Welcoming Spring With a Run Along the Kanawha River – Charleston, WV

There are some runs you simply must grind out. Those are the really hot runs of July and August, or the boring runs around office parks that you do simply to get the miles in, like I did last week in Charlotte (but hey, even a half mile loop around an office park is better than a treadmill). Those are the runs when you feel tired, uninspired and eager to do just about anything at all other than run. Yesterday’s run was patently not one of those. Yesterday was officially the first day of spring, and I celebrated it with a spectacular run along the Kanawha River in Charleston, WV where I am working this week.

I had been wanting to explore Charleston a bit and this run provided the perfect opportunity. I changed into my running clothes after work and walked from my hotel by Charleston’s convention center, over to a greenway which runs along the Kanawha River. The Kanawha flows through downtown Charleston and the greenway provided one of the more scenic runs I have done in quite some time.

I turned left at the river and within half a mile of beginning my six mile jaunt, I passed by the Southside Bridge. I had heard about this bridge because one of my boyhood heroes was Air Force Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager. Yeager is a West Virginia native and is probably most famous for being the first person to break the sound barrier in 1947. He was (and still is) also an all-around bad-ass extraordinaire – a WW II “ace-in-a-day” (which means he shot down 5 German planes in one day of combat) and a fearless test-pilot (see “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe**). One year after breaking the sound barrier, Yeager visited his family in nearby Hamlin. Following that, he flew over Charleston’s capital and, on a whim, “buzzed” the town and flew under the Southside Bridge at 500 mph, likely causing a few unsuspecting fishermen to need a change of pants that day. As I passed the bridge, I couldn’t help but think of Yeager and smile. (as an aside, the Charleston airport was re-named for Yeager some time back).

East of the bridge, I ran past the West Virginia Capital Building and grounds. This is truly an impressive and gorgeous, golden-domed structure which dominates Kanawha Street for nearly a quarter mile. As I continued along toward the east, the river on one side and dozens of stately Georgian manors, brick Four-squares and other historic homes on the other, I was in my element. This was an awesome run!

As if Charleston’s planners had laid out the greenway specifically with my six mile run in mind, the greenway ended at exactly three miles out. I turned around and was greeted by a stunning, burnt orange sun making it’s way down over the hills and trees to the west of town. Still enjoying the novelty of daylight at 6:30pm after a winter of 5pm sunsets, I decided to take a little extra time on the way back to run through the capital grounds. When I arrived, I was greeted at the southeast corner of the grounds by a statue of none other than Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, standing gallantly and casting a determined gaze southward across the Kanawha. Jackson was born in Virginia and was one of the South’s greatest field commanders. He died of friendly fire while on reconnoiter near dusk following the Confederate victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. His home county became part of West Virginia when that portion of Virginia separated to stay with the Union. Thus, the statue of a Confederate general on the grounds of a Union state capital.

On the north side of the grounds was a stirring soldier’s monument to West Virginians lost in the World Wars, Korea and Vietnam. Just south of that was a statue placed in hard-earned tribute to the gritty and determined West Virginia coal miner, whose plight has been an allegory for citizens of the state as a whole.

After leaving the Capital grounds, I ran at “recovery pace” (as if I had any other speed), for the last mile or so, taking in my favorite historic homes for a second time, enjoying majestic views of the river at sunset and delighting in the aroma of jasmine and the rapidly cooling early evening air. I quickly showered back at the hotel, dressed and, energized by the run and eager for more of that spring air, ambled back out to find something to eat. I stumbled across a little hidden gem of a sushi restaurant (yes, Charleston, WV has good sushi!), where I enjoyed a couple of great rolls and an ice-cold Kirin (aka, “recovery drink”). I was very happy.

All in all, the only thing that separated this evening from perfection was that Melissa couldn’t be there with me.

** Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff” is an homage to post-WW II test pilots of the U.S. Military who ultimately engaged in America’s first endeavors in space exploration – NASA’s Mercury Program. For a better read, in my opinion, check out Yeager’s aptly-titled autobiography, “Yeager”.

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