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The Charleston Distance Run

By Jeff Morris

Scenic and challenging are words often used to describe the Charleston Distance Run. America's 15-miler also can be grueling on a hot, humid day.

Many who have negotiated the course's mix of flats and hills felt as spent when they crossed the finish line as if they ran a tough marathon. It's a test that has attracted such running greats as Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers and Greta Waitz.

The Start; First Three Miles

Beauty is there from the very start. The race begins on Kanawha Boulevard next to the majestic, golden dome of the West Virginia Capitol and the Kanawha River. Runners have quite the view as they head down the Boulevard for the first mile.

Making a quick, right-hand turn on Clendenin Street and then another right on Virginia Street, runners roll through the first two-and-a-half miles on flat downtown streets past some of the city's landmark buildings such as City Hall and the Kanawha County Courthouse.

The first hint of the inclines ahead in South Hills' neighborhoods comes when runners turn right onto the South Side Bridge and make the gradual climb up the bridge deck. Turning right at the end of the bridge, the course heads down Ferry Street, where the three-mile mark gives competitors a checkpoint to measure whether they are on pace or went out a bit too aggressively.

Capital Punishment Hill; Miles 4 to 8

At the end of Ferry Street, the route turns right onto Thayer Street and then left onto MacCorkle Avenue as the most challenging part of the course awaits - Capital Punishment Hill. Turning left onto Corridor G, runners begin the one-mile climb up U.S. 119. With an elevation gain of 600 feet, this monster challenges the legs and lungs of even the most experienced racers.

Relief for weary legs is brief as runners crest Capital Punishment Hill and make a left onto Oakwood Road. The terrain rolls on Oakwood past the five-mile mark and up a short, steep hill at the four-way intersection that leads to George Washington High School. Runners must dig down deep to go up this short, steep grade and bear left as they head toward Bridge Road, where they encounter the last significant grade on the course.

This section of the course past the crest of the Bridge Road hill is where competitors can really make up ground and time they lost on some of those punishing hills. After making the left-hand turn onto Loudon Heights Road, runners can really motor along in miles six through eight. Shade from the canopy of trees offers respite, and the sharp descent down Loudon Heights produces a fast and furious pace.

A right-hand turn at the bottom of Loudon Heights Road puts runners on the South Side Bridge and past the eight-mile mark midway on the bridge. Spectators flanking the bridge cheer competitors on as they cross the bridge and turn right onto Virginia Street.

Getting Into A Rhythm; Miles 9 to 13

Heading past historic, stately East End homes, runners approach a key point in the race. With seven miles of now flat running ahead, it's time to gather wobbly legs from the hills, get the stride in a rhythm and settle into a pace.

Mile nine passes on Virginia Street. The course then crosses Greenbrier Street and through the Capitol Complex, a scenic path that takes participants by the Governor's Mansion, Veterans Memorial and Capitol memorial bell and fountain.

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Leaving the Capitol Complex, the course crosses California Avenue and heads straight on Washington Street East. Runners hit the 10-mile mark just before the right turn onto Chesapeake Avenue, a short street that links to Kanawha Boulevard. A right turn onto Kanawha Boulevard and the route continues for a long, two-and-half-mile stretch that requires focus to maintain pace as race conditions and the morning sun start to heat up.

Traveling back past the Capitol and into downtown, runners pass miles 11 and 12 on the Boulevard and turn right onto Clendenin Street. On Clendenin, the course passes many city landmarks, including the Charleston Civic Center and Charleston Town Center, as it cuts across Virginia, Quarrier, Washington and Lee streets.

Mile 13 on Clendenin Street, near the intersection with Lee Street, is "gut check" -- time to see how much is in the tank for the final two-mile push. The course goes straight ahead and Clendenin bears right onto Donnally Street past the Martin Luther King Community Center.

Heading For Home; Mile 14, Finish

As runners make the sharp left onto Court Street, they start to smell home, but first they must make the climb on tired legs up the Court Street Dip, a short, steep incline. Green's Feed and Seed is straight ahead as the route turns right onto Piedmont Road.

Piedmont Road, where mile 14 passes, is where runners can hunt or be hunted. On this stretch, opportunistic competitors can gain places as those in the field start to fade. The course bears right on Morris Street and then takes a left on Hansford Street, entering the Warehouse District.

The Warehouse District has a slight incline that requires focus as runners approach the finish at University of Charleston Stadium's Laidley Field. As the sound of the announcer calls out the names, runners enter the stadium gates and make their way onto the track. The final 300 yards provides one last chance to catch someone in front or hold off others charging from behind. It is also a time to savor the accomplishment of completing America's 15-miler.

For runners who see that electronic clock and cross the Laidley Field finish line, the course lives up to its billing as scenic, challenging, and grueling in humid weather. But the smiles on those faces indicate finishers would add one more description of the Charleston Distance Run - absolutely wonderful.

15K Course Map

5K Course Map

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