Don't let the name fool you, this is not a trail half marathon, at least not in the sense of trail running. It is a half marathon run entirely on a bike trail, and I mean a recreational bike trail, not off road biking. With that said, I really enjoyed this half marathon, one of my favorites.
I don't really know how many half marathons I have run before, I don't keep track. I would suspect somewhere around 25 maybe?? I prefer the full where I have 39 under my belt. I was on a trip with the family to Washington D.C. and was looking for a full marathon somewhere in the area between DC and Wisconsin on the way home. I did find one in West Virginia (a state I do not have) and called them up only to find out that after 19 years, they decided not to have it this year. So I looked and found this gem, also in West Virginia, at the right time.
The price was right too. I paid ONLY $45 to enter, very cheap for a half marathon. But I did know in advance that there would be no medal at the finish line. No big deal for me, I actually think medals should be for the fulls anyways.
The race takes place in Morgantown, WV, in the northern part of the state and I enjoyed a very scenic ride in through the mountains. Very beautiful country, I only wish it wasn't pouring rain on the way in. The hotel I stayed in was only 2 blocks from the finish line and where the buses took you to the start.
I woke up on Saturday morning to find the weather beautiful. About 50 and sunny. I walked to the start area and was able to pick up my packet on race morning (Very nice feature), use a nice restroom (not a portolet) and board a bus for the 13 or so mile drive to the start line up the mountain somewhere. I was able to get to the start about a half hour before the gun, plenty of time. There was a long line near the start at the portolets so good thing I didn't need them. A little low on the numbers of these needed here, but didn't seem like a huge issue to me.
It was sunny and cool and the race started right on the Deckers Creek Bike Trail just a little down the way in a beautiful tree covered area. The path was not very wide so it was very crowded at the start line with 550 or so runners. They do have 2 waves though to help with the congestion. One at 8:30 with the other at 8:45. I was in the first wave due to the 1:45 time I submitted.
This race advertised itself as a downhill half marathon with hardly any uphill which surprised me being in the mountain area. How could they possibly find 13.1 miles of downhill with no uphill? And the course would drop over 800 feet too! Solution: use a trail that follows a river and hopefully the river won't go uphill! (joke!)
The race started on time and it was still cool and sunny but no need to worry about the sun and the trail was mostly tree covered for the first 10 miles. And since I knew it was a downhill race and I did see an elevation chart, I knew it was also a fast course. The first 10.4 miles are on crushed granite or limestone which made it soft with the final 2.7 paved. I took off a little faster that I wanted to and passed mile 1 at 7:38 but feeling great. I wanted to go 8:00 but the downhill had already begun. The nice thing about this downhill is that is is very gradual. It is hard to actually see to elevation change but your legs feel so much better and easier to run on. I used this to my advantage.
My best case scenario goal was to break 1:40, something I only did one time 20 years ago in the first half of my first full marathon. This meant an average pace of 7:36 so I tried to keep it near there to give myself a chance near the end to break it. The miles clipped off each one feeling easy for the first 10 miles. I took my short walk breaks through the water stations and still managed to do all miles sub 8:00. I would talk to a few of the other runners as we went along in the first 6 miles and then as some started slowing down some, I picked it up just a touch and began passing many runners. In all, I think I passed about 25 runner after mile 6 with only 3 passing me (including a guy who started 15 minutes after me, he ran a 1:20 though).
There was no crowd support along the trail but that was to be expected. Some closer to the finish line but the scenery was beautiful so no need for cheering on. The volunteers were good at the aid stations with both water and Gatorade and most stops which were just under 2 miles apart.
At 10.4 miles in, you leave the soft trail for a paved trail which initially made me feel faster but the downhill was over and now it was flat the rest of the way. But after going 10 miles downhill, it felt like an uphill. The trail was less tree covered so the sun beat on us more too. I was beginning to feel my pace suffer a bit so I had to concentrate more in the last 2 miles. My average pace was down to 7:34 so I knew I was under 1:40 at that time but knew I had to work it all the way to the finish. I kept finding someone ahead of me a just pushed until I caught them and then looked for the next. This helped.
With 1 mile to go, I knew I had it barring a major collapse but I maintained and finally saw the finish line crossing in 1:39:08, a new half marathon PR for me. Like I said earlier, no medal at the finish line but that was OK with me. I ended up in 85th place overall out of 563 finishers.
The post race party was pretty good. Lots of food for runner including the usual water, Gatorade, bananas, cookies, etc, but also pizza too. And in the amphitheater area, a bluegrass band playing tunes to keep festivities going. An above average post race area for sure.
The next day I learned that the race was truly more downhill that I thought or it felt like. My quad took a beating and I was a bit for 2 days where I usually feel just fine the next day. Like I said, it was an 800 foot elevation drop for 10 miles so the beating did happen. But it was worth it.
In the end, I really liked this race. Great price, nice cotton short sleeve shirt (I have too many technicals so cotton is great for me), great course, good competition, nice post race spread, and close lodging. This all out ways the crowded start and no medal. I would definitely come back to the race if I am ever in the area though it is unlikely living over 600 miles away. If you are in the area looking for a nice half marathon, I give it my thumbs up.
Keep on Running!!!