I’ve had my radar focused on Vacation Races for quite some time. Jenn is our resident Vacation Races ambassador and she swoons about their races.
My local pal, Rachel, received a race entry for herself and a friend after a registration mix-up at the 2016 Yellowstone race. She reached out to me in February with a “What do you typically do over Labor Day weekend” message.
I responded with “Not a whole heck of a lot!”
So then she said, “Let’s take a road trip to Virginia, do this half marathon together, and have a blast!” Well, how could I say no to that? I was in!
Except the code they provided didn’t work! Agh, maybe I wasn’t in?
There was about a week of back and forth emails with a few people being looped in along the way. I’ll be honest, it was frustrating and we even questioned if it would be worth the time and effort (this was after a registration snafu for Rachel the first time around, so you can see why we were disappointed). I was given a few different codes to try before finally being manually entered into the system.
THEN I was officially in. Rachel and I were able to breathe easy once more and looked forward to our September trip.
As our trip grew closer, we ironed out travel details and of course, kept our eyes on the weather. Which wasn’t looking great. Rainy. However, the temperature was cooling considerably and I’d much rather run in 55 degrees than 80. We had high hopes that the rain wouldn’t be too bad.
Rachel drove to NJ from PA and our road trip, which we affectionately called “Meatball Road Trip 2k17” (if you watch Big Brother this season, you’ll understand where this originated) officially commenced.
We talked, sang and car danced all the way down through Delaware, Maryland, and into Virginia. The ride was about 4 hours and we went straight to the expo to grab our shirts and bibs.
Of course, it started to rain, which we were less than impressed with… but it was expected.
The shirt reminds me of St. Patrick’s Day, which is probably when I’ll wear it. Sadly, green is not my color.
The expo was small but fun. I think we would have spent more time there had it not been raining but we decided to save up our rain time for the half.
After learning how to turn a t-shirt into a bag (totally going to do this activity with our Cub Scout den), making s’mores, and finding our names on the inaugural Shenandoah design, we took some time to ask a few questions to announcer/race coordinator, Kaelee. She’d run the course in the morning so she was able to give us some pointers and let us know what to look forward to the next day.
We took the time to be tourists and visited Luray Caverns, which was pretty amazing (and of course we commented how cool it would be if we could run through it).
From the get-go we knew we wouldn’t be racing this half. Our mantra was “have fun and get it done.” This was going to be a “mullet crew” experience – as in, a party in the back! No shame! After a delicious dinner we decided to hit the sack, knowing we’d be waking up at 5am.
The race began at 7am and was a point to point race and almost entirely on road, save the first and last 10th of a mile. You could park at either the start or finish and they had school buses to shuttle runners from one point to the other. We decided we’d rather shuttle before the race than after; we parked at the finish and shuttled to the start.
As we made our way from the parking lot to where the shuttles were, it was before sunrise and I found myself wish that I had brought my Knuckle Lights, just to see where we were going. We shuffled to the shuttles and were able to grab the last two seats on the bus heading toward the starting area.
At the start, there was coffee and hot chocolate. They also offered bananas and things like Vaseline and thoughtful touches that runners might find useful.
Just as we got our beverages, huge raindrops started plopping on us. At first, neither of us could comprehend what was happening, our brains weren’t full awake yet! We quickly found shelter nearby and chatted with other runners as we did our best to stay dry. We both had plastic rain ponchos yet neither of us had them on when the rain had started. It caught us all by surprise!
The rain tapered off just in time for the National Anthem and I really loved that this guy got to stand on top of the box truck and hold the flag.
Mother Nature couldn’t decide what she wanted to do – one minute it was drizzling, the next it wasn’t. Rachel and I kept muttering to each other “this is stupid” as we lined up near our pace sign. Seriously, sometimes I question my sanity. My socks were already wet and it was cold! I knew once I started moving I’d be fine, it’s just getting to that point.
There was a guy near the start that was telling us, “It’s just a really long 5k” which made us chuckle.
Sure enough, once we started moving, we were good to go. Actually, really good. Actually, really, really good. As in, we hit the mile marker and were shocked that we were already at a mile.
You guys, this continued for miles 2-8. We would come to a mile marker and be amazed that we got there as quickly as we did. Which, for the record, wasn’t quick; we were having conversational miles. But we were feeling good and powering up the uphills/taking advantage of the downhills.
Virginia was lovely, with lots of local flair that we northerns aren’t accustom to seeing on a daily basis.
We saw llamas (or were they alpaca?), plenty of cows, and were graced with the presence of a kitten in the middle of the road near mile 7. This kitten sat smack in the middle of the road and got attention for each and every single runner that came through. He had life all figured out for such a little guy.
The aid stations were perfectly placed. Vacation Races is a cup free race, so they offer hydropouches or you can bring your own hydration system. I opted to get a pack (I’ve been considering it for awhile and this was the perfect reason) and ended up not needing to fill the bladder of it at all – it was the perfect amount for the half distance. They had Honey Stingers available at every aid station, as well as cut up bananas and orange slices at the later stations.
At the mile 3 aid station they even had a bin where runners could drop clothes that they’d then drive to the finish line of the race! I didn’t need to take advantage of that but they really seemed to think of everything.
The course was quiet, although it was on an open road so cars were allowed to drive along the course. In the early morning, there was not much traffic. We all looked out for each other, calling “CAR!” when there was a car either behind or coming toward us. Some runners had their earbuds in and couldn’t hear the warning until the cars were right behind them and honking. Yikes!
Locals sat on their porches, watching the spectacle. It was an endless parade of over 1,100 people streaming by. We waved to people as we passed.
Mile 10 onward felt like a continuous uphill. I know that there was some downhill too but I don’t really remember much of that. It just felt like we were constantly climbing. Having looked at the elevation map ahead of time, we knew that it was coming but, whew, my hamstrings and glutes acted like they weren’t made aware of the situation!
We turned into Lake Arrowhead Park for the last stretch of the race. The support here was incredible with lots of finishers cheering us. Volunteers pointed us in the right direction since it was along grass and gravel. We turned for the last 10th of a mile and crossed the finish line with huge smiles on our faces!
Immediately after crossing the finish line we were able to get our medals and our snack boxes that were filled with lots of delicious treats.
From start to finish, this getaway was an awesome! Despite some reservations at the beginning with registration, everything else was absolutely flawless. Vacation Races knows about hosting a quality event and they’ve zeroed in on the things that stand out to runners. I’m grateful to Rachel for inviting me to join her and I’m definitely impressed by Vacation Races!
Next race for me is the Rock ‘n Roll Philadelphia half marathon on September 17th. Then in October I’ll be at Run the Vineyards, Enoteca 5k and Run Inspired 10k in DE (code BibRave saves 10%). Fall racing, you have arrived! What do you have on tap this fall?