“When you are weak, you are strong!” – Hatfield McCoy Marathon Weekend, Part 2

Team T-Rex woke up bright and early for the Hatfield McCoy Marathon on Saturday. Well, three quarters of Team T-Rex woke up bright and early. I didn’t wake up at all, because once again I didn’t sleep at all despite Kristen giving me half an Ambien. Fortunately, I am getting pretty used to running marathons on no sleep. We woke up at 5:15 so we could be out the door by 6. The race start was half an hour away, and it started at 7. None of us are really into getting to the starting line mega early, so we figured this was the perfect amount of time.

We figured wrong.

We parked the car, hopped on the shuttle, and got to the starting line by maybe around 6:40. The Maniacs picture was supposed to be taken at 6:45, so perfect! We started messing around and taking pictures with Devil Anse, because a pre-race photo with a historical figure is nothing short of perfection.

p1000486-34 Kate and Amanda missed the “suggestive pre-race pose” memo.

They called for the Maniacs photo, which we were delighted to discover we had not missed for once!

maniacs-7 Probably 25% of the runners were either Maniacs, 50 Staters, or Fanatics. Kind of excellent.

We all had to go to the bathroom after the picture, but the lines for the porta potties were forever long, so we decided to try and go into the grocery store (the race started in the parking lot) and use the bathrooms. Apparently we aren’t any smarter than anyone else, so we weren’t the only ones in there. As the start ticked closer and closer, Kate finally said she wasn’t going to miss the start and she would just stop along the course. Kristen, Amanda and I didn’t care about missing the start – yes, my pre-race prep is now THAT LAZY – so we watched as everyone ran out of the bathroom, leaving them open to us. Excellent.

So we started the race about 2 minutes after everyone else. Since there were so few runners, everyone had already gone and we run under the starting line like elite athletes, completely alone. Kristen pretty much took off like someone who hasn’t figured out pacing yourself during a race a bat out of hell right away while Amanda and I went straight to our comfortable pace and stayed there, steadily catching up to all the walkers, walk/runners, and slower runners. I told Amanda not to worry about Kristen running a lot faster than us because we would see her eventually. I wasn’t saying that to be mean, I just know my Pea. We must have passed about 300 people in the first two miles of the race. I have never felt so fast in my life.

walkers-2 You know you’re a slow runner when you don’t mind missing the start of the race because it means you actually get to pass someone for a change.

Early on, I decided to adopt my friend Sally’s tradition of taking a picture at every mile marker along the course. Amanda and I had decided to stick together no matter what for the whole race, so we had nothing but time – literally, since the race had no time limit. We were both so excited about the race, so we just wanted to have fun and take a bajillion pictures. Mission accomplished. Don’t worry, I won’t make you look at every single mile marker picture.

I knew the race would be interesting when around mile 2.5, we passed a pony standing in the bed of a pick up truck.

pony-2 If you have a cage for your pony in the bed of your truck…you might be a redneck.

I mean, who does this? Isn’t this what horse trailers are for? I had so many questions, but we were busy running or whatever. We caught up to Kristen again a little after mile 4, as predicted. She laughed and said “I bet you guys were taking bets back there on how long it would take me to burn out.” Looks like she knows me pretty well too.

tebowstretch-2 It’s never too early in the race for a Tebow hamstring stretch.

One of the coolest things about the course was that as it crossed back and forth between West Virginia and Kentucky, you got to see many of the actual sites where different events in the Hatfield-McCoy feud took place. Obviously I stopped and read every single historical marker and took pictures of them.

history-2 The level of geekiness reached an all time high during this race. I am such a nerd.

The course is known for being tough, but the toughest part is a long hill called “Blackberry Mountain.” Let me tell you, people in Kentucky do not stint when it comes to talking about mountains. Kristen was already complaining about her legs feeling heavy when we caught up to her at mile 4, and the hill began at mile 6 and was said to last until 8.5, or so we thought. Amanda and I chugged ahead and every once in awhile I would turn around and run backwards and yell to Kristen to keep going while she envisioned murdering me in her mind.

mountain-2 Damn you Blackberry Mountain!!

We took a short walk break at mile 7 because we couldn’t imagine running up the mountain for another 1.5 miles. Little did we know that we were actually almost at the top of it! Amanda and I were a little disappointed because if we had known that the summit of the great peak was that close, we would totally have kept running, but oh well. Unfortunately at this point some parts of the road were very narrow and not closed off to traffic, so we had nowhere to run. I saw my life flash before my eyes at least 4 times, not unlike when I took my first cab ride in New York.

bus-2 Good thing I started my diet before this race! Jeez.

Eventually Kristen stopped crying we started descending down the mountain, all feeling quite pleased with ourselves. It was at this point that I realized how critically unfair half marathons are. At mile 8, we had just made it through the toughest hill on the course, but Amanda and I weren’t even a third of the way done. Kristen, meanwhile, had 5 miles to go. My grandmother can run 5 miles. Or at least power walk them. Thus, I drew the obvious conclusion that half marathoners are intellectually superior to marathoners.

mile8-2 What hill?

After the mountain/hill/torture chamber, Kristen was feeling pretty bad, so sometimes we ran with her and sometimes we ran ahead while she walked. Along the way, we saw what is probably not a true world record holder – Sparky, the world’s smallest horse. Allegedly.

sparky-2 Sparky and his clubbed feet live in someone’s front yard in Goody, KY.

We ran past a yard with a sign in it proclaiming that Sparky, the world’s smallest horse, lived there. He is 17 inches tall, 23 inches long, and other measurements as well. So there you have it. The world’s smallest horse lives in Goody, Kentucky. And now you know.

One of my favorite parts of the whole race came at Mile 10, when we reached the Moonshine Stop. It featured an elaborate setup and all the volunteers were wearing overalls. One man was covered in coal dust and I can’t decide if he is actually a miner and has the Black Lung or if he just dressed up for the occasion. It’s too hard to say.

moonshine-3 God I miss my overalls. And the 90s.

I loved this race so much because they basically wrote my blog for me. “Here, you want a million things to take pictures of so you don’t even have to write anything? Here you go.”

moonshine2-3 The beauty of running slow is that moonshine doesn’t affect your performance. Please note the baby in the playpen near the man with the possible black lung.

Kristen went even further downhill after that and was hate spiraling even worse than usual. I run with her a lot, so I’m pretty used to her grumbling, but she was exceptionally whiny even for her. Hey, I’ve been there. I’m there pretty much every marathon. Amanda and I mostly trotted along ahead in a feeble attempt to pull her along with us, since it was clear that if we stopped and walked with her she was never going to start running again. At one point she told us to go ahead and leave her – I think around mile 12. But I know Kristen, and I know she would have sat down right in the middle of the road and pouted for awhile before walking to the finish line, so that wasn’t happening. So I hit her with some our inspirational verse from the tiny Bible. “WHEN YOU ARE WEAK, YOU ARE STRONG! SAY IT!”

papaw-4 What you can’t see in this picture is the unspeakable hate which Kristen is spewing at me in her mind for not leaving her to sit down in the road.

The half marathon finished in historic Matewan, WV, which was a really cute little town. It was pretty cool because we literally got to run across the finish line with Kristen and then keep going instead of having to turn off before the finish like we normally do. I have never seen someone look so angry at the end of race with the possible exception of me after the Bataan Memorial Death March. Normally she looks happy crossing the finish line, at least, but not this time. I think our mile photo at mile 13 was a good indicator of her feelings.

mile12-36 Only a tenth of a mile to go! Suck it up.

Amanda and I were in great spirits and running a little faster than 5 hour pace, so we kept chugging along , chatting, and taking in the sights. Along the course, there had been little signs made for all of the runners who had done the race before and had returned to do it again. So imagine my surprise when I saw my very own sign, considering I’ve never done the race!

welcome-4 I felt so welcome, yet so confused.

I eventually realized that the confusion probably occurred because I was signed up for the marathon back in 2010 when I broke my hip. I tried to defer my entry, but apparently they never got the memo, so they thought I was a returning runner. Perhaps I shall do this more often so that I can get signs at other races! Race directors, if you’re listening, please make all signs out to “T-Rex Runner” in the future. I’m changing my name legally, Metta World Peace/Chad Ochocinco style, as soon as possible.

Around this time, I also got to swing on a tire swing that was hanging from a tree at a local fishing hole. I cannot make this stuff up.

tire-5 Most fun I’ve ever had at a marathon, hands down.

It’s also worth mentioning that the course was absolutely beautiful. It wound all through the mountains and next to the Tug River and the occasional coal mine. I absolutely fell in love with this part of the country, and I left thinking that the people who live there are very, very lucky. They may not have a real mall, but they have nature, and that is so much better.

river-5 Amanda in front of the Tug River, or possibly some other river.

You might right now be thinking that it sounds like I am doing really well in this race. I’m having a good time, nothing appears to be hurting, I haven’t thrown up on anyone. Well, it was only a matter of time. The course turned onto a dirt and gravel road for a few miles, which violated my strict NO TRAILS policy that was instituted after Bataan. A little ways after that, past mile 16, it became impossible for me to bend my right knee. Try running up hills without the ability to bend your knee. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

mile16-12 The last happy photo. Appropriately, I chose to do the sprinkler.

This was pretty much the end of my good feelings. Amanda’s feet had started to really bother her, so we were both perfectly happy with walk/running for the rest of the race. We were having the best time talking to all the volunteers and the people we met along the way. One of the very interesting things about this race was that all of the volunteers and spectators only wanted to know one thing – “where are you from?” They were fascinated to hear where people had come from to run this race in their little towns. We literally had people sitting on their porches that would yell to us as we ran by and ask us where we were from. It was clear that the runners mean a lot to the area and that the locals truly embrace this race, not just tolerate it like some towns do.

The race is famous for having runners cross over a swinging bridge. I had heard about it and I didn’t think it would be that bad. Oh no, that shit swings. It is serious. Amanda and I ran across it out of sheer principle, but it was a little scary.

swinging-6 We’re smiling because we hadn’t tried to cross the bridge yet. cap-6 I don’t have a story to go with this picture, I just really like it.

At Mile 19, we met the nicest volunteers in a race ever. I know, I know, I said the nicest ones were in Minnesota. Those people are REALLY nice, but this was on a new level. They had a little tent set up with fruit, all different flavors of Gatorade, etc, and as soon as they saw Amanda and I coming, they started cheering. Exactly what you need at Mile 19! They asked us where we were from, of course, and we stayed and chatted awhile and ate grapes. I don’t even really like grapes, but I really liked them right then. Maybe I just didn’t want to run anymore.

The last 6 miles felt like they took just as long as the entire first 20. It just wouldn’t end! I met a lot of great Maniacs though, including Vrnda the “Boom Box” who sings during races. She had run Columbia and saw me on the course and apparently I inspired her to be a Maniac because I looked like I was having so much fun! That’s one of the best compliments I have ever received 🙂 While talking to the surrounding Maniacs, and I overheard a woman say that she was from New Jersey.

Me: “I heard you say you’re from New Jersey. What part? That’s where my boyfriend is from.”

Lady: “Do you know Jersey? Central part.”

Me: “No, I just went there after the Delaware Marathon. He’s from Edison so we went into the city and then stayed there.”

Lady: “SHUT UP. SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP. SHUT UP. I AM FROM EDISON!! What’s his name?”

Clearly they didn’t know each other, but I found it quite delightful that the only town I know of in New Jersey is where this lady was from.

mile20-6 Attempting the Dave Mari jump at Mile 20. I look like a flying hunchback.

My back was absolutely killing me by this point and Amanda felt the same way about her feet, so we started setting verrrryyy small goals. Like, run to the next electrical pole, walk to the one after that. That kind of thing. We were still in great spirits because we were having so much fun, but we were ready for the fun to end. ASAP. So we just kept repeating “when you are weak, you are strong!” over and over. Hey, a mantra is a mantra, even if it comes out of a tiny Bible.

We did decide that we were going to run from Mile 25 to the end – or pull a “Cupido,” as my friend Anders has named it. Yup, that’s right. The last 1.2 miles are now officially named after me. I didn’t name it, he did. It’s in Swedish Runner’s World.

mile25-6 It seemed like we would never, ever see this sign.

I’m pretty sure Amanda seriously regretted telling me she would run the whole last 1.2 though. In fact I know she did. But we passed a hell of a lot of people in the last 1.2 miles, and we made a game out of it. We just took a picture of mile 26 as we ran by with blinding speed. And the race director himself was out at mile 26 directing traffic. It’s just that kind of race.

We cruised into downtown Williamson and all of the spectators on both sides were cheering in all the runners, which was a great feeling, because you could tell many were locals who had come out just for this. Amanda and I held hands crossing the finish line, of course, and as I looked to my left, I saw Kristen standing in line for food looking like a freaking supermodel. Seriously, I was literally crossing the finish line thinking “holy shit, her hair looks AMAZING!” Turns out she didn’t even wash it after the race.

finish-2-4 I know she ran the half and not the full, but whose hair looks like that ever? Ugh.

Kate had just finished a few minutes before Amanda and I did, so we all got in line to get our mason jars that had our actual finisher’s place on them. I LOVED this idea, but the execution was the only fatal flaw in the whole race, because you had to stand in line in the hot sun for half an hour after finishing a marathon to get the jar. We eventually made it up to the front of the line. My only goal had been to have finished in place 299 or higher. I figured with 312 runners in the race, this was an achievable goal. No seriously. But Amanda and I were 188 and 189!! Better than my wildest dreams.

I was literally at the table collecting my jar when all of a sudden the woman behind me started shaking and almost fell over. I grabbed her arm, asked her if she was ok, and the woman next to her yelled “MEDIC!” We had been handed cold wet towels so I put mine on her forehead and steadied her while another runner grabbed a chair. Then we all started dumping our water bottles on her as the medics came over. It was about 80 by the time the race was over, so pretty warm, and I think she was overheated. The medics took her away and I think she was ok, but it was scary! I’m glad I’ve avoided that so far.

2012-06-09_14-38-34_727-e1339547304855-6 My ‘shine jar and medal

Team T-Rex made it back to the hotel with literally 2 minutes to spare until we had to checkout, so I sweet talked the lady at the front desk into giving us 15 more minutes because we NEEDED to shower. We jumped in the car and headed on our way home, all happy and tired and sore, except Kristen, who was possibly just tired and sore. Kristen is one of those people who literally wants to stop at every single roadside attraction on a road trip, so she begged us to stop at the Natural Tunnel State Park on the way home. I got overruled, obviously, so we went.

Kristen: “Hi! So, what does the park involve? Like, can we drive through the tunnel?

Park Ranger: “No, you drive your car up to the lot and then you can hike to the trail or take a gondola.”

Kristen: “Oh, we have to walk? Nevermind.”

Team T-Rex only runz and drivez, we never walkz.

We all got a frozen yogurt craving, so we decided to stop and grab some on the way home. We were all wearing matching shirts, and every place we had stopped so far, we had attracted a lot of attention. Possibly because the shirts were neon orange. So what’s a Team to do? Take a picture in the fro-yo place, of course.

team-17 You know you want to run with us.

Overall, it was an awesome trip. I absolutely loved everything about this race. I can’t say enough about it. If you run, you better run this race. If you don’t run, you better start so you can run this race. It is the most fun I’ve ever had over 26.2 miles, and that’s saying something, because I have a lot of fun during marathons. So that got me thinking that I just need to only run races that have these kinds of reviews and this kind of praise. Why settle for anything less?

Seriously. Do this race.

And now, runners, walkers, etc, tell me  your favorite marathon or half marathon. Sell me on it. I’ve got 2013 to start thinking about. Leave me a comment and tell me where I should run next year. We’ll hang. It will be fun. Everyone else, you can leave me a comment about whatever you want. Maybe about how you think I look thinner. However the Lord moves you.