Saturday, April 27, 2013

Park to Park Half Marathon race report

Wow -- what a great race. In fact, this is now one of my two favorite smaller races of all time. High praise, coming from me. (The other winner? The Scenic Half, in Sandpoint Idaho…)

Arrived in cute Waynesboro, Virginia, on Friday afternoon after taking the train from Durham to Richmond and driving to Waynesboro. I decided to go right to the packet pickup, which was held at the Best Western in town. I love when a race offers packet pickup but doesn't require it. That means, if I can make it, I get my stuff early. But if I can't make it, I can still get my stuff on race morning.

I told the person my name, and she said, "From Seattle? Washington? REALLY?!?" One of the guys (quite possibly the race director) said, "Oh, wow...tell me you came all the way out here for the race." I smiled and said, truthfully, that I was in NC for work, but did come to Virginia for the race. I think he was still pleased with that. :) I also told him that it was my first time in Virginia, so a woman called across the room that I needed to pick up a "Virginia is for Lovers" sticker. Awesome!

When I got my shirt -- a handsome logo on a light blue tech tee, with the very nice addition of a small "Boston" ribbon -- I was fussed over a bit more. I said that I guess I would come in first among racers from Washington state... but then laughed because I would also come in LAST among racers from Washington state... They told me to focus on the positive.

The whole process took all of 4 minutes, including the chat -- but i was impressed by how friendly and efficient everyone was.

Another thing that really impressed me -- how good the design is on their race logos, and how well branded the Run the Valley race series is. Sometimes it's simple -- a couple of nice "feather" banners, consistent branding and colors... but it's so nice to see. Nice bibs, nice shirts, even a very, very nice medal. (Not to get ahead of myself....) Yeah, I'm big on the branding...
Park 2 Park Half Marathon start panorama

Race day was perfect -- a bit chilly (I love to run in cool to cold weather), but with clear, sunny skies and no wind. Apparently it gets windy in the valley sometimes. I drove over to the start, where the parking situation was handled efficiently, there were plenty of toilets, and everything was set up nicely. I put a few things into my drop bag (donated by a local credit union) -- car keys, sandals, a jacket in case the weather went weird -- and left it to be transported to the finish. Oh, did I mention this was a point-to-point? Fantastic!!! Park to park, geddit?

There wasn't much time to kill before the start, but I enjoyed the nice vibe. There weren't crazy lines for anything; everything was so darn efficient! I headed over to the starting area and started thinking about what I wanted from this race. What I wanted -- other than a Virginia half marathon, of course! -- was to take it easy... to see if I could be disciplined and run easy 12-minute miles to rest my legs for tomorrow. Heck, I'd just go out and have a nice relaxed time. If I felt I needed to pick it up at some point, okay, I could... but for now I would just have fun, chat with other runners, thank the volunteers, etc.

After a few words from the race director, a prayer for peace in memory of the Boston victims, and a surprisingly nice live version of the Star Spangled Banner, and it was time to go. The 650 of us surged under the arch and we were all headed for Stuarts Draft.

The first two tenths of a mile were run over grass through the park -- and it was the only time I felt any crowding or awkwardness on the course. But it did have a slightly crazy off-road feel to it for at least those few minutes. Is that was a cross-country start is like?

From then on we were on roads, going up and down Virginia's rolling hills. No huge ups or downs, mind you... but nearly constant ups and downs. Still, it added some nice variety -- and I have come to realize that I actually like running up hills.

We hit the first mile marker and I thought, uh-oh... too fast. 9:58. That's just not what I wanted... but I figured that the grassy scramble and the joy of the start of a race meant that I had just lacked discipline. Now that I could settle down a bit and run my own pace, I'd slow down nicely.

Mile 2: nope. 10:02. Even with my consciously "slowing down".

Mile 3: crap. 10:02. I'm NEVER consistent... so why was I being consistently faster than I wanted to be?

Mile 4: 9:57. Really? Why?!?

Mile 5: 10:04. Well, at least I'm slowing a little. Maybe I should add in some walk breaks, you know, force myself to relax.

Mile 6: 9:56. Okay, so that didn't work.

I should point out that I felt great -- the scenery was pretty, the people were nice, and I was having a great run. But I started to get a little nervous about what would happen on Sunday if I didn't start getting a little more disciplined about things.

Mile 7: 10:10. Atta girl.

Mile 8: 10:10. Hey, look, I'm being consistent again.

The miles kept clicking by -- and speaking of miles, the reason I know my splits is because the miles were CLEARLY MARKED. Now, this may seem like a simple thing, but I've run a number of races where the markers were hard to spot or nonexistent. Here the miles were marked with signs on poles at about chest level -- just a sign in an orange cone with a number. So simple, so easy. And they put the signs on both sides of the road, so no matter where you were, you would see them.

And speaking of things that are clearly marked, the course was beautifully marked. Again, signs on poles with arrows, standing in an orange cone.

There were lots and lots of water stops -- I actually started wondering if some weren't just impromptu stops -- but the volunteers were great and I never felt bunched up and never had to wait for a drink.

Pretty, pretty country the Virginians have got. :)

I'm not sure when I actually started to slow down. I had a gel with my water around mile 10, which meant I took a longish walking break... and then it just seemed normal to take it easier. By mile 12 I was feeling my usual grumpy self, just wanting to be done but not wanting to bother with the running.

Also, this race was run primarily on country roads... so it shouldn't be a surprise that there were lots of "sleeping" animals... but there were two that I frankly couldn't identify. Well, three, if you count the one that was really just entrails. (Does that mean that someone skinned it? Good heavens.) But one of the beasties was squirrel colored, but big. And another was sort-of like a raccoon, but had a very different face. What do American badgers look like? Hmm... a little Google image search action makes me think he might have been a woodchuck. How much wood would a "sleeping" woodchuck saw?

Then I saw this sign and it made me laugh and laugh:
Animal Hospital of Stuarts Draft: Run like a big dog is chasing you
how cute is that? who doesn't love race-themed signs?
I could see a turn ahead, which meant we had to be almost at the finish -- yay! So I picked things up a little. I passed a guy who seemed to be struggling, so I called out to him and said, "Let's finish this thing! C'mon, let's go!" But I could tell that he was well and truly gassed, so I didn't pressure him at all. I started running as light and as quickly as I could, offering encouragement to my fellow runners. Boy, I hope that's not annoying. I think I'd like someone to be chipper at the end when I'm not. As long as I can see the finish line, that is!

One guy responded with a smile, and he picked up his pace, too. Turns out he just ran his second fastest ever run. Atta boy Jeff!!!

By the way, look how cute this start / finish arch is:
Run the Valley finish arch
yes, I went back around to take this
After a too-fast start, I slowed it down to finish in 2:19 on the dot -- a time I'm happy with, even if it betrays my total lack of discipline!

After the race, I picked up my medal -- custom, big, and a bottle opener -- NICE! I was then surprised to be handed an embroidered running hat... who knew? I also picked up a cool damp towel, which was one of the nicest things ever. I passed on the bagels and bananas -- though I did overhear someone admiring how nice the bananas looked -- that they weren't all bruised like the often get, post-race. I easily picked up my bag, along with a ice cold bottle of purple Gatorade, then made my way to a bench to stretch and change my shoes. After a few minutes (and some pics of the finish line, ahem), I got on a bus to go back to the start.

Once there, another joy awaited -- the organizers had arranged to have the showers for the public pool opened and available, so I was able to take a shower and change into fresh clothes. I think that made all the difference to how the rest of the day went!

It is absolutely clear that the organizers of this event are runners themselves -- they know what makes a race not just good, but great. If I had one concern -- which didn't affect me at all, frankly, it was that the last few blocks in Stuarts Draft required us crossing a busy 2-lane road... which meant that we ended up running next to some pretty frustrated drivers who were being held up by us. It made me wonder if there wasn't some way of moving cars more efficiently around us, somehow. But people here in the south are pretty polite -- there were no horns, no revving engines, just quiet. Or maybe I just couldn't hear anything above my huffing and puffing!

Tomorrow is the University of Charleston half... wish me luck!

1 comment:

  1. thanks for the mention in your blog. it was nice meeting you ad I enjoyed the company on the bus ride back. Good luck to you and your husband with all your upcoming races.
    Jeff "the Old Fat Guy" Campbell