May 20, 2012

Avenue of the Vines Half Marathon

Avenue of the Vines is a 5k and half marathon race that takes place in Lodi. It was in its sixth year this year. I have participated in the 5k twice before and enjoyed the flat course. This year a couple of friends decided to do the half marathon so I decided to join in. The race benefits the local emergency food bank and takes place at Woodbridge Winery in Lodi, about 45minutes south of Sacramento. Early bib pick-up was at Fleet Feet Stockton, a local running store. I stopped by the store the day before the race and got my bib, timing chip (disposable D-tag), goodie bag and technical fabric shirt. A couple of great things about the shirt this year were the color-black, which is rare for race shirts and it was gender specific. Included in the goodie bag was a wristband to wear if you are 21 and over. This was required to participate in the wine tasting postrace. It wasn't mentioned that you had to wear the wristband to get the free wine glass included with your entry fee, even if you skipped the drinking itself, so I was glad that I had worn mine even though I hadn't planned on drinking any alcohol. Since the race started and finished at the winery, there was a large parking lot and once it filled up there was plenty of street parking. I had learned in the years prior to get there early enough to park in the lot and did so again this year. There were porta potties close to the race start with a large line. Luckily a few other people and I found the winery's unmarked public bathrooms that were empty and I was in and out quickly. There were a few booths set up, most were informational pre-race but they did have some goodies post race. Race start for the half marathon was 7am and 7:15am for the 5k. The half start was right on time. We headed out on the main road in front of the winery and shortly after turned left to head north. The half marathon course was a loop course through wine country and farmlands. It was on a one lane paved road the entire time and was closed to traffic most of the time.

It was a well marked course with mile markers at each mile. There were police officers at each major intersection directing traffic as well. The main hazards were dogs in the area that would come out to fences and bark at us. There was one in particular that was running towards a group of runners in front of me but stopped at the edge of his owners property, just shy of the runners. There was an aid station at about 1.5 miles-close to the 5k turnaround point. There were about four or five more aid stations on the half marathon course-all with water and a sports drink but some of the volunteers were very young and didn't notify the runners if they had water or sports drink. Surprisingly there weren't any energy gels or chews offered on the course. After turning east again we passed through some cattle farms and ranches and could really feel the sun beating down on us. It was getting warmer quickly. After a few more turns the course headed south on a road that was lined with large trees that thankfully provided some shaded areas.  At about mile 7 or 8 there was a cooling station where cold sponges were handed out. This was the first race I have done where this was provided and it was great. A few more turns and then it was back on the initial street but heading west this time toward the finish. The course was lined with spectators as I got closer to the finish line and their cheering helped me pick up my pace near the end. Once across the finish I was handed my finishers medal and then was ushered to walk around the winery's visitor center to get water. It would have been nice to have the water closer, especially on a warm day. Another stop to get my wine glass and then there were wine tasting booths which I skipped. There was some post race food such as fruit and wraps. There were also a few sponsor booths set-up at the finish line but my favorite booth was one that had free race photos that had already been printed out. Even though I didn't find any of me I thought it was a great idea.