PARKERSBURG - It's the biggest sports event of the year in Parkersburg.
It's the highlight of Parkersburg Homecoming weekend.
It's the News and Sentinel Half Marathon, which has been conducted on annual basis since 1987. This 2012 race will take place on Saturday, Aug. 18, and like those in the past it is sure to attract more than 1,000 runners to the streets of Parkersburg. The 2011 race had nearly 1100 people register for the event. The Two-Mile Race attracted around 900 runners and walkers. The 13.1-mile race traditionally attracts an international field of world-class athletes. It recent years, it has been dominated by Kenyan men and Russian women. But it isn't just those who finish at the front of the pack who make up this race. It attracts more than its share of local participants, who are just happy to cross the finish line on Market Street. The majority of people in the race are from West Virginia and Ohio. The half marathon was the brainchild of Dorsey Cheuvront Jr., a Parkersburg South graduate and a running enthusiast who wanted to give something back to his community. What started out as little more than an idea in one man's head has grown into an international event that annually makes the list of best races in the United States. No community goes as all-out in its efforts to put on a race as does Parkersburg, which has earned a reputation far and wide for its hospitality. Many runners circle the Parkersburg race first on their annual racing calendar, then fill in the rest of the schedule. Why? Perhaps it's the water stops, one for each mile along the race course. And these aren't your average, run-of-the-mill water stops. Rather, each has its own theme, some of them extremely creative. Race organizers were wise to create a competition between the water stops. That competition is as fierce as the race itself. Then there's the race course. It's not for the faint of heart. It tests your will and your determination. And just when you think you've got it licked, you turn the corner on Avery Street to find yourself staring at the dreaded 13th Street Hill. The race begins on Juliana Street in front of the Town Square complex. It is given its sendoff with a special rendition of the National Anthem, played by musicians placed on various downtown rooftops. It's one of those things you have to witness for yourself and once you have, you want to see it again and again. After running through the historic Julia-Ann Square district, runners hit the flat of Murdoch Avenue, which they take to the Juliana Street Bridge. Crossing into south Parkersburg, runners are met by a steady uphill climb which quickly separates those who are prepared and those who aren't. The course continues along the rolling hills of Gihon Road and Rayon Drive, before flattening out once again along old Camden Avenue. Runners re-enter downtown Parkersburg by way of the Fifth Street Bridge. Once they've made it across the 13th Street Hill, it's downhill the rest of the way, including a long straight stretch on Market Street to the finish line. Approaching the finish line, runners hear their name blared out over the loudspeaker, not to mention the cheering of the considerable crowd that always congregates near the finish line, where runners can stand under a makeshift shower or replenish their body with liquids and fruit. Those who are fortunate enough to win will receive their awards at a ceremony conducted in the historic Smoot Theater, one of Parkersburg's most valued treasures. And no one leaves Parkersburg hungry, thanks to the Friday night pasta dinner and Saturday afternoon pizza luncheon. To put on the race, it takes three volunteers for every participant. That's approximately 3,000 local persons who are willing to give up part of their day in order to see that Parkersburg's guests are treated in a first-class manner. And that's why runners keep coming back, year after year.