, a shuttle service, and late check out. Overall, hotels in Huntington, West Virginia are quite inexpensive.
I chose to stay at a Red Roof Inn, about 5 miles away. It was dirt cheap and had good ratings. I wanted a clean, basic room at a low price and got it. I paid less than $60. My room was tiny, but was clean, quiet and comfortable. They allowed me and multiple other runners late checkout of 2 p.m. I was able to come back, shower, wash my clothes in the sink, and take a 20 minute nap before leaving at about a 1 p.m. It was an excellent choice.
Marshall University, and especially the Marshall Thundering Herd football team are the pride of the city. The town is painted green. Bison (the mascot) and “Herd” references are seemingly everywhere.
On November 14, 1970, 37 Marshall football players and 5 coaches died in plane crash returning from a game. Still, almost 50 years later, this tragedy is stitched into the fabric of the town. On the campus, there is a memorial to those who died. Marathoners carry a white rose and lay it at the memorial while running through campus on the last mile. The movie We are Marshall tells the tragic story.
Marathon/Half Marathon Coarse
Flat and fast best describe the coarse. Runners start and end at the Marshall University football stadium, making two loops through the town. Flat rarely describes West Virginia, but Huntington lies in a river valley and the run winds through it.
The scenery is hit and miss. About 2.5 miles along each loop (5 total) strings through parks at the edge of a stream. Most of this portion has a crushed stone surface, which remains fast but easier on the joints. The parks, Marshall University campus, and Old Central City are all quite nice. The fall foliage, babbling brook, historic shops and regal campus please the senses and offer a needed distraction. The other half of each loop consists of urban decay from the once thriving town.
Support for the Marshall University Marathon is excellent with water/sports drinks every 1.5 miles. The cups were tiny though. I had to get two or even 3 to keep hydrated. Port-a-potties dot the coarse. You find indoor restrooms at the stadium, which is much better.
Cheering sections are sparse except around the stadium. For families or supporters, the loop system works well. They can see the start, middle and end without moving.
The pre-race expo is tiny, with few vendors, but it is a small race with less than 400 running the marathon and 900 the half. Those who registered early received a full long sleeve jacket which was nice. Later entrants, like me, got a nice tech shirt along with a pair of sunglasses.
The post-race fare impressed me. The stadium finish line was a nice experience. The food offerings were better than most. Runners could get bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, fried potatoes (this is Appalachia!) hotdogs, hamburgers, cookies, fruit, chips, pretzels, a variety of drinks and more. The race medal was large and nice.
A cold race morning awaited me with temperatures hovering around freezing. I sat in my car to keep warm until about 5 minutes prior to the race, about 100 yards from the starting line. The race started on schedule and even with the combo of marathoner and half-marathoners, it was not crowded. I settled into my desired pace without any obstruction.
Unfortunately for me, my pace was too fast. I realized this at about mile 16 and slowed down. At mile 23, cramps in the calves sat in and caused severe pain. The weather and the marathon coarse were perfect for a personal best, but my body and training failed me. I stopped so many times to massage out spasms that I rubbed the skin off my right calf and bled. Determined not to walk, though, and I kept pressing on in pain. I missed my goal by a full 15 minutes.
I enjoyed running the Marshall University Marathon despite the pain and disappointing finish. While the race is superlative in nothing, it is good in a lot of areas: flat, cool temps, parts with good scenery, unique experience with stadium finish line and laying of the roses on the We are Marshall memorial, good support and post race, and cheap accommodations.
The Marshall University Marathon makes an excellent option for racers seeking a personal best, a Boston qualifier, 50 staters, those within an easy drive, and anyone wanting to experience Appalachia. If you want large crowds, a large expo,no repeat loops, or easy airport access, then you should look elsewhere.
I have to squeeze marathons into a tight schedule. If the Marshall University Marshall fits in well, then I would run it again.
4 other marathon reviews can be found HERE.