Words cannot express how I feel about my experience this past weekend and we ALL know I’m not one to not have PLENTY of words to say. What all started as atombuddy wanting to run with his West Virginia Loop friends, ended as a group of runners and their families forming lifetime friendships over our shared love of running.
To be honest, I had no idea what to expect from this weekend. I traveled with Kylee 400 miles to West Virginia with thoughts in the back of my mind wondering what most people would have to say about this adventure. At face value, it sounds like a REALLY bad idea, driving 400 miles away from home to spend the weekend with several people I have never met, but somehow each and every one of you felt like my friends already. I had no doubts that everything would be okay.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the overwhelming sense of family and love that surrounded us all. It felt nothing like a meeting of strangers, but more like the gathering of old friends and family. There were hugs, smiles, laughter and an ENORMOUS amount of food and good down home hospitality. I couldn’t have felt more at ease and relaxed.
From lunch with JB, RC and SFS to getting to run with SFS’s running group to Pizza Night with the SFS and Cochran Family, my first day in WV definitely lived up to the state’s motto of “Wild and Hor. . oh, sorry Wonderful.” After a few Yuenglings and some chatting I enjoyed a good night’s sleep.
Saturday it was off to pick up packets and meet the rest of the group. There were lots more hugs and hellos. This was the first time I had ever ran in an event with so many people that I knew. It’s funny I had to travel far from home to do it, but it was comforting to know I had a huge support group and oddly enough it still hadn’t hit me that I was running a marathon the next day. I was SO calm and relaxed and enjoying the people around me.
The party at SFS’s house was simply amazing! From the wonderful spread that Missy had put together for us all to all the chatting and storytelling among friends. There was a group run and a pep talk like none other from Senior Runner. I’ll tell you one thing, he is one amazing man. I’m not one to remain quiet for long but, when he spoke I just wanted to take it all in. I truly hope I can be half as amazing as him someday.
There were a few times when I just sat back and looked around the room. From Alice’s 1000 watt smile, Bangle and SFS talking trash, Senior and AB chatting it up, and JB sharing his running knowledge in between snapping photos. It was like we had known each other FOREVER. It was sad as the party drew to a close and everyone split to eat their pre race dinners and get some rest. The house seemed quiet and empty, but we carbed up and got to sleep fairly quickly as well. With all of my race gear laid out, I still wasn’t feeling my normal pre race nerves. I was oddly relaxed and slept well.
Race day morning, Nutella on half a bagel and a bottle of water, I was ready to go. In a little race of our own against the clock, SFS got our blood flowing a bit, playing speed racer en route to the race. I barely recognized the signs for the Omelet Shoppe or the Jolly Pirate Donuts as we flew at warp speed toward campus. Maybe it was the speedy drive or maybe it was finally some marathon day nerves setting in, but I was starting to become quite aware of the task at hand. . . 26.2 miles – that’s a long way to run.
Lara and I took a quick potty break and met up with the rest of the group at the start. It was a chilly morning, but there I was a crazy chick from Michigan, wearing shorts, a tank, and arm warmers. It is my lucky racing outfit, so I was going to run with it, 26 degrees at the start or not. I cannot stress how wonderful it was to have a fairly large group of people I knew to start the race with. It was so comforting to know I wasn’t at all alone out there. After exchanging of good lucks we were off to line up.
I took my place right between the 8 min/9 min pace signs and what do you know, so did Atombuddy and Senior Runner. What a pleasure it was to start the race with both of them! Again I was totally at ease. Was I really running a marathon? Gun goes off and going under the Marshall “Bridge” (crosswalk?), I realize there was no start mat, so I started up old Garmin. We were off and running. . . and I was wearing an “Alice-sized” grin on my face. I love racing!
I got so wrapped up in my surroundings and how beautiful the mountains in the distance were that miles 1- 6 of the race I had to remind myself that I was running a marathon. The fog over the river was breathtaking. The town was quaint and fun to run through. There is nothing better than seeing the sights on foot. My splits for these miles (8:46, 8:30, 8:41, 8:39, 8:38, 8:27).
Miles 7- 13 – Somewhere along this point, I ran with WK and Jim (sfs’s running buddies) for a while. I was feeling pretty good here and enjoying the park to my right and some beautiful homes to my right. If I remember right, some of the miles of this stretch were ran through Ritter Park, right after WK split from us to finish the half. He said, “This is where I say, I’m glad I’m not you.” Hmmm. . . Me too! I was glad I got to run through the park and keep going. I was having a blast! Gosh, did I mention how beautiful WV is? Imagine leaves so pretty just falling off the trees and sprinkling your path. Splits for these miles (8:38, 8:43, 8:35, 8:27, 8:32, 8:36, 8:32).
Miles 14- 20 – This was the “lonely” stretch. It seemed like a very LONG out and back. It was here, like Erhead and JB, I focused on my running, my stride, my breathing. This was the part of the course that I had to dig deep and focus. I spent a lot of it “chasing” the person in front of me. Slowly, but surely reeling in one person after another. Each time I was able to pass someone I felt like Pac Man eating a power pellet. I gained some strength, knowing that I was still running strong and running my race. My splits here (8:44, 8:39, 8:39, 8:45, 8:43, 8:42, 8:59)
The last 10K – All heart here! I was starting to experience some calf cramping in my left calf, but I hadn’t stopped all day and I wasn’t about to stop now. So close to the end, yet so far. I started to concentrate on maintaining a relaxed form and not about how my calf was cramping. I shook my arms out and dug deep. Soon enough I was running through campus on my way toward the stadium. Trying to hang on for sub 9 min/mi was starting to get difficult. A little after mile 25 or so, I saw SFS waiting for me to run me in. He seemed a bit shocked to see me and started running along with me. I remember telling him, “Talk to me! Tell me about your race!” I just needed a distraction from my left leg. He let me go as I entered the stadium yelling, “Where’s my football!” Though my cries for the football were drowned out by the Loop cheering squad and Lara doing her XC mom thing running right along side me. I felt on top of the world. It was amazing to have that much support so far from home! So many emotions. . . Last splits (8:54, 9:10, 9:14, 9:01, 9:09, 8:50, 8:13-last .2) Final time – 3:49:38, avg pace 8:46.
The Post – Race festivities continued on in style at Gdionelli’s house, with a feast fit for a king or a bunch of hungry runners. We had a sing-a-long with Senior Runner and shared some more laughs and stories. There were hugs all around and some more laughs, as we shared our own Marshall race experiences. A great time, I never wanted to end.
I can’t say enough about what a truly amazing group of people you all are. To be able to experience the Loop Love come to life was simply breathtaking. We share so much of ourselves through our love of running and it really does bring us together on so many levels. It was my pleasure to get the opportunity to share this experience with all of you and I know the memories from this weekend will keep me smiling for many years to come.