Monday, June 13, 2011

"No feudin' just runnin" State 16/25 race report

As part of my “half2run” quest my sister and I headed south to the 12th running of the Hatfield & McCoy Half-Marathon.

As we made the five hour drive to the Tug River valley my apprehension mounted by the mile as we drove through the beautiful landscape.  Although it was absolutely beautiful, with tree covered lush dark green mountains, I could only wonder if the 1270 foot climb at mile six would look like one of them. 

My sister and I had made a detailed race strategy for this race.  After seeing the elevation chart we knew that this would not be a race to worry about our finishing time.  So, we decided that we would run it together and do everything possible to enjoy it and be entertained.  I decided that if I were hot and miserable, I’d need something to make me laugh so I came up with a nickname that she was to use throughout, “Brandine Po” and she would be called “Big Possum”.  All runners in this race are put into teams, you are either a Hatfield, or a McCoy and then the times are sorted to see which family “wins” the feud.  So, I was Brandine Po McCoy, and she was “Big Possum” Hatfield.

Although this is a very small race (500 runners total), Running Times had done a write-up about it, and I had also read a raving review by a blogger that I follow. 

The marathon is a loop course, and the half is a point-to-point.  The races are held in conjunction with the Hatfield & McCoy annual festival, and there are musicians, activities and a post-race pig roast to enjoy.  The elevation chart sums up the level of difficulty; the June 11th race date adds to the challenge with plenty of heat and humidity.

The race director is David Hatfield, a descendent of “Devil Anse” Hatfield, patriarch of the Hatfield family.  He is a wonderful character and a runner after my own heart, a 5-hour marathoner with a genuine love for runners and the sport.  He presided over the free pasta party the night before the race at a local high school.  We were entertained by a skit with local actors who portrayed “Devil Anse” Hatfield and Randolph “Rand’l” McCoy describing their historic feud.  David Hatfield couldn’t have been more welcoming and enthusiastic and assured us “as long as you finish before dark, when the shooting starts, you’ll be fine.”  Runners came from 40 of the 50 States, and although a quick look around the crowd showed a handful of serious (read, fast) runners, the majority of those present looked like they were there to enjoy running and time together.  David made special mention to those who had returned to run this race more than once.  Then he closed out the night by giving out lots of door prizes (interrupted by rambling, corny stories).

Race day temperatures were humid, but temperatures this year were moderate at the start.  The race started right on time and we headed into the hills of Kentucky.  There is a water stop at every mile or so, and we met the most friendly, wonderful people out on the course, and at the aid stations.  We stopped for a minute at just about every aid station to chat with the volunteers, some of who had worked hard on a theme.  Mile 10 took the cake with their “still” with overall clad volunteers, little buildings with “critters”, banjo music and a big jug of moonshine.

The course follows the path of historical feud sites and we took a minute at each to learn more about the history of feud between these two famous families. 

As we climbed to the peak of the 1270 foot mountain we were touched to see that race organizers had erected “thank you” signs every few feet with the names and addresses of all of the runners who had returned to run this race again.  We were behind a man who exclaimed “Hey!  This is me!”  These signs were a very nice touch appreciated by those who were being thanked as well as by the rest of us.  At the summit it started to POUR.  So we carefully trotted down to the base and made our way to the finish.

Finishers receive a big, heavy medal, a cold wet hand towel, and a moonshine jar with a plaque inside with their finisher’s position.  Age-category winners get a special lid for their jar.

This is a race for runners who enjoy traveling to races for the experience of seeing new places and meeting new people.  This “home town” race is now one of my favorites out of all the half-marathons I’ve done and I highly recommended it to runners of all abilities.

Kentucky: State 16/25