- 13.1/Half Marathon
- Road Race
+The swag is amazing (see picture)
+You will be challenged, Whiskey Hill is no joke.
+The post race fuel was plentiful and unique. From local flavors (hoecakes and Brunswick stew) to all sorts of fruits and baked goods (even some oatmeal creme pies!)
-Hydration stations were less frequent than I would prefer (~every 2 miles).
-Limited race day parking (small town, only one way in) makes for an early race morning.
I cannot remember how I heard about this race, but I do remember that I somehow found out that it sells out, quickly. I had started following the Facebook page and the day registration open I had an alarm set so I would be on my computer at 6:30am when registration opened. I was one of the lucky few to secure a spot for the 2017 running of the Oak Barrel half marathon. The race is limited to 1,450 runners due to the size of the town and there only being one two-lane highway for all runners to arrive via.
Pre-race communication was perfect. They sent out an email with the race guide and posted regularly on social media leading up to race day. One of their social media posts also confirmed the sending of the race guide, for those who were registered by someone else. The consistent message in every communication I saw was, arrive early. They were clear, in this case early is not one hour prior.
Packet pick-up options were available both Friday afternoon and Saturday morning before the race. This was my first visit to Lynchburg and I could get to the area Friday night so I opted to grab my bib and shirt Friday night. Friday packet pick-up was held at the Jack Daniel’s distillery welcome center. There was a large parking lot across the street with plenty of options when I arrived. Runners were required to show ID to get their bib. The race did allow picking up for other runners with a copy of their ID. The packet included the race shirt and bib. They also had additional apparel and swag available for purchase. Many of the apparel items came in both a women’s and men’s cut/color.
Race morning came early as I was nervous given all the communication encouraging early arrival. I planned to get to the parking area no later than 6:00am (two hours before the start). When I arrived, there wasn’t much traffic but there were other runners already parked. I opted to park close to the entrance near the restrooms in a paved area. I didn’t know it at the time but this was the perfect parking spot as it limited my walking from the finish area.
In addition to the permanent facilities available (four stalls for the women), the race had set up several portable potties. The lines started to grow in the 30 – 45 minutes prior to the race. However, about 10 minutes before the race started the lines had nearly cleared.
The start line was not far from the parking area. This was an open start (at 1,450 runners, I wouldn’t expect different). They did have pace markers in the area to provide some guidance which I thought was great. The course took off from Main Street and immediately headed to the country surrounding Lynchburg. Much of the race was in the “country” and made me think of home. The first few miles included some rolling hills. Shortly after 3.5 miles the infamous climb begins. For roughly a mile the course has a gentle incline and then a quick, steep switchback in the file beat of that mile. During the gentle incline, I kept thinking how “easy” this was. I had heard about Whiskey Hill and knew it had to be coming, but I was not as mentally prepared as I thought I was. I rounded a corner at which point not only could I see the steep incline immediately in front of me, but could see runners on the switchback (second massive incline). At this point the hill won. Four letter words were said and I walked. I didn’t walk the entire thing, I trotted for a bit before walking again and then trotting a bit more. For perspective, I went from an 8:14 in mile three, to 8:37 in mile four, and then dropped to 9:46 in mile five. The rest of the course is “down hill” with a handful of quick, short hills later in the course. Once over Whiskey Hill, the course continues to run the countryside before heading back into town. The last 1.1 miles are on the highway that leads into town. Depending on your nature you will either love or hate this long straight-away. There is one final turn yards before the finish line. They have a timing mat set up before the finish and they announce runners as they come in.
Post-race fuel was plentiful. They handed out bottles of water immediately past the finish. Once out of the chute they had coolers full of chocolate milk and Gatorade. A bit further I hit the jackpot, with grilled cheese, hoecakes (not my favorite), Brunswick stew (a local flavor), a table full of fruit (oranges, grapes, bananas), and baked goods (freshly baked and packaged). I think there was something there for everyone.
The swag for this race absolutely stole my heart. To start, the race shirt was a nice quarter zip long sleeve shirt. The material is incredibly soft and comfortable. The medal, not your ordinary medal, is made from whiskey barrels. Incredibly fitting for this race. Finishers also received a customized pair of Swiftwick socks and the choice of a hat or visor. Since it was adjustable, I grabbed the visor.
I absolutely will be getting up early when registration opens for the 2018 race. I am determined to beat the hill next year. The one thing I’ll change, I’ll sleep a little bit longer and arrive closer to 6:30 rather than before 6:00.