Saturday, August 1, 2015

Me vs. the Hatfields & McCoys

A long overdue post, so hopefully I can recall the highlights of my last,
marathon, #23 in the cell-reception challenged part of the United States, Appalachia.  I headed to Pikeville, Kentucky to run the Hatfield-McCoy Marathon, which ran through the Tug Fork Valley in Kentucky and West Virginia (I'm counting this one as my WV race, by the way).   A race which occurs in mid-June, in the rolling hills of the Tug Fork.  The forecast called for upper 80s which turned out to be accurate.  I should have been warned by the fact that this race had no time limit, which translates to really freaking hard running conditions.  It was me versus the heat and the hills, and the battle was brutal.  But it sure was scenic! The drive to the start line was pretty amazing, through the mountains in the morning with the sun barely coming up, and a mist coming up from the mountain valley.  When you see things like that, the 5:00 a.m. alarm doesn't seem so bad.  It's definitely one of those things that is hard to capture with a camera, because it doesn't do the image justice.  And even harder to do it justice when you are trying to take the picture while driving a car through the mountains, but here it is anyway.

The start of the race was in the parking lot of a grocery store, and the fan fare began with the ring of a shotgun from a either a Hatfield or a McCoy, I'm not sure which fired the shot, but they were on site for photo ops before the race, of course.  A thing when you travel alone to a race, no one to take your picture with a long bearded man with a shot gun.  Oh, and a revolver.  So here are a couple of other runners with him. 

This race had a few options, you could run a half or full marathon, and you had your choice of running the first half (which was rumored to be harder) or the second, easier half.  Bah, easier half.

Up hill
Down hill 
The first half was mostly in the shade of the mountain as the sun was trying to make it way above and over them.  At one point, several miles into the course, I heard a rooster crow.  I looked at my watch since I was thinking this rooster was a bit late to the game as the sun had been up for a while.  It was 9:00 so, yes, this rooster was a bit slow.  I guess that's about when the sun finally hit his yard and he figured that morning finally came.   

There was a large hill at about mile 7 or so, which I suppose is why they call the first half the more difficult half, as it went up gradually for about a mile.  Funny how the hill looks the same in a photo whether you are going up or down.  But I assure you the down part was a lot more fun.

By the time I hit the second half, the sun was in full force.  Part two of the marathon started in Matewan, West Virginia.  Over the Tug Fork, a loop through Matewan and then back over the Tug Fork and off we went to tackle miles 13.1 to 26.2!

The second half, this so-called easier half, did not have such a large hill as the first.  Instead, it had many, many, many short and steep hills.  The kind that are so steep you can actually walk up them faster than you can run up them, so walk I did. Why expend the extra effort to only go slower? Oh, and I cannot fail to mention that also in the second half, the course takes you over this swinging wooden bridge with giant spaces between the wooden slats.  I tried to catch an image of the spaces but my phone stinks and the storage was apparently full.  But google Hatfield McCoy marathon wooden bridge and you can find some images of this swinging bridge of peril.  I suppose one perk of this bridge was it gave me a good excuse to walk since I'm pretty sure I would have tripped and fallen trying to run over it.  Especially considering my legs were fatigued from having just run some steep rolling muddy hills.  

Scenic river shot
Aid station with real baby pigs! 

There were some really scenic parts of the second half though, as we ran along the river.  And I made a new friend; we stuck together for several miles encouraging each other to run a bit when both of us really wanted to walk because the heat was becoming brutal.  I never caught his name, but thank you stranger who is also crazy enough to be tackling a marathon in every state!  I would not be doing the race justice though if I did not mention that this was a very well organized race with a water station pretty much every mile, 24 of them for a 26 mile race.  And they also had ice at several of them.  I'm not too shy to say that I was grabbing cups of ice and shoving the cubes into my sports bra.  Wow, did that feel good...for about 5 minutes until it melted because it was 5,000 degrees.

Finally, I made it to Williamson, West Virginia!  A finish line never looked so good.  An added perk was I was congratulated by a Hatfield and a McCoy who allowed me to pass under their shotguns to receive my giant finisher's medal.  Here is an shot of it next to an iPhone 5 to give you some perspective on the size.  

After the race, I spent most of the day in my hotel room, recovering from the heat and hills.  I eventually made my way out to explore the town a bit.  So Pikeville, KY has a parade of bears, similar to the parade of cows that once made it's way throughout Chicago.  Since I didn't really have much else going on, I made my way through the (fortunately small) downtown to try to find as many as I could.  I think my final number was 10, but here are a few of my favorites.  
Of course there's a Hatfield-McCoy set of bears.


Downtown Pikeville is actually quite nice to walk around and had an interesting mix of modern and quaint.  There is also a college there, the University of Pikeville, but I didn't catch much of the college town vibe, probably because it was summer time and all the students were back home where they hopefully had better cell service.  I'm not sure what cell provider works best there, but I will say that it is definitely not Sprint, and AT&T was also not that impressive.   Oh, and I can't forget to mention that Pikeville also is home to the historic Pikeville County Courthouse and Jail, which is where the scene of the Hatfield clan trials for the murder of five McCoy clan members. 

I had dinner that night at the Blue Raven.  The food was surprisingly metropolitan for a place that felt like you were in the middle of the nowhere.  If for some strange, odd reason you find yourself in Pikeville, I would recommend this place for dinner.   And while I did not have one, I have to give some level of credibility to a place that uses cucumber vodka and Zing Zang mix in its Bloody Mary. Best. mix. ever. 

Martha Hatfield
Randolph and Sarah McCoy
It was an early night in and the next day I had to make the 3 hour drive through the scenic mountain range to catch my flight out of Lexington.  But before I headed out of town, I had to check out the Dils Cemetery, which had Hatfields AND McCoys buried there together.  And if you've read my blog before, you know how I love a good cemetery.  This one was named after Col. John Dils, who commanded a Union infantry unit during the Civil War.  His family's cemetery is said to be the first integrated cemetery in Eastern Kentucky, as he allowed his freed slaves and their decedents to be buried there. 

This trip seemed to be battled themed:  The battle of the Hatfield's and McCoy's, the battle of me against the heat and hills, and then the battle of the Confederacy and the Union.  I made a pit stop on my drive back to Lexington to quickly check out the site of the Battle of Middle Creek, during which Col. Garfield's Union troops defeated General Marshall's Confederate troops.

The Union came from this way...
The Confederates came from this way.
 I didn't stand out in the battlefield too long, because as you can see, it was still hot and there were lots of bugs.  I was pretty much over the heat by then.  But I enjoyed my scenic, air conditioned ride back through the mountains to Lexington, KY.   23 states down, 27 to go.  Coming this fall, definitely New York City and possibly Detroit, MI.  Almost halfway there!