Greetings from your friendly neighborhood guest blogger! I’m Devin, Juliana’s running husband (see my adventures on her Dopey and Star Wars recaps, among others), longtime friend, and fellow Disney Crazy.
And like Juliana, I’m also a big fan of wine (I’m Jacchus to her Bacchus). In fact, I’m such a big fan that once I read about Oregon’s Fueled by Fine Wine Half-Marathon here I knew that I had to run it. I’ve wanted to go to Oregon for a while and why not explore a new wine region with an awesome sounding race with a fantastic after-party?
I use the term “Expo” generously. I was emailed ten days beforehand that there were three opportunities for bib pickup: Friday in Portland, Saturday at Erath Winery in Dundee (where the race is) and Sunday morning right before the race. Since we were flying into Portland Saturday morning, we decided to do the Saturday pickup. I had not noticed that the pickup ended at 2 (it only ran for 3 hours) so we were lucky we got there when we did!
Despite barely being an Expo (and not really having any race details – they all were on the site), this was easily one of the best bib pickups. Why? Because you got wine at the pickup! Yes, that’s right. Erath was tasting a Rose of Pinot Grigio and a phenomenal 2010 Pinot Noir (Oregon is famous for their Pinot Noir…as well as their Riesling and Pinot Grigio). And they had a quiche paired with the Rose! AND you could buy the race special – both bottles for 45 bucks…while the Pinot Noir alone usually cost 50!
This race also had arguably the best swag bag of all time. You got a cute Oregon canvas bag, a wine journal, a race sticker for your car, and tons of coupons for local wineries. Overall, there were 4 2-for-1 tastings, 4 free-tasting-for-one, and 3 free-tasting-for-two. There ended up being more coupons at the after-party and wearing your medal around town got some extra discounts. In the end, we only paid 10 bucks (plus tips) for all the tastings we did over two days (and tastings usually range from 10-15 bucks in this area). If you’d want to, you could easily spend another day or two fully exploring the wineries of the area and getting your money’s worth.
After tasting, we went to a local pho place for dinner, which was both an excellent carb load and a fantastic way to stay hydrated and full of electrolytes. Then, we went back to the room and I stretched and rolled to Teen Beach Movie on Netflix (since, alas, our hotel did not have Disney channel…but it was so cheap and nice that I wasn’t complaining).
Our hotel was a 7 minute drive from the race start, so we left at 6:35 for a 7 AM race. And that will NEVER happen again in my entire life (until I do this race again). I got to the start line, stretched, had some water, and waited for the race to begin. Shortly before it did, they announced a charity event, where one guy starts 10 minutes after everyone else, and for every person he passes, he earns 10 bucks for charity. Normally he does about a 1:10 half, but said that last year he did this one in 1:27. So yeah, this was gonna be a tough course. In case you’re wondering, he passed me around mile 4.
Every recap I read about this race was the same: This is the hardest half marathon you’ll ever run because it’s hilly as balls (not that balls are really hilly). It’s also the most beautiful half marathon you’ll ever run because Oregon wine country is beautiful. Also, they all agreed the after party is awesome.
The race coordinator was similarly upfront about the hilliness. Unlike some races (glares at LA Marathon), the coordinators warned us about the elevation and the hills (it’s about a 900 foot increase, but I was told if you count all the ups and downs, you climb over 2000 feet) and told us not to try to PR.
I had already resolved that I was not going to go all out here. I typically hover around 2 hours for my half time, but I didn’t want to feel sick after the race and I wanted to be able to walk around Portland on Monday and Tuesday. Most importantly, I wanted to be able to enjoy that wine. The wine festival began at 9 and went till 12, so my thinking was even if I finished at 10, that was 2 hours of unlimited wine tasting.
The race began with an uphill climb. Definitely not an easy start, but again, I expected it. Shortly though, we were already in our first vineyard. And it lived up to the hype. Getting to watch the sunrise over the vines as hot air balloons rose into the air was a sight that my picture will not fully do justice to. I knew then that, no matter the hills, this was gonna be a great run.
The next few miles were fine. We didn’t run through any more vineyards yet, just along the backroads of Dundee. It was still gorgeous though running near the trees and greenery of the Pacific Northwest. This Jerseyan-turned-California definitely misses green.
I also loved the wine-quotes, running-quotes, and Oregon wine trivia along the course (apparently the area grew the first American strain of Pinot Grigio back in the 80s). Stuff like this always brightens a race.
For the first 5 miles, I was averaging an 11 minute/mile pace. It’s definitely slower than my usual 9:30ish one, but again, lots of hills and not trying to PR. I knew that the worst was still to come.
And I was right. Around mile five, there was a huge hill, both in steepness and length. It was a high incline – so much so that everyone around me gave up trying to run it (we had already conquered quite a few hills by this point)…and it didn’t end. Every time it seemed to plateau or at least reach a more reasonable incline, it would soon start up again and get more vicious. And it was in the sun.
The running did not get any easier though. Oregon grapes thrive on hillsides, so the vineyards meant a lot more going up and down. And, because of the uneven ground, I couldn’t even go all out running downhill; I had to focus my muscles even more on staying balanced.
At some points, I swore the Devil himself had designed miles 5-9 of this race. But just when I'd get annoyed at the next hill, I'd look around and be so happy that I was running through vineyards. So yeah...still totally worth it.
I will say to anyone who runs this, though, turn around on these big hills. The view you get makes the climb almost worth it (see below).
After this hill though, the rest of the race was a fun blur. It was mostly downhill or flat, with a few mild uphill moments, and the views remained fantastic. And, at the final water stop, someone was giving out Swedish fish. What’s not to love?
I ended up finishing at 2:35:03 (11:51/mile). Overall, I was happy with my result. I had been shooting for under three hours initially, and then adjusted it to 13 and then 12 minute miles. All the hills added well over 2 minutes to my average, but I had expected worse. And – more importantly – I felt great afterwards. I will say that this race was the toughest course I’ve ever ran and, if it and the LA marathon had the same weather one way or the other, it would be even harder than the LA marathon.
The finish line had waters, fresh blueberries, strawberries, and bananas (I wouldn’t be surprised if the first two were local they tasted so fresh), bagels with peanut butter, Clif Nut bars, and corn and sweet potato chips. All of these were great…but I’m noting the lack of Gatorade. I’m lucky I checked my own (and my trusty can of Progresso soup…I always at least drink the broth after a big race) or else I would be in no condition to taste wine for the next two and a half hours.
I picked up my wine glass (included in the registration cost along with the after-party ticket) and medal, got my checked bag, and changed into the race shirt (which was okay – it was tech, but the front was blank and the back just had the name and date of the race, no design). I had intentionally worn an old running shirt that was on its way to the trash/donation basket anyway and threw it out after the race. I didn’t want to schelp that around for the next two hours.
While I’m about to extol the amazingness of the post-race party, I will say it also houses my biggest critiques of the whole race.
1. The aforementioned lack of Gatorade means if you didn’t prepare, drinking wine after a hard race would not be fun.
2. There was no changing tent so the tasting area was piquant with BO…again not fun when mixed with wine and post-racing tiredness.
3. There were more free chips around the area, but no real food. I’m not saying it needs to be included in the cost of the registration (it’s a bargain as it is), but I would’ve paid for some food truck food easily.
But all that is minor in comparison to the awesomeness of the party itself. First, let me reiterate that it’s included in the cost of the registration (which is only 85 bucks) and add that any extra person’s ticket is only 25 bucks. You both get a souvenir wine glass. And there are about 20 top-notch wineries doing unlimited tasting pours. I think I tried between 15-20 wines while there (which would be about 50 dollars if we were paying for tastings) and we bowed out with about 40 minutes left (due to the above issues…particularly #3). Of course, the wines were delicious. This wasn’t the cheap stuff – there were tons of fantastic pinots, and also some interesting Chardonnays, Rieslings, and various Roses.
This was easily one of the best races I’ve ever run in my life. It’s up there with the Disney World Marathon and the Star Wars and Avengers halfs. It’s well-organized with great energy and a gorgeous course, has a fantastic after party, and is a bargain (seriously, the amount we saved on wine tasting was easily the cost of the race!). Sure, it’s also the hardest thing you’ll run, but if you go in with that mindset, you’ll have a great time. Also, nice to know that every recap I read about prior years was dead-on (even if the course changes every year).
I give this race an A+.
- Gorgeous course
- Great communication from organizers (though perhaps they could do it a bit earlier)
- Tons of fuel on the course
- Friendly volunteers
- Easy start line (getting to/parking/time needed/etc) and started on time
- Great mile markers (they were all wine bottles!)
- Fantastic Swag
- Afterparty is not to be missed
- A lot of bang for your buck!!!
THINGS TO WORK ON
- Shirt could be better (though if that keeps prices down, so be it)
- Cups on course could be bigger/Gatorade could be stronger
- Gatorade post-race
- Changing Tents Post-race
- Food Trucks at Festival
- Earlier communication about logistics
- Take your time. This is not a PR race and you’ll be miserable if you treat it like one.
- Don’t wear your favorite racing gear. It’ll get covered in dirt and you may want to ditch your shirt.
- Check Gatorade and maybe even food before the race so you’ll feel good for the afterparty
- If you want to visit Portland (and you should because it is a magical heaven on earth), do it the days before the race. Many museums and other attractions are closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Thanks Devin! I want to do this race so bad now but sadly it will most likely have to wait at least 2 years (you know that whole dissertation thing starting next summer...). Now I am craving a glass of wine!