When Minnesota native Barry Fischer crossed the finish line mid-morning Saturday and was officially declared the winner of the 2019 Hatfield McCoy Marathon, he also earned another notable distinction he may not have realized at that moment.
Fischer was not only the winner this year’s race, but he specifically also became the 20th winner of what major race publications like Runners’ World Magazine now consider to be an event worthy of mentioning in the same breath with iconic races like the Boston and New York marathons.
Already having 40 major marathons behind him, when it comes to the uniqueness of the HM Marathon, you wouldn’t get any argument from Fischer.
“Great course ... fun, challenging, lots of hills, lots of mud, and lots of humidity,” Fischer said shortly after crossing the finish line.
“Definitely a great race and well worth doing.”
Current Tug Valley Road Runners President and Race Director Alexis Batausa said Fischer was one of nearly 1,100 runners who participated in this year’s race, which besides the full marathon consists of two half-marathons, a double-half marathon, and a 5K.
Like the 19 races that preceded it, Batausa said this year’s marathon had a few minor blips that officials will learn from and get ironed out by the time the race’s 21st start rolls around next year.
“We had a few little issues, but I think overall we had another very good marathon,” Batausa said.
“Some new things always pop up every year, but we learn from those and that always improves the next year’s race.”
Although the HM Marathon has over the last two decades gained international recognition and currently attracts runners from as far away as Australia, Europe, and South America, by no means has it always been considered the race it is today—not even close.
In fact if you would have asked former Tug Valley Road Runners President and longtime race director David Hatfield right after the first marathon in 2000 about its future prospects, at the time he probably would have given you a glass-half-empty, somewhat less enthusiastic response.
“You know, 20 years ago we only had 31 runners and a very humble beginning,” he said shortly after the last runner of the Blackberry Half-Marathon crossed the finish line in Matewan. “But here we are, 20 years and still running. We began with 31 runners and were just getting started. It’s been a long journey, but we’ve made it and have far exceeded our expectations.”
Hatfield said that, for him, there have been several memorable marathons over the last two decades.
One of those, he said, was made in 2016 when Baltimore, Maryland marathoner Megan DiGregorim overtook North Carolina runner Andy Tessena mere yards before the finish line to become the first woman before or since to be declared the overall winner of the HM Marathon.
Another memorable moment came during that same marathon when North Carolina runner Jason Boschan — who has run in a marathon on every continent in the world as a way to raise both money and awareness for Alzheimer’s — commented to anyone who would listen that not only was the HM Marathon one of the most scenic, but also was at or near the top of the most physically demanding courses he had run anywhere in the world.
Along with recognizing ways the marathon can be and is improved upon each succeeding year, like Batausa, Hatfield said the race owes its success to hundreds of dedicated volunteers as well as the hundreds of runners who, in increasing numbers, are traveling from all over the world each year to ensure the race continues to grow in both numbers and popularity.
“It’s taken a lot of people over the years to make this thing what it is today,” Hatfield said. “Two things I’ve always said you need to get a great race going, and that’s volunteers and runners.
“And we’ve certainly had some of the best volunteers and runners in the world here, as well as some of the best sponsors anywhere. We’ve really been blessed, which is why I’m really looking forward to the next 20 years.”
To help mark the marathon’s 20th anniversary, Batausa said the first five members of the recently established Tug Valley Road Runners Club Hall of Fame were honored prior to Saturday’s race. Inaugural inductees were Hatfield and his wife, Ellen, Sonya Hatfield-Hall, Harold Osborne, and Jeannie Rivard.