The day before the marathon I left from Birmingham and stopped about an hour east to pick up my friend Brian then 8.5 hours north to Williamson, West Virginia. We arrived a little after 3 p.m. at Belfry High School in Kentucky for an afternoon of events beginning with packet pickup then a free run clinic and gait analysis. Afterwards we took in the free pasta dinner for runners and ended the day with a meeting in the auditorium with the race director. He spoke to the runners about race day prep and shuttles, and a little about the Hatfield McCoy Family Feud, including performers coming in and playing out a skit describing the feud.
We left the high school and went to the Williamson Fire Department where we were staying the night. This was quite the experience. Due to a lack of hotel availability in the small town area there were about 60 or so runners all staying in the same room. Getting to interact with a few great runners and meeting new people before the race was more than I expected.
Most of the firehouse woke up Saturday morning around 5 am to get ready for the 7 o’clock start time. There were multiple shuttles running from the Williamson area to Belfry, which was about 4-5 miles away. The starting area was in front of a grocery store. The store was open for runners to come in and use the restroom or buy coffee and they had some fruit put out for runners to take as they please. After a few pictures with the Hatfield & McCoy actors and one with all of the Marathon Maniacs we took the start line and hit the pavement.
The race started down a four lane highway before turning down a side road and we made our way through many historical sites along the route. We passed by Randolph McCoy home and a set of trees where several McCoy’s were tied up and shot by the Hatfield’s. This was all on a steady incline until we reached mile 6 and came to Blackberry Mountain. This was a full mile climb to the top of the mountain and a drop down for the next mile rolling down the other side of the mountain trying my best not to run to fast coming down the hill. I knew that if I didn’t control my legs I would have serious problems later in the race.
After the end of the decline I came up on a pair of maniacs and we ran together for most of the rest of the race. We crossed a bridge into Metewan, West Virginia just before the 13.1 line. I crossed the half way point at just over 1:44 on the clock. Woah! I was on my way to a PR and ready to work through the last half to get there. After the halfway mark we were back across the bridge and back into Kentucky.
Once crossing back into Kentucky we made a right turn on to River Road where we spent 6-7 miles running along side a river bank. Parts of this path were very narrow roads and there was a mile or so that was complete mud and water, I stepped in a few to many puddles and slipped around a little. It was a slow mile before shooting out onto a golf cart path at the Tug Valley Country Club. This was an interesting part of the course, running past people as they are teeing off and driving down the fairway. We crossed over a wooden bridge here that bounced with each step we took, and with 4 grown men running across there was plenty of bouncing going on. A few rolling hills later and we were coming into downtown Williamson, West Virginia to cross the finish line greeted by the beards of Hatfield & McCoy at the finish line.
I crossed the finish with a finish time of 3:43:07! A personal best by 7 minutes I set earlier this year at the Mercedes Marathon. This was a tough course and is even ranked by the Weather Channel in their list of the 15 Toughest Marathons. It was a great run and one that I may see myself running again in the future.
One really great thing about this race is that there is an option to run 2 half marathons. The Blackberry Mountain Half starts in Kentucky and ends in Matewan, West Virginia at the 13.1 mark and then you immediately continue on to run the River Road Half Marathon. Once crossing the finish line in Williamson runners are awarded 1 medal for each half marathon and a 3rd medal to commemorate running both races. I don’t know of another race that offers runners the opportunity to run 2 half marathons in 1 day in 2 separate states. This is a very appealing option for me in the coming years.
Overall I had an incredible experience at this race. I highly recommend this race for anyone looking to cross off Kentucky or West Virginia. Those of you looking to complete a marathon in all 50 states can count this race as either Kentucky or West Virginia. I choose West Virginia as marathon state 14 and my 4th sub 4 hour marathon.
Finish – 3:43:07
Overall – 28/514
Male – 23/268
Div 25-29 – 3/13