Good Morning Hatfield-McCoy!
The race start was held at the local Food City, who was a sponsor of the race. This, my friends, was awesome. Not only did Food City have water, bagels and bananas set out for the racers, but they also had the store open if you wanted to hang out inside before the race started. It was perfect race conditions weather-wise, about 50-55 degrees at the start, but that's a little cold when you're hanging out in a tank top and shorts. It was nice to not have to stand around outside shivering while we waited for the race to start.
The Food City Sign. Drumsticks? Check. Grapes? Check. Welcome for runners? Check!
Selfie in front of the sign. Come on, that's cute.
At about ten of seven, we were called outside for a few pre-race announcements and then, at the sound of the shotgun blast, we were off.
The start line. I love this.
Once the race started, I took the opportunity to make a last-minute run to the restroom since there were no lines. I noticed there was a timing chip on our bib, so it wouldn't matter when we actually started. I think we were literally one of the last 5 people to start. Unfortunately, it wasn't until I crossed the start line that I noticed that we didn't run over a timing mat. Whoops. This race WOULD be gun time, rather than chip time. Oh well. Considering we were about to run up a mountain, I wasn't all that concerned about my time anyway.
Everyone who started ahead of us.
As I mentioned previously, the weather at this point was perfect - Nice and cool. We headed out of Williamson and towards Blackberry Mountain. We immediately noticed hand-written signs along the course welcoming back runners from the previous year. How cool is that? Nice touch, H-M. The course was beautiful and not too hilly for the first five miles or so. It wasn't flat, but nothing terrible. Dudley and I kept a nice easy pace, knowing that we had a beast to climb soon. How bad of a beast? Take a look at this:
Hello Blackberry Mountain!
My goal for this climb was to run at pace as long as I could and then walk. This was actually really stupid of me because if I had just slowed down a little bit, I could have made it up the entire thing running. But as it was, I burned myself out about 75% of the way up and had to walk a little bit. Just a little bit though, then I ran the remaining. It was glorious to see this sign:
As happy as I was to not be running up the mountain anymore, the run down was actually harder on me. I'm not a great descender. I know you're supposed to lean into the hill and let gravity do it's job, but that's a hard thing to do when you're literally running down a mountain. Anytime I got some decent speed, I felt like I was going to blow out a knee or go careening down the mountainside. Fortunately, I did neither, but the descent beat me up pretty badly. I knew I was going to feel that the next day.
After the mountain, mile 8 or so, Dudley and I separated. I needed a restroom and he was having a great run, so I told him to keep going. My intent was to pick up my pace and try to catch him, but it turned out that miles 8.5 - 10 were prime photo taking opportunities, so that kind of went out the window. Photos of what, you ask? Well, how about Sparky - The World's Smallest Horse? Or the infamous moonshine water stop?
I have no idea if he's actually the World's Smallest, but he's pretty darn small.
And then you have these guys around Mile 9.
This was also the part of the course where we passed our sponsored mile. You see, I had sponsored a mile a few months ago and didn't tell Dudley. I thought it would be fun to pass our names on the course. I didn't know exactly what mile was "ours," so I kept a sharp eye out for every mile marker sign. Turns out - we were Mile 9. Unfortunately, Dudley and I weren't running together at this point, so the surprise didn't exactly work out the way I had planned, but it was still fun for me to see the sign.
We OWNED this mile. Literally.
Miles 10-13 were dedicated to trying to catch Dudley. The terrain had flattened out a bit, but the sun had come out and it started getting hot. Little by little, I reeled people in. Not that I was going that fast, but I think the mountain took a lot out of people. The road was a little too winding for me to see too far ahead, but I whenever I could, I scouted for Dudley.
The finish line was in Matewan, WV, which is a little mining town with a population of about 500 people. We ran right through the center of town for the finish.
I love finish lines.
It was only after crossing the finish line that I finally saw Dudley again. You know what's crazy? He finished 56th in the half and I was 57th. All of that time of me chasing him and I finished right after him. Granted, I think I was over a minute behind him, but that's what you get with small races.
Another one of the cool things this race does is give you not only a medal, but a moonshine jar. No, the actual moonshine wasn't included. You'd probably have to go back to the Mile 9 water stop for some of that stuff.
Dudley and I waited around for a few minutes while the organizers were going through the race results for the awards. I didn't really think I had a chance to place considering my time wasn't that great (2:12 gun time / 2:07 Garmin). However, I also knew it was a small race - who knew how many people were in my AG? Turns out - I got third in my AG (out of 15)! Woot Woot! And even better? Dudley got third in his AG (out of 11), as well! Both of us came home with hardware! Or in this case, a sticker for our moonshine jars!
After collecting our awards, we headed back to the shuttles for the trip back to Williamson. This was where the full marathon ended, as well as the other half marathon - the River Road Half. (Note - there were actually five races going on this day: the Blackberry Mountain Half (which is what Dudley and I ran. This started in Williamson, KY and ended in Matewan, WV), the River Road Half (which started in Matewan, WV and ended in Williamson, KY), the Double Half (the Blackberry Mountain course and the River Road course, with two separate times), the Full Marathon (both courses with one final time), and a 5k. Make sense? Just know that there was a lot going on that day.) Williamson was where the big party was going on. The finish line was basically a block party with bands and vendors. People were lined up to cheer in the runners. It was wonderful.
Just high-fives from "Devil Anse" and "Old Ran'l." You know- your standard race finish.
Both Dudley and I really enjoyed this race - the entire weekend, actually. You could tell that the race was put on by runners, because anything you could need had been taken care of. There were more than enough water stops, plenty of smiling volunteers and lots of food at the end of the race. The entire community really takes ownership of the race and makes you feel welcome. I can see why, even with it's remote location, this race is a favorite for runners around the country. I would absolutely run it again. And I say that even AFTER our car broke down in the middle of Kentucky on our way home from the race. Fortunately, Dudley can replace a radiator and a thermostat like a BOSS, so we weren't held up for too long. If you're looking to hit all 50 states, or just want to do something different, do this race. It's worth the trip.