I can think of a few words to describe this half marathon experience, and most of them start with “h.” Hot, hilly, humid, hellish. It was…something. I saw a running/working out quote last week that said, “It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to get done,” & that is basically how this half marathon went for almost everyone running it.
I’m not even sure how to re-cap this, honestly, so I guess I’ll just start at the beginning. This race involved a super early wake-up call (3:45 am) followed by an hour drive into Loudoun County to Doukenie Winery, which was the start/finish location. It is beautiful out there, especially in the morning during the sunrise.
One thing that really frustrated me was that the race started late due to people and buses arriving late. Apparently, this has been a problem every year of this race, which makes me wonder why there isn’t a solution to the problem. I don’t know, maybe push up your last shuttle bus time. If the rest of us could wake up super early to drive out there on time, there shouldn’t be an excuse for everyone else. Plus, they didn’t announce the late start until 5 minutes prior to gun time, which means everyone was already lined up and couldn’t use the bathroom one more time, couldn’t get more water, etc. Another thing that really turned me off was the fact that there were volunteer port-a-potties right next to the start line, but they were “off-limits” to runners (people got into arguments about this), even though the race was delayed. That seemed sort of wrong to me. Also, people’s chip time doesn’t start until they cross the start line, so who cares if some people cross it a few minutes after everyone else? Another issue that should have been considered with the delay of start time was the fact that the heat was a major factor with this race, and delaying the start meant that we’d be out on the course later.
The course itself was beautiful but very, very hilly with not much shade cover. I will say, though, that this course went past farms, and it was a hot day, so the smell of, um, animals, was something we all encountered. The first and last 3 or so miles of it was a road race, but the other 7 miles of it was on gravel, and I am not a fan of running on gravel, and I was not prepared for it. It’s so hard to get traction on gravel, especially running uphill, and I found it sort of hard to pass people. Because of the delayed start, a bunch of us made a beeline to the first port-a-potty location about 2 miles in, and I did have to wait for a few minutes before it was my turn. By the time those first two miles were up, we were all covered in sweat; at around mile 7, I passed someone whose shorts were dripping sweat. So gross but indicative of the heat/humidity. At mile 6.5, they had a wine stop included in their water stop, and I indulged in a shot-glass sized amount of chilled white wine before heading back out. I was doing okay until about mile 7-8, and then I got exhausted, hot, etc. I think this is about the point where everyone fell apart (or maybe you can call it “being smart” in the heat); I have never seen so many people walk in a race! All of us were alternating walking and running, and everyone walked sloooowly through water stops. I met up with this one women around mile 9 and said to her, “I am basically counting down until this is over.” She nodded in agreement and said how terrible this course was, and how she thought she was prepared, but maybe not. She and I ended up taking turns passing each other until I passed her for a while around mile 10. I started walking again at about mile 11, and when she caught up with me, she tapped me and said, “You can do this!” and that’s when I took off. That was the only push I needed to run the final two miles, so thank you, nice lady! I wish I had seen her after the race.
Final time was 2:06ish watch time, and, given the circumstances, it’s not something I can be disappointed in. I knew going in that I wasn’t going to try to do anything spectacular and that I was just running to run. Also, I knew a few people running the half marathon distance this weekend, and it seems like everyone was about 10 minutes slower than their best time because of the heat, so my time is right on par with that. It’s funny, too, to see my time and see my “standings;” that really showed me just how much everyone else struggled. For a time that wasn’t my best, I placed around the same percentages that I placed in half marathons where I had great (for me) times. I was 543/2369 overall (23%) & 293/1668 women (17.5%). If I had matched my PR half marathon time, I would have been 88th out of women, so that just goes to show how sloooowly everyone was running that day, because my PR time is good, but not that good! Something else that was encouraging about this race is that before the heat got to me, I was taking hills at a steady pace (and even felt like they weren’t that challenging!), and passing people going up them. At least I know training in our super hilly neighborhood is paying off! All in all, though, it was a hard-earned medal and wine glass day!
Afterwards, I went home, ate a Subway footlong (so hungry!), took a nap, and still woke up feeling awful. Heat exhaustion is not something to mess with, so I’m glad most runners took it easy! I personally only saw one having to be carted away by paramedics; hopefully there weren’t many others.
One thing I will say about this half marathon is that it seemed more focused on the post-race events than on runner amenities. Granted, the post-race events were pretty awesome, but I was turned off by some of the racing aspects. I hated the late start, and I hated the volunteer attitudes towards the port-a-potties. This was an expensive race, and if it is started late, volunteers should be able to go with the flow and allow people to use the “restricted” port-a-potties. The main thing that turned me off, though, was lack of water. There was plenty at the aid stations, but once you crossed the finish line, all you got was water from a cooler poured into a Dixie cup. There were NO bottles of water at all, and even the medical station ran out of water. That is not cool during any race, let alone one with this heat, and one where post-race wine tasting was the main event. I actually checked into the wine tasting area for the sole purpose of filling my wine glass with water from that cooler; I didn’t even touch the wine! Sad, especially since this race was very expensive.
I did get to do a grape-stomping afterwards, and that was fun! It felt amazing on the feet! They provided us with white t-shirts to do grape footprints on afterwards.
All in all, I might run this again, but only with a group of people. I would never run this race to PR, but it would be a fun experience if you were able to take advantage of everything afterwards. The wine tastings go through the whole evening! I do know many runners opted to go home right after crossing the finish line because the heat had gotten to them, so some people didn’t even enjoy post-race festivities. I at least walked around before heading back home, but I didn’t take advantage of the wine tasting aspect. I just wanted water & Gatorade!