Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fueled by Fine Wine Half-Marathon 2010 - The Swooning

I am happy to say I ran the Fueled by Wine half-marathon today in Dundee, Oregon, finishing in 1:44:44 (7:59 min/mile pace). 104 minutes and change is not what I would normally consider a fast pace, but this, dear reader, is not typical race: this is a hard one.

I am trying to decide if this was the hardest single organized race I've ever run* -- only the combined three legs of "leg 5" of the Hood to Coast even belongs in the same conversation. (Yes, I mean to say that on a properly-scaled grade, this was more difficult than any of the eight marathons I have run.)

It is hands-down the most difficult half-marathon I have ever tried, of that I am certain, and I mean that as a profound compliment to the people who conceived and organized this event.

I am most proud of the fact that I never stopped running for the entire 13.1 miles. I slowed down in places, barely faster than a walking pace at times, but I made it my goal to continue running, and I met that goal. Along the way, I saw a great many very fit-looking people reduced to walking by this event -- and I mean nothing disparaging in that; some days you beat the course, and some day the course beats you.

If ever a course will beat you, let it be one like this. Here is the elevation profile -- notice any difficult spots?

As daunting as that looks, the hills are only part of the story. The other part involves the challenging mix of surfaces: some pavement, but also a great deal of loose gravel and no small length of rough pasture. When this event claims to put you in some of the wineries of Oregon, this is quite literally true: we ran through stretches were only tractors were heretofore meant to tread.

Oh, and while I'm detailing the difficulty-increasing factors, there was the sun and the heat. The temperature was in the vicinity of 65 when we started, and roughly 10 degrees hotter by the end, and the skies were cloudless. Fortunately, there was a fair amount of shade along the way.

It was tough but it was beautiful. The vistas seemed as though copied from postcards depicting impossibly breathtaking images of rustic Italy, Austria, or France. We ran alongside orchards of apple (pear?) trees, beside and sometimes within vineyards -- destined to become very good pino noir, pinot gris, and chardonnay -- and even, accompanying one brief expanse of gravel road, so much wild-growing blackberry as to scent the air beyond the combined perfume of straining runners.

The non-athletic aspects of the event were likewise superb. The shirt is spectacular in itself, but more so for participating in the same visual theme as the finisher medals, mile markers, and bibs. This event was carried through with style even apart from the offer of post-race swag that included a wine glass and a generous tasting of local wines.

I could go on.

To summarize, the event organizers and volunteers should know that they executed what might be the perfect half-marathon. It was beautiful and singular, rooted in the exceptional qualities of a little-known place, and superlative as a pure athletic challenge.

Race organizers of the world: look to this event and copy it shamelessly. Our sport will be better for it.

* Update: I have decided this was the single most difficult organized race I have ever had the privilege to run.

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