By KYLE LOVERN
WILLIAMSON - A record 575 runners ran in either the full marathon, half marathon or 5-K races on Saturday morning in the 14th annual Hatfield and McCoy Marathon held in Williamson, W.Va.
Matt Sykes of nearby Pikeville, Ky. came in first place with a time of 2:48. This was the second year in a row that Sykes has won the grueling race.
Runners endured very hot and humid weather here in the Tug Valley. Temperatures were cool when the race started at 7:00 a.m. at Food City. But by the time they cross the finish line, the thermometer rises. The full marathon finish line is located on Second Avenue in downtown Williamson and it was bustling with family members and locals to watch the runners finish after the grueling 26.2 mile race.
The half marathon finish line is in downtown Matewan.
Second place went to Jeff Mescal or Lowell, Indiana. He finished around 2:49 as he came in a close second.
“This is a tough race,” Sykes said. “It’s hard, with all the turns. Sometimes your ankles and knees hurt. Plus it gets hotter and humid near the end of the race.”
Mescal said he and Sykes were “shoulder to shoulder” till late in the race, but Sykes pulled away at the end.
“It was his experience of where he had run the race last year,” Mescal said of Sykes. “He ran a good race.”
Race organizer David Hatfield said that Sykes was “as tough as the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.”
The top women’s finisher for the full marathon was Catherine Sykes from Midlothian, Va. She broke the women’s course record with a time of 3:06. Sykes husband Shane is a professional trainer and helped her get ready for the race. She is also a Hatfield descendant.
Many of the runners, including Mescal, talked about the steep Blackberry Mountain section of the race route. Some runners have compared it to the infamous “Heartbreak Ridge” that is part of the Boston Marathon. The difference is that Blackberry Mountain, which starts at Hardy, Ky., is earlier on the route than the hill in the Boston race.
The winner of the 5-K race was 12-year old Noah McNamee who crossed the finish line just ahead of his twin brother Nick McNamee.
Hatfield, who is founder and president of the Tug Valley Road Runners Club (TVRRC), was extremely pleased at the record turnout. There were more than 500 who registered for either the full or half marathon and 60 that signed up for the local Mingo County Diabetes Coalition 5-K run.
This is the most runners to ever participate in the history of the unique race. Runners cross back and forth between Kentucky and West Virginia and run right past some of the actual sights of the famous and historical Hatfield and McCoy Feud.
The race is part of a festival in Williamson and Matewan, W.Va. in Mingo County. Many more tourists have ventured into the Tug Valley area after watching the recent mini-series on the History Channel about the world’s most famous feud.
Local actors Jerry Akers and Doyle Van Meter portray Devil Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy the two patriarchs of the two feuding families. They greet the runners as they cross the finish line. Many of the runners, their families and tourist pose for pictures with the two who are holding weapons and dressed in 1800s attire.
Hatfield says he expects the race to continue to grow in the future.