On Sunday October 23rd a number of Empire Runners participated in the Cloverdale Vineyard Races – Overall half marathon winner Sarah Halas (1:26:17) Nuvit Salz, Tanya Narath, Darryl Beardall and I among those I recognized.
We got lucky with the weather and it ended up being a perfect Autumn day in northern Sonoma County.
I was not quite sure what to expect when I signed up for the race and then later discovered that the entire course whether you were going 5K, 10K, Half or Full Marathon would be run entirely within the confines of the vineyards surrounding the Asti winery just south of Cloverdale. I guess that is why they call them the “Vineyard” races!
Also, there were to be no course maps or mile markers.
Still, the morning dawned cold but clear and beautiful as we lined up at the start facing west. We ran down the road, crossed under the freeway and immediately turned onto the groomed gravel and dirt vineyard road. Once we got a short distance from the freeway and the scenary opened up the course revealed itself to be absolutely gorgeous. The sun was just starting to come up over the autumn-tinged hills and valleys and the views were stunning. I quickly realized that this was the most beautiful course I ever ran on.
The lack of mile markers was a bit odd, but since my plan was to run rather conservatively anyway, I did not mind too much. While it was strange not knowing quite how I was doing, I felt good and I actually kind of enjoyed not dealing with the stress of counting miles.
There were abundant aid-stations throughout the mostly rolling course. There were many broad sweeping turns and a few significant hills. The course was not fast but not quite like a trail run either. There were enough runners on the course to keep you company but it was not crowded. The Full and Half Marathons started at 7:30am with the 5K and 10K starting later in the morning.
With what I think was about 3 miles remaining in the Half we crossed back over to the east side of the freeway (the Full Marathoners continued for a repeat lap). Here is where things got a little convoluted. We soon merged with the 10K and 5K runners and passed through multiple confusing intersections, many of which did not have course monitors. The signage was accurate but you really had to stay on your toes to avoid getting lost. I understand that quite a few did get lost and either ran too far or too short and that some people were disqualified as a result. Hopefully next year they can figure out a way to avoid some of this confusion and simply the course to some degree.
When I finally came within sight of the finish-line I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had been running about 15 seconds per mile faster than I thought!
I waited at the finish-line for Nuvit and Tanya and spent a bit of time talking to Chris Mason who was diligently performing the timing duties.
Somehow I missed Nuvit who finished close behind me, but once I connected with Tanya we found her sitting under an umbrella eating breakfast with Christina Royston who ran the 5K.
Here is what Nuvit had to say about the race:
“Started our freezing, thinking I was going to warm up after the first mile, wrong! It took about 5 miles to finally feel comfortable. But what a spectacular view through the vineyards. Wherever you looked, colors were just breathtaking, literally! Or maybe it was because of the hills! Hills were challenging, both up and down, hurt bad enough – the money you spend was worth it! Then, last three miles came, in a different vineyard. I didn’t feel this was enjoyable, no hills but very bumpy! Also in a couple of turns, I wasn’t sure if I took the right one! Over all, with just few glitches, it was a great course and I would do it again.”
The race provided a great breakfast and Bear Republic was on hand with a choice of beers for all finishers.
Race results were available almost immediately after you finished and you could look up your time and place on one of the laptop computers set up under an awning for that purpose.
In addition to the food and drink, there was a live band and several booths hawking various miracle cures for the runner.
Besides awards for the overall winners in each race, all finishers received a very nice medal (at least in the Full and Half..) and there were three-deep awards in the five-year age divisions.
Nuvit and I finished first in our respective 50-59 age groups (Dale 1:53:51 / Nuvit 1:54:57) and bagged ourselves a nice bottle of red wine to prove it!
Over all I thought it was a great event and I would do it again for sure. Of course I did not get lost in which case I might have a different opinion. Here is hoping they can make some improvements and simplifications to what could become a classic event in the coming years.