Saturday was the Oak Barrel Half Marathon, which was my 7th half marathon overall. The race is held on the first Saturday of April each year in Lynchburg, TN. For those of you that don’t know, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey is distilled in Lynchburg, and this fact definitely has an influence over the event.
I did a course preview last week, so I will not get into that too deeply again. I will say, however, that after running the course for myself, they were not over-hyping Whiskey Hill. That hill was intense and definitely a challenge! But, it was great to experience a different type of course than I am accustomed to.
The day started off cold and early. Temps were around 37 degrees when I pulled up to Lynchburg an hour and a half before the race start. I got there so early to secure parking and because Lynchburg is not a large town, and the only way to get there is via two lane, winding roads. The race is limited to roughly 1,500 participants due to the road situation as well as a scarcity of parking. I had time to kill, so I talked to Susan on my phone. This was the first race that she did not attend with me, so at least we talked a bit beforehand.
I picked up my race packet the night before, and honestly, when I do this race again, I will just wait until the morning of the event. Packet pickup was well-organized, both the day of the race and the day prior. The Friday packet pickup was held at the distillery, and all runners there before 4:30 pm could take in the sights of the distillery in addition to picking up their packet. On Saturday morning, the race organizers had a key drop off for runners. It was set up just like a bag check, but instead of trying to wrangle someone’s post race wardrobes, toiletries, and such, Zip Lock bags with corresponding bib tags were used to store car keys.
The race started just off the town square, and runners were separated by self-projected pace. Honestly, this race was one of the better ones in runners accurately lining themselves up. I did pass some walkers that lined up in the elite corrals, but not nearly as bad as previous races.
The first four miles, I ran at a consistent pace, conserving energy and sticking close to what my typical half marathon pace is. There was just one small, but steep hill, but that really is nothing our of the ordinary. Then came mile four and Whiskey Hill! It was steeper than I anticipated, and definitely every bit the challenge that is was billed as. I started running up the hill, but quickly realized that I would use too much energy with this approach and walked up the last half of the biggest incline of the hill. At mile five, I started running once again, and my legs were very grateful for my caution on the incline. Miles six through nine were at the higher elevation, but there was not much climbing or descending. Mile nine through twelve were steadily downhill and the last mile was flat. I owned the last five miles, earning negative splits in the four of the five miles, including my fastest three miles! The one mile in the last five that was not a negative split missed it be a few seconds, and these were directly attributed to my last water stop.
The finish was on the town square, where there was a band and several post race refreshment stands set up. After getting my bottle of water and awesome medal at the finish line, I retrieved my keys, grabbed a chocolate milk and waited in line to get my race socks and hat. After getting the extra swag, I tried some homemade scones that were given out and sampled the other food items. I did not have a pair of shoes to switch into from my running shoes and I am dealing with some toe discomfort, so I did not stay in the festival as long as I would like. It was well-organized and worth checking out.
Swag: A+: Awesome “medal” which is made to resemble an oak barrel. Fitting, huh? It is big, has plenty of character, and as I told Susan, it is my best smelling medal since it is made of wood with the design burned into it. I have run in fours races this year in which I received a medal, and three of them knocked it out of the park, including this one. Runners also got an awesome 1/4 zip pullover before the race and a pair of Swiftwick socks and a race hat upon finishing the course.
Course: A+: Yes, Whiskey Hill sucked, but that is a part of the charm of the race. They make no bones about the fact that there is a gigantic hill in the middle of the course that will challenge you. If it were easy, everyone would run it! Beyond that, the course was very scenic, and the few instances where cars had to come through, it was handled great. There were also plenty of water and Gatorade stations and if you needed to shed a layer of clothing, you could drop it off with race volunteers and get it back after the race. The course and support were top-notch and well thought out.
Overall: A+: This was one of the best events that I have been a part of. Keeping the event to around 1,500 participants is a necessity, but certainly helps the race organizers do this. If I lived closer, this would be a no-brainer, every year event. As it stands now, when I can work it in, I will, and I will certainly return for the seven-year anniversary in two years. Anyone that is familiar with Jack Daniel’s knows that the number seven is a big deal, so I imagine that it will be for the race as well.