Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hatfield-McCoy Marathon

As the sun rose in the misty hills of West Virginia, (mountains for us flatlanders), I found myself heading south, once again for another hot race. This time was the Hatfield-McCoy Marathon. I first read about this race a few years ago in the Running Times and have been interested in it since. Loving history this would be great to visit the area known for it's famous feud between the families of Hatfield and the McCoys.

Wikipedia has a great summary here of the origin and history of the feud. The marathon does a great job going past the famous landmarks outlined in the article. Two interesting things on that page: 1. Notice the number of mercenaries who were sent down to break up the fight that were never heard from again and 2. Notice any thing kinda strange with one of the family trees? Yeah, that isn't a's a diamond...get my drift.

The Course
Known for being a very hot, humid, and hilly course, The Hatfield-McCoy Marathon course starts at the Food City in Goody, Kentucky and twists its way through the hills and hallows (think they called it the haller) over Blackberry Mountain, to Matewan, West Virginia at the halfway point. Over more hills. Through a trail section. Over a suspension bridge. Through more hills. Finishing in Williamson, West Virginia.

Along the course, you past several historical spots from the Hatfield-McCoy feud and the Matewan Miner Massacre. Aside from the historical aspect, the course is very rural and scenic. You get to see Appalachian America at it’s finest. It is a whole other world down there.

You are not going to beat the hospitality on this course. I though that the OBX was by far the friendliest course. This was a close tie. There were 25 (yes 25) aid stations along the course. With the heat and humidity, you are very happy to see single one. I start every road marathon with a bottle of water I toss at the second or third aid station. I kept this one around the whole race. This one isn't a bad idea to carry a hand bottle on.

The Race
I decided early on that this race would be a great race for some heat training for Burning River. Looking at the times, I wanted to take a run at top 10. To get a strategy together, I emailed Chuck “Marathon Junkie” Engle. Having won the race several times, I could not think of a better source. He gave some great advice:

1. Drink a lot and Drink Early
2. Watch the Hills. You never get out of a hill what you put into it

I really liked the hill comment. And the advice made complete sense.

So, I got to the start line and the temps were already over 70 and the dew point was ridiculous. It had looked like it had rained. Folks slowly showed up and after a talk from the race director (who is a real Hatfield) and a shot gun blast we were off.

I purposely went out fairly easy and wanted to see how things shaped up. The first few miles were down hill and the pack slowly began to thin out. I grouped up with another runner who was keeping about the same pace as me and we hung out and talked for a few miles as I waited for the “climb.” It soon came…Blackberry Mountain. About mile 7. A very big climb. Good new after the big climb…a big down hill! Once that leveled out we went a few more miles and next thing I know I was heading into Matewan. Halfway!

Upon entering town I was happy to hear I was in 8th place. Funnier to hear if I would have did the half-marathon I coulda been 3rd overall!

Heading out of town, I really began to notice something. It was really starting to get warm. Over the next few miles, a few guys caught me, and I caught a few more. After some more hills. Ok, a lot of hills. I got past the trail section which was much more technical than I expected. Past the swinging bridge in the golf course (this was crazy...). And into more hills. To make a long story short (too late) I found myself chasing the 10th and 11th places guys. 10th looked like he was hurting, but we couldn’t seem to pull him back. Why? Because we were hurting, too. But the last mile was pretty much all out 10, 11, and 12 (me) ran through the flood gate wall going into Wilamson. The crowd seem to like the chase and they were all screaming as we crossed the finish line.

I missed my top ten spot and but pretty happy I at least made someone work for it. In the process, I was able to win my age group and score a nice trophy! I sat in the town fountain (called the hog trough) cooling off (I believe I was the first runner to get in this year.) While cooling off I got to talk with number 11 for a while. Nice guy from the Bay Area. Slowly working on all 50 states as well.

Holding true to my other races I am really looking at my heart rate for the race. I had a basic plan which I believe was a bit aggressive to a course this difficult in this heat…at least for me.

It look like I ran this one the best I could in the conditions. I rally noticed my heart rate climb in the second half as the heat rose and my hyration level lowered. Pretty normal. I am still collecting data learning quite a bit about myself and my heartrate while running. Nice to have several shorter races in the year to look at, and now some longer races to analyze as well.