About 4 miles into the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon, I turned to my team mate Bill and said, “Do you feel like there’s a party going on and we weren’t invited?” I was referring to the fact that about 75% of the participants in the race were running for Team Challenge, and 100% of the supporters were cheering for them…and only them.
I’ll apologize upfront for complaining about a charity running organization. Clearly, Team Challenge does a lot of good, raising money for individuals with crohn’s and colitis, getting people to run or walk who otherwise might not have the motivation, and raising awareness. But when you go to grab a cup at a water stop and the volunteer is so busy yelling “Go Team Challenge!” that she forgets to let go of the cup, and when you finish the race and there’s a sea of tents with refreshments and recovery aids, all marked “Team Challenge” and absolutely nothing for everyone else, it becomes a little frustrating. It actually felt like the entire event was catered to Team Challenge and we were just there to add numbers and pay for the support.
On the bright side, I had a decent time (1:38:42, a couple of minutes off my PR) on a challenging course, which started downhill for the first couple of miles and rolled for the remainder, with a couple of steep climbs for good measure. Weatherwise we were incredibly lucky – it was sunny and warm but not humid. The best part of the event by far was the post-race wine tasting. This was included in the race fee, and we definitely made the most of it, sampling wines from many local wineries including Tarara, Bluemont, Hiddenbrook, Loudoun Valley, Fabbioli and others that became a bit of a blur as we drank more!
Somehow I managed to miss the post-race awards ceremony (not actually sure if happened at all because we were close to the stage the whole time) so I didn’t get my bottle of wine for placing 3rd in my age group. Hopefully I can pick that up later. In more exciting news, my team, South Riding Running Club, place 1st in the team competition, beating 50 other teams! Not sure what we win but there is a prize…maybe it’s a winery tour?!!
After signing up for this race, and encouraging members of my running club to form a team, I realized that the race would probably be more about the hoopla surrounding it than the running. Destination Races, the event organizer, marketed several race weekend events such as a special packet pickup, a pre-race dinner, and a finisher’s party, all at an extra cost, on top of the $85 – $95 race fee.
OK, gripe warning: here are the negative aspects of the race. Don’t say I didn’t warn you if you start thinking I’m a miserable whiner.
The race started 30 minutes late. We were waiting for a busload of runners to arrive. While race delays are sometimes inevitable, and I do feel bad for the runners on the late bus, this is inexcusable. For many runners, the warmup and pre-race nutrition are all planned and executed based on an anticipated start time, and a 30 minute delay can wreak all sorts of havoc. Not to mention the fact that roads had to be closed for the event, and would now be closed an extra 30 minutes. During one part of the race we ran past a huge line of angry drivers, most of whom were yelling into their cellphones as they discovered Route 7 had been closed and they’d be stuck for a while.
After waiting at the start line an extra 30 minutes, I was in need of water once the race started and searched eagerly for the first water stop. It came in sight at about 2 miles. At the bottom of a hill. The worst place to put an aid station is at the bottom of a hill. The last thing you want to do is take on board anything when you’re about to divert blood away from your stomach to your legs, which is what happens when you put forth the extra effort to climb a hill. So I grabbed a cup, pinched the top, and carried it up the hill, drinking it when I reached the top. At the next aid station I attempted to get water and came across the exuberant “Team Challenge!” volunteer who didn’t let go of the cup, followed by the next volunteer who lifted the cup to give it to the person behind me! Finally I grabbed a cup of Heed, which wasn’t what I wanted but was better than nothing. Aid stations were only every 2 miles and I could tell I was getting dehydrated, so I decided I needed to take 2 cups of water at each stop. So at the next stop I grabbed a cup from one volunteer, then reached out another hand to grab a second from the next volunteer, who pulled it away! What, was there a one cup limit?!
I mentioned to Bill, who was still running with me, that I couldn’t believe a volunteer had pulled a cup away from me! Then the same thing happened at the next aid station! At another aid station there was one volunteer with one cup of water, which she happened to hand to the woman in front of me. I ran through without managing to get anything. Thankfully Bill had grabbed some Heed so we shared that. I was running angry and didn’t think I was very good company, so I told Bill to feel free to go ahead any time. He stuck with me which was either really nice or really nuts…or maybe he just found my antics entertaining. At any rate, he was a great racing partner and I’m really glad he stayed with me. Bonus: he got a PR, so maybe running with an angry girl has its benefits!
Being the angry runner that I was, I was getting more and more frustrated with Team Challenge. There was a walking division that had set off at 6:30am, and about halfway through the race we began catching up with them. It was frustrating having to run around people walking several abreast across the entire road, and I just wish they had been given some instruction as to how they should keep to the side of the road and walk no more than two abreast. Granted, some of them cheered us on, which was really nice, but others had their headphones on and didn’t even hear us coming.
OK, gripe over. I know, you thought it would never end. But I do like to end on a positive note…
Considering the hills and the water stop fiascos and dodging walkers, our pace was pretty consistent. Our faster miles were in the 7:20s and the slowest 7:40, for an average 7:30 pace. I was actually very surprised we managed to run under 1:40, because at one point during the race I tried to calculate our finish time and thought there was only a slim chance of going under 1:40. Then again, I think my brain got addled with the heat and dehydration… Coming into the finish was great. The crowds were huge and loud and for the first time I heard people shouting my name. Like many longer races these days, our names were on our bibs, but unlike other races, I didn’t hear anyone shout my name during the race. I had to pretend it was “Team Challenge” since that was all we heard.
I’m still asking myself if I would run this again. As a team, we had a lot of fun after the race. And if I did it again at least I’d go into it knowing what to expect. I’d probably carry my own water…and maybe steal a Team Challenge shirt.