Running, Uncategorized

Oak Barrel Half Marathon Race Report

Nestled in the rolling hills of middle Tennessee is a tiny town famous for whisky. Every ounce of Jack Daniels is produced in Lynchburg, Tn. This ironically dry county hosts the Oak Barrel Half Marathon every April attracting 1500 runners from 30 states. Over the last few years, I’d began to hear that the Oak Barrel half was a fantastic race, but the endorsement always came with the disclaimer to beware “Whiskey Hill”.

The first challenge was getting a bib. The race is sells out quickly. I’m talking “Disney fast pass for Pandora” quickly. I set my alarm for early on the Sunday morning that the race went on sale and was able to get a bib in about 10 minutes. A friend who signed on an hour later, was not so lucky.

I checked the finish times from last year and realized that if I had a really good race it was possible for me to place in my age group. However, after talking with some people who had run it the year before I realized how crummy the weather was in 2018 (30’s with drizzle) and that was likely reason for slower times.

Abby and I trained diligently for “Whiskey Hill” in the early mornings when it was dark and cold. We added hill sprints to our speedwork and rolling hills to our tempo run.

Abby (my best running friend/ training partner), Russ (my husband) and I drove up the morning of the race. The drive from Franklin is about an hour and 15 minutes of windy back roads and small country towns. We stopped at a gas station in Shelbyville on the way. As I stood stretching in the corner, the cashier asked all the “regulars” that came in if they wanted their “usual breakfast sandwich” or “the special”. I love that sense of community. That’s REAL Tennessee, where you can be a “regular” at the gas station.

Parking was limited, so we got there about an hour and 15 minutes early which allowed us to get a decent parking spot and plenty of time to pick up our bibs. The race swag was top notch: a windbreaker race jacket for signing up and swiftwick socks for finishing. The volunteers were so plentiful, that all the lines moved super fast. There was even someone directing traffic at the porta potties. (How on earth do you get anyone to volunteer for that job?)

The race started at 8 am, right after the Tennessee fog had dissipated from the hill tops. I had studied the topography of the course and broken the race up into 4  segments on my garmin. The Race started with 4 flat-ish miles. My goal was not to go out too fast, so I set my garmin parameters to keep me around an 8:10 pace and this felt comfortable. The scenery was gorgeous, filled with green grass, wild flowers and lots of trees which provided much needed shade later in the race.  The course wound in and out of the forest and farmlands which were stocked with (sometimes malodorous) livestock. The first half mile was a little crowded, but after that the crowds thinned and I was able to dial in my pace. Mentally, it really helped to be able to break up the race into manageable chunks.

Whiskey Hill was no joke.

At mile 4 I reached the famous “Whiskey Hill”. This mile is the toughest mile of the race with an elevation change of 380 feet. We knew this was coming so we had trained with lots of hill workouts, even adding ridiculous hills into our tempo runs. Inflatable arches at the bottom and top of the hill mark this grueling segment’s beginning and end. There is also a special award for the man and woman who runs this section the fastest. They get the title “King (or Queen) of the Hill” and a coveted pok-a-dot t-shirt to wear with pride.

Me running up “Whiskey Hill”

I set no pace parameters on my garmin while running the hill. I told myself that my goal was to go as slow as I needed to to reach the top. The hill was challenging in the lower half, but gets steeper as you reach the top. The last few hundred feet were crazy steep; but I did manage to run the whole thing.

After climbing the hill, the next four miles were mostly flat along the top of the plateau and these were unexpectedly hard for me. Mentally I was planning for it to be “easy” after I finished the hill, but I underestimated the fatigue in my legs. Also the plateau was not as flat as I thought it would be. There were several small hills. Even though they were short segments, some were quite steep. This is where I mentally started to struggle. My legs were tired and I realized I had a long way to go. I was having to push to keep my goal 8:00 pace. I kept telling myself “You are tired, not hurt. You can push through tired; you always do” and “Run the mile you are in”. I always run without music in races, but I think I will try music next time to see if that helps with the mid-race mindgame.

Russ finished strong in his second half marathon at Oak Barrel.

I ate my GU at mile 8 and then zoomed down the hill at mile 9. Once I hit the down hill section of the race I set my garmin to keep me under 7:55 pace, with no max pace. I felt so strong and energized after flying down the hill that I almost went “all out” but thankfully I decided to hold back until the end.  A painful “side stitch” hit me that last mile and left me feeling short of breath, so I’m glad I didn’t push it too early. As I rounded the final stretch, I cruised past the distillery and made a left into downtown Lynchburg.  When I crossed the finish line, I had nothing left. I had given that course my all.

Ugly finish line picture

I inhaled some water and headed back out to cheer on my running partner Abby, who came in shortly after me.  As I walked back to the finish line to find her, I stopped by the leader board and saw my name at the top of my age group. I won my age group. I couldn’t believe it. I was sure that the weather would make for a faster course and I wouldn’t have a chance, but I was overwhelmed with emotion when I saw my name. All those early morning freezing hill sprints in the dark had paid off.

So thankful for to have such an awesome runner friend who lives a block away. I have lost track of how many races we have trained for together.

As I wandered across the square looking for Abby, the band began to play the Billy Currington song, “People are Crazy”. This was my dad’s favorite song and I hadn’t heard it since he passed away 4 years ago. I always think of my dad when I race, but the scenery, paint horses and farms along the course had already left me a little misty eyed with memories. That song, just put me over the edge. It wasn’t grief per say; I was simply overwhelmed with the sweetness of my memories of my father at such a special moment for me.

Abby eventually came to rescue me and we rewarded ourselves with some of the free food in the quaint town square. There were tents with hoe cakes (cornmeal pancakes), grilled cheese sandwiches, delicious beef stew and pimento cheese sandwiches. They were all delicious and free. We then collected our free socks and went to meet up with Russ (my husband). We missed him finishing; as his time was faster than I thought it would be for his second half marathon (Go Russ!).

We hydrated and hung out for another hour until the awards ceremony. As they began to announce the winners, I was shocked to hear my name called for third overall in the female masters category. I jumped up and down and squealed like a teenage girl meeting her favorite boy band. I have placed in my age group a couple of times in smaller races, but have never placed in an overall category.

The “trophies” were made of the tops on the Jack Daniels whiskey barrels.

The Oak Barrel Half was challenging; but that it also what makes it so awesome and rewarding. The scenery and swag were great; but it was all the volunteers who came out to help that really made it a special race. I will definitely set my alarm next year to get up early to sign up and come back to defend my title as “The Third Fastest Old Lady”.

Stay tuned for my next challenge: The Wine Glass Marathon in October where I hope to qualify for Boston.

Race Swag: Windbreaker, socks and  a “medal” made from whiskey barrels.

 

Running

Spring Training

Tulips are blooming and April showers have empowered the grass to paint the landscape a vivid green. A sweet reward after all the bleak gray training runs in the early morning darkness of Winter. Spring is here and I am ready to race.

Done with using an entire load of laundry for one run!

The activities that bring me the most joy (other than being with my family) are running, travel and spending time with my friends. So this spring two destinations half marathons are on my schedule. Me and my local running group are planning to run the Cincinnati Flying Pig Half Marathon in May and then I’ll travel to visit one of my best friends and run the Seattle half marathon in June.

Friendships +Running + Travel = Best of Times.

Long run to First Watch for breakfast.

As we thought about our race schedule for the spring, we wanted to find a fun, close destination half. Even though I broke up with the Nashville Country Music Marathon last year, I almost caved and signed up after after I saw the medal for this year (it lights up!); but I stood my ground and decided to venture to Cincinnati, OH this year for The Flying Pig half marathon. The Flying Pig is know for great crowd support and party atmosphere but also for being a hilly course. Hopefully our Tennessee hills will have our quads in good enough shape.

 

Our initial idea was not to take this race too seriously and simply enjoy a girls weekend, but then after Chicago when we all made huge improvements in our time by doing the Hanson Method, we decided to try the same strategy for a half marathon. We have consistently been doing speed work and tempo runs and alternating our long runs between 10-14 miles a week, with total mileage between 30-40 miles. This is the most structured training plan I have ever used for a half marathon. It a lot of mileage for a half. I’m hoping to finish under 1:45 ( my PR is 1:48). Life, work, weather and vacations have caused me to miss far more workouts than I would’ve liked, but I have still trained much harder for this half than any others in the past.

Catching a gorgeous sunrise on an early morning run.

The Rock and Roll Seattle Half is late June, so I will have some time to recover in between races. I’m sure it will be a crazy hilly race, so likely I will try to enjoy the scenery and experience and not push for a super quick time.

Most of our long runs have been out and backs from our neighborhood, but we were determined to do a least one long run on the Brentwood Greenway. Sadly the weekend we decided to do it, there was a wee bit of flooding. We got lost due to trail closures and got chased by wolves (well we say a coyote on the other side of a field and it defiantly made us run faster). There were times it felt like we were doing a mudrun, but it was the most memorable 14 miles of our training.

The trail was a little damp.

 

Hoping that Cincinnati turns out to be a memorable race for all the right reasons. I plan to start out slow to save some energy for the hills. Hoping to run was my best half marathon, but even if I don’t, I’ve already had enough laughs in the the training to make the race a personal success.