I love running. And I love wine. So an event that combines these two things? Yeah, that’s pretty much a guaranteed must do. So when I spotted the Run the Vineyards 5K Series, I laced up my sneakers and dusted off my wine-drinking shorts (full disclosure: every pair of shorts can be wine-drinking shorts when you’re me).
The races take place at vineyards in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and this one was at the Hopewell Valley Vineyards in Pennington, NJ. I’ll admit: I was so excited for a wine-related race that I blindly signed up for this one after a quick glance at where it fell on the map. I saw Princeton and Trenton around the area and thought “Meh, can’t be that far!” Well, I was kinda wrong. It was more than an hour away! But it didn’t matter – on the morning of the race, traffic was light and we arrived 15 minutes earlier than planned.
Overall it was super easy to find the place, and the parking lot was set up just steps away from the starting line in a big open lot, which was great. We popped the trunk of our SUV, had a seat, and relaxed while the crowd got thicker and the sun got warmer. After about a half hour or so I met up with a few co-worker friends, pinned on my number, and we made our way to the starting area.
It looked like it was going to be a small race – the results say there were less than 350 runners!
Once the gun went off we cleared out of there and took off up a slight gravel hill onto the main road outside the vineyard. It was a gorgeous place: hills and mountains, lots of trees lining perfectly paved roads, big farm houses dotting the landscape – if they were to ever hold a longer race in that area I’d jump right on it!
We started off down the main road under nice bright sunshine and a cloudless sky, and I was feeling good – no tightness anywhere, knees were fresh, life was good! As we made the first and second turn through the first mile I realized that we were going almost explicitly downhill. Not by a huge amount, but still enough to know that I didn’t look forward to going back up them at the end of the race!
By mile 1.2, the speedier folks at the front of the pack had already turned and were making their way past us, and I realized the turnaround was only a quarter mile away. That was it?! It felt like nothing! For the past 6 months my shortest training runs were 4 miles, so I guess now 3.1 miles is like a warm up. Good to know.
I was feeling the heat by the turnaround though, so I grabbed a big cup of water (thank god for that!), sipped and walked, tossed the cup in the trash, and took off again up the rolling hills I’d just run down.
The hills weren’t as hard as I thought they’d be though – or maybe it’s all the hill training I’ve been doing lately? – but either way, I alternated between walking and running when the sun was too hot. By this point it was already in the 80’s and the shade was far behind in the first half of mile 2, and I was pretty happy with my 11:45-ish pace. I wasn’t looking to break any records, I just wanted to have a good time at a no-pressure race again!
So by mile 2.5 I saw the entrance to the vineyard again and started to crank it a little harder. My music was bumping, my legs were still feeling strong, and I actually picked a few people off here and there! It was fun. We turned the corner and ran back down the hill we scaled at the start, past the finish line, around the vineyard building, and back up through the vineyard for the final .25 mile or so.
That’s when I hit a wall – literally, the ladies in front of me stopped to walk. I don’t know if you can see it up there, but there’s wire holding up the vines on either side of us – so I couldn’t pass them without being a huge jerk and literally nudging them away! I walked for a little bit behind them but soon heard the footsteps of other runners surging behind me, and that’s when I finally said screw it and dropped the hammer to pass them.
It was fun pushing that hard; I felt my ankles rolling on the uneven dirt, and spotted the clock at the finish line: 36:54. Under 37 would be awesome! I gave it all I had, but evidently that bottleneck in the vineyard was too much – I crossed in 37:02.
My Garmin said otherwise, though, and the race results are actually better than my Garmin: 36:39. Not my best, not my worst, and an overall fun race!
Afterwards we went back to the car where I changed into flip flops (ah the benefits of having the car right there!), then we all met up for some post-race chatting, delicious wine in our commemorative race glasses, and live music in the courtyard. We even went inside to explore the winery where I hit the mother lode:
We even found a place where the walls were made of wine…
Well, not literally, but how could I pass up a photo op with a giant copper cow?
And with that, we called it a day! I would definitely consider doing this again next year. It was very well organized, on a beautiful course, and the post-race festivities were awesome.