notes from a creative writing PhD candidate
I couldn’t have picked a better first half marathon. The weather was ideal: sunny and clear, 65 degrees at 7:00 a.m., not a cloud in the sky. Fields, wildflowers, horses, head-butting goats, and beautiful craftsman homes tucked away behind dense patches of trees provided runners with plenty of scenery to distract us. Typically I’m an iPod runner, but for the first 9 miles I ran without any music–another first for me.
The race begins and ends at Doukenie Winery in Purcellville, Virginia. My fiance/cheerleader, Juan Pablo, and I arrived at Mountain Road around 6:30 a.m. thinking I’d have plenty of time to use the bathroom, warm-up, and get mentally prepared at the starting line. But the line of cars was SO long; we didn’t pull into the parking lot until 6:55. I bolted to use the bathroom but, of course, the line was 10-deep and people were taking their sweet time in there. Luckily, there was a 5-minute delay, and just as I was exiting the bathroom I heard the gun go off. I sprinted towards the start, hopped a low barrier and jumped in line in the middle of the 2:30 pace group–perfect timing. Got my bathroom break, warm-up, and pace group spot just as planned. Definitely won’t cut it this close in future races, though.
Spots are available for 3,000 runners, which sounded overwhelming when I registered in February; however, the course never felt crowded except at mile 6 where there’s a bit of a bottleneck at the water/wine stop at Hiddencroft Vineyards. There’s a 3:30 time limit (~16 minute miles) and I was surprised to see some people walking right from the get-go. (The back of one power-walking woman’s shirt made me smile: “I’m slow. I know. Get over it.”)
Wine is served on the course–I mean, it is the wine country half, but seriously–drinking alcohol during a 13 mile run? At 8:00 in the morning?! To imbibe or not to imbibe: I waffled back and forth between drinking wine at mile 6 or holding off until after the race, but when I arrived at Hiddencroft, feeling energized and in the zone, I didn’t want to waste time sipping vino (although many others did). I grabbed two waters and two fruit-punch flavored Accelerades (I did this at every 2-mile stop) and kept moving.
(Note: I read a zillion blogs about “running your first half marathon” and all of them say not to do anything different on race day than you did on your training runs. This includes not wearing new shoes (obvious) or different clothes (a good point), and not trying new gels or drinks offered on the course. I’d never tried Accelerade before, but it was delicious and gave me a little electrolyte kick. I probably wouldn’t have grabbed some random gel or a taco if it was offered, but a sports drink? Why not.)
Spectators are not allowed on the course. On the website it stated two viewing areas were available for spectators to cheer on friends and family, but when my fiance attempted to drive out of the vineyard’s parking lot and up to the mile 7 lookout, police informed him that all the roads were closed and he couldn’t leave. It wasn’t such a big deal except that he had my GUs; no food or energy gels were served on the course, and I suffered without that nutrition boost at mile 9. Lack of energy, along with a lack of preparation (I hadn’t run more than 7 miles before the race) and a series of endless hills made the final 4 miles of the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon nearly unbearable.
I picked a very hilly course for a first half marathon, but since most of my training runs were on hills I didn’t feel entirely unprepared. About a mile of the course at the halfway point is on a steep gravel road–not soft, dusty gravel but big chunks of rocks. I felt my feet begin to swell in my shoes; with each step I took I could feel an uneven lump of rock beneath my toes. Running uphill on a loose gravel road makes your legs work even harder, but I pushed through and didn’t walk until I hit mile 9.
The last leg to the finish line was all uphill, and I balanced walking and running; at this point many people in the 2:30 pace group started to walk. I ran as fast as I could for the last mile and ran my fastest split. Juan Pablo was there waiting for me, and I was struck with a feeling of elation/pride/love/goodwill/exhaustion all at once. I knew as soon as I crossed the finish line I would run another half marathon, and would one day train for a full.
Swag & stuff:
1. A REALLY nice technical (wicking) t-shirt that fits true to size (I’m a small, in case you’re wondering). It’s super comfortable and soft; I wore it on a run this week and was happy with how lightweight and non-itchy it felt. The sponsored t-shirt can be a toss-up from race to race, but this one is super sleek and stylish.
2. A beautiful race medal in the shape of a wine glass. This year’s design had a small square charm on the bottom to place on the stem of a wine glass, but they were falling off runners’ medals left and right; I had to request another one because my medal came without a charm entirely. I put it on a key ring instead.
3. In terms of post-race fuel, runners received a bag that included a very tiny banana, a bag of pea crisps, and a granola bar. Not very satisfying grub after running for two hours–pretty disappointed by this.
4. The $20 stemless wine glass and tasting are NOT included in the registration fee, which is something I didn’t realize until the race expo the day before. $20 on top of $120 race fee? No way. The glass at least should be included in the registration fee. But once the race was over, the last thing I wanted to do was drink alcohol.
I stretched and we drove home, where I promptly passed out for two hours. Upon waking I was ravenous and I downed heaping plates of Mexican food and the most delicious, thirst-quenching margarita I’ve ever tasted. Then I came home and passed out again.
Would I run this race again? Definitely, although I’d rather tackle 13.1 miles in another locale featured in the summer-long Destination Races series. (Napa to Sonoma sounds particularly enticing.)