Yesterday I headed to the start line of the Virginia 10 Miler to take on the most challenging course that I've ever raced... again! And I'm not being dramatic, in an article in the Lynchburg News and Advance this morning, course record holder and former Olympian Anne Audalin called it "one of the toughest road races in the nation." And yet, people come to tackle it year after year! Read on to find out why!
Expo and Packet Pick-Up: This is a pretty "no frills" race when it comes to packet pick-up. It was held at the Plaza in the Liberty Flames gymnastics center and literally just included walking in, picking up your packet, and walking out. Super streamlined, and super easy. There were two small booths set up with some Brooks gear on sale and some former shirts from past races, but other than that, no expo to speak of with this race!
Accommodations and Travel: I'm from Lynchburg, so I stayed at my mom's house over the weekend. I came in Friday morning and was here in plenty of time to pick up my packet when it opened between 3:00 and 7:00 PM on Friday (there's also race day pick up at the start line if you need it). However, if you're NOT from the 'burg, there are some wonderful options for hotels in the area. The race starts at EC Glass High School, a stones throw away from the Downtown area which has been BOOMING over the past several years. New, boutique hotels are popping up left and right and offer some fun, chic options if you want to make it into a weekend getaway, which I'd recommend because the bar and restaurant scene is also growing like crazy in Downtown Lynchburg! For hotels, check out The Virginian and Craddock Terry. For food make sure not to miss out on The Water Dog and RA Bistro. And for Saturday night drinks after the race, head to Bootleggers and El Jefe. In terms of travel, Lynchburg is easy to get to via 64 and 29 and there's also an airport if you're flying in.
Course: Here's where the beauty of the Virginia 10 Miler enters... in the challenge of its course. As I said in the beginning, it's HILLY. In fact, there are over twelve massive inclines throughout the entire race. The course itself is a down and back. Beginning from EC Glass High School, runners head down Farm Basket Hill (yes, that means you come UP it at the very end), down and up Rivermont Terrace, taking a right onto Rivermont (a beautiful historic street) and running through Riverside Park before turning around and heading back. It doesn't matter which way you're going, there's going to be a massive incline to tackle. However, at the very end, you head down a HUGE incline at Rivermont Terrace... only to come around a bend and begin a mile and a half climb up Farm Basket Hill to the finish line. There's no way around it, it's absolutely brutal. After putting in eight and a half miles of intense hill work, to finish on such an unrelenting steady incline is rough. However, I truly think it's what continues to draw masochists runners to this race year after year. Yes, you will destroy your legs and back with the hills, and yes, it's not like the Richmond Marathon where you finish on a downhill... instead, after miles and miles of hard work, you're rewarded with one final test at the very end, and that's where the winners are born. After conquering Farm Basket Hill, there is NOTHING more rewarding than crossing the finish line!
So no, it's not an easy course with "rolling hills" throughout... it's a beautiful course with insane elevation drops and gains! How's the course support? Top notch!! I'm serious when I say that there are volunteers at EVERY marker along the way. Cheering, encouraging, and helping to push the runners on (when most of us just want to quit). There's live music as well, and four water stops with water and Gatorade (four stops all together, for a total of eight stops down and back). Keep in mind that there is no nutrition on the course, so if you are someone who likes gels and chews on a ten mile run, bring your own!
Ease of the Start Line: This race involves both a 10 miler and a 4 miler which both begin together according to pace predictions. There are no bib corrals so this one is on the honor system. But with about 3,000 participants it's not a big deal. The pace corrals are marked well with volunteers holding large signs and everyone pretty much knows where to go. Parking isn't terrible (although I had my mom drop me off and pick me up), and there are plenty of spots in the high school's parking lot. Unlike the Richmond Marathon, you shouldn't be scouting for a parallel parking spot or having to stand in line at a parking station to pay. While you do start with the 4 mile racers, they finish at the four mile mark and at that point, the 10 mile runners continue on through the park for the remainder of the race. Although they start together, it's a smaller race and the course doesn't seem crowded leading up to the four mile ending.
Swag: In years past, the Virginia 10 Miler included a beautiful medal for all finishers. However, this year was the 45th anniversary and all finishers received both a medal, and a gorgeous commemorative fleece blanket (a la the Richmond Marathon and Shamrock in Virginia Beach). I LOVE these blankets and always have a few in my car so it was awesome to get another one. The packets included a few fun things like chapstick, chip clips, and some coupons as well. Another cool thing... FREE race pictures!! This is such a great feature that more and more races are beginning to offer. There's nothing more frustrating than PR'ing or crossing the finish line of your first major race... only to have to turn around and pay an arm and a leg for one single digital download! I honestly think that free race pictures will help to grow a lot of races in the future, because let's be honest, runners love to post pictures of their finish!
Post-Race Party: Just like packet pick-up and the non-existent expo, there isn't TOO much of a post-race party, at least compared to races like Richmond and Shamrock where the beer flows throughout the afternoon! That's not to say that it's not worth sticking around afterwards though! Once you cross the finish line and receive your medal and blanket, you can then head to the right towards the food tent where all finishers are treated to ALL the food and snacks they could want... watermelon, oranges, candy, bagels, pizza, water and Gatorade. And because it is a smaller race, the lines are non-existent and it's quick and easy to get through, get your snacks, and enjoy the live music on the big stage! Also, this year I saw that on Sunday (the day after the race) there will be a big post-race celebration at Apocalypse Ale works in Forest, VA. So, if you're one (like me) who loves a cold beer when you cross the finish line, you'll have to wait a day to do it!
All in all, would I recommend the Virginia 10 Miler? Hell. Freaking. Yes! It's an incredibly challenging course, but with amazing support along the way. It's a race that you have to come to the start line knowing it's going to be tough, but it's also one where you'll cross the finish line with a huge sense of accomplishment knowing that you completed it! If you're an out of towner, this race falls at the end of September, a beautiful time to make a long weekend of it and visit Lynchburg to take in a city that is really turning around in terms of revitalization of the Downtown area! Make sure to mark your calendars for next years race, and bring your friends and kids for the 4 miler and the Amazing Mile children's run which occurs on Friday night!
Have you run the Virginia 10 Miler before? Comment below and let me know your thoughts... and hopefully I'll see you next year on the road!