Saturday, June 2, 2012

Race Report: Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon

Three days after I returned from my maternity leave in mid-October, one of my DSG buddies decided it might be fun for a bunch of us to run the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon on June 2.  At the time, June 2 seemed very very far away -- after all, it was the week my then very little Jack would be turning 1! -- and I was too broke to pay the $118 registration fee after two months of unpaid leave.  I figured I could sign up later.  Except it sold out.  

Fast forward to two weeks ago.  I was home with a sick Jack and playing on my iphone when an email from Tuan popped up, sent to all of DSG.  Someone in the group couldn't run the race and would anyone like to run it for her?  Free bib to the first to respond.  I needed to check with Jamie so I immediately responded "Maybe!?!?"  Checked, it was okay, so I wrote again "Yes I will do it!"  No email back from Tuan.  So I wrote again.  "Please pretty please?"  No response.  I think I might have sent him one more email.  Then an email from him to all of DSG saying "Bib Taken!  To be fair, I have to give it to the person who responded first.  The special prize goes to one of the newest people on our group ... Kathy. The rest of you folks, sending me 10 emails for the same request won't get you anywhere ... Gretchen! "  Seriously, because I responded like 2 seconds after he sent the email!  And who the heck is Kathy?  (No offense, Kathy.  I'm sure when I meet you, we will be the best of friends.)  I wrote to Tuan and yelled at him for giving the bib to someone he'd never met over me.  He said that yes I was the first responder but I said "Maybe." Lesson learned.  Next time I will lie and say "Yes" even if I still need to check with my family, and then I will renege if necessary. 

As race day neared I tried to ignore the group emails about how much fun they were going to have on race day as they ran through beautiful Virginia Wine Country and enjoyed a free wine festival afterwards.  I really pushed myself in training instead, concluding on Friday with a 45 minute power ride on the trainer in the morning and an 11 mile tempo run that night.  I was feeling pretty good about my 8:25  pace and after getting the kids in bed, sat down with a mojito and figured I'd make Saturday a rest and recovery day and then ride long on Sunday.  Jamie was out of town for his spring choir trip and due home around 11 p.m.  I picked up my phone to check on how far away he was and saw two texts.  The first was from a number I didn't recognize and said "My phone is dead.  Home before midnight."  The second was from Tuan.  "I have a bib for you.  Call me."

Seriously?  After just running 11 miles at a faster pace than my best half marathon?  My legs would have, oh, 11 hours to recover. I started to text Tuan "Maybe" and then remembered what happened the last time I did that so instead wrote "I just ran 11 miles!  But okay... do I get wine?"  Tuan called me.  He would pick me up at 5:10 a.m.  I put the unfinished mojito in the fridge and switched to water and jelly beans.  Maybe not the best carb loading technique but I was improvising.   By the time Jamie got home and settled it was well past midnight.  I set the alarm for 4:55 but of course Jack chose to wake up at 4:18 and after feeding him and getting him back in his crib there was no point in going back to sleep so I got up, showered, and met Tuan on less than 4 hours of sleep.  I was very glad he was driving.

Traffic was RIDICULOUS for the last mile of the trip -- I guess that is what happens when you bring thousands of people to an event on a country road all at the same time -- and we barely got there in time for the 7 a.m. start, but apparently neither did the  many shuttle buses that were bringing in the out-of-towners from Leesburg hotels, so the race was delayed by 35 minutes. By the time gun finally went off my legs were itching to move.  I was not planning on really racing this course, seeing as how I had not prepared for the race at all, so I didn't even look at my Garmin for the first mile.  I felt relaxed and easy, so I was guessing I was around 9:30 or so.  The watch buzzed and I glanced down.  8:08.  Really?  My heart rate was around 150.  I decided I'd just try to keep it there and see how things unfolded.  The weather was perfect - low humidity, upper 60s, slightly breezy, and sunshine bathing the gorgeous scenery.  When my watch buzzed at mile 2 and said 8:06, I decided I'd try to keep up this pace to the halfway point and then maybe pick it up if I still felt good.  

Around this time Tuan fell in stride beside me, looking surprised.  
"I thought you were going to take this slow?"  he said.
"We'll see how I feel in a few miles." I responded.  I realized then that talking was taking up too much energy, meaning I was definitely not at an easy run pace.

The course was rolling and I kept a pretty even pace until mile 5, which was almost all downhill.  I read an article recently about using downhills to your advantage -- it suggested leaning forward with your hips, taking smaller, quicker steps, and pretending you were running on hot coals.  It must have worked because that mile clocked in at 7:35, and I still was feeling great.  My heart rate had settled around 162 according to my Garmin report - I wasn't really paying attention to this during the race, but that's about what it should be for the bulk of a half marathon.  

When I got to the 45 minute mark, I grabbed a Clif Shot and took it at the next water stop.  And immediately got a side stitch.  AURGH!  Race nutrition, I hate you sometimes.  I dug my hand into the left side of my abdomen and tried exhaling forcefully. I slowed down a bit and the Garmin registered 8:13.  Still a faster pace than my last half.  At that point I saw the 1:45 pacer off in the distance.  Going sub-1:45 has been a goal for a long time, but not one I expected to achieve today.  My miles up to then hadn't quite been fast enough to sub 1:45. But I was beyond the halfway point and still felt like I had energy.  I decided to ignore my cramp and catch him.  

The eleventh mile had a steep hill and I clocked my slowest mile on the course, but after that I kept my eye on my watch and forced myself to keep the pace under 8, even as the hills rolled on. When we passed the 12th mile marker, I figured I would chase down the pacer like there was no tomorrow.  When we hit the 13th mile marker I gave it everything I had.  (Which was apparently not as much as Tuan had, because he started sprinting there as well and came in a full 4 seconds ahead of me.)  I felt like I was going to throw up as I crossed the finish line, but it was worth it. Final chip time:  1:44:53.  

The medal was amazing.  It is also a wine corker and opener.  Then, they handed me an awesome Riedel wine glass and I headed to the finish festival, a tasting expo with wineries from all over Virginia.  Unfortunately, there was no food of substance other than a Cabot cheese booth giving out samples the size of Yatzee dice.  That and strawberries.  That's right, folks, run 13.1 miles as fast as you can, then drink as much wine as your heart desires on an empty stomach.  I sampled some the whites (Virginia reds don't really impress me) and decided that what I really wanted was roast beef and mashed potatoes.  So Tuan and I headed to Roy Rogers in Leesburg.  

I was on a high all day, even if no one else cared.  I can be proud of me, right?  I ran my first half marathon 7 years ago in 2:26, and it felt hard.  This was a full 41 minutes faster, and I felt great for most of it.  Based on this race result, MacMillan says I could run a marathon in 3:41.  Which isn't quite Boston - it's still 90 seconds off.  But it's close.  A lot closer than it was back in March when I ran a 3:54:53.  Maybe, just maybe, the dream of a BQ will happen one day.  Boston before I turn 40?  We'll see



  1. Congratulations, that was a fantastic result! Nice bling.

  2. Successful half marathon and wine afterwards? Sounds like a great time to me! And you got a wine corker medal at the end of it. It really is a good pace, particularly since you’re running uphill on some of the splits. Sure the downhill probably compensates for that, but that’s only if one knows how to utilize it like what you did.

    Corey Glenn