I know I’m super late with this race recap, but there was so much awesome in this race that it took me a while to get it all together, then ya know life gets busy. I gotta say I’ve never been to a race that had such a welcoming small hometown feel. The runners were clearly the priority that day. To give you an idea of this race’s demographics: About 1,100 people ran the race (including a lot of locals), and the town only has about 5,700 people in it. So, with the runners and the volunteers, pretty much the whole town was out for this race. Every water stop was manned with several people and there was a water stop about every couple miles. And those who weren’t running or volunteering, were sitting on their porches waving back at all the runners. The only thing I probably saw more during the race were cows and they’re rude and don’t wave back.
Lynchburg, TN is also the home of Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. Yes, it’s made here. No, you can’t buy it here; it’s a dry county. Yes, most people who live here work there. You see the influence Jack all over the town, and they are a sponsor of the race. No, there wasn’t any Jack at the finish line.
Oak Barrel Half Marathon – April 6, 2013
Fortunately this race didn’t start until 8am, so we had time to drive the 90+ minutes to get down to Lynchburg, TN. Normally it takes about 90 minutes, but with the tiny town (and roads) and extra race day traffic, we gave ourselves plenty of time to get there. Early morning wake-up, make coffee, prep a banana and a bagel with peanut butter and throw on my race clothes, hop in the car and point it south. I was able to do my pre-race nutrition in the car ride down and made one potty stop along the way. When we got there, we wound around the town and back fields to get parking, then went to registration and picked up our packets, shirts, and bib numbers. I made a bee line for the porta potty lines to get one last relief before the race, attaching my bib number while in line.
Pretty soon it was nearing 8am for race start. We all just stood around near the start line (love small races!) and the race director literally just counted down 3-2-1-GO for the start. Nothing fancy, no starting gun, just getting down to business, just how I like it.
We quickly wound around to the main highway for a very short stretch, then were deep into the farmland. We ran past a cow pasture, that smelled very strong. Nothing like huffing and puffing along in a race, and all you can smell are cow patties.
Not long after the cows, we started the slow climb towards Whiskey Hill. As this is a very rural, small town race, you don’t have a lot of bands or cheerleaders along the course. So as we were running into the wooded area and starting the slow climb, I could hear “Dueling Banjos.” Yes. That. Nothing like being in the backwoods and getting flashbacks of Deliverance. Turns out someone had a generator and a boombox tucked back into the trees. Nice one.
This is the race’s defining aspect and pops up around mile 5. It is a mile long hill, and you don’t notice the first 3/4 of mile, but the last 1/4 mi is character building. It starts getting really steep, then it turns a corner and it becomes impossibly steep. I came down a couple weeks before to preview the course and the hill. I knew what I had in store for me. I planned to try to run to the top, but it became clear that walking was faster because you could get longer strides rather than trying to tippy-toe your way up it. That and my heart rate started getting out of control. This hill has so much character, it even has its own Facebook page.
After Whiskey Hill, I totally expected to just fall my way down towards the finish line. This race supposedly has negative elevation gain. Yeah, no. Once I hit mile 6, I knew I was near another water station. I turned the corner and it was Whiskey Hill’s baby brother. Another damn steep hill. I was not pleased. This was a part of the course I had not previewed, so I wasn’t ready for it. Actually turns out the entire course is nothing but rolling hills. The elevation chart is a lie. You almost never feel the effects of the downhills. I quickly learned this is not an easy or PR course. It is a course to have fun, enjoy the scenery and relish the finish line!
I had a goal finish time in mind. I knew with all these hills, it might be hard to do, but I’d been training hard and I could push it. Then at mile 9, a side stitch hit. What?! I haven’t had a side stitch in years. It got so bad, I actually had to walk for a bit, and if I let my pace drop below 9min/mi it became unbearable. I could see my finish time slipping away. I pushed through and maybe around mile 12, it finally let up. I seriously had a side stitch for 20-30min! So I tried to haul whatever I had left on the main highway towards the finish in the last mile.
Final Time: 1:55:56 (15/114 AG) I still had a PR, even if it’s just by a minute.
But the real bonus to this race is the finish line! You cannot ask for a better race finish! You get handed a wooden medal, a pair of Swiftwick socks with the logo on it, and your choice of a running hat or visor with the logo on it! All to match the shirt you got when you picked up your bib!
But here’s the real treat. You know you’re at a race in the South, when there are Hoecakes and SunDrop at the finish line. Yes, I did partake. And yes they are the best hoecakes I’ve ever had! There was plenty of other food and drinks too; pizza, bagels, bananas, fruit, Brunswick Stew, Gatorade, water.
Then they had a little local band set up that was actually pretty decent playing off past the food area. Love the stage set up around the Whiskey Barrels.
But my favorite (ok maybe second favorite after the hoecakes and SunDrop) was coming across the spontaneous pickin’ session in front of one of the shops on the tiny town square. You can’t get any more small Tennessee town than this!
All in all, I would totally do this race again. It was a cheap race registration, had the best volunteer support, and the finish line and swag were phenomenal. And I’ve learned my lesson to stop trying to get massive PRs on hilly courses. This is a race to enjoy!