Last Saturday, I ran the Hernia Hill Half, a small, challenging local race that begins and ends at the winery. It's name comes for the steep, twisting gravel road up to the winery which the race director calls "hernia hill" and cleverly has you run up it twice. I've done the race three years in a row now and it went well this year. My final time was 2:17:37, which was a course PR by almost 3 minutes. I took 1st in my AG (but there were only two of us, ha ha) and won a bottle of wine in the post-race raffle. Can't beat free wine!
Course. The course difficulty comes from two things. First, the heat. It was about 80 degrees at the starting line and I was sweating before the race even began. By the end, it was over 90. Most of the course, and all of the worst of the hills, is unshaded and we had bright sunlight from the get-go. Then there are the hills, all positioned late in the race. You start by running straight downhill for the first 4.5 miles until you get to the turn around point. You then retrace your steps back up the hill, with the steepest section coming right around mile 8. Then you go downhill for a bit, before making your first ascent up "hernia hill," which aside from being steep and unshaded, is on an unpaved road of loose white gravel. You have the fun of running right past the finish line before exiting the winery and running back to the bottom of Hernia Hill, so that at mile 12 you can climb it one last time back up to the finish line.
The Field. There were only 38 people who lined up for the Half. Although the field is tiny, I'm always amazed at the talent this race attracts. The first 3 male finishers are all sub-3 marathoners and ultra runners, with the winner being a sub 2:30 marathoner who regularly does 100 mile races (he finished Hernia Hill with a 1:22). The winning female does full ironman triathlons. I felt honored to be sharing the course with them.
The Race. We are in the middle of a heat wave, so I knew it was going to be a hot one. The race was supposed to start at 8, but the RD wanted to wait to let the port-a-john line clear out, so we ended up waiting about 15 minutes in the sun before the gun went off. The RD definitely revels in the difficulty of the race and was openly gleeful about the hot weather before us. I had decided to bring my hand-held this year and was glad for it.
The first part of the race went by fast. It was downhill and not that hot yet. After the first mile, you are funning past farms and scenic pastures full of cows and bleating goats. Despite the nice weather, I knew I had to take it easy and was pretty much the back of the pack the whole way down the hill. First 4 mile splits were 9:40; 9:08, 9:51 and 9:53. It was fun seeing the lead runners coming back up the hill as I approached the turn-around point.
At 4.5 miles, I hit the turn-around point and refilled my bottle. Now the real fun began.. For mental sanity I tried to break up the race into three more segments: The run to get to the top of the first hill which I call "Dump Hill" as charmingly runs right past the dump, Hernia 1 and Hernia 2. During the "Dump Hill" segment I passed several people who had already switched to walking. I managed to keep running up until mile 8 when the hills steepens past the dump. I then switched to run 30 secs/walk 30 seconds strategy. This area is totally unshaded and without any charm whatsoever. I was very, very glad to crest Dump Hill and move to the Hernia 1 segment. Splits were: 10:21; 10:42; 11:00 and 12:23 (Dump Hill).
I had one nice mile of downhill running as I headed to the base of the winery. Already, however, I could feel the heat taking its toll and even downhill running felt hard. Then, it was time to go up Hernia 1. Damn. Every year I forgot until I'm there, how steep and nasty this hill is. It's unshaded, my feet are sliding on the gravel and its dusty. There are beautiful vineyards on each side but I could have cared less. I tried to run most of the way up, but was forced to walk up the steeper sections. Finally, I was at the top, where you can see the finish line and hear the after party in progress. I stopped to refill my water bottle and then hustled out of there before the urge to drop out of the race became overwhelming. Splits were: 9:46; 12:42 (hernia hill).
OK, I was tired now. I told myself that all I had to do was run for the next couple of miles and then I could walk up Hernia Hill if need be. How hard could 2 miles plus a stroll be? Even though the next bit was mostly flat and then downhill, I struggled to keep running. It was such a small field that I was pretty much alone; no one to chase down or stay in front of. Then, I was back at the base of Hernia Hill. I'm sorry to say I walked almost the whole way up, running only on a couple of relatively flatter sections. I was surprised at how hard even walking up that stupid hill was. A few early finishers had wandered down the hill to cheer people on, telling me I was "looking good." I hate to think what "looking bad" looked like. At the top of the hill, I was diverted to run through one of the winery's "wine caves" and past casks and casks of wine, before emerging and crossing the finish line. The cool, dark wine cave was nice, but that finish line was a thing of beauty. Final splits were: 11:05; 10:17; 13:57 (hernia 2). Finishing time 2:17:37.
Thanks for reading.
PRs: 5K (26:35); 10K (54:31); HM (1:58:53); FM (4:37:59)
I love the name of the race! Hernia Hill! Congrats on the AG award. One of the amazing things about running is that rank amateurs tow the line and run the same course as the pros and the local elites.
It's nice to read that some of the fast folks came down the hill to cheer you guys on. I wonder about a sadistic RD. I hope his or her attitude wold change if he or she had to summon a fleet of ambulances for the walking heat stroke cases that one would see at a larger race.
PR: 5k 26:17 (10/13) 10k: 57:44 (7/14) HM: 2:18:26 (9/13) FM: 5:29 (1/14)
Despite the difficulty of the course, it sounds like a very cool event in a beautiful area. I totally understand the appeal of this race. A three minute course PR is excellent! Congratulations on toughing it out and on a great time in such difficult conditions! And woohoo for the AG and the wine! Makes the pain of the hernias all worth it. :-) So how have you been feeling, OOTB? Still marathon training? Have you picked a plan?
PRs: Boston Marathon, 3:27, April 15th 2013
Cornwall Half-Marathon, 1:35, April 27th 2013
4 years racing, 14 marathons, 14 BQs
Great job on the course PR and improvement! Sounds like a fun race.
Damaris, Marathon Maniac, Ultra Runner
"The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire."
Holy smokes that sounds like a challenging race! Congratulations!!!! You deserved several bottles of that wine. I'm not surprised that a tough course like that attracts only the toughest. Good for you for being amongst the bravest.
Running- the real sport. The others just play with their balls.
Wow tough race. Congrats!
The race was supposed to start at 8, but the RD wanted to wait to let the port-a-john line clear out, so we ended up waiting about 15 minutes in the sun before the gun went off.
While I can appreciate the gesture, I would have a serious problem with that. Luckily for the race director I was not there.
It is good you are able to take this particular event for what it is otherwise there would be a ton of bellyaching. lol
Knocking 3 minutes off your time on such a tough course means your fitness has definitely improved, so congrats on that! I am curious as to your hydration and fueling strategy for the race though?
"Training is not always fun, but it should always be rewarding."
Congrats OOTB! Great job! and wonderful improvement.I did a race on Sunday with a 1/2 marathon at the end and the temp was 85F, full sun, no
shade so I sympathize!
Grand Master for a day
Wow, you're a bad-ass. If I'd seen 80 degrees at the start of a tough course, I think i would have DNS'd. Full sun, hot, hilly? I think the Hernia Hill Half should be renamed the Heart Attack Half.
Congrats on your finish!
Yikes!! Heat AND hills!! That would be enough to knock me out!
Congrats, Blue, on just crossing the finish line!!
And agreed......what a name!
Thanks everyone for all your comments. It's definitely one of the races that, when you are in the middle of it, you don't know why you are there, but finishing it up is so satisfying that I already can't wait for next year.
Lily -- I'm going to Pfitz's 18/55, but pick it at week 16, so I can get take a short break after SF marathon. This race affirmed to my how much I enjoying participating in races even if there is no chance for a PR.
LRB -- I had no strategy, except to carry a hand-held filled with water do I could drink when ever I needed to. I bought a gu with me, but didn't ended up taking it. It probably would have helped, but it seemed so unappetizing out there in the heat. I probably drunk about 24 oz on the course and another 24 when the race was over.
Congrats on the course PR and AG award!
5k - 25:15 (11/18/12)
10mi - 1:33:18 (3/2/14)
HM - 2:06:12 (3/24/13)
9/21 - Beat the Blerch HM
10/18 - Baltimore HM
Everything you need is already inside. [[Bill Bowerman]]
Barking Mad To Run
Congrats on your half, and on the award and your new PR!
"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." Theodore Roosevelt
I love sponge cake.
The hills are not bad, the heat is what gets me. Even though races can be miserable (not that yours was) I always can say "Eh, that wasn't so bad" after the race. I hope you felt that way.
Santa Anita Derby Day 5k - 5 Apr
Mountains to Beach Marathon - 25 May
Ugh. Exhausted just reading this. Not signing up for this one, as if the name was not sufficient discouragement.
You've got real guts just to show up; nice job surviving it.
The free wine almost makes it worth it. Almost. Although beer is a better post-race drink.