The Historic Feud: Family, Honor, Justice, Revenge and a Vicious 26.2
The Hatfields and McCoys. Mere mention of their names stirs up visions of a lawless and unrelenting family feud that would span generations. The Hatfield-McCoy Marathon lived up to its reputation of being the Weather Channels “15 toughest marathons in the world.” Why?
100+ degree temperatures, winding hills for days in the Appalachian Mountains, the historic family feud rivalry that permeates every part of this route as runners crisscross between the Kentucky-West Virginia state lines! Oh, and the option to run a Double Half Marathon was too unique an opportunity to bypass (more on this shortly).
Runners had 3 options: a half marathon, a full marathon and what race director Shawn Cool (yes that is his name, and yes, he lives up to the billing) call the Double Half Marathon. You are likely thinking the exact same question I did when I asked Shawn “Is a double half marathon not the same exact thing as a full marathon?” Answer: not exactly. The double half marathon are two back-to-back 13.1 mile races with two separate start and finish lines. The first half marathon starts in Kentucky and runners have 3 hours to finish the race. IF you finish any time before the 3 hour time limit, you earn a break (finish in 2 hours, 30 mins = 30 min rest period).
The second 13.1 miles begins in West Virginia.
Round 1 – 13.1 miles, Kentucky, Temp: 65-85 degrees (2:29:21)
This was one of the first races that started with the firing of a real gun…and it was from both the Hatfield and McCoy representatives! We started in Kentucky and made our way through the heart of Feud Country (Miles 1 -6). We ran past the Randolph McCoy home place site and the graveyard where several of the McCoy’s were buried after they were tied to pawpaw trees and shot by the Hatfield’s. Six years later, The New Year’s Night Massacre occurred were the McCoy cabin was surrounded and attacked by Hatfield’s.
After passing these historic sites, you reach Mile 7 and run into the infamous Blackberry Mountain, a mere 30-degree incline spanning a full mile to the top. The elevation of these Appalachian hills are magnificent, and over the next 6 miles, this was a consistent theme with epic views of the countryside.Approaching my first finish line, I crossed into Matewan, West Virginia. With a rare 30-minute break, I assumed this would only be a positive; however, my plan and reality did not exactly match up.
Round 2 – 13.1 miles again, West Virginia, Temp: 85-105 degrees (3:14:30 mins)
I hydrated, stretched, ate several bananas and remained standing in the shade doing everything possible to avoid stiffing and cramping up. As soon as the second half marathon began, I ran 500 feet and felt both calves cramp up. NO! Cramps have followed me all my life in most races, but usually closer to the finish line. With 13.1 ahead, I ran through them and thankfully they went away by Mile 14. Unfortunately, at Mile 17, they returned in full force, but only because of “The Incident.”
After running up and down endless hills through muddy and rocky terrain, I came around a bend to find a woman shrieking on the ground as she held onto her unbelievably cramped calves. She was dehydrated, scared and in cringing pain. She was unable to put any weight on her feet and asked “Can you just carry me up the hill?” I have been in this type of pain before (Mile 24 during the Great Wall of China Marathon) and could empathize. I lifted her onto my back and proceeded to carry her several hundred feet up the muddy hill. Full disclosure, I attempted to film this because I thought it would make an epic video, but she was none too pleased, so I put my phone away and after 30-feet of walking, my calves cramped, and cramped badly! Eventually, we got to the top of the hill and a medical tent was within sight; I never saw her again but assume she received the proper attention.
Over the next 9 miles, I ran alongside rivers, over bridges and through coal mining areas. At Mile 20, I literally paused to get hosed down by some friendly supporters who mentioned the temperature was currently showing 101. At Mile 23, a couple cops were cheering on runners when I decided to stop and grab a picture. Needless to say, they wanted to have a little fun and handcuffed me! They asked which family I supported (we have to choose before the race). I chose McCoy’s because they are a bit more controversial.
With a combined time of 5:43:51, I felt that I earned every mile of this challenging race. was beyond exhausted and craving two things: an ice bath and moonshine.