My hubby Bill and I ran two races in Destination Races’ Wine Country Half Marathon series – the Oregon half and the Napa to Sonoma half. We thoroughly enjoyed both, and loved the wine festivals held after the races. We live on the East Coast, and have long had our eyes on the Virginia half, but the race is held at the beginning of June, which did not fit well with my teaching schedule. This year was my first in retirement, so we signed up for the race in a heartbeat.
We traveled the two and a half hours southwest from our home in Pennsylvania on a Friday afternoon to pick our packets and visit the expo at The Landsdowne Resort in Leesburg, VA, about an hour west of Washington, DC. The expo was small, but nice, and packet pick up was a breeze. They had T-shirts from past races for sale for $5. Bill looked at one and liked it, but could not allow himself to buy a shirt from a race that he did not complete. He is a true T-shirt aficionado, and could have kicked himself afterwards for not buying the shirt (like you need more T-shirts, honey!!!)
We drove to our hotel, which was about 20 minutes from the race start, (it was actually in West Virginia) unpacked, got our gear ready for the next morning, and went out for a quick snack before bedtime.
The next morning we woke to our alarm at 5:00 and ate a little breakfast, which was thoughtfully provided for us by our hotel (Home 2 Suites by Hilton) the night before, since we had to leave before the start of their normal breakfast hours.
The race started and ended at Doukenie Winery in Purcellville, VA. Now, this area has been hard hit by frequent rainstorms in the month of May. The ground was completely saturated. When you stood on a grassy area, the water table was right underneath your shoes. Walking across grass was like walking across a wet sponge. Parking was supposed to be in two fields adjacent to the winery, but the race director had to scramble at the last minute to find an alternate parking spot to avoid having cars getting stuck in the muddy fields. We parked at a nearby high school and were shuttled to the winery, approximately three miles away.
We got to the winery about 30 minutes before the scheduled 7:00 start, dropped our bags and visited the porta-potties (no lines!). Even as we lined up at the starting line, I could not believe the race would start on time. There were hundreds of people waiting in line for the shuttles after us, and I knew that it would take a long time to get them all to the race start. I don’t think this was due to poor planning on the race director’s part, however. I think the race company did the best they could under the conditions they had to work with.
As we waited for the race to start, we chatted with people around us, and met a very friendly woman named Marcy. She had a Marine Corps Marathon hat on, and when I told her that I am registered for that race this fall, she immediately offered to let us use her guest bedroom to avoid hotel room fees for the race. I may take her up on her offer! I also noticed that Marcy and I were in the same age group.
The race started about 20 minutes late. We ran out a long gravel drive from the winery and onto a paved road. The first miles of the race seemed to be slightly uphill on a road lined with fields and woods. This is Virginia Wine Country, a beautiful area with farms, vineyards and natural areas. The weather was warm, not hot, but the humidity was 100%, which made running slightly uncomfortable.
The course was rolling, and before the halfway point, the paved road turned into one with a stone surface. The best place to run was where the stones had been worn away to bare dirt. I ran with Bill for the first eight miles of the race. Bill played softball the night before we left for the race, and his legs were tired. He started walking and told me to keep going. I was unsure what to do, but when I noticed Marcy talking to Bill, who was not too far behind me, my competitive juices kicked in, and I tried to pull away.
Miles 9 – 12.5 were back on the paved road, and I felt very good. I was running strong and enjoying the beautiful scenery. It was mostly very slightly downhill on the way back, which made running more enjoyable. At mile 12.5 we turned back onto the gravel drive at the vineyard, and I ran out of gas. I started walking. Marcy passed me. I could not kick it into gear for the final half mile (as I had for the York Half Marathon, which I ran two weeks before). As I crossed the finish line, the announcer called my name and I pulled up to a stop. I was tired, completely soaked with sweat, and very glad to be done running. Marcy beat me by less than a minute. I collected my finisher’s medal, got some water and food, and waited for Bill, who finished soon after me.
We collected our drop bags, changed into dry clothes in the porta-potties (yuck!), and got our wrist bands and sampling glasses for the post-race wine festival. Several wineries had wines to sample or you could buy wine by the glass or bottle. There were food trucks selling food and a band set up in a gazebo playing the blues. We sampled some wines and sat down to listen to music, enjoying the rest of the morning.
At the awards ceremony, I found out I won second place in my age group. The award was a $25 gift certificate from The Barns, one of the wineries at the festival. Bill and I went over to their stand, sampled their wines and selected our favorite one. I exchanged the gift certificate for a bottle, and left the festival with some very good white wine.
I would definitely recommend this race. It was scenic, well organized, had a very enjoyable course with well-controlled traffic and a great post-race wine festival. There were plenty of porta-potties and transportation to and from the race was good, especially considering it had to be arranged at the last minute. Communication from the race director before the race was informative and engaging. The only thing I might recommend to improve the experience is to set up men’s and women’s changing tents so that runners can get out of their sweaty running clothes more easily.
And maybe un-invite Marcy next year! 😉
I am linking up with Patty, Erika and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run. Love these running-related blogs! Also linking up with Running on Happy and Fairytales and Fitness for their Friday 5. If you like running and fitness blogs, check them out here! I am linking up with Holly from HoHo Runs and Wendy from Taking the Long Way Home for their Weekly Wrap. Join me there for some fabulous fitness blogs!