This review is by MTA running coach Nicole Hart.
Although I had passed through West Virginia while traveling, I had never actually run a race there before. When the opportunity to run the 5th annual Morgantown Marathon presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity.
The timing of the race fit almost perfectly into my training for a 50k race in October, and once I learned that it was a hilly, challenging course, I knew it would serve as a great lead up effort. I was not disappointed.
RACE DATE: September 22, 2019
LOCATION: Morgantown, West Virginia
The road from Pennsylvania through Maryland, and eventually into West Virginia provided great views. It was necessary to turn off the cruise control in the car, as the hills started to ascend and descend. Deep in the heart of Mountaineer Country, and situated along the Monongahela River, Morgantown is home to West Virginia University.
Packet Pick Up
I arrived in Morgantown Saturday afternoon, and headed straight to the race packet pickup, which was being held at Dick’s Sporting Goods at the University Towne Centre. There was ample parking, and the pickup was quick and easy. There were tables set up within the store by running gear representatives, as well as coupons available to save on your purchases within the store.
After checking in to the Courtyard Marriot hotel close by, it was time to head to the pre-race pasta dinner. The dinner was served at the Cheat Lake Fire Department and prepared by local marathon runner and chef Donnie Orr. This was an all you can eat dinner, with penne pasta with your choice of meat or marinara sauce, green bean almondine, fresh salad, Country Club bakery bread, cookies, and lemonade, iced tea and water to drink. The cost was $12 for adults and $6 for children. At the dinner, I was able to chat with some of my fellow participants of not only the full marathon, but the half marathon, and 8k race taking place the next morning. The race director, Jamie Summerlin was there, and welcomed us to Morgantown, spoke about the course and answered any questions that we had.
Marathon morning came early, with the full marathon race starting at 7am. There was a shuttle service provided by my hotel to the race site at 5am. I arrived with only a handful of my fellow racers to the WVU Coliseum, a 14,000-seat arena, and home to the WVU basketball team. There were race volunteers already there, with race day packet pickup available. Before long, more participants started to arrive via school buses provided by the race, shuttling them from the Monongalia County Ballpark where parking was provided. I also observed the arrival of the Beast Pacers, assigned to the half marathon and marathon races.
The Morgantown Marathon supports the organization Operation Welcome Home, which provides job resources for veterans, and has helped almost 500 veterans find full-time job placement since 2012. There were also designated “Hero Miles” along the route, with names of military members or veterans written on posters. At the start of the race, there was a military Color Guard, and a beautiful live rendition of the National Anthem.
I lined up in the sparsely filled starting corral for the marathon with a few minutes to start time. Ultimately there were 204 finishers in the full marathon, 326 in the half marathon, and 257 in the 8k race. This race definitely had a “small town” race feel to it, with the half marathon being the most popular of the three distances offered.
The marathon race started right on time, with overcast skies and already warm temperatures in the 60’s. There were a good number of spectators sending us off to the “Almost Heavenly Miles” that the race showcased.
The marathon course is highly advertised as “Yes it’s Hilly!”, so I was prepared for the rolling hills of West Virginia. The course takes the runners through the 7 wards of Morgantown, mostly through neighborhoods, and loops back to the WVU Coliseum. The rolling hills start early in the race, with a long climb from mile 7-8 that seems like it was going to go on forever.
Luckily, the uphills were often followed by a nice downhill stretch to keep it interesting. I think my favorite part of the course was running through the WVU campus, around miles 10-11. I was still feeling pretty good, and this historic part of town provided a nice distraction.
There were also a couple sections on the course that ran on a park-like trail in which I could enjoy much needed shade from the now very present sunshine. The aid stations were frequent, with 16 in total provided along the course. The volunteers (many of them students) were so friendly and helpful.
There was water and Gatorade provided at each, with some of the stations providing orange slices, pretzels and Honey stinger products (waffles and gels). There were some spectators along the course, which was a welcome distraction, and what they lacked in numbers, they made up in enthusiasm. Because the entire race course was not closed to traffic, the presence of numerous law enforcement and volunteers controlling traffic was much appreciated. I always felt safe while running this course. It was helpful that the many turns were clearly marked by yellow arrows on the road, considering the ample spacing between runners.
The Last Mile
The most challenging part of the course was the last mile. It was a painful steady climb for a full mile back up to the WVU Coliseum. I alternated between running and walking, as did the runners around me. By this time, it was quite warm and difficult to keep climbing up the hill. When you reached the top of the hill, the finish line was in sight, with about .2 of a mile to go. I have never been so happy to see a finish line.
The race director, Jamie was also at the finishing line, congratulating runners. The medal for the race is very different from the ones that I have received before. It is a hand-crafted wooden medal with the slogan “Morgantown Marathon 26.2 Almost Heavenly Miles”. As someone who often doesn’t care that much about the medal from a race, I do appreciate this nice touch of a truly unique keepsake from a truly unique race. I had also received a very nice gray, long-sleeved, technical shirt in the race packet.
There was not a true finishing chute at the finish line, so it took me a minute to find out which way to walk to the food provided after the race. They had a tent set up with tables and chairs to sit, which was nice to see. Twisted pretzels, pizza, soda, sports drinks and beer were offered to the finishers. I was feeling quite tired and a bit nauseous by this time, but I managed to take a few bites of a pretzel and chatted with a few of the other finishers in the tent before heading back to my hotel.
I would recommend this race to anyone looking for a fun, friendly, challenging event that also supports a great cause. Thank you to Morgantown Marathon and the Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitors’ Bureau for including me and making me feel so welcome. I hope to return to Morgantown soon.
Nicole Hart is a MTA running coach, Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Sports Conditioning Specialist, and Registered Nurse.
In addition to working with clients through MTA she is also a chapter leader of Moms Run This Town and volunteer coach for Girls on the Run.