Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fueled by Fine Wine Half Marathon, State #16, OR

The decision to run a race in Oregon started a couple of years ago when Runner’s World magazine published the half marathon issue featuring the top half marathons in the country. One that caught my eye was the Fueled by Fine Wine half in Dundee, OR. Not only did the description of running between and among the actual grapevines sound enticing, so did the huge wine tasting tent at the finish line. Sign me up, I thought. 

Fast-forward two years later and my wonderful husband booked our summer vacation plans to encompass the wine run in Oregon with an extended week visit with relatives in Seattle. In an effort to get the most marathon bang for our travel buck, I also found a half marathon the weekend after the wine race in Washington state. Two states for one trip! Huzzah!

We arrived in Portland, OR on the Friday before the race, which gave us some time to get our bearings and settle in. We opted to stay in Portland which was only about 30 minutes or so from Dundee, as the accommodations in Dundee mostly featured wine-related fancy B&Bs and inns for grown-ups. Traveling with the whole family made those options unavailable to us, but we were just as happy to be in a regular old hotel a short drive away. 

Our first night in Portland, we met up with former colleagues of my husband, who hosted us for an amazing dinner at their house. Suzanne and Eric welcomed us to their home, and our girls were thrilled to swim in their pool while the adults chatted. In recent years, Suzanne and Eric have started their own winery in the Portland area, and we were the lucky beneficiaries of their work. They treated us to a full tasting of their wines, starting with their Rose wine which was perfectly delightful for a beautiful summer evening. With dinner (an amazing spread of grilled items prepared masterfully by Eric) we tried their red wines, finishing up with a glass of their reserve wine which was delicious. Their incredible wines which are available through their wine club and soon to be marketed more extensively. Check them out at Fullerton Wines on Facebook

We had such a lovely night at the Fullerton’s home, and by the time we left I felt as if I’d known them forever even though I’d just met them. It was such a nice way to begin our trip. I am sad that I didn't take any photographs of our visit to their home. 

The next day, we drove to Dundee to scope out the race area and pick up my number. We drove to the Argyle Winery to get my packet, and I also met the race director, Chris Nagy. I thanked her for all her help with my pre-race planning questions. She was so responsive to my e mails and did an amazing job organizing everything. It was nice to put a face with the name. Next, we found the start/finish line area and figured out where to park. The race area featured a playground for the kids which was perfect for them to play at while I ran. The road leading out of the start/finish line area was a steep hill, so I knew from the start it would be a tough race. In fact, the Fueled by Fine Wines website clearly warns runners that they will not get a PR in this race. I had been practicing hills at home, so I figured I’d be ok. 

We went to lunch at a fabulous little spot nearby called Babica Hen. They featured great, fresh, local produce and a kid-friendly menu. After lunch, we headed back toward Portland, stopping to walk through a nature preserve on the way. The day was extremely hot and humid, weather that was not typical for this time of year, or so we heard from the locals we met. Temperatures were expected to remain high for the week, creeping in to the 100’s even. Luckily, race day was expected to be the one cooler day of the week. Whew! We walked for a short time, and our girls, tired from our travel and hot from the sun called it quits. We checked out the visitor center exhibits and gift shop before leaving, and as luck would have it, we were able to view a bald eagle in a tree from the window of the visitor center through a telescope set up there. Cool.
Experiencing what an eagle's nest would be like while on our nature walk.
That evening we met up with another of my husband’s former colleagues at her home in Portland. Gunilla and her husband Graham cooked an awesome dinner featuring her special pasta with mushroom and tomato cream sauce. It was to die for and perfect pre-race carb food. We had a great time at their house which was a beautiful old home, lovingly restored. They had a sweet back deck and patio that featured loads of beautiful plants, a grill and smoker for cooking, covered picnic table area and pet chickens! So fun! The girls worked on crafts and our youngest absolutely loved playing with their dogs, Bonnie and Muffy. We made it a fairly early night, making sure we would get back to our hotel early enough to get a good night’s sleep, as we all had to be up bright and early. We were sure to catch a glimpse of the “super moon” that night before turning in. It was big and beautiful and orange. A good omen.
Hanging with Muffy the dog.
Hanging with Bonnie the dog.
Having a great time with friends.
The next morning we left the hotel around 5 am or so (the super moon still visible in the morning sky), leaving plenty of time to get to Dundee and get a good parking space. Mission accomplished, as we scored a prime spot in the lot right next to the playground. We killed some time in the morning playing in the baseball fields nearby, where the girls ran bases and played a pretend game of baseball. It was fun. We also spied some hot air balloons floating by off in the distance. Another good omen. When I noticed the lines for the porta-potties getting long, I said my goodbyes and was on my way. 

Hot air balloons overhead.

The girls and I before I left them. You can't see it, but the"super moon" was still in the sky behind us.

I chatted with some women in line for the loo, who filled me in on how very difficult this race usually was. Those who had run it before said it was super hilly and to expect to be about 20 minutes off of my PR. Wow! I knew it was going to be tough, but 20 minutes off? No way, I thought. I thanked them for their advice and wished everyone good luck and made my way to the starting line up. 

The sun was up and there were a few clouds here and there and luckily the temperatures were in the 60s and were to top off in the 70s that day. Perfect for a run through the vineyard vines. We were off and running up the steep street we’d seen the day before. It was tough, but no worse that the hills I’d been practicing at home. The street leveled off soon enough, but then turned right and continued upward. This happened again and again until I thought we couldn’t possibly have any more hill to climb, and then we entered our first vineyard area. The initial road was a dirt “farm road” with some gravel on it. Ok, not bad, but then we entered the space between the vines. The trail was narrow, grassy, angled, downhill for the moment, and pocked everywhere with large holes. In other words, completely treacherous! The panorama was gorgeous, but it was difficult to run while paying attention to each and every inch of ground beneath my feet. I got distracted at one point by a woman who ran past me while she chatted on her phone. (!!!) I took my eyes off the ground for a split second which was just long enough for my foot to catch one of the holes, cause my ankle to twist and send an instant pain up my leg to my chronically sore hamstring. Ouch. Not good. I was only around the two mile mark when this happened, so I wasn’t sure if I’d make it all the way. I continued on, mad at myself for losing my concentration, and hoping upon hope that I would be able to finish with my sore hamstring plaguing me. At least my ankle wasn’t hurt. That would have been a bummer.

The race wound through more vines, farm roads, paved roads and hills upon hills. I’ve never seen so many hills in one race. For every short downhill we ran, there were 2-3 super steep uphills. Somewhere just before mile four, I was giving it my all up one such hill on a wide dirt and gravel road, chugging along, breathing heavily, pushing myself when I suddenly realized that to my left walkers were passing me. I immediately realized that I was wasting my energy trying to go fast when I was in fact moving more slowly than walkers. So I started walking the hills. I felt a little defeated at first, as this was my first race EVER that I’d had to employ walking any distance, but I knew that the walking would help me recover a bit and conserve energy for the later miles. At this point, I texted my husband to let him know that there was no way in hell I’d make my goal of finishing within two hours. I was 47 minutes in to the race when I passed the four mile mark. Very slow for me. And with no end to the hills in sight, I had no idea of when I might get to the end. 

We ran through and/or past Crumbled Rock Winery, Winderlea Vineyard & Winery, Torii Mor Vineyard & Winery, Erath Winery, Hyland Estates, and Maresh Red Barn and the farmland and properties were stunningly gorgeous. About midway through the race, the terrain started to level out and the hills turned downward at last. It was such a relief to run downhill! I savored every second of it on the paved, shaded road that began our descent. The view was spectacular and the temperatures were not bad at all. In fact, some clouds were starting to roll in which helped keep things cool. I was all for overcast skies. 

The view from the top.
Most of the rest of the race followed paved roads which is what I normally run, so I felt more at ease at this point. I tried to take advantage of the downhills as best I could, although I wasn’t able to run my fastest due to the soreness in my hamstring. I just tried to make up as much time as I could from my slow uphill start. I met up with a woman somewhere around mile 8-9, and we chatted for a long while (something I don’t normally do, but what the heck...I already knew I wasn’t going to break any PRs in this race...). She was from Portland, and we talked about how difficult the hills had been and  the other kinds of races we’d done. She was very friendly, and before I knew it, we were at mile 10. It was a super way to pass the time. 
What it looked like in between the vines along the way.
I knew at this point that I would definitely finish, and to my surprise I thought I could finish in about 2:15 if all went well. Better than I anticipated back at mile four when I alerted my husband to my slow going. 

The last few miles of the race were mostly downhill, but with a few rolling hills. Somewhere between miles 11 and 12, I thought I caught a flash of lightning. Lightning??!!! There’s something new. The clouds were building, for sure, but maybe it was just my eyes playing tricks on me. Nope. Shortly thereafter, a low rumble of thunder  made itself known and another unmistakeable flash of lightning. Good lord! All I could think was that if they shut down the race while I was about a mile from finishing, I would seriously die. I turned in to the last vineyard of the race and up one more steep hill. I ran half and walked half of it up to the top which brought me back to a paved road and complete downhill finish. The thunder and lightning were growing stronger now, although the most threatening looking clouds were still at a distance. I ran as fast as I could down that hill to the finish where I collected my medal and bee-lined it to the car where my family was safely waiting. The time on the finish clock was 2:08. 23 minutes off my PR. The locals were spot on. Better than I expected while en route! I’ll take it!

I definitely earned this medal. What a hard race! I jumped in the car and started to change my clothes. I was hoping to stretch out, but with the weather getting more serious, I decided to just postpone until we got back to the hotel. (A decision I regretted later, as my hamstring really needed some immediate attention.) The finish line celebration featured a wine tasting tent with all the area wineries represented, and we were bummed that we weren’t going to be able to participate. We figured it really wasn’t the safest place to bring our family in light of the weather. So we went back to our hotel to stretch, clean up, pack up and head on to Seattle for the next part of our trip.
Excellent race swag!
The Fueled By Fine Wine race was one for the books. I experienced many firsts on this race:

First race that featured a Super Moon in the morning.
First race where I saw hot air balloons.
First race that I had to walk hills. Several times.
First time I sent a text during a race.
First race that featured red Jory soil (and yes, it stained everything).
First race that I finished in a thunderstorm.

Dundee was a lovely area to experience on foot. Next time, I think I’ll just come for the beauty of the area and the wine. :) FBFW was a terrific, challenging race though, and all things considered, it will certainly stand out as one of my most memorable. It was so well organized and featured such lovely views of the area that most folks won’t see. But those hills....ouch!

No comments:

Post a Comment