Catching up: Hatfield-McCoy Half Marathon Race Report

30 11 2013

Summer’s Grand Entrance for 2013, which started with a relaxing Memorial Day weekend followed by a Star Trek convention weekend, ended with the year’s first half-marathon.

The Hatfield-McCoy Marathon is an annual event which takes place on the Kentucky/West Virginia border as part of the annual Reunion Festival for the feuding families.  It is a well-attended and well-appointed race with no time limit that winds through much of the territory made famous by the notorious feud which occurred from 1863-1891.  It was a race for which I have never been less prepared but during which I probably had the most fun ever.

The race began in Kentucky in a supermarket parking lot where a modern-day Devil Anse and Ole Ran’l pair posed for photos with us runners before the start.

hatfield mc

The official website for the race describes the route quite well so I will copy some of  their words here:
 “The course takes the runner south on US 119 to Toler, Kentucky   …   From Toler the course will take the runner through the coal camps of Hardy   ...  Once through the Hardy area the course begins to travel through the heart of Feud Country; taking the runner past Randolph McCoy home place site and the graveyard where Tolber, Bud and Pharmer McCoy are buried along with sister Alifair and brother Calvin. Tolbert, Bud and Pharmer were tied to pawpaw trees and shot by the Hatfield’s for the Election Day stabbing and eventual death of Devil Anse Hatfield’s brother Ellison.  Alifair and Calvin were killed during the New Year’s Eve raid on the McCoy home. After passing these historic sites, the course continues a gradual incline until the foot of Blackberry Mountain. It’s a one mile climb to the top, but it’s downhill from there. At the foot of Blackberry Mountain the course passes Rev. Anderson Hatfield’s home site. It was at his residence the Hog Trial was held in 1878. This site is also very close to where the Election Day stabbing took place. Also at the foot of Blackberry Mountain the course turns left on route 1056, which runs along Blackberry Creek till it meets the Tug River at Buskirk, KY where the three McCoy’s were tied to the pawpaw bushes and shot. Runners will cross the bridge at Buskirk, KY into Historic Matewan, West Virginia site of the 1920 Matewan Massacre. A gunfight between miners and Baldwin-Felts agents brought in by coal companies to prevent union organization. Matewan is the finish line for the Half Marathon.”

The scenery was beautiful and, being so laden with feud history, it was breathtaking on many levels.  It was beyond wonderful to run and walk past all those locations while reflecting upon what took place there.  I had seen the movie on television and read about the families many years prior as well, so it was a very profound experience.

The course elevation was memorable too.  Elevationmap-948x446That enormous ascent up Blackberry Mountain between miles 6 and 7 was a definite character-builder.  Even though I hadn’t really trained well, I took it slow and didn’t suffer much from all the climbing.  I fell in step with another runner who turned out to be the sister of a former coworker and we chatted most of the way and took our time.  I also ran into a Hawaiian guy from the Marathon Maniacs who remembered me from the Pearl Harbor 5k in February.  What a small world!

The families who lived along the route were very welcoming and generous.  There were people who had their own refreshment tables out in addition to those that were official to the race.  We were offered watermelon and orange slices at one spot.  Another had miniature horses that runners could pet and photograph.  It was the most casual, friendly and enjoyable half-marathon I have done.  

By about Mile 10, my lack of training began to assert itself in the form of some fairly achy hips and the walk/run sprints I’d been employing up to that point turned to “mostly walking”.  But soon enough we crossed the border into Matewan, West Virginia and the race was done.  hatfield swagIt was an absolute pleasure, a half (or maybe even the full) I would most certainly do again someday if given the chance, and one I highly recommend to any runner — 50 stater or not.

And they had the BEST swag ever!  A moonshine jar, a towel, a bag, a tech shirt AND a medal?  You can’t ask for better.  The food at the reunion festival was pretty good too.

At the end of the half, buses took us back to the start area where cars were parked, and I headed back to Pikeville, KY where I spent another day.  My hips were fine by the following morning and I headed back home (a 9 hour drive) where life went back to “normal” in very short order.  Other than the Disco Dash on June 27, a 5k I did in Chicago with my cousins, this was pretty much my last outing of the summer.

Knowing I would be working almost every weekend, I had not planned a lot of racing but did intend to capitalize on the 13.1 mile effort as a training milestone.  A couple of weeks later I did a 9 mile run on a very hot day that went way too slow.  So on July 7, I sought to make up for that disappointment on a cooler morning with a 10 miler that I took way too fast.  The following day I could barely walk because of an Achilles tendonitis flare-up that was the worst I’d seen since the original injury eight years prior.

And so I limped until late September.  More later…

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