The lines from a George Jones song released 50 years ago are so appropriate today: "The race is on and here comes pride up the backstretch.''
The race is certainly on today as Parkersburg conducts its half marathon for the 28th consecutive year. It's not only the biggest event of the annual Homecoming weekend, but it also is a world-class race that not only attracts an international field but also will crown the national half marathon champions of the Road Runners Club of America.
Perhaps more than any other event of the weekend, the race truly is a homecoming as most of those competing are repeat visitors. If we've heard it once we've heard it 100 times, "once you run here, you're hooked.''
Why? Because while any community can put on a race, none goes as all-out as does Parkersburg. Those who arrive on Friday not only can attend the Runners Expo but also are treated to a pasta dinner. If they desire, they also can take in the homecoming entertainment and other festivities that go with the annual celebration.
Saturday is race day. It begins on Juliana Street, with the traditional playing of the national anthem and the unfurling of a huge American flag.
Once Mayor Bob Newell fires the starting pistol, approximately 1,000 half marathon participants begin their long journey through the streets of Parkersburg. At every mile along the route, they will encounter a water stop. These aren't just tables where volunteers hand out water. Rather, the water stops are in competition with one another to see who can create the best theme and show the most enthusiasm. Those who man the water stops are among the many residents who volunteer their time and effort to ensure our guests have a first-class experience. Obviously, by the amount of repeat business the race gets, they're succeeding.
Shortly after the half marathon begins, it's time for the Two Mile Race for those who can't or don't want to run 13-plus miles. The race attracts cross country runners getting ready for the upcoming season, plus those of all ages and sizes. Some make it a competition. Others treat it as a leisurely stroll, often with their family. You might see a parent pushing a stroller.
After the races are completed, it's time to hand out awards. The Two Mile ceremony takes place at Bicentennial Park while the half marathon awards are presented at the historic Smoot Theater.
Before the half marathon awards ceremony, participants are treated to a pizza luncheon.
After a long day on Saturday, many of those who volunteer -especially the members of the River City Runners Club -are back at it on Sunday when Stadium Field serves as the site of the Tiny Tot Trot and Junior Races for those ages 1 through 11.
It takes a village to put on a world-class event and you would be hard pressed to find any village that tops the effort made by Parkersburg, where pride is indeed coming up the backstretch.
Contact Dave Poe at firstname.lastname@example.org