Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hatfield and McCoy Marathon, by Bobby Aswell

A Little Feudin, A Lot Of Runnin! - The Hatfield and McCoy Marathon
by Bobby Aswell

When fellow DARTer Mike MacIntyre asked me about running the Hatfield & McCoy Marathon this year, I told him I’d consider it and get back to him.  My calendar was clear and the race reviews were excellent so I was in!  For only $50, runners receive dinner and a movie (a pasta dinner with live entertainment reenacting the Hatfield & McCoy feud), a t-shirt, a finisher’s medal, the joy of running a marathon, and a post-race barbeque lunch!  What a deal!

Friday evening Mike and I arrived in downtown Williamson, WV, checked into the Sycamore Inn, and then proceeded to Belfry High School for packet pick-up and pasta dinner.  Packet pick-up was outside the cafeteria so we quickly picked up our race numbers, t-shirts, and goody bags.  To keep with the tradition of the feud, the field is divided into two teams: Hatfields and McCoys.   Per our race confirmations, Mike and I were both Hatfields and received a white t-shirt with red logo.  Our arch enemies, the McCoys, received the same white t-shirt but with a blue logo.

After grabbing our packets, we proceeded into the cafeteria for the pasta dinner which included spaghetti with or without meat sauce, salad, dinner rolls, choice of cake, and a variety of drinks including soda and water.  Looking for a seat, I saw Bill Shires sitting at a table so Mike and I wandered over and sat with him.  I was somewhat surprised to see Bill there as I heard a rumor that he might show up but wasn’t sure.  During dinner, we were entertained with a skit of the Hatfield & McCoy feud.  It was very entertaining detailing the history of the feud from beginning to present day.  After eating, Mike and I headed back to the Sycamore Inn to get ready for race morning and called it a night.

Course map in the middle of feud country 
Race morning arrived and we were ready to go.  With a 7:00 am start, we boarded a mini school bus around 6:10 am for the 1 ½ mile ride to the start area at Food City.  When we arrived, the parking lot was full of runners roaming around waiting for the race to start.

After a last minute stop in the porta-jon, I dropped off my bag and headed over to the start line where I saw Bill Shires.  It was almost race time and we were chatting when all of a sudden, a pistol was fired and someone yelled go!  No countdown, no warning, just go!  We were both surprised but started running (a few seconds later, we heard the shotgun blast that was supposed to start the race).

A challenging course, it’s described as rolling with an elevation profile that looks like a saw blade with a huge tooth from mile 6 to 8.  Per the race website, the ‘elevation change is significant’ and the ‘chart may tend to underemphasize total elevation change’.  Boy, is that an understatement!  The hill at mile 23 doesn’t even appear on the chart!  Contrary to the race website, the second half seemed much more difficult than the first half.  And, like the race website indicates, I would agree that for most runners, “this isn’t a Boston qualifier!”

The course terrain varies from mostly paved roads in the first half to dirt roads, golf cart paths, a swinging bridge, and pavement the second half.  I really didn’t care for running on the dirt road as it was more like a wide path cut through the woods or the golf cart path as it was mostly short rolling hills.  However, I really enjoyed running over the swinging bridge at mile 18.5 as it was a very unique experience.

The finish line experience of this race is incredible!  It was definitely one of the most unique and memorable finish line experiences I’ve ever experienced.  As you near the finish area, you notice two shotgun carrying hillbillies, a Hatfield and a McCoy, guarding the finish line.  As I got a few steps from the finish, they both smiled and greeted me with high-fives as I crossed the line!  I couldn’t help but smile and will remember that experience for a long time.

In the middle of a Hatfield and McCoy with my mason jar in hand!
After finishing, runners are greeted with a multitude of volunteers doing everything from making sure you are OK to handing you a cold towel to placing the finisher’s medal around your neck to handing you something to drink.  It was very nice to have that much attention after battling the heat and hills of Kentucky and West Virginia!

One more unique aspect of the race is the finisher awards.  In addition to the awesome medal, runners are presented with an authentic mason jar containing a wooden plaque with their finisher place engraved on it!  And, to top it off, if you’re lucky enough to win an overall or age group award, you win an emblem for the top to the jar showing your overall or age group placement, a very nice touch!

Going into the race, my goal was to enjoy the experience and get another long run in for Pikes Peak in August.  I ran steady and had a good run finishing in 3:14:07, good enough for 4th Overall and 1st in my age group.

Mike finished the marathon in 6:44:06 thus completing his 3rd state on his quest to at least 10 different states.  Commenting on the race, he added that he liked:  seeing the art on the protective levees around Williamson and Matewan, the mason jar, the history, the really good BBQ sandwich, the bridge, and added that Dave Hatfield was great.  He also added that he did not like: the horrible trail before the golf course, or, that later in the day, there was a lot of fast traffic along the route with no lane closures.  And, I know from first hand experience that neither of us really liked the drive on Highway 52 to the race site.

Mike all smiles after finishing!
All in all, the hills of Kentucky and West Virginia, along with the brutal heat and humidity, made this a tough race.  However, the organization of the race, the history of the area, the finish line experience, and several other unique touches make this a very memorable marathon that I’d consider running again.

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