Annual meet named for two local distance running pioneers

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Hundreds of athletes made their way along trails winding through Montreat College's Black Mountain campus for the seventh annual Hyder-McMahill Invitational on Sept. 3.

Around two dozen high schools and colleges were represented in a series of races held on the trails directly connected with the two men from which the meet gets its name.

"We wouldn't be running cross country events on those trails back there if it wasn't for Don McMahill and Joe Hyder," said Jason Lewkowicz, director and coach of the men’s and women’s cross country programs at Montreat College. "The meet was named after them to recognize those contributions."

The Hyder-McMahill Invitational marks the beginning of the cross country season for the hosting Montreat Cavaliers. Lewkowicz, who is entering his second season at the school, said its two namesakes have each played a vital role in creating the home course for his teams.

Hyder is beginning his 30th season as the head coach of the Owen High School cross country team. The Warhorses and Warlassies have competed in each of the seven Hyder-McMahill Invitationals.

"Before Montreat bought the property I had explored out here when I was running down Vance Avenue," he said. "Anything that remotely resembled a trail I would explore it."

Hyder, who started running around 40 years ago, immediately recognized the potential to develop running trails.

"Before Montreat bought it the property was a retreat," he said. "During a drought one year, before they built the bridge, I was able to rock hop over the creek and discovered some old road beds. I immediately had it in mind."

Montreat College purchased the property in 2001. Hyder and McMahill sought permission to develop the trail system.

"We put probably 2,000 or 3,000 hours of pretty intensive labor into it," Hyder said. "I mean we worked our tails off."

McMahill has been running for 65 years and is the founder of local running events like the Valentine's Day 5K and Sourwood 5K. He came across the the same road beds that Hyder noticed after the Metropolitan Sewerage District put a sewer line through the property.

"They tied in near Blue Ridge Road and ran up parallel to the creek and all the way up," he said. "When they did they knocked a lot of trees down which left a lot of the single path trails 10-15 feet wide, which is what we needed to create those trails."

McMahill isn't sure exactly how many miles of trails are on the property, but he said there is "never a problem setting up a course for a 5K or 10K."

In years past the Hyder-McMahill Invitational has been held twice, once as a college meet and then again as a high school meet. But this year the college and high school meets were combined, creating one large cross country event.

In 2010 Montreat College honored Hyder and McMahill by naming the former Cavalier Kickoff Classic the Hyder-McMahill Invitational. McMahill still has the t-shirt from the inaugural event.

"I was on the field ready to start that race in 2010 and they brought me and Joe out to the center of the field before the race," McMahill said. "I was shook, I had to compose myself so I could get the race underway."

Hyder also appreciates the fact that his team can compete in a meet named after him every year. Added to the excitement is the chance for his cross country team to host the Western Highlands Conference championship on Oct. 20 at Pulliam Stadium.

"It's been great to see what they've been able to do here at Montreat College," he said. "It's a great home course for them and for us as well."

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