Sunday, April 8, 2012

Oak Barrel Half Marathon Race Report

People in Tennessee are nice. Just plain nice.

See, breakfast in the hotel wasn't supposed to start until 7am ... which, frankly, was cutting it a bit too short to make an 8am race that starts a 20-minute drive away. Wil and I planned to have everything ready to go and then try to grab a piece of toast or something as we ran out the door at 7. This made me nervous -- I do hate being late -- so we went downstairs at 6:45 hoping that we might be able to grab something early.

Imagine my surprise when the elevator doors opened to a breakfast room FULL of people -- all with their race numbers on! And a harried but friendly employee filling and refilling the basket of bananas and bagels. So we grabbed some breakfast and headed out the door at 6:50.

We got near Lynchburg pretty quickly, but then got caught in the line to turn into the main square. It took us 15 minutes or so, but everything moved smoothly and there were plenty of cops and volunteers directing traffic. 

We parked on the grass in a large park, made pre-race pit stops, and then headed up to the starting area. I always love the last few minutes before the start, as people get ready for their race. This time of year there seem to be a lot of first-timers, which is especially lovely. Some folks are chatty, others very quiet and focused. Then a live singing of the national anthem, and then we were off -- literally, "... hoooome of the braaaaaave. HONK!"
obligatory pre-race photo
They started to play upbeat music as we walked towards the start; I always feel like dancing a little (probably using energy I could have used later - ha!) and of course I let out a little whoop as we crossed the line. I LOVE this part!

course map -- and if you could look very carefully, you'd be able to track me walking around the finish area for 15 minutes, picking up a soda, eating a hotcake, stretching...
 We ran with the pack, off into the backroads of Tennessee. Not what one might call a "flat" course... more "constantly rolling".... and with one great, big, loooong hill. But that was still to come. So we ran and ran on the absolutely perfect morning. Clear blue sky, a tiny bit chilly, and not much wind to speak of. Perfect!

And then, somewhere around mile 3, we ran through past some sort of livestock farm. Goat? Cow? Heaven knows what, but we were downwind from their cesspit. Not "ew, it smells like a cesspit". It was an actual cesspit -- perhaps cesspool -- steaming in the morning sun. And we were downwind... and I thought I was going to throw up. I tried breathing with my mouth, but that was just as bad. I know I'm a city girl, but I defy anyone to find that just "nature". Vile.

Luckily, we passed it relatively quickly ... and then we started climbing. Here's how the organizers describe the course:

"Understand, that because Lynchburg sits in a valley, the race course incorporates a few hills. The scenic beauty of Moore County, however, will far outweigh any of the challenges presented by the hills. This will NOT be a "flat and fast" personal record setting course but hopefully will be a fun and memorable race."

Now, we're from Seattle. Sure, we live at sea level and all, but we know from hills. So when we started up "character building" Whiskey Hill, I thought I might not be so bad. It just went up. And up. And up. Because the road curved a bit, you couldn't really see where it was heading, where it would end, etc. And it just got steeper as it went.

I slowed to a walk -- no sense blowing all my energy before mile 5, right? Other people were trying to run it, but we frequently passed them -- it did sorta feel like we were all just staying in place. And then we saw it... the switchback. I don't have a picture, but "I Run For The Hills" snagged these two pictures from Facebook last year:

runners headed up the switchback on Whiskey Hill
the teeny tiny dots are runners headed up Whiskey Hill... seen from the top of the hill

Um, wow. That was indeed a hill. It was like the hill in Seward Park... but longer. Maybe like the hill in Stanley Park? As we got to the switchback -- a turn so steep it would be a little nerve-wracking in a car -- I could hear "Running on Empty". Indeed.

But we made it to the top, and wobbled our way to the water stop, where I gulped Gatorade and water. One downside to getting to the top of the ridge? We got into the sun for most of the rest of the race. Good thing I had my visor!

We ran along the top of the ridge, passing fields, barns, the occasional horse, and a few spectators. My absolute favorite folks were an elderly farming couple, standing at the edge of their driveway, cheering. The farmer had a pair of wooden clappers (perhaps for calling cows home?!?), and his wife had her arms up in the air, saying "Go go go!" Adorable!!!!

Wil wore his "40@40" shirt again, and I had added a "#5" tyvek "bib" he could pin on the back. We chattered a lot with other runners in our area about the project -- I think adding the number was a nice touch. It will be even nicer when the count gets higher!

We hit a loooooong downhill at some point, essentially from mile 8.5 to mile 11. This was the good part -- I felt strong and pretty happy. And then I got a bit tired. As usual. I need to work on the mental part of my running -- I mean, I never thought I wasn't going to finish. I just felt tired, wanted to walk more, and started having trouble breathing. And the weather had gotten hot. Or at least hot for us northern types. Wil kept me moving, as usual, and I was really happy when we passed the 12 mile mark on the road into town. It's always nice to know a bit about where you are, right? 

We passed the distillery and approached the final turn into the square, where Wil grabbed my hand and we took off as fast as my tired legs would allow us. We got a nice shout-out from the announcer, had some cheers, and smiled wide as we ran across the line. Given the hill, the heat, and the bad night's sleep the night before, I was thrilled to finish in 2:34:32.

Crazy hair, red faces, and sweet medals. Oh, and yes, I did run with a necklace on. What, you don't run in jewelry? I should just be glad I remembered to take off my freakin' charm bracelet...
Lovely volunteers handed us bottles of water and put very handsome oak medals around our necks. They are beautiful -- laser etched, blackened on the edges, and decorated on both sides. They also happen to smell gorgeous. Completely and totally gorgeous. People kept saying that they were made out of JD barrels -- but I suspect it's just the same oak. But who knows -- maybe that's why they smell so good?

 After the race we wandered around the square and enjoyed a very fine spread -- possibly the best at any race I've ever seen. Hotcakes? Yes please! Pizza slice? Sure! Ice cold Diet Coke? Oh yes. We didn't have the soup, but people were enjoying that, too. A guy was standing on a flatbed truck, singing and playing guitar; people were sitting around, chatting and eating, and we just stretched and took it all in.

Eventually we went to the car, changed shirts and went back to the square to do a little shopping. We then decided to go to the distillery to buy one of the engraved bottles -- I mean, why not get a "decanter" as a souvenir? But the line to get things engraved was really long and moving really slowly... and I was a little nervous about packing a $75 bottle of whiskey in my suitcase that still had a lot of flying to do. So we decided to go back to the hotel for a shower and a nap instead. (I still feel this was a fine choice.)

All in all, the Mach Tenn running club put on a fantastic race -- plenty of water, excellent post-race food, gorgeous swag, and a fantastic medal.

A few random highlights:
- the group who ran in the "Disco Shorts" from BetaBrand
- our "pacers" over the last few miles
- and one of the greatest race moments ever: the hidden boom box that suddenly started playing "Dueling Banjos" as we approached Whiskey Hill. I may have a real purty mouth, but I *still* don't wanna squeal like a piggy!

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