Monday, June 8, 2015

Destination Virginia Half (Virginia Wine Country Half)

Wine and running together?  Two of my favorite things...of course!

The first thing I have to comment on is how amazing the venue itself was.  The host winery for the start of the race was Doukenie Winery in Hillsboro, VA.  Seeing the sun rise over the vineyards before the race was a sight to see, and an old farm silo in the middle of grapevines was a new experience.  Very beautiful indeed.

Sunrise over the vineyards at Doukenie Vineyards 
Silo in the middle of the grape vines at Doukenie Vineyards

The race was well organized with regards to parking, plenty of porta-potties, signage and announcements.  They had breakfast food for purchase prior to the start of the race provided by a private catering company and they had free coffee.  The only negative was that the race started about 12 minutes late due to some late arrivals.  Now, this does annoy me, I have to admit it, I look forward to races starting on time, as do most other runners, especially the elite runners going after records and/or money.  Now, if the late arrivals were caused by traffic issues or coordination issues on the part of the event planners/volunteers, then I think they deserve the extra time.  If the issue was these people just didn't plan well, then frankly I think they should miss the race.  99% of the runners were able to make it on time.

Starting line for Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon

The course was a mix of country back roads with some great scenery and gravel.  Apparently I didn't read all the website information carefully and was surprised when I ran on 4 miles of gravel (from mile 5.2 until mile 9.1).  This isn't something I was expecting, and certainly not something I am used too in my own training.  I found that my feet and ankles had a real hard time with this, so if you plan on running this next year, I would recommend some training runs on gravel or trails to work out those small stabilizer muscles.  The elevation gain wasn't over the top, but according to Strava it came in around 440 feet, so there were clearly some hills.  In this case, lots of little ones versus just a few larger ones.

The scenery for the Virginia Wine Country Half was beautiful

The course isn't an up and back, but does share a little over 2 miles of the course (at the start and near the finish). Otherwise you get to see a lot of great country, farms, estates, equestrian centers, a few B&B's and of course the second winery (Hiddencroft Winery) at the lollipop in the map below (almost at the top of the map).  Between miles 5.5 and 6.5 the smell of honeysuckle was palatable.  Hiddencroft Winery is at the half way point, and along with the fluid stop they were handing out small samples of very cold white wine.  I do see a few runners take advantage of it, but I was waiting until the finish to sample all the wineries that came to the event.

Stava Map of Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon

There were plenty of water stops along the way which is always great to see.  But given the weather is usually hot and humid already in VA this time of year, it is almost a necessity.  For todays race we were luck to have mostly cloudy skies, so while it was humid, the heat wasn't unbearable.

There was a large contingent of people at the finish line cheering you on those last few meters which was great to see.  Since this is a wine oriented event, separate tickets could be purchased for non-runners to participate in the wine tastings that started at 9:30AM.  This may have contributed to large number of spectators but it made for an exciting finish.

Finish at the Virginia Wine Country Half

I have to say that the food for the event after the runners finished wasn't all that spectacular.  They had the standard banana which I always appreciate along with water and Gatorade, but otherwise it was small sample packs of gummies, pretzels, etc.  I am used to seeing bags of chips, bars, other fruit, watermelon or even pizza.  With wine tasting starting right away, I was really upset I didn't have any substantial calories to take in and since I didn't realize this in advance I hadn't really brought anything with me.  I will most likely do this race again and so I will be more prepared the next time.

The wine tasting area was very well laid out.  There were about 15 or so wineries pouring, and each winery had between 2 and 4 wines to try.  For those that signed up for the VIP tickets, they had a separate area to pick up their wine glass from the rest of us, and also had access to catered food.

Now, for the important part; the medal.  It is by far the nicest and most substantial medal I have yet received for any of my races.  As you can see from the photo below it is basically a wine stopper on a rope.  It is very well made and very heavy.  So, for those of you that run for the bling, this is one you should try and hit.

Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon Finishers Medal

Overall the event was really fun.  If you plan on attending just remember to bring some extra food/snacks for after the race.  Buy wine tasting tickets for your cheering section of age, plan on getting there early because apparently the smaller back roads do get congested, and enjoy the amazing scenary!

Vineyards during the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon

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