55 county bucket list

By: Jim Woolfitt


Like many of my ideas, I did not come up with the goal of running a race in every West Virginia county on my own. Credit for this comes from two runners from Charleston who were at the Fairmont Early Bird 10K in either 1985 or 1986. (This race was only held those 2 years.) I had met them before but I don’t remember the details. (I had not run any races in or near Charleston at that time.) Anyway, I was curious as to why they were in Fairmont & I found out.


So, I adopted this idea of doing all 55 counties for myself. I retroactively went back to 1982, my first year of running, to start my list. I now have 50 counties under “my belt” (or is it under my shoes?) having added Grant County this year. I’ve gone as many as 4 years without adding a county. I added 6 counties in 1983, my first full year of running.


This goal has helped keep me motivated for 31 years. It’s cheaper than trying to a race in all 50 states. I freely admit I like being a “big fish in a small pond”. For example, I was 4th overall out of 23 runners at the 2011 Clay County Golden Delicious Dash (5K).


 There are disadvantages to running some of these races “off the beaten path”. At the Grant County race, a 10K, I found myself in the last 2 or so miles with no one to work with - no one to chase & no one pushing me.  Running in the 11 mile Bobby Hampton Memorial in Boone County in 2010, I had trouble finding the course with about 2 miles to go. They had painted dark red arrows on fresh blacktop. My transition glasses had “transitioned” to very dark on this sunny day. I waited for 2 or 3 minutes until another runner came by. I followed him to the finish.


The smaller races are more personal, however. With another activity or 2 going on at the finish line area for the Boone county race, I wasn’t sure where the post race refreshments were taking place. Being in a hurry, I started to leave when a small boy ran up to my car with a cold bottle of water. That likely won’t happen (someone bringing water to my car) at a bigger race.


I have been asked if I’m doing all 55 in one year. No way! At this point, I may do only one a year so I may have something to look forward to in the future.


I was asked once if I’ve kept souvenir shirts from all the counties. This is something I never thought to do. At least 2 counties – Pocahontas & Hancock – did not offer souvenir shirts. The Cass Festival 10K (Pocahontas) did offer Cass Scenic Railroad caps. (I did not get a complimentary ride on the train. I naively assumed this might be part of the swag.) The Hancock race was inexpensive. The race director mailed me a medal – I won my age group as I remember. The biggest “story” was that I ran our local Fairview 5K one July 4th morning  & then drove to Chester, WV, for their 5K (Hancock County) which started at noon. I ran both races in identical times of 23:21! This was “way back” in 2007. (I’ve written about the Fairview 5K in a blog titled “WV’s oldest short race.)


Finding out about races in different counties was a bit of a challenge prior to 1998 when I discovered the internet. Some of the state’s larger newspapers published race schedules. If we happened to be traveling, I would even look in convenience stores for race announcements. I thought I saw a notice for a race once in a rural store. It stated: “no guns, no knives, and no attitudes”. I thought they must take running seriously in this town! I finally realized it was an announcement for a poker run, (i.e. motorcyclists), not a 5K run.


Borrowing a phrase from the local hash house harriers, there are “no rules” to counting these counties. I have some personal guidelines but I will not try to impose these on other runners. For instance, I’m temporarily counting both Mercer & Summer Counties having run the Pipestem 10K. (I’m told that race meandered through both counties.) Eventually, I plan to return to both Summers & Mercer counties & run separate races in each county.


I have also run races in 14 other states and in Washington, DC. I have been to England twice but never managed to get into a race either time.


Currently, I’m keeping an eye on TriStateRacer’s online calendar for races in McDowell & Lincoln Counties. I may eventually have to organize races in these 2 counties.


Country singer Marty Stuart has not run a race in every county in Mississippi but he does claim to have performed in every county in his home state.


As is my habit, I’ll end this blog with a link to a song. I think the Hazel Dickens song, “West Virginia My Home”, is appropriate. This version is by the West Virginia based bluegrass band, the Hillbilly Gypsies. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StRcNK6M_9s&list=PLBECD78B11450E0F3&feature=mh_lolz




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