Let’s just preface this review by saying I love wine. You know that scene in Anchorman where Ron Burgundy is drinking scotch? “I love scotch, scotchy scotch scotch. Here it goes down, down in my belly.” Yea, that’s me with wine. I will take wine over almost another form of alcohol, which makes me a terrible Brit. I’m sure my family will now disown me for choosing wine over warm beer, but I lived in France for a year, people! What do you expect? Although, living in France makes me a bad Brit too. I need to go stand in queue or do something else incredibly British.
Now that we’re completely off-topic let’s talk about the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon. I really, really, really wanted to love this race. It has wine in the name! What’s not to love? But I just could not do it. I did not like this race at all. Some of my issues were out of the race organizers’ control (sunny and 85 by 7AM?!), but many of the issues could easily have been avoided or remedied. Many, many runners seemed to share my views, so hopefully the race organizers will make some changes to next year’s race.
Packet Pick-Up and Expo
Packet pick-up was held at a country club in the area. Unfortunately, the location of packet pick-up within the building was not very well signed, so we parked approximately 3 million light years away. We wended our way through the country club maze, quietly mocking all the country-club elitists, and finally made it packet pick-up. A friend had given me their bib for the race, so I went through the bib-transfer process, which fortunately, was quite painless. I was able to pick up my packet and shirt within 10 minutes.
The race expo was small and we arrived at the tail end of it so most of the vendors were packing up.
I loved the shirts. They had men’s and women’s sizes so I wasn’t swimming around in a unisex shirt. And it was lovely tech-tee material, instead of cotton. However, the remaining swag wasn’t great. A cheaply-made tote half-filled with a few coupons. I want my samples!!
Transportation and Start
The race offered shuttle buses from several of the neighboring towns to the start. I was all about taking the shuttle bus because I had no idea where I was going. I triple-checked times to make sure I wouldn’t miss one of the shuttle buses. I showed up at the specified location, early (which at 5:30 on a Saturday morning is a MIRACLE), and there was no bus. A volunteer was stationed in the parking lot and as the arrival time for the bus came and went he frantically tried to call the lead race organizer, the volunteer coordinator, the shuttle company, and finally gave up and called the race’s parent company, Destination Races. No one answered, except Destination Races headquarters, who informed him there was nothing they could do.
As we prepared to drive to the start, the bus finally showed up. We all piled on and trundled off for the race start. Then the bus driver missed a turn, then he missed another turn, and another. And it became quite apparent that our driver had no freaking clue where we were going. Thankfully, we live in an age where we all have little maps in our pockets, so someone pulled up the address on Google Maps and started directing the driver.
About 3-4 miles out from the start line we came to a total stop. We were still roughly 30 mins out from the start time, so we all thought there was plenty of time. Nope. 20 mins went by and we had gone maybe a mile-and-a-half. I got on Facebook and the event organizers posted an update saying there were delaying the start by 15 mins to give everyone time to arrive.
We finally made it to the start about 20 mins after the initial starting time. I sprinted to the porta-potties and ran into ridiculously long lines. People were peeing out in the fields and behind trees because the porta-potty lines were far too long.
I gave up and jumped into the starting corral seconds before the starting gun went off.
Ugh, this course. At first it was lovely. Rolling hills and bright blue sky, with plenty of shade. It was hot and sticky, but as we had just started it did not feel too terrible. It was quite crowded the first couple of miles. There was no wave start, nor did people organize themselves according to expected pace or finish time. So runners were trying to get by walkers causing significant bottle-necking.
About a mile into the race, gnats become an unrelenting issue. From mile one until the finish they were everywhere. Flying into eyes, jamming themselves into noses, clamoring for space in mouths. Just everywhere.
Online it stated there would be roughly 1.5 miles of dirt road. Lies. Total lies. We ran largely on dirt roads from miles 4-9. Running on dirt roads is completely different from running on regular roads, or treadmills. I was not expecting 5ish miles of dirt road and wasn’t trained for it. So nearly breaking my ankle was just super-fun.
At mile 6ish they had a turn-around at a winery. It was essentially single file down and single file back, so again bottle-necking become a huge issue.
By this point, it was also blazing hot and we had lost most of that fabulous shade from the start. To compound the extreme heat, at the water stations they were only handing out tiny cups of water and Accelerade, which by the way is disgusting. I was carrying a water bottle, but had finished it by mile 8 and was having to grab 3 cups of water at every station. The water stations, like the start and the turn-around, also created serious traffic-jam issues. Anyone with time goals at this race was probably SOL.
I crossed the finish line and went in search of the world’s largest water bottle to consume. But, instead of full-size water bottles all they had at the finish was the little tiny cups of water and more Accelerade. I asked them to fill up my water bottle with ice and then dumped several cups of water in it. Naked Juice also had a stand and was handing out samples so I grabbed one of those. There were no bagels, or muffins, or pretzels. A volunteer handed you a small plastic baggie at the finish line with a sample-size sunflower butter packet, an apple and a banana. Not cool. I want carbs and I want lots of them after a half-marathon. I was already hot and tired and sore, and now cranky was added to the list due to a severe bagel shortage.
Not even going to talk about this. The pictures were… they were just. It was horrible. All the ways to look unattractive while running.
I have no plans to run this race again next year. The entry fee was steep given how many issues there were. I ran the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon two weeks before this which has a cheaper entry fee and is far better organized. If the race organizers’ make some significant improvements, and make sure to have bagels, then I’ll consider running it. But I’m discovering that half-marathons in the summer months equals nothing but pain and suffering.
Who had a great race experience lately?
Anyone else had a hideous race experience?