Have you ever been so miserable during a race that you wanted to stop and just quit right there?
There were two occasions where I was miserable, but not quite close to quitting or wanting to quit: The Hottest Half in Dallas, Texas in August 2014 and the Savin Rock Half Marathon in West Haven, Connecticut in March 2015. The former was just as advertised — it was hot as hell during that race, but at least the course was super flat and the heat was dry. I pushed through and thankfully, survived without any injuries, albeit some minor sunburn. The latter was the complete opposite of the former — it was freezing — in fact, it was snowing. Big fluffy flakes fell steadily from the sky throughout the entire race. And the snow was falling on top of existing snow that had accumulated from the previous day. At one point, I was even running along side a snow plow. Fortunately, the course was flat for this race as well, and I managed to make it to the finish line. (I remained cold for a good hour after that race though.)
I didn’t think it could get any more challenging than those two races…
But then, I did the Hatfield-McCoy Double Half Marathon last June.
I experienced a whole new level of challenge with that race. It was hot. It was humid. It was hilly. And it was high elevation.
I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it. At every single water stop during the second half, I debated whether or not to quit and catch a ride back into town.
But surprisingly, I did make it — six (!!!) hours after the start time, I completed a half marathon in the hills of West Virginia and another half marathon in the hills of Kentucky, crossing states numbers 14 and 15 off the list.
I had been planning to participate in the Hatfield-McCoy Double Half Marathon for over a year. When I heard about it, I thought, “hey, what a great way to knock out two states at once!” The race actually brings in a lot of runners who are doing the 50 states challenge — I even met a few of them that weekend.
Going to West Virginia and Kentucky
I had a running buddy on this trip, which was nice because it was a hard race and the town was small (read: not a lot to do), so having company was welcome.
We road-tripped it down there — it took us about 6 hours. We caught up on life, listened to music and played car games. Lots of car games.
Finally, we arrived.
We checked into our hotel — an inn, actually — the Sycamore Inn, located on one side of the small town. Then, we hit up the expo, which was located at a high school.
We got our shirts and bibs. And then had a complimentary pasta dinner (spaghetti and meatballs) in the school cafeteria.
After that, we explore the town a bit — it was a quick adventure, as the town is a about a block long, with a few small restaurants and stores.
We found the finish line (see this amazing Instagram video of us crossing the line)
And then, we decided to eat again because the spaghetti didn’t really hit the spot (though I appreciate the race organizers providing it — most races don’t).
We found a sport bars for beers and dinner #2.
A few brews later, it was time for bed.
It was a 7 a.m. start time, so I was up by 4:45 to start my morning race routine: coffee, stretch, dress, force down a protein bar, water, bathroom.
I met my friend in the lobby around 6:30 to catch a shuttle to the start line. We were the only ones on our shuttle! A 5-minute ride later, we were there, at the start.
The air was cool and crisp. Music blared from loud speakers, as runners milled around and stretched.
My friend spotted a guy wearing a Moab Marathon race shirt — a race she wants to run. So she went to chat him up and see if he had any thoughts about that race. I stayed back (I’m not usually chatty or sociable that early in the morning. Lol), and instead did a warm-up walk while I watched the sunrise behind the mountains. The view was gorgeous. I thought I took a picture, but I think it was on my Snapchat, so it’s gone now.
About 10 minutes later, I looked over at my friend — she was still talking to the Moab guy. She’s a talker though and can definitely go on for a while.
I walked over. She introduced us — I think his name was Greg (or maybe it was Chris). Cute guy in his late 30s or so. My friend told him how I’m attempting to run a half in every state. Turns out he’s running a full marathon in every state. I don’t remember how many he’s done so far, but there were a handful that we both had done, including the Rehoboth Beach Half/Full Marathon last December. He said he wants to finish before turning 40 (or maybe it was 45) because that’s what he promised his wife. Understandable, as this can be a time-consuming endeavor. The three of us chatted until start time, and then said goodbye, because let’s be honest — he was definitely way faster than we were — a couple of miles in, he would have been long gone.
We were right. I think we lost him 1.5 miles into the race.
And so, about the race…
My friend was worried that I was going to smoke her. I told her that wasn’t going to happen — I wouldn’t leave her! She was only doing the first half with me — the half marathon in Kentucky. I told her, if anything, I might be going too slow because I needed to pace myself in order to complete the second half marathon in West Virginia.
Well. I definitely went slow. Slower than I planned. I actually struggled a bit and had trouble breathing — at times, I felt like I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs. We were at a higher altitude, but it wasn’t anything significant, so I was surprised I was struggling. Meanwhile, my friend was doing fine — great, in fact. She could have gotten an awesome time on her race if she didn’t stick with me — I kept telling her to go, but she wouldn’t.
She stuck with me through the entire first course — the route started in town and then made its way through the coal camps of Hardy, Kentucky, traveling through Feud County and passing by some historic sites, including the Randolph McCoy home and the graveyard where some McCoys were buried. We ran up Blackberry Mountain, and then passed by the Hatfield home and the site where three McCoys were tied to pawpaw trees and shot. We eventually crossed a bridge and then finished in the town of Matewan, West Virginia.
My friend and I crossed the finish line and found her husband and father cheering for us on the side. It was so nice to have the first half done.
I sat down, put a cold, wet towel on my face, drank some water, and ate a banana. My friend did the same. She sat next to me on the ground, and then turned and said, “are you really going to run another half??”
Honestly, I didn’t want to. But at that point, I figured, I was already signed up, I was there… if I didn’t do it, or at least attempt to do it, I knew I would regret it later. So I sighed, and said, “yep. I think so.”
About 20 minutes after she and I crossed the finish line for the first half, I was standing at the start for the second half. The line, located about 10 feet away from where we had finished, contained about 20-30 runners, from what I could see. So, it was a small crowd.
Once the gunshot went off for the start, it was slow going for me.
My pace was a slow jog for the majority of that half, and I was completely fine with that. There was the same amount of elevation during the second race, but less shade (i.e., more direct sunlight), which was so cruel. It was ridiculously hot. There were moments where I thought I was going to pass out.
This was part of the race where I had doubts about finishing — the part where I debated at every water stop whether or not to quit and catch a ride back into town.
But ultimately, I kept going.
The route started in Matewan, and went back into mountains. I saw fewer people during the second half — at some points, I was even found myself alone on the course. Those moments didn’t last too long though. Shortly after, I would either hear a runner behind me or see small specks of people up ahead.
At some point, I saw the the finish line off in the distance. As I inched closer, my friend and her husband appeared on the side, cheering me on. It was great seeing them there, and gave me a little (very very little) boost to push faster to the end line.
I was never so happy to finish a race in my life.
After I got my medal, I joined the gang in the post-race area where all the food was. They were grubbing. I wasn’t hungry quite yet — all I wanted was a cold shower.
We made our way back to the inn — I showered, they napped, and then we checked out. We had a late lunch/early dinner at a small restaurant in town, and then afterward, hopped in the car for the long drive back home. We were going to stay in town a little longer, but honestly, there wasn’t too much more to do. And we were exhausted.
It was tough race, for sure. But overall, it was a great weekend — I had a fun time with friends, and I’m proud of myself for pushing through.
Name: Hatfield-McCoy Double Half Marathon
Date: Saturday, June 11, 2016
Registration cost: $130
Race day weather: Beginning: cool, mid 70s; later in the day: hot, upper 90s – low 100s
Race start time: 7 a.m. ET
Course description: The course starts in town and then goes through the mountains — very hilly.
Race organization: Fairly organized
Finish time: first half = 2:35, second half: 3:43, total time: 6:19
Hotel: $89/night — minimum is 2 mights, so total = $180 even thought we stayed one night (we originally planned to stay 2)