“That’s an awful long way to drive for a race. I don’t know why y’all can’t find races that are closer to home.” – my 87 year old father-in-law
Settle in with an iced tea or other beverage of choice for this tale of mountain adventure. Bonus points if you’re sipping from a mason jar.
We’re always looking for ‘away games’ because the only thing better than race weekend is race weekend in a new locale. We learned of H&M through an online article and chose it because it offers hills for my husband and a historic route and unique finisher’s medal for me. We traveled with some adventurous friends, one of whom is a descendant of the McCoy family.
Williamson, WV/KY has just a few options for lodging, and those fill up over a year in advance of the race. Not to worry, there is a nice West Virginia State Parks Lodge nearby in Logan. It’s just over 30 miles away and an easy drive to Williamson. We found Chief Logan Lodge to be sparkling clean with beautiful, rustic architecture and friendly, accommodating staff. The views from the Lodge are amazing! We ate at the Lodge restaurant the first night and while the food was a disappointment, our server was fantastic and we had a window seat with a pretty, mountain view.
The second night there, we asked an employee where we should go for a nice dinner. He named Arby’s and Taco Bell in Logan. When pressed for a date night suggestion, he told us that we would fare better if we drove to Williamson, that “ever since they put in the by-pass, there’s no reason to stop in Logan.” His sad comment reminded me of Radiator Springs in the movie “Cars”.
Parking at the Lodge is convenient, which we appreciated as we hobbled back to our room after the race. A post-race soak in their hot tub felt amazing.
The race expo was in a high school and was very well run. We were greeted by Devil Anse Hatfield and Ol’ Randal McCoy and had our picture made with them. Packet pick-up was efficient and we were able to try on our shirts and exchange one of them.
We shopped the expo for awhile and then headed to the pasta dinner in the cafeteria. When I registered for the race, I inquired about a gluten-free pasta option and I was told there would be one. There was a miscommunication and the very apologetic ladies running the kitchen did not know they were supposed to provide g-free pasta. They said there were other runners looking for it as well. We found a nearby steakhouse and ate dinner there.
On race morning, we drove to Williamson, parked and rode a shuttle bus to the start line at Food City just across the state line into Kentucky. The store was open for the runners to use the restroom and they had coffee available. Devil Anse and Ol’ Randal were there for photos; the people-watching was fantastic!
The community pride is palpable here as is the Hatfield/McCoy family pride. When you meet a descendant of either family (and you will) they will announce that fact within the first few minutes of your conversation.
The Full Marathon, Double Half and Blackberry Mountain Half all started from our location. None of the races have a time limit, and the announcer at the start said “you have all day to finish it, but we would prefer that you finish sooner!” Shots were fired (to begin the race, not another feud) and we were off!
We headed out onto US 119 under heavy fog, which gave way to sunny humidity. A quick double back and we were soon running on neighborhood roads. Folks along the race route sat on their porches enjoying their morning coffee, cheering and watching the parade of runners go by. After a few miles of rolling hills we began our ascent up Blackberry Mountain. Running gave way to walking this steep stretch of the race. The course was open to traffic, and we hopped in the ditch at one point to let a wide load through. Just a slight delay of game! Once we made our way down Blackberry Mountain, the rest of the course was mostly flat with occasional, small hills.
There were water stops and cheer stations every mile with cups of ice, popsicles, sports drink and cold towels. We appreciated all of it; it was SO hot! The water stops were hillbilly themed, some outrageously so.
There are loads of photo opportunities along the race route. We stopped off at the site where the McCoy cabin was burned down in a raid by the Hatfields, the cabin where the hog trial took place, visited the Hatfields Miniature Horses and passed the banks of the Tug River where the McCoys were killed at the Pawpaw trees. After crossing the Tug, we took a short jaunt through downtown Matewan, WV to the finish line. There was cold fruit on offer along with water and sports drink. Ice-cold watermelon never tasted so good!
We rested awhile, then boarded the shuttle bus for the wild, mountainous ride back to Williamson. Our bus driver was so generous! She stopped at our parking lot, waited for us to get our shower bags, and drove us to the gym for showers. (We were glad that we packed towels and flip-flops in our shower bags because this is a gymnasium, not a spa.) Our driver was going to lunch, so she gave me her cell phone number in case we wanted a ride over to the finish line downtown. We’ve never experienced hospitality at a race like we did here!
After showering, we walked the few blocks to the finish line to find something to eat. Instead of the requisite post-race-cold-pizza-that-we-can’t-eat-anyway the H&M does things a little differently. Your bib is a coupon and you can choose from a list of restaurants that will honor it. We made our way over to 34:Ate which we chose for the Yelp reviews, and it exceeded our expectations. I ordered a Turkey Bacon Blackberry sandwich on a gluten free bun and gulped down (what seemed like) gallons of their peach tea. The cost for my lunch was $1.50, plus tip.
Next, we strolled the downtown area which had rolled out the red carpet for its weekend guests. The shops were open, there was a car show and craft vendors on both sides of the street. We briefly visited the coal house and then it was time for us to cheer on our friends as they finished the Double Half Marathon.
It’s difficult for me to put into words how unique this race is. I think it’s something you just have to experience for yourself. Why should you add Hatfield & McCoy races to your short list? For the opportunity to be a part of something special, and because the community pride in these mountains is the same pride of home we all share. The area truly is God’s Country, and these hospitable Mountaineers want to show it off a little while showing you a good time. This race is hilly, hot, humid and ALL heart.
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