I’m going to attempt to spare you from excessive dramatic expressions of how much I love this marathon, but based on the title of this post, it might not work. Sorry I’m not sorry. Amanda and I actually started the race on time this year, so we considered the day to be a victory before the race even started. Last year, we started a few minutes late and were in last place for awhile. As the race started, I was reminded of how beautiful the course is right away. The first couple of miles are on kind of a highway, but there are these huge mountain/cliffs/rock faces that line the whole thing. It’s pretty awesome.
Amanda and I had two goals for this race: first, we wanted to run up the entire length of Blackberry Mountain without stopping. It’s a hill that is 1.25 miles long and pretty steep, and a lot of people walk it. We almost made it to the top last year, but we thought the hill was longer than it really was and quit right before what turned out to be the end. This has plagued us since last year, so we had to make amends. Second, we wanted to finish the race in under 5 hours. When we started working with our coach, one of the goals that we told him we wanted to accomplish was to improve our speed so that when we are having fun during a race and taking pictures, we can still finish under 5 hours. This way, there is more likely to be beer left at the end when we are done running. Priorities are priorities.
Fairly early on in the race – probably about mile 4 or 5 – we came upon our friend Mary, who is a member of Team T-Rex and fellow Maniac. We had run with her for a little while in Southern Indiana, and she was recovering from a 50-miler the week before. You know, no big deal. Mary is the type of person who can talk forever, and she’s therefore really good to have along during a marathon because you’re constantly entertained. We decided to stick together for awhile, although we were running all the hills at that point and she was having none of that. When we got to Blackberry Mountain, she said she’d see us at the top, and Amanda and I set off determined to accomplish our goal. The whole time, we could hear a truck horn blaring. I’d like to say it made the hill seem shorter, but it did not. That thing is no joke!
We were so serious about achieving our goal of running all the way up the mountain that we did not even stop at the truck (which was just before the top of the hill). We ran past it, grabbed water, and then ran back to take a picture at it. That’s probably the most dedicated I’ve ever been to a goal. By this point, I was beyond drenched in sweat. It was almost comical. My shorts were literally clinging to my body, and I’m not really sure why. I wasn’t really hot, it was just humid. I must be the world’s most efficient sweater, but seriously, body, take it down a notch. Amanda and I always joke that I never sweat in real life but I’m the sweatiest runner in the world, and she’s the exact opposite. I think it’s time to start busting out the running skirts, because those shorts just are not cutting it anymore.
Ok, so bear with me because I’m not totally sure I’m putting all of this stuff in the right order since the pictures on my camera seemed to have just scattered themselves randomly, but I promise you all these things actually happened at some point.
One of the awesome things about this marathon is that they make “Welcome Back” signs for all the returning runners and put them around the course, which is really cool. I actually had one last year because I had registered for the race previously but gotten hurt. This year, my name had changed due to the divorce, and I was deeply concerned that this would result in a lack of signage. Not to worry – Alexis made sure I had a sign after I sent him a Facebook message regarding my extremely superficial concerns.
I was lucky enough to meet a lot of readers during the race too! A surprising number of people recognized me while we were running, so that was really cool. I’m always amazed when people recognize me, but I guess Amanda and I are fairly easy to pick out in a crowd. Just look for two blonde girls who are the exact same height and wear the exact same clothes and are running next to each other the whole time, and there we are. So, shout out to everyone who said hi! You guys are awesome. Sorry if I was awkward.
We knew that Sparky, the world’s smallest horse (allegedly), would be somewhere between miles 9-10. I did remember that much from last year. Well, imagine our surprise when we got to Sparky’s house and there was not one but three Sparkys! It was like a dream come true. A lot more people seemed to notice him this year than last year. Or maybe we were just running faster this year so we were actually near other people. It’s hard to say. It’s probably important to note that the Sparkys, as they shall be referred to henceforth, were in someone’s front yard behind a kind of picket fence situation. We obviously went right over the fence and into the yard, because if you put tiny horses on your front lawn, I think you need to expect people to pet them. Fortunately, the owners agreed.
Miles 9-10 are some of my favorite miles of the race. Not only are they beautiful and filled with Sparkys, but the mile 10 water station is by far the best on the course (and that’s really saying something because they are all great). The volunteers are entirely dedicated to the hillbilly theme, and it is phenomenal. There are jars of moonshine and a whole set up and the volunteers wear costumes. Last year, there was a guy in overalls covered in coal dust. To this day, I’m not entirely sure that was a costume.
They even had props you could play with! Or maybe you weren’t supposed to play with them, but whatever.
In the early miles, I kept getting shooting pains in my left hip, which I had apparently injured a few days before the race while
getting my ass handed to me doing an “easy” trail run in the pouring rain with some of my friends. I ended up having to walk the last mile of the trail, and I hadn’t run since (to be fair that was like…two days) so I was worried about how my hip would feel. And it felt pretty terrible at first. I told Amanda that if I was still having a lot of pain by the halfway point, I would just run the half because it wasn’t worth jeopardizing my health for Alaska. Fortunately, things seemed to get better as we ran towards the half marathon finish in Matewan, WV. The cool thing about this race is that the half and the full run together the entire way, so the marathoners actually cross the finish line in Matewan too. This year, they were having a Civil War Reenactment and the History Channel was there filming. I’m not sure they caught my luxurious hair on television, but they should have. Anyway, as we ran towards the half marathon finish, all of a sudden there was a huge explosion sound. They were firing cannons. Is this real life?
As we crossed the halfway point, my hip was still achy, but I wasn’t dealing with the shooting pains anymore. I was also having a lot of fun, so I decided to keep going. There were lots of different feud sites along the way, but I think I posted pictures of them last year, so I will not do that again. As we made our way towards the dirt road that we had been warned had become a mud path, Amanda and I reminisced about how much better we were feeling than last year. Last year, we stopped to lie down in the dirt road because our backs hurt and we didn’t feel like running. Kind of disturbing. This year, no such problem! And really, the dirt road wasn’t too bad at all with the exception of a couple of spots. Thanks goodness, because Amanda was wearing brand new running shoes and would have been very upset.
In all seriousness, this is one of the most beautiful courses I have run, and I’ve run some pretty spectacular courses. I don’t know what it is about the course, but you’re just surrounded by mountains, and everything is so green, and there’s usually this kind of early morning fog that looks like it’s cloaking the mountains in secrecy. So in addition to being a really fun race, it’s really beautiful too. I think hillbillies are actually pretty smart, because they live somewhere way better looking than I do. Just saying.
The dirt/mud road spits you out at a golf course, which is something I find hilarious and awesome. You run along the cart path for a short distance and then across the legendary swinging bridge. Mary had already warned us that she gets vertigo and would have to walk across the bridge, but no matter. It’s such a pretty area, and it’s hilarious to interact with the golfers who are driving their carts over the bridge as you run a marathon. Everyone was so friendly! No one cared that we were all taking pictures all over the place and clogging up their bridge.
We had been saying all weekend that the weather really was pretty nice last year until we hit mile 19 – after which point there is basically no shade. This year was exactly the same way. Although there was a lot of humidity, the air itself was cool for most of the race and we were under a cloud cover. Not so much once we reached mile 19. After that, it was all about getting things done. I had misplaced my Garmin, so I had no idea what pace we were running. It seemed like we started walking a lot more after the halfway point, especially up the hills, so I figured that our 5 hour goal was out the window. It felt like we were going really slowly, but I didn’t care. The whole race, I was just so happy to be back!
As we approached mile 23, Amanda informed us that we could definitely still make it in under 5 hours, which totally caught me off guard. Mary’s response was “Shit, now we actually have to keep running,” which was basically my exact thought on the issue. Nonetheless, I was feeling overall pretty good besides the fact that marathons don’t end at mile 22 (which they really should). We ran it all the way in and ended up finishing in 4:53 and some change! Mission accomplished! Not bad for a leisurely marathon if I do say so myself.
The finish line of Hatfield-McCoy is one of my favorite of all marathons, although I’m not entirely sure why. You finish in downtown Williamson, WV (to be fair, there is probably not an “uptown” or anything else, but it’s their main street, so you get my point), and there are cute little shops all along the way. The Hatfield-McCoy Festival also takes place there after the race, so lots of runners stick around to cheer in their friends, and many local people are there too. It’s so much fun! Plus, Devil Anse Hatfield and Ole Ran’l McCoy are there waiting for you at the finish line, which is awesome. We were really excited to meet our goal, and even more excited that we had plenty of time to relax, grab our mason jar finisher’s award (seriously my favorite race thing ever) and medals, and grab some food! What a luxury to have time to hang out after a race! I need to do more within driving distance.
Little did I know that the Honey Badgers had brought a special item all the way from Oregon that they have celebrities sign. They asked me if I would sign it – you know, right below Amby Burfoot, Bart Yasso, and Dean Karnazes. Because I’m in the same league as them, obviously. What was the mystery item? Why, granny panties, of course!
We then proceeded to have quite the photo shoot in downtown Williamson, drawing many curious stares from onlookers. I think that’s pretty fair though. Between the extremely sweaty people modeling large underwear and the adorable stray dog running all over the place, there was a lot of action to be seen.
The best part of the entire thing was making Amanda wear the underwear. She is easily embarrassed, bless her heart. The look on her face was priceless. We might not even be friends anymore once she sees that I put this picture in the blog.
We stuck around the festival for awhile cheering in our friends, which was really fun. I’m glad we got to spend more time there this year. Last year, we were hauling ass to get back to the hotel so we could shower before driving home. This year, we finished nearly an hour faster and were allowed to go shower at the fire department whenever we felt like it. This is totally the way to go, people. Less stress is so key.
So in conclusion, this race is still the best race ever. There is literally no competition in my mind. I’m glad I came back again this year because it firmly cemented my feelings that this is my favorite marathon by far. There are a lot of good races out there, but in my personal opinion, this is the most fun you’ll have running 26.2 miles. The volunteers are incredible, the course is both beautiful and interesting, and you get a lot of really unique special touches that you just don’t get at the bigger races. I’ve already decided I’ll be back again next year and every year after that for as long as I can make it. Start getting my sign ready, Alexis!