Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A new low for race bananas - Hatfield McCoy Marathon 2014 Race Recap

The Hatfield McCoy Marathon has been on my radar for several years so I was super excited about it finally being on my schedule for 2014! This race starts in KY and ends in WV, so it can be counted as either state.  Since I have already done WV with the Marshall University Marathon back in 2012, this would be my KY race.  I arrived in Charleston, WV, pretty early Friday morning and had lots of time to kill before I could check into my hotel in Williamson, WV, so I decided to take a 90 minute drive southeast to see the New River Gorge Bridge.  The drive was absolutely gorgeous.  I passed at least two waterfalls (my favorite)!  Part of the drive was along a very windy road up a mountain which I successfully navigated by driving about 5 mph. 

The New River
The New River Gorge Bridge.

None of the viewpoints for the bridge were very good, but whatever.  Before making the long drive to WillIamson, I stopped for a few soft pretzels which I guess is now my new "thing" that I do the day before a marathon.  These weren't so yummy and they were kinda tough.  But what should I have expected after the girl took them out of the freezer and popped them in the microwave?  And not 5 minutes out of the parking lot I saw a Sheetz, which has pretty tasty soft pretzels.  Oh wellz.

After the nearly 2.5 hour drive to Williamson, I checked into my hotel and promptly headed to the expo to pick up my stuff.  I met up with Michael and Gerald and we eventually made our way to the 50 States Marathon Club meeting and then the free pasta dinner.  This was very brave of us considering what happened the last time everyone indulged in a free pasta dinner the night before a race.  After eating my tablespoon of pasta (seriously, they gave you the tiniest portion of pasta) I was surprisingly still hungry so we headed out to find more food.  Restaurants in the area included McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Long John Silver, Arby's, etc.  So pretty much every fast food place you can imagine.  Not good choices for someone that does not eat any food that comes from an animal.  We stopped in Wendy's so I could get a couple of baked potatoes, but of course they didn't have any made!  I mean why would they?  It's only the healthiest thing on their menu.  The cashier got a kick out of my dietary choices and chatted me up about the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan.  It took me a while to notice, but he had not a single tooth in his upper gums, and he had this moustache that just sort of framed it.  I ended up with two 7-layer burritos (made into 4-layer burritos) from Taco Bell.  This would probably not be considered proper (or wise) pre-marathon food but my choices were very limited.  Hopefully there would be plenty of port-o-potties on the course if needed.  After eating our Taco Bell, we headed back to Belfry High School to meet the RD and watch the Hatfield McCoy skit.

I still have no idea why the Hatfields and McCoys didn't like each other.
Still not a clue.

Back at the hotel I got all my stuff ready for the following day and tried frantically to connect to the interwebs.  My hotel apparently had wireless internet but I couldn't connect to it 95% of the time in my roomI could MAYBE get 4G if I sat on the very edge of my bed in one little corner in my room.  Seriously not exaggerating about that.  If I tried to sit back or face the other way - no internet!  I swear that I think I heard the phone dialing-up before connecting............................So if you need to be "connected", this may not be the race for you.

Race morning we were bused from the hotels in Williamson, WV, to the start of the race at the Food City in Goody, KY.  That's right.  This race starts in the parking lot of a grocery store called Food City (where I saw no less than two mullets the day before while sitting in the car for 5 minutes).


This race is pretty much for Marathon Maniacs, Half Fanatics, and 50 States Marathon (or Half Marathon) Club members.  There is a marathon and two half marathons (one that starts with the marathoners and one that starts at the marathon's 13.1  mark).  You also have the option of doing "double halves" where you run both half marathons, get two medals, and can cross off two states (both KY and WV).  I chatted up a couple friends before the start of the race and we talked about our experiences so far in this little corner of KY/WV.  Before I knew it, it was time to start.  There was no timing mat at the start of this race, so everyone was on gun time, but with a race this small it's not really a big deal.  I immediately went out too fast, with the first several miles in the 9's.  Within the first half mile we ran by our first road kill of the day - a deer that had pretty much been obliterated and then picked on by the vultures!  Sorry, I didn't stop for a photo op.  Besides all the roadkill, the scenery was breathtaking - mountains and rock faces all around you.  

The first mile
Fog lifting off the mountains.
Rocks all around us.
This little stream made lots of nice noises.
We ran past a lot of the Hatfield McCoy feud sites.  What the feud was about I have not a clue.

I was a pretty bad blogger and didn't take nearly as many photos as I usually do.  The first 6ish miles were pretty much flat (maybe a small hill or two).  At mile 6 we started our ascent up Blackberry Mountain.  This ascent is about 1.25 miles long and it will bring you to a slow crawl.  We made it about halfway up and then decided it was taking too much effort to run so we walked the rest.  The descent on the other side was even more brutal but we ran down it anyway knowing we may pay for it later.  Somewhere around mile 9, we passed the "World's Smallest Horses" out in front of someone's house. 

See?  The sign says "World's Smallest Horses" so obviously it's true.
This is Cookie and she looked absolutely terrified!

After the excitement of the horses, we came upon the "redneck" themed aid station.  All of the volunteers were dressed up (or were they?) in their finest redneck attire and they were even smoking cigarettes.  Have YOU ever been handed water at race by a volunteer smoking a cigarette?  I think not!

Gimmie that moonshine!

The excitement didn't stop there.  A little ways up we ran into fellow Maniac and 50-stater Amie, a few very enthusiastic dogs, and a couple of the cutest kittens.

Happy to share some miles with Amie.
Stay away dog!

At this point we were almost to the halfway point and we were still in Kentucky.  Finally, right before the 13 mile mark, we crossed the bridge into West Virginia.  Once in WV, we literally ran around the block, dropped the half marathoners (or at least those that did the "1st Half") off, and then made our way back across the bridge into KY.

Finally made it to WV after nearly 13 miles.
Finishing the 1st Half
Quick stop to snuggle this adorable puppy..............
..............before returning to KY.

So we spent about a quarter of a mile in WV.  The second half of the course was mostly on very narrow back roads.  Roads so narrow they looked like running/biking trails, but cars were definitely driving down them.  

Trail?  Or road?

The weather was just about perfect for this southern belle.  It wasn't too hot, but hot enough.  There was also a very nice breeze blowing almost the entire race which kept me nice and cool.  Aid stations were about every mile and were very well stocked - water, Gatorade, fruit (watermelon, oranges, bananas, grapes), wet sponges, etc.  I unfortunately saw a new low for race bananas.  I absolutely HATE it when races slice the bananas in half and they get all brown and mushy on the exposed end.  Yuck yuck yuck.  I didn't think it could get any lower than that but I was wrong.  At one aid station a lady was wearing clear gloves and holding up a fully peeled banana.  You could see that it was all mushy and all the little indentations from her fingers pawing at it.  I should have taken a picture but at the moment all I wanted to do was get away from it.  Gross!  That image is forever etched in my mind.  I was making pretty good time and was definitely well within my goal of finishing under 5 hours (pretty much my goal for any race where I don't care about time).  Well that was until I hit the trail part of the course.  

Me no likey.

It had rained the previous few days so the trail was a muddy mess.  My road shoes have absolutely no traction on them so I was sliding all over the place. For a mile I pretty much danced around mud on my tip toes.  No bueno.  Once out the mud, we were dumped onto a pretty beat up road and then onto a beautiful golf course.  This is where the infamous swinging bridge is.  Yup, absolutely terrifying.

Wow, so pretty.
Ok, not very pretty anymore.
Please don't break, please don't break, please don't break.

The second half of the course was a lot more challenging than the first half - a lot of ups and down, the muddy trail, and tons of just really bad road surface.  Plus, you were pretty much by yourself for many many miles.  There were no volunteers at the turns so you had to make sure to follow the blue arrows on the road (remember this race is pretty much for Maniacs and 50-staters, so people that have a lot of experience at running races and don't need a lot of directions).  The Weather Channel ranks this race as #14 in it's list of "The World's 15 Toughest Marathons".  While the course wasn't "easy" I definitely don't think that it's one of the 15 hardest marathons in the world.  Flying Monkey was WAY WAY WAY tougher than this race and that is not on the Weather Channel's list.  This begs the question as to why the Weather Channel is making up lists about marathons.  Aren't they supposed to report the weather?  We reached mile 23 and we could see in the distance probably the second toughest climb of the day.  I walked that bad boy.

Hill in the distance

Around mile 25 we were back on the main road and heading for the finish.  We all knew that there was a Dairy Queen at like mile 25.7, but I forgot to bring some cash so I whizzed by it.  Many many people stopped in for some ice cream on their way to the finish.  We finally crossed the bridge into WV and headed straight to the finish.  

Back in WV!

I crossed the finish line in 4:53:01 and was presented with a cold, wet hand towel, a medal, and a sweet mason jar.  Surprisingly, they had a great assortment of post race food that I could actually eat - grapes, bananas (all in the their peels and not cut), oranges, and watermelon.  I've never seen so much fruit at the end of a race.  They even gave each runner a box lunch of a turkey and cheese wrap and a bag of potato chips.  While I couldn't eat the wrap, I devoured those chips and washed them down with an ice cold Pepsi!  Delicious!

So much delicious fruit!  And this was at like 6 hours!
These guys stood at the finish line for the entire race!  And they took pictures with everyone!

After the race I fell asleep in my hotel room until about 8:00 PM, so I pretty much wasted the whole day when I could have been out exploring the area.  I eventually made my way up to hang out and drink moonshine with a few Maniacs/50-Staters.  

Because no trip to KY/WV is complete without drinking some moonshine on a hotel bed.
I am glad that I chose to count this race as KY since more than 25.7 miles of the course were in KY.  The only parts that were in WV were the finish lines of both the 1st Half and the 2nd half/marathon.  I don't really consider that "running a marathon in WV".  I obviously do recommend this race.  This is obviously the most exciting thing that happens to the communities of Goody, KY, Williamson, WV, and Matewan, WV, all year long.   The locals are so proud of this race and they definitely should be.   Every hotel room for a hundred miles around is sold out for race weekend so this is a huge economic boost for the area.  <steps on soapbox> Just one of the many many reasons that you should support small local races and not big city corporate races.  <steps off soapbox>  

As for costs/travel/logistics, this one isn't that easy to get to but is well worth the extra planning.  
  • Race registration was $54, which is as cheap as you're gonna get.  This includes plenty of KY/WV hospitality (your toothless cashier at the fast food establishment of your choice will be very happy to serve you), your race (aid stations, port-o-potties, etc), pasta dinner, tech tee, medal, mason jar, and tons of food/entertainment at the post race party.  
  • I flew into Charleston, WV, which was about 1.5 hours away.  I think this is the closest airport but it's also probably the most expensive for most people.  I got lucky and scored a pretty good deal on a flight out of Jackson to Charleston for $374.  This is the first flight that I have had to pay for all year long (Southwest doesn't fly into Charleston so couldn't use Rewards points).  Other airports that people used were Cincinnati and Dayton, OH. 
  • I got a rental car for two days for $46 (thank you Priceline).   
  • I also got really lucky when it came to hotels.  As you can imagine, there are not a lot of hotels right in Williamson, WV.   I got a room at the Mountaineer Hotel right in downtown Williamson (the finish line was about a block from my hotel).  I stayed two nights and paid $156 total.  Pretty cheap but you've gotta call the second they start to take reservations (I'd call in November or December to see when they will start to take reservations for race weekend).  I tried to get a roommate but no one was interested so I had a room with two beds all to myself.  A lot of people stay in nearby (45 minutes away) Pikeville, KY, or Logan, WV.  Another option for accommodations is to stay at the local firehouses (they have cots and showers available).  
  • I spent another $35 on food (a perk of going to a town that only has fast food options) and $30 on gas.  
  • So this trip cost a total of $695.  Not bad for a two night trip. 
So no new states for me until September.  I have a few local races planned for June and July and then I hope to rest up for a bit in August before starting back up in September.  This coming weekend I have a local half marathon.  Should be nice and hot for us!


  1. This race sounds awesome! I just became a half fanatic and have heard the name thrown around a lot. That bridge part looks scary, haha and it definitely sounds like a challenging course for me but maybe I could do the half one day! Nice recap!

    1. This a great race that you definitely put on your list. It's really not that hard. Just walk the hills and you would be fine.

  2. Nice report...brings back the memories...I guess it's ok to tell you now but the word is that the Mountaineer Hotel has some 'spirits'.., especially on the 4th floor.... seemed good spirited 'spirits' though... JC and Larry can tell you all about them..

    1. Haha. Yes, several people tried to tell me about the "spirits" but I quickly changed the subject since I was staying in a room by myself! I was on the second floor so I guess I was Ok though.

  3. This sounds like a good race with quite a bit of character and local charm. Those kittens are pretty precious! I would bet there were quite a few people running the states that did the two half option to knock out KY and WV.

    1. Lots of people did the double half! If I ever do this race again, I'll probably do the double half! Who can resist two medals?