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1 day in August

Race much bigger than sum of its parts

A road race is really at its core, a giant math problem. A whole industry exists to keep track of how much time it takes a runner to complete a race.

It works like this: There is a radio frequency identification tag attached to the back of your race number. When you cross the starting line, you pass over an antenna that registers you have started the race and starts your time in a computer. People who toe the line before the race repeatedly register, so it is the last time you cross the mat that counts.

When you cross the finish line another set of mats registers you have finished the race, stops your time and records it to the nearest hundredth of a second. About a block before you finish, you cross another mat. This mat is hooked to a computer that displays your name. Announcer Randy Kinsolving is normally sitting near the finish line reading names into a public address system as quickly as he can so you hear your own name as you cross the finish line. He tries to read as many as he can, but when it gets congested it can be a challenge. By the end of both races, he can easily read, and pronounce more than 1,500 names. A fourth mat sits in the middle of the road near the halfway mark on the southside, this records the split for the half marathon, it also makes sure that every racer completes this part of the race. Time is an important part of every race. There are other numbers just as important.

Like the number or racers. The half marathon has had anywhere from 400 to just under 1,000 people finish in each year for the last 20 years. It grew steadily since 2002 before leveling out at around 1,000 in recent years and dropping to around 800 in the last years before the pandemic.

The two-mile race has grown steadily and had more people compete in it than the half marathon in 2019.

The race number you wear is important as well. It is unique to you. Each requires safety pins to keep them from falling off. We ran out of pins the first year we sponsored the races. I had to staple the race number to some people’s shirts. They were not happy and I vowed to never run out of pins again.

I never have. It is one of the first jobs of the race interns. They have to count out four pins and put them in a sandwich bag and seal the top of the bag. They normally start complaining about bag 600, their thumb is normally raw by bag 1,500.

Before racing, runners and walkers will consume some 300 pounds of pasta at the dinner the night before. The pasta is covered with 90 cans of Marinara sauce that is mixed with 150 pounds of ground beef. They will eat around 140 pounds of salad. They will also consume some 720 pounds of bananas, 300 apples, 165 pounds of plums and 30 gallons of ice cream, not to mention 95 loaves of bread. After the race they will return for lunch where they will put away around 200 pizzas and hundreds of cups of soda.

While racing, they will pass by around 15 water stops that use hundreds of gallons of water delivered by the West Virginia National Guard. They will also go through a skid full of Gatorade. All this liquid is served in cups that are either donated by Gatorade, or provided by Burger King, which has donated thousands of cups over the years. We plan for three cups per person for each water stop. One for Gatorade, one for water, and one to pour on your head if the temperature is really high. This means that there is a potential to use 45,000 cups. That is enough to give everyone in Parkersburg a drink at the same time.

Unopened sleeves of cups are carefully stored for the next year, as are all unused supplies. Unused food is donated to area shelters as soon as the races are over.

All these supplies are used by volunteers. We normally have around 1,000 volunteers who each get a t-shirt for their efforts. We make every effort to get them a shirt that fits them by race day. They range from a child-small, to a 5X, with the goal being that on race morning we present ourselves as a unified group of helpers.

In addition to the volunteers, the race is also supported by a large number of first responders and city employees. They are there to keep the race safe. This includes blocking the road behind the race with giant trucks and blocking the intersections downtown with dump trucks. You will see Parkersburg Police officers, Wood County Sheriff’s deputies and West Virginia State Police throughout the course helping to keep the race safe. You will also see around 15 people riding bikes through the race to help the runners if needed.

The race is of course, not about numbers, it is about people. The runners, the walkers, the volunteers and the first responders all come together on the third Saturday in August to stage what really is a special morning.

Here is a number for you 8.20.22. 8 a.m. Mark it on your calendar. Come be part of something bigger than a single person, come be part of something special in Parkersburg.

Art Smith is co-director the News and Sentinel races and is online manager for The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. He can be reached at asmith@newsandsentinel.com. His column about the races appears each weekend.

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