Friday, April 17, 2015

Oak Barrel Half Marathon Race Recap

   About two weeks ago, I ran the Oak Barrel Half Marathon. Unfortunately, so much has happened between then and now that it seems like six months ago. But I'll do my best to recap.
   I wasn't originally planning on running this race. Don't get me wrong - I did it in 2013 and it's a GREAT race. I highly recommend it. But since I'm trying to knock off my states, repeating races isn't something I generally do. However, Dudley missed this race for injury in 2013 and really wanted to do it, so we signed up.


   I was a little concerned about how this race was going to turn out, considering I had a complete burn-out earlier in the week. Could I really go from not being able to make a three mile run to completing a half marathon in the same week?  I was about to find out.
   This race in held in Lynchburg, the home of Jack Daniels (the main sponsor of the race), and is about 1.5 hours away. This meant getting up at 4:30. Yikes. Fortunately, there was a lunar eclipse going on during our drive down there, which I definitely wouldn't have seen otherwise. It was a nice little bonus.
   We received an e-mail from the race director stating that parking was limited and get to the race early. Being that it's a small race that caps at around 1,400 people, we figured an hour early would be fine. Turns out - not so much. Parking was a nightmare. We kept being directed further and further away from the race site, until we finally ended up at a lot about a 15 minute walk from the starting line. Again, this is for a race of 1,400 people! It's not like there were 30,000 people there. Anyway, by the time we walked to packet pickup, then back to the car to drop off our shirts and then BACK to the start, the National Anthem was starting. I felt really rushed and it kind of threw me off my game. But the worst part of it was that while we were walking back to the starting line, we saw several people parking right next to the start in an open lot. I don't know if the race directors saved parking for people who arrived late or what, but we were hot about that. It's not cool to force people who get there early to park forever away and let others who roll up last minute to park next to the start / finish line.  
   Anyway, as I said, we were rushed and it kind of threw me off. I also got separated from Dudley at this point and never saw him again before the race. I'm not sure how that happened in a race so small, but it did. 
   My coach wanted me to break 2:00 in this race, which I literally laughed at because Oak Barrel is a really tough course. There is a crazy hill around mile 4-5 that is so bad that it has a name- Whiskey Hill. But I thought I'd at least make an attempt at sub-2:00, so I ran up to around the 9:00/mile corral right as the starting horn went off.
   A great thing about a race this small is that you will run into people you know. Right off, I saw Marc, who is one of my FTP teammates.  He's much faster than me, but we chatted for the first two or so miles before he took off. We were doing sub-9:00 miles, which is pretty fast for me, but they didn't seem too hard and I wanted to bank some time because I knew I'd be walking up Whiskey Hill. 
   As a warning you're about to hit Whiskey Hill, you start hearing the theme to "Deliverance" coming from the woods. You know - "Dueling Banjos?" I knew they did this since I've run the race before, but it still made me laugh. Especially hearing all of the first timers say "Do you hear banjos?" 
   Once I hit the Hill, I just tried to keep a steady pace. It's a LONG hill with the really steep incline towards the end. Unfortunately, I got overheated since I was still wearing my long-sleeved shirt (one of the effects of being rushed in the morning). I slowed to a walk to take it off, and while I was tying it around my waist, along came Marc (who I had passed at a water stop) and was all "Ready to run up this thing?" Of course, I wasn't, but he's like the Energizer Bunny and his attitude is contagious, so I started running again. I got almost up to the top when I had to stop and let Marc go on solo. I was dying. It was so steep that my run was almost like walking up the hill anyway.
   Good news is that once you get to the top of the Hill, you know you've put the worst behind you. Yes, there is another beast of a hill less than a mile later, but it's only a third of the length of Whiskey Hill. After that - you've got nothing but rollers and downhill for the rest of the race.
   I didn't really pay any attention to my time until I hit mile nine or so. I mean, I walked up part of Whiskey Hill - I was sure my sub-2:00 goal was out of reach. Turns out, it wasn't. I started doing some math and if I pushed it for the rest of the race, I not only could go sub-2:00, but possibly PR (my PR is 1:58:56)! At Oak Barrel! No one PR's at Oak Barrel! So now it was ON.
   It's a difficult thing when you know you're close to a goal, but still have several miles to go. You want to push it, but you also don't want to die. It's a fine line. The good news was I was on the easy part of the course, and I let gravity do it's job on every downhill. I'm not the best descender, but I did my best to lean into the hill and just let my legs go. On the flats, I focused on form. Not speed, but form. This really helped.
    I hit the last rest area (which had a Wizard of Oz theme - very nice), and had about 1.5 miles of flat left. I just zoned out and tried to catch the runners in front of me. I knew I was very close to a PR, but was too afraid to check my watch. As I rounded the last corner, I saw the time on the official race clock still had a one as it's first number. HAZZAH! I would go sub-2:00! I sprinted to the finish and hit my Garmin. And when I looked down, I saw this:

So close... (and yes, my watch is filthy).

   I missed my PR by 12 seconds. Whomp Whomp. But you know what? I went sub-2:00 at Oak Barrel. I will take that any day.
   One of the great things about Oak Barrel is all of the race swag you get. This year, the race shirt was a long sleeved tech shirt, and you also get a pair of socks and a cap/visor when you finish. Oak Barrel also has one of the best medals ever.

All the swag.

Medal close up.  Made from actual Jack Daniel's Oak Barrels!

  After picking up my swag, I hung out and waited for my friends and Dudley to finish. As I mentioned, I lost Dudley before the race and I had no idea where he was. As I saw more and more friends at the finish, I got a little concerned because NO ONE had seen him. Not at the start, not on the course - no where! I did know he was planning on taking his time with this race, as he wasn't fully trained and didn't want to get hurt by pushing it. But after almost an hour, I figured we missed each other and he went to the car to find me. Nope - he wasn't there either. Now I was REALLY worried because I figured he had to be hurt or lost, and was probably really mad. I turned around to make the hike back to the race start (remember- we parked forever away) when I finally saw him. I was so relieved! Turns out - we DID miss each other. Somehow, he walked right by me when I was talking to my friends. I think I saw 20 of my friends at the finish and totally missed my husband. Funny, huh?
   With the exception of the parking issue, this was an exceptional race. I've been lucky to have great weather the two times I've done it, so that helps. You have to sign up in October and it sells out every year, so if you want to do it, plan ahead. And be sure to stick around after the race, as they have great food and a fun band at the post-race party. Not your ordinary post-race food either. It's a whole Southern thing with Brunswick Stew and home-made hoecakes. It's a lot of fun and absolutely worth the trip to Lynchburg.