Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Hatfield-McCoy (River Road) Half Marathon, West Virginia 2015

This weekend gone past I added another state to my 50 states adventure, West Virginia. The Hatfield-McCoy race like I'd mentioned before is themed around the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud. Like the feud all of the races take place over two states, Kentucky and West Virginia.
There was a full Marathon, two half marathon courses (first and second half of the full course) and a double half challenge. The double half challenge was essentially designed for 50 staters and/or Half Fanatics, as two halfs back to back but timed separately, to pick up two states or extra races. Personally, I'd rather run the full and call it a full marathon but thats my preference. 
Most clubs allow you to pick which state, you want to count for a race, if it takes place over two states. My race started and ended in West Virginia, so thats what I'm calling it as, especially since I have many options for races that I'd like to do in Kentucky versus not so many in WV.

I was a bit nervous going into this race as my training has been not that great. Besides my shoulder I've been really struggling with the heat and humidity...a 10 mile run the other week was almost the death of me...I may have laid on a park bench for a while to recover, ha ha. The race was no different than running in Columbia as the temperatures ended up much the same and the humidity was awful as well.
We drove up on Friday, stopping in one of my favorite cities, Asheville, for lunch. Then another few hours driving through the mountains. We got to Matewan, WV by 5pm and found our accommodation for the weekend. Accommodation choices for this race are severely limited. 1,000 runners split between two tiny towns leaves people fighting for beds. The local fire station even sets out cots that can accommodate a good few people. Since we had the dog with us those options were even narrower...I couldn't find anything that would allow a fuzzy cocker spaniel. Cue the search for camp sites. Everything was over 30 minutes away but then I found a 'Welcome Center' that had primitive camping. It was hilarious, it was a replica train depot (pretty cool) that we pretty much camped outside, about 15 feet from a railroad track. A real working one. At least 10 trains a night passed and I almost had 10 heart attacks a night lol. Thank goodness it had bathrooms.
After setting up camp we went to the Belfry High School for packet pickup. I got my number and t-shirt (which I really like).
There were a few vendors but nothing major. They had a pasta dinner and some entertainment set up in the High Schools gymnasium but I skipped that. A Hatfield and a McCoy showed up, shotguns and all.

The race the next morning started, less than a 5 minute walk down the road at 8am. It could probably have used an earlier start to allow for cooler conditions but this sleep deprived zombie was glad of the later start.  After a picture with my fellow Half Fanatics we were off and straight away passed onto Kentucky. Within a mile or two sweat was dripping off me. A few miles after that I started to see wet footprints, sweaty wet footprints. At least I wasn't the only sweat monster. The race was well prepared for the heat tho, all of the drinks had ice in them and several aid stations had giant coolers of ice so runners could grab some. I walked though all the aid stations drinking lots and towards the end of the race when I felt like I might be overheating I walked for longer to hold ice to my neck to cool my poor brain down a bit. Later on at the finish a few people collapsed from heat exhaustion so I was glad I played it safe.

The course for the first half course looked pretty standard (we drove most of it on our way to Matewan), nice scenery but lots of highway running, with one ginormas hill.  The second half was more entertaining. The first few miles were on what would be called a lane in Ireland. A narrow road with room for a single car. 
After 3.5 miles this became more like a trail with loads of gravel and another mile after that it was truly a trail with lots of stones and mud. I really enjoyed this part. Concentrating on the placement of my feet made me think about something other than the heat, it was a nice challenge. Then we emerged onto a golf course and ran across a wooden swinging bridge. 
I'll freely admit I freaked out a little on this as the gaps between the slats were wide and gave me full view of the ground 30 feet below. I would have been much better off running across but I tiptoed and coached myself along at a walk. After this we went on to highway running. The highway was a little rough at points. All along the course signs were up welcoming back previous participants.
There were a good few runners in the River Road Half but it was never over crowded but I don't think I was ever on my own for too long either (a nice balance).
There were lots of hills on this course but I'll take lots of little hills (and terrain changes) rather than one long giant uphill and downhill. I talked to some runners later who thought the course was really hard but I think if the heat was out of the equation it really wasn't bad at all. As I mentioned the aid stations were on point, I especially liked that towards the end, lots of them had cut fruit and gels. At mile 9 I had the best piece of watermelon I've tasted in my life and then a mile after than the best grapes. The volunteers were fantastic all around and this was a well organized race. 

I eventually stopped worrying about how I'd hold up to the miles and the heat and really enjoyed the run. Although I walked more towards the end, to cool off with ice, I felt really strong throughout the entire race. Other than a slight tightness at my collarbone my shoulder issue did not rear its ugly head.  I managed to reel in a few people in the last couple of miles.
The finish was in the small town of Williamson, WV. The race organizers were geniuses and set out shaded long tables and chairs along the finishing strip, keeping lots of people around despite the heat to cheer everyone on. Cheer they did. I came in alone to a massive cheer from the crowd...I've heard less noise from much larger crowds...maybe they were hitting the moonshine :)
The biggest cheers were for the kids races though, too cute!!

  My finish time was not so awesome 2.17.17, well over 20 minutes longer than my PR but I was very conservative with my pace for this race. I think everyone else was too because I got 3rd in my age group. DID NOT expect that. Finishers all got a moonshine jar and because I placed in my age group I got a label for the top to commemorate it. I thought this was a nice way of giving age group prizes without racking up a lot of extra expenses.
There was tons of fruit and drinks at the finish as well as massages. I eventually wandered off and spent 30 minutes trying to find a shuttle bus, when I did a really nice lady drove me the 20 mintues back to Matewan. I had a sink wash (yes no showers at the camp site), changed and then headed back to Williamson for the festivities. We had lunch at a nice little cafe, listened to some music and then cheered on some runners. After that we drove around (with wonderful AC) to some of the feud sites.

Thankfully an old guy that I think worked at the Welcome Center told us about showers at the other camping area near the trail heads. Dude, I didn't think I smelled from that much of a distance! Well we headed up there and I ended up showering in the mens bathroom...the women's shower did not work. I locked the door and had the fastest shower ever (cause I was paranoid someone was going to ask me why the hell I was in the mens). Either way I felt great after. The next day we drove off in search of hiking and the long drive home.
The race was amazing and meeting the local people was fun. The camping was different than our usual state parks or professional campgrounds. West Virginia was certainly an experience. We'll be back again for some more hiking soon. after all the driving we had made our way through 7 states in one weekend.

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