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Friday, July 12, 2002 - Sunday, July 14, 2002 -- West Virginia
Run Across West Virginia for Cancer,
A Geographical and Logistical Odyssey
(iPO Event Id#: 5836) By T.R. Buck

[Details] [Coverage] [Pic Set 1]

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Ready to conquer WV
Friday morning [July 12, 2002] at 8:52 A.M., Concord College head track coach, and 2004 Olympic Trials hopeful Mikey Cox stood high atop Shenendoah Mountain alongside the Virginia state line. He began a descent down the mountain, starting a relay to aid the fight against cancer that would span three days.

Sunday night at 9:04 P.M. Wesleyan head coach Jesse Skiles finished a jaunt across the Ohio River bridge in Ravenswood, completing the impressive relay. In between the two coaches an impressive array of talent, both young and old carried the baton, and showing some Mountaineer resolve, the group finished the task at hand.

With the lineup in place, the relay was a question of logistics in the beginning. Where exactly would the baton be when it was someone's turn? This was a central question, and with most areas along the route being out of cellular service, this was a concern. The event, which was sponsored by the West Virginia Track Against Cancer (WV-TAC) Foundation, was designed to raise funds for cancer research, and to promote running, walking and fitness in the state.

THE START

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E.J. Linger hands off to the Hatfield's
Cox was adamant about wanting to be the man to start the first ever relay...the talented young runner and coach who in April finished as the top American in the Broad Street 10-miler in Philadelphia, sees a bright future for the organization, and saw being the first leg of the relay as carrying some historical significance.

At 8:52 A.M. however, doubts circulated about his ability to go first....the long trip up had left him with less than an hour of sleep (many in the group had been up late with Skiles helping him with last minute paperwork). The early morning group included Parkersburg South coach Steve Fox, former Pikeview and Marshall standout Brad Carter, former Cabell Midland and Marshall standout Casey Batey, Cox, Skiles, and Skiles' six year-old daughter Micki wielding the camera. As the group posed in front of the "Welcome to West Virginia" sign , the temperature was a chilly 51 degrees.

Fox offered one last inquiry of Cox's lack of sleep....with the proclamation of "I can sleep plenty whenever I die," Cox was off and away down the Shenendoah mountainside.

The group stopped at the local store in the town of Brandywine which sits in a valley, seven miles from Shenendoah's summit. They drank coffee and mingled with a group of locals who were very intrigued by the event...a group that included a young lady who was a member of the Pendleton County football team.

Shortly, Cox appeared in view barreling down through Brandywine at a blistering early pace, passing the seven mile mark in just over 40 minutes...less than six minutes a mile.

With a 90-minute leg scheduled for Cox, it was observed by the group that he may get close to 15 miles logged.

Carter was scheduled second, and also for 90 minutes...though not running this distance since last fall, he was wanting to do this for the cause. At 10:21 A.M, a spot was set for the first exchange...just a matter of miles from the town of Franklin, Cox passed off to Carter in an all-Mercer County pass. Cox ran 15.3 miles in 89 minutes and 19 seconds. A very powerful start to the event.

Franklin was navigated pretty quickly by Carter, but an ascent up North Fork Mountain awaited him. He would eventually log 11.3 miles on his hilly climb, showing the kind of heart and guts that would set the tone for the event.

With most of the moutain climbed, Carter passed off to former teammate Batey, who would finish the mountain off, then embark on a long extended downhill, descending North Fork Mountain's western side...like Cox, Batey was off and rolling at a mind-boggling pace...looking comfortable clicking off miles at sub-six minutes. He reached the mountain's bottom at the Rt. 28 turnoff to Circleville, and continued a strong pace on US 33. At this point the route runs only a matter of miles from Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Cox, Carter, and Batey had blistered the Eastern WV mountains for 37.5 miles in just over four hours of running. The baton would now go to Fox and Skiles for consecutive legs...both coaches were fine runners in their day, but their shared affection for the weightroom (and fine dining) now has both of their body weights near the "Mendoza Line". But the 52-year old Fox entered this relay fit, and early on he hammered the rolling hills at an eight-minute per mile clip. But just after four miles, his hip began to tighten, and he fought to get his hour in. The bank clock in Riverton had shown a temperature of 77 degrees...and it was getting humid as well.

Skiles was beginning to see his fears come true...like Carter, he had not run this distance since fall, and it now appeared his hour leg was going to include a climb up the mountain out of Seneca. Shortly before 2:00 PM, Fox concluded his gutsy leg in the town of Seneca Rocks, covering 6.8 miles in 59:50.

Heather Bury would be receiving the baton from Skiles, and with Bury racing on Sunday, he wanted desperately to get the baton up the mountain and absolve her from any climbing. But only 20 minutes into the climb, it was clear that this would be a struggle. He fought the hill, but couldn't make the top...logging 6.8 miles in an hour, he left Bury over a mile of climbing to start her leg.

Bury however seemed to knock off the hill without a sweat....cresting the summit at the Randolph County line, and began an easy steady ascent into the town of Harman. The group marveled at how effortless the fluid Bury made running through the mountainous terrain look. She showed in a short time why she is a national class runner.

At this point a problem arose in that Will Shaw, the veteran legendary coach of Davis and Elkins could not be contacted. Repeated cell phone efforts had came up empty. An early reference that the baton would be "around" Harman at 3:00 was what the group was hoping would click. With Fox and Skiles sitting at the Exxon in Harman, Shaw appeared with Bury scarcely a mile away.

Shaw had his infamous Randolph County running group with him for the run...Senator women's coach Sid Gillespie, and star masters runners Sam Severino, Bill Painter, and Joe Biola. The group received the baton from Bury just outside of Harman...the 2000 Olympic Trials qualifier covered 8.3 miles in 61:04.

Shaw and his Randolph County group covered 7.2 miles in 64:44 closing day one at the "blue bridge" just two miles from the town of Alpena. The group had covered a beastly 66.6 miles in just over eight hours of running.

DAY TWO - THE MOUNTAINEER MASH

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Stephanie Hatfield makes the pass to Sara Walker
Day two began with a steady Saturday morning rain that would persist all day. Batey would meet up with Skiles in Elkins with the baton already in action....the former National Qualifier from Marshall would do the entire trek with Coach Skiles, and like several state post-grads, hopes to be very active with WV-TAC.

Like Shaw and his running brigade, Saturday's first leg was from the Upshur County masters runners. The group of J.R. Cornell, Joe Dean, and Steve Hite began the trek from the bridge and headed east on the course, which is US route 33 to you and me. Following the day one theme, the run was very hilly and ended on a climb up Cheat Mountain that closed at Kelly Mountain Road. There the baton was passed to Jared Smith...the former D & E star is again in top shape and is arguably the greatest road racer to ever come out of Boone County. The Upshur group had logged 9.9 miles in 85:00.

Sporting a head band, Smith motored through Elkins, and made his way onto the four-lane portion of 33. After a sprint through the town of Crystal Springs, Smith eventually found his exchange in the town of Norton. With 11.4 miles covered in 69:06, Smith handed off to WVU great Steve Bohan, who just last year ran in the World Championships. This began a WVU-foursome that would get the baton across central West Virginia.

Bohan, who is noted for his work with Christian athletes, as much as his success and work ethic (he has had cycles with peaks at 140 miles a week), is just working on getting back into racing shape. He seemed to enjoy the early miles of the run, waving the baton at passing motorists and smiling. But like the others, it proved to be a run loaded with inclines. Eight miles into his run, he passed off to teammate Scott Allison just inside the Upshur County line. Bohan had covered the eight in 59:35.

Allison's run included one major hill near the town of Kesling Mill, and then down-sloped to Buckhannon. After posting a 14:10 5000 in 2002, much is expected of the talented Allison in his post-grad running. He made it all the way to the Buckhannon Auto Mall...a full 10.2 hilly miles in 64:10.

Charleston native Zach Sabatino would then log the baton from Buckhannon to Weston...and much to the chagrin of the others, he would have a totally flat and somewhat downhill leg. He rolled to a 61:30 for 10.2 miles, handing off to teammate James Lander. Knowing full well of the ensuing razzing for his easy course, Sabatino doubled over in mock pain proclaiming "It was nothing but uphill all the way"....Sabatino opened many eyes this year by qualifying for the World Championships in Cross Country, then posting a 30:20 10,000 at the US Junior Championships.

Lander follwed Sabatino's leg by speeding through the town of Weston, posting several sub-six miles early. Arguably one of the most improved WVU runners, Lander also figures to be a strong post-collegiate runner.

After Weston, he came and conquered a string of Lewis County hamlets....Sunset Acres, Pricetown, Waldeck, and finally Camden. The group assembled at the town store in Pricetown for Lander's seven-mile split, where the locals were also excited to hear more about the relay. After his passing the locals were very amused by Lander's long-flowing hair, short running shorts and shaved legs. At this point, everyone figured they should keep a close watch on him for the final miles. Everyone except for Bohan who was sleeping hard in Sabatino's back seat.

Lander passed the town of Camden, and handed to Batey just past the Hilltop Tavern. He covered 10.3 miles in 61:05.

Batey planned on using the relay for all three of his weekend runs. Unfortunately, the Friday drop off North Fork Mountain at a frantic pace had left Batey's quads screaming and he was now feeling it. Fortunately, this leg included very few inclines of note, and the still falling rain was keeping everyone comfortable.

Running the day's final leg, he passed through the Lewis County towns of Camden Station, Alum Bridge, and Pickle Street. His run ended at the Sugar Grove Baptist Church near the Gilmer County line, covering 9.5 miles in 60:50. The Saturday group had done it's job, putting 69.5 more miles on the board, and successfully getting the baton onto the state's western side.

Looking over the two-day numbers and what the Marshall and WVU runners had done, Skiles said to Batey "man Case, after this, I don't want to ever hear that the runners from our big universities don't care about running in this state. You guys have been awesome!" Just one big day remained.

After the second day, most all of the participants from day two headed to Morgantown for the Brew Pub five-miler. For Batey it was a chance to spend some time with his soon-to-be training partners, and Skiles to see his good friend, WVU coach Sean Cleary. But worries about Sunday's relay legs were cropping up.

Skiles had sent e-mails to all the participants on Thursday night, but had not spoken to most since. Mainly because he had been on the relay course throughout. After a few calls his Sunday was set....The morning would feature long post-race legs from E.J. Linger, Sara Walker, and Carl Hatfield...this would get the baton to 2:30... Then the Wesleyan pair of Craig Nething and Steven Nutter would each knock off an hour, as Nething said he would get Nutter there. After the call to Nething, Skiles reached Wheeling coach Mark Swiger, who said he would get the WJU pair of Ricky Moore and Matt Abel there for their 4:30-6:00 leg together. Reigning WVIAC cross country champ Mikey Guinn was then set to close the deal....it would be a Mikey start and finish (Cox and Guinn).

With Sunday all set, Skiles and Cleary enjoyed the post-race festivities at the Brew Pub in peace, talking recruiting and training well into the night. Much was also discussed concerning the future of WV-TAC as a charitable organization....and the positive role it could have on fitness in our state....and also the sport of running.

DAY THREE - A GOOD START

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Motoring along on the final day
E.J. Linger was more than ready for his 90-minute Sunday leg....after finishing 6th in Saturday Night's Brew Pub race...the former WVU runner, cruised to a strong morning run. Just a mile into his run he entered Gilmer County in the town of Linn, and climbed the ensuing hill smoothly. He then made it through the town of Baldwin and on through Glenville. He ran so well, he ran himself into another hill...after crossing the famous Glanville Bridge across the Little Kanawha River, an extreme hill follows.

Linger crested this hill with a look of pain, perhaps now feeling his race. At 13.0 miles and 88:45, he handed off to the father/daughter combo of Carl and Stephanie Hatfield. Carl was WVU's first ever NCAA cross country all-american, and in the late 70's, the Matewan native ranked among the nations top marathoners. In many ways, he was THE pioneer of the running boom in West Virginia. Daughter Stephanie was a Class AAA all-stater at Robert C. Byrd, and will be running for Wesleyan this fall.

Stephanie showed no mercy on a father who had raced twice on Saturday, moving slightly away from him on some uphills...but the two would "circle up" and continue on. The two would cover 10.3 miles in 90:55...navigating through the Gilmer County towns of Normantown and Lockney. The group spent some time in the general store at Normantown, discussing the High School's 1945 State Basketball title with some locals...this was when the state had only one class...Going strictly by the numbers, this title by the Vikings...in a school that only graduated 23, over a Logan team from a school with over 1000 students, is bigger than the story made famous in the movie "Hoosiers"...

Normantown High is now an Elementary School, and the Hatfield's ran right by the historic old building late in their run. Stephanie would hand off to Sara Walker in a "Bobcat Pass", as the Wesleyan freshman passed on to the Wesleyan alum.

Walker, a fourth-year med student and a three-time league MVP while running for Wesleyan had won the Brew Pub five-miler in a time 31:26. She was hopeful that she could feel as strong in her post-race long run as Linger had earlier. At five miles she looked comfortable at 37:32 (a 7:30.4 pace), and was getting chastised by the others like Sabatino the day before for a totally flat course....but at eight miles, a big one came just past Stumptown. Still she finished her run of ten miles even in 77:25.

Batey received the baton from Walker in an "All-Huntington" pass...and this is where the problems started....

Just a few miles into his run, Batey hit the town of Millstone with his quads still aching...and Skiles was unsure of Nething's status...he had told Nething on Saturday night the baton would be near Spencer at 2:30...this would be true...but calls from Linger's cell phone earlier had not brought contact. And now Linger and Walker were gone.

An hour into Batey's run, and the town of Arnoldsburg now safely tucked away, Skiles was beginning to worry. He reached Linger's cell phone with his predicament. They immediately tried to locate Guinn for an early leg to try and buy some time.

With Batey's gutsy leg almost over Skiles realized that he needed to throw in an emergency leg until someone showed up. Not expecting to run...or wanting to, after falling apart on the Seneca Mountain earlier in the relay, Skiles was sporting Khaki shorts...but as Batey finished up, Skiles took the baton, just four miles from the town of Spencer. Batey had covered 13.2 miles in 90:15.

The coach tried hard to push the baton forward with a solid leg, not knowing who would take it from there....as the run approached 40 minutes, he began looking around every turn for Nething...Nutter...or Ricky Moore....anybody with running shoes.

"I was eye-balling every car...I just knew they had to be close"...but they weren't...with his run approaching an hour, Skiles saw the truck of his good friend Mikey Guinn pull into sight, just a few miles past Spencer. He had logged 7.2 unexpected miles in 55:14.

"Mikey, I don't think Pamela Anderson ever looked as good as your truck pulling up" Skiles chuckled. Guinn said that Walker and Linger had reached him with the situation.

Guinn was coming off a sickness that had forced him bed-ridden for much of the week, so he was playing it by ear.

He rolled through the towns of western Roane County without Batey in the support crew. He had driven ahead looking for signs of Moore or Nething. Guinn encountered a Rothweiler that appeared to see him more as a Sunday dinner...but he moved on and made it through the towns of Peniel and finally Marshall.

THE JACKSON COUNTY NIGHTMARE

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Painfully close to the finish
At this point, Batey had returned...nobody could be found, and the Ohio River was still over 20 miles away. Skiles found himself faced with a grim situation. He himself had struggled with an earlier 7.2 miles... now, Guinn was fading late in his run, showing obvious signs of his lingering sickness, and Batey had struggled with his sore quads through 13.2 earlier miles. Not wanting to compromise the training of other's athletes, Skiles realized that he had to go again until another runner could be found.

Guinn returned the baton to Skiles after 14.1 miles, in a tidy 93:08. Just a few miles into Skiles' run, Batey and Guinn pulled him over and the three had a quick impromptu meeting. The group decided this wouldn't be like the All-Star game. All the runners who had ran and those who were donating to this run, didn't do so for it not to be finished. One way or another, the baton WOULD get to the mighty Ohio.

Jackson County was not being kind to the ol' coach however. The khakis were soaked, and the veteran coach was trying to hang on. With 30 minutes ran, his back severely tightened up and eight minute miles became nine-minute miles. He began yelling back at irritating hecklers. Exactly eight miles into his stint, Batey and Guinn arrived with some water and food, and relief. Skiles stopped and with a full-grip, squeezed a large charge of water out of each leg of the once nice dress shorts.

Batey and Guinn, fed and refueled, were ready to do another small run to help out. Batey regained the baton and began a light jog toward Ripley which was just two miles away. It had taken Skiles over 73 minutes to cover the previous eight miles.

Batey jogged an easy 5.1 miles, grimacing over his achy quads. He managed to get onto I-77 for the only seven miles of the run which took place on one of President Eisenhower's interstate highways. This gave the Marshall great 18.3 miles for the day, and Guinn would add on a 4.9 leg to give himself 19.0 for ther day. Guinn was now a battered and beaten reigning WVIAC champ, and was handing off to Skiles, who was clearly beaten down himself at this point. With 25 WVIAC championships in his pocket, Skiles would have likely traded a few of those on this late Sunday evening for the sight of Moore or Nutter.

But it wasn't going to happen...it was his to finish, and the last four miles were taken very slowly, still beating the impending darkness. Crossing the Ohio River Bridge in Ravneswood, Skiles found his buddies waiting for him on the other side. Runners who the coach liked and respected before, now were revered in a larger way.

Batey and Guinn got out to take pictures. What Skiles saw was not the two great native West Virginia runners before him, but rather two battered warriors who had conquered a great foe. Like all the runners who had participated in this great three-day event across the mountains of our great state, they bonded together to achieve a great accomplishment for a great cause.

Cancer WILL be beaten some day. And West Virginia WILL take steps toward better fitness. WV-TAC took a major swing at these forces with this event.

Sitting in the aptly-named Marathon station back in Ripley, the trio of Batey, Guinn, and Skiles sat extremely fatigued. It was noted how significant the Walker to Batey exchange was. Linger had left with the knowledge that Nething, Nutter, Moore, and Abel were soon to follow before Guinn....little did they know at the time, that the final 56.5 miles would be covered by only three guys...all of which were going either sick or slightly injured.

If you wish to sponsor anyone who helped by running a leg of this relay, or simply donate to WV-TAC, donations can be sent to:

WV-TAC
PO BOX 2451
Buckhannon, WV 26201


A RUNDOWN OF THE RELAY
RUNNER TIME MILES
FRIDAY
MIKEY COX89:1915.3
BRAD CARTER86:4611.3
CASEY BATEY62:3510.9
STEVE FOX59:506.8
JESSE SKILES60:006.8
HEATHER BURY61:048.3
WILL SHAW
SAM SEVERINO
BILL PAINTER
JOE BIOLA
SID GILLESPIE
64:447.2
SATURDAY
JR CORNELL
JOE DEAN
STEVE HITE
85:009.9
JARED SMITH69:0611.4
STEVE BOHAN59:358.0
SCOTT ALLISON64:1010.2
ZACH SABATINO61:3010.2
JAMES LANDER61:0510.3
CASEY BATEY60:509.5
SUNDAY
EJ LINGER88:4513.0
CARL HATFIELD
STEPHANIE HATFIELD
90:5510.3
SARA WALKER77:2510.0
CASEY BATEY90:1513.2
JESSE SKILES55:147.2
MIKEY GUINN93:0814.1
JESSE SKILES73:088.0
CASEY BATEY34:165.1
MIKEY GUINN34:264.9
JESSE SKILES37:144.0
TOTALS
LEGS - 24TIME - 27:00:21MILES - 225.9