Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Running Through (Almost) Heaven

When I was growing up in West Virginia, the summers were idyllic. My brother and I spent hours playing in the woods behind my grandparents' home with the neighbor kids or at the community pool. Summer was lazy and hot and perfect. Who knew I could resurrect the way those summers felt by running 13.1 miles in the beautiful WV mountains?

Last weekend we had a quick weekend in West Virginia visiting my parents, and I snuck in a quick half marathon too. I've been eyeing the Deckers Creek Trail Half Marathon for a few years, and it just never worked in our schedule. This year I made a point to register early, and we headed down for less than 48 hours for a quick visit and run.

The race actually starts relatively late (I was in the first wave at 8:30), so it was odd to get up and take my time in the morning. I was up with the baby at 4 am and then tossed fitfully for the next hour or so. I walked out onto my parents' deck at 6 am with a cup of coffee, and it smelled like the summers of my childhood: humid, hot, fresh. I knew it was going to be a great day.

I stopped on the way to the race for a second cup of coffee (parent of a six month old problem), and I easily parked at the Wharf District. When I was finishing law school in Morgantown in 2003, the Wharf District was relatively new. Now it is a little cluster of some great restaurants right on the Mon River Trail. It is home to Hazel Ruby McQuain Riverfront Park in downtown Morgantown where packet pick-up occurred.

It was such a beautiful morning, and I felt emotional as I walked on the trail to pick up my packet. It was foggy, and the fog embraced the top of the trees daring the sun to take it on. I love Morgantown so much, and I honestly could not have had a conversation with someone at that moment for the tears stuck in my throat.   

I rarely appreciate a non-tech shirt, but I love the cotton t-shirt with my home state on the front. I have a new favorite shirt for sleeping. I easily grabbed my race bib and shirt and dropped them in the car before boarding the bus to the start.  The race began in Masontown, WV in Preston County and ran into downtown Morgantown.

Despite having grown up in northern WV, I'd never been to Masontown. The ride there in a school bus felt much like field trips or football games growing up: twisty two-lane roads up steep hills surrounded by trees. It was gorgeous.

I was in the first of two waves at 8:30, and I exited the bus right into the bathroom line. If I have a criticism of the race (and let's be honest no race is perfect) it is that they needed more bathrooms. I also quickly discovered I was behind a number of runners who were in the second wave at 8:45, so it was frustrating to wait while my start was 15 minutes sooner. I got in line at 8:05 and was still in line at 8:20. I finally asked some runners in the second wave if I could skip them, and thankfully they were cool with it.

The start was 1/3 mile down the trail, and you couldn't see it from the bus drop off. I walked/jogged down to the start where a throng of people were nestled on the narrow trail. The Deckers Creek Trail is part of a 48 mile trail network that joins the Mon River and Caperton Trails at various points. My parents used to live near the north end of the Mon River Trail, and last summer they moved closer to the Deckers Creek Trail in Sabraton (an unincorporated Morgantown suburb). I am familiar with the downtown portions of the trail but had never been to the Masontown trail head.

It was hard to know where to position myself in the crowd, and I inched forward without getting too close to the front. There may have been pre-race announcements, but I couldn't hear them. The gun went off right on time, and we were on our way.

This was my 16th half marathon, and it was unequivocally the most beautiful. It had rained earlier in the morning, and the trail (unpaved packed limestone) was encompassed by a stunning canopy of lush green trees and foliage. Despite my concern that the race would be crowded, runners quickly dispersed leaving me to enjoy the stunning scenery on my own.

It was so quiet and peaceful. Deckers Creek ran alongside the trail, and in some parts I could see the rocks at the bottom of the crystal clear water. I was reminded of playing in the creek at my grandparents' when I was a kid. As the race grew more humid, I daydreamed about jumping into the water.  At times an imperceptible breeze would shake the tree canopy sprinkling us with fat drops of water, a welcome respite from the humidity.

I could smell honeysuckle and lilac. I am quite certain I smiled the entire way. The trail loses about 800 feet of elevation on the course, and I felt light, happy and in love. There were very few spectators, but there were always runners nearby so I felt support. The volunteers at the water stops were cheerful and boisterous. I found myself getting back to what I love most about running: being in the moment, thanking volunteers, feeling so, so grateful that I am able to do something I love so much. For the first time since my hospital stay last summer I felt like myself, and it turns out that feels incredible.

The first 10.4 miles of the trail were limestone, and as we headed into Sabraton for the last few miles it was paved. Often when I get to around the 11th mile of a half marathon I feel the struggle, but I felt amazing. I had a smile on my face the entire time. 

The race was perfectly marked at each mile, and at mile 13 I heard and saw the finish. I sprinted - hard. I set my half marathon PR in the Kalamazoo half last year at 1:58:12. At that time I had only broken two hours twice (both times within a month). I saw the finishing clock, and the tears in my throat were back. I crossed the finish line in 1:53:10, five minutes off my PR. I stopped, put my hands on my knees and choked up. For 113 minutes everything was right with the world. I was so happy to have pushed myself, but I was even happier to have been so smitten and happy during that time. 

My husband, son and mom were there to greet me at the end, and I was all smiles to see them. The only thing better than running the race of my life was having them there to share it.

My little family after the race

With my mom facing the riverfront park

Baby's first half marathon!

I could not more highly recommend this race. I rarely say I'll do a race more than once (if I have to travel) even if I like it...there are too many races to run. I may just have to put a recurring appointment on my calendar for this one. Running is a fickle mistress, and that day she was on her best behavior, reminding me why I fell in love with her in the first place.        


  1. Sounds like a beautiful run!! It is so great when everything comes together for the perfect day. Thanks for the report.

    1. It was great - would highly recommend!