Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Michigan Wine Trail Half Marathon #racereport

Since the Michigan Wine Trail Half Marathon was the culmination of a girl's weekend, this race report is going to be a bit different.  I also posted a review of the race itself over at Michigan Runner Girl so if you want a bit more information about the actual race after reading my experience (logistics, etc) go check out my guest post there (I believe it is also posting today).

I signed up for the Michigan Wine Trail Half Marathon when one of my runner girlfriends suggested we all head down to my old stomping grounds for a wine weekend and run the half for fun.  It sounded like a great way to end my summer so I said, "sure!"  I didn't anticipate being injured and very undertrained.  Sometimes that happens when you run 5 halfs, a tri, a 200 mile relay and a 25k in less than 8 months. In any case, I knew I wasn't injured enough to back out of the race so I still went and I'm glad I did.

Our girl's weekend ended up growing to include over 20 women, team shirts (we are West Michigan WINEers) and even some "training runs" where we'd meet around town, run, and then practice drinking wine.  I got to meet an incredible group of ladies who I now consider friends and running partners.  Several of us met Friday night down in St. Joseph, MI (which is where I grew up).  We had a great dinner at RyeBelle's and then hit Silver Beach Pizza and The Buck for drinks. The sunset from the bluff was pretty spectacular.
Saturday consisted of more wine-ing and dine-ing, plus packet pick up and some chilling on the beach for the sunset.  We visited 3 wineries on Saturday - the tasting room for White Pine Winery, Baroda Founders Wine Cellar, and Gravity.

Gravity Winery was - hands down - my favorite winery of the weekend.  It was new to me and the pairings of cheese with white and chocolate with reds was brilliant.

Finishing the evening with a trip down to Silver Beach to watch the sunset made for an almost perfect day.  I know I appreciate the beauty of Southwestern Lower Michigan so much more now as an adult than I ever did when I was living there.  
Race day started like most others - an early rise, some coffee and a little breakfast.  We made it to the race about 30 minutes before the start and there were huge lines for the only 6 or 8 port-a-potties.  The race ended up with a delay because there were still so many people in line. We got a group shot of the West Michigan WINErs and then lined up. Finally, we took off around 7:45.  I was worried about how my Achilles was going to fare on all the hills. (We'd driven the course on Saturday so I knew what to expect. Not sure that this helped me because I obsessed about it all night long.)  

This is a certified course and it really was beautiful.  We passed 6 wineries during the run, as well as countless orchards and farms.  The spacing of the aide stations was not great and I'm glad I was carrying water.  I must've looked bad at mile 8.5 (Gravity Winery) because my friend working that station looked a tad concerned.  The police support was great and the icy towels at mile 10 and fire hoses at mile 11 were a welcome break from the heat.
You can see from the Garmin shot below how hilly the course was.  It took my ankle a good 3 miles to warm up and because we waited so long to start, I had to pee by the time I got to the johns just past mile 3.  My Garmin data proves how much time I wasted here but there is no way I could've held it the entire race.  My ankle felt great for most of the run but my hip and knee were taking a beating.  I ran the downhills but walked a lot of the uphills.  I stopped and took lots of pictures (obviously) and had another break just past mile 10 when I came upon a group of my teammates where one needed some medical help - she's fine now.  I didn't really have a time goal considering I was running this race undertrained and injured.  I wanted to be under 2:30 and after driving the course thought 2:45 was more realistic. As you can see, I split the difference and finished in 2:35:35, about an 11:53 pace.  As is my usual M.O., my last mile was my fastest (9:53) and I had a great kick at the end, even on the grass (8:52 pace!).  I finished 32nd out of 43 in my age group and 331 out of 428 finishers.  I have no idea how I compared to all the women because the searchable results didn't break it down and frankly at this point I really don't care.  This wasn't my worst half, but it also wasn't near what I'm capable of if I'm trained and healthy (my PR that I set in May is 2:07).  The main goal for this race was to finish smiling and no more injured than when I started and I accomplished those goals.  At least until I found out there were no medals.

Crossing the finish line and then finding out they ran out of medals about 30 minutes before really sucked.  I'll be honest - I was extremely pissed off, and not just for me but for the other 320 people who didn't get medals.  At least they had enough wine glasses and a good amount of alcohol if you like wine.  That helped soften the blow to this little bling whore's ego. The race director was very gracious and apologetic about the snafus (the other box of medals didn't get packed in the van) and he is mailing out medals to anyone who did not receive one.  We hung out in the finisher tent and had some beer (until it ran out) and wine.  Then we headed back over to Gravity for lunch and more wine tasting.  As is the nature with runners, at Gravity after the race, my friends and I met last year's Master's winner (his name is Brian but he goes by "Yoda Jedimaster" and he ran the race in green face paint), as well as several of his buddies.  They were very nice and sat with us at lunch.  We talked races, running shoes, kids and families.  Brian ended up giving me his medal since he's tight with the director and would get another when he got home.  So incredibly sweet and it helped brighten what was otherwise kind of a disappointing race.  I hope no races ever run out of medals again, but if one does, maybe I'll have the opportunity to pay it forward and give my medal to someone who didn't get one.  I ended the evening with a trip out to the Chalets where the majority of the girls were staying.  Overall, it turned out to be a very nice weekend.

Immediately after the race, I was 100% certain I would never run it again.  The start was unorganized, the course was incredibly hard, and not receiving a medal as I finished what was a very hard earned 13.1 really pissed me off.  But after talking to Brad, the race director, after a lot of the crowds went home I think I've changed my mind.  I'd love to see what I could do on this course if I was trained for it.  I really enjoy running hills because they break up the race and I think in a lot of ways give your legs a break because so many different muscle groups are in use.

What are your thoughts?  Does this sound like a race you'd enjoy?  Have you ever planned a girl's weekend around a race?  Ever have a race run out of bling?