Wellsburg 5K Race Has Storied Past

By: John L. Davis
The Wellsburg Fourth of July 5K traces its roots to the Wellsburg Town Run of the early 1970s. Back then, a running “boom” was sweeping the United States on the heels of Frank Shorter’s inspiring victory in the 1972 Olympic Games marathon. Countless Americans of all ages embraced the new fitness culture, bought running shoes, and started getting in shape. The Town Run attracted participants from throughout the tri-state area. It became quite a spectacle, featuring as many as 250 runners.
In the beginning, the Town Run was billed as a 3-mile event (it was actually 41 yards longer than 3 miles). The race was notorious for the years it was inadvertently shortened by lead vehicles that made wrong turns in south Wellsburg. Sometimes the race was just a bit more than 2.8 miles. The course was lengthened in the 1980s to the traditional metric distance, 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). However, the event still had a reputation for wrong turns and incorrect start lines. The course was accurately measured and marked for the 2001 race. Since then, the event has been properly staged except in 2022 when the course was shortened to an indeterminate distance.
Carl Hatfield, a Matewan native and two-time All-American at WVU, was among the nation’s best runners from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. He won six Wellsburg Town Run titles in the 1970s. He is far and away the best runner ever to compete here.
Hatfield qualified four times for the U.S. Olympic Trials. He led the WV. Track Club to the Boston Marathon team championship in 1974 and won the AAU national marathon championship in 1978. He was a multiple winner of elite races such as the Pittsburgh Great Race and Washington, DC’s Cherry Blossom 10-miler. In his heyday, Hatfield won more than 500 races across the country. In 1995, he was inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.
Hatfield’s best Town Run performances in the 1970s were the equivalent of 14:38 (4:42 per mile) and 14:59 for the full 5K distance. By comparison, Wellsburg winners in recent decades have rarely broken 17 minutes.
This year’s race will be on Saturday, June 29.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Hatfield earned Master’s and doctorate degrees and enjoyed a long career as a coach, college administrator, and hospital administrator. Now 77, he resides in Bridgeport, WV, and still runs regularly. Mr. Davis, a Wellsburg resident and avid runner, was a teammate of Mr. Hatfield at WVU.