On June 8th I ran the Hatfield-McCoy Marathon, and I’m glad to tell you that you won’t find a better marathon anywhere. From the beauty of the course, to the ample support, friendly staff and volunteers, and fun post-race party, it’s one of the best race values you’ll find.
The race takes its name from the famous feud that raged in the hills and hollows along the West Virginia/Kentucky border over a century ago. Today the peace has long since been made, and instead of worrying about midnight raids, the local communities worry instead about simple economic survival. Having dealt with two devastating floods in recent decades, as well as the downward spiral of the coal industry there, the towns in this area are trying to shift to a tourism-based economy – and well they should. The area is breathtakingly beautiful and clean, and offers a wide range of outdoor activities. This race was conceived as a way to showcase the area and bring in the run-tourinsts, and it does a great job if it.
The marathon is directed by David Hatfield, descendant of the famous clan, and is especially accommodating to those runners aiming to run a marathon or half-marathon in every state. THe marathon may count as either West Virginia or Kentucky, since it traverses both, and two different half-marathon options give runners a choice of notching a half in either state as well. Most importantly for many of those runners, there is no time limit.
Whatever course or distance you choose, you can’t go wrong. The hospitality starts as soon as you arrive. For those who were unable to secure local lodging, the First Baptist Church very kindly set up cots in a dorm-style building next to the church, and the fire department set up mattresses as well. The packet-pickup featured not only the expected pasta feed, but also a period-dress retelling of the feud. A scheduled civil war reenactment in nearby Matewan, WVA added to the festivities.
Race morning brought perfect overcast weather, and many marathoners commented on the beautiful foliage as we raced along a riverbank and past dense foliage and rocky outcroppings. Looming up ahead was a fearsome climb up Blackberry Mountain at mile 7, followed by a screaming descent at mile 8. Most runners seemed to take it in stride, and settled back down to run what is, other than that section (and a short but steep hill at mile 23), a fairly flat course.
Mile 18 brought some trail running on a flat dirt road, followed by an adventurous crossing over a wooden-slat bridge that spanned a creek at the local country club.
All along the course volunteers were friendly (most notable were the self-proclaimed hillbillies, serving water and sports drink while dressed in their overalls), and passersby were friendly and supportive. The police were on the course as well helping out – it truly seemed like a community effort.
At the finish line all participants were given a medal and moonshine jar, bearing the race logo, which volunteers would fill with fresh grapes on request. There was also watermelon, oranges, plenty of drinks, and best of all, BBQ sandwiches.
Driving home afterwards, it wasn’t hard to envision coming back to this race again and again. Here’s hoping that every marathoner gets a chance to experience this great race!