Sunday, November 07, 2010

Stomp the Grapes

Warning: This is a long review.

The Stomp the Grapes Half Marathon was a challenging event held in Hartville, OH near North Canton and Alliance. It starts at Maize Valley Winery and ends in Quail Hollow State Park. In previous years, the race averaged about 300 to 400 finishers between the half marathon and the relay. This year, there were 703 finishers in the half and 110 relay teams of three people each, meaning there were 1,036 finishers!

Deb, Elaine, Laura and me warming
up at a fire before the race.
We left at 7 a.m. to reach the winery. It was a fairly easy and direct drive.

The farther north we drove, the colder it got, and in and around Hartville there were light patches of snow on the ground. Snow! Already! The temps were in the low 30s.

The pre-race atmosphere was like a party. Tons of people roaming around the grounds. And there were huge fires everywhere to keep people warm. It was very nice!

The race started at noon with the firing of a pumpkin cannon which was loud, but we couldn't see it from where we stood. (I wanted to see a pumpkin fly!) As everyone took off, Deb and I were the very last people in the race. Elaine and Laura were up ahead of us and we didn't expect to see them until the end.

The course is on country roads with a couple of miles in Quail Hollow State Park at about the halfway point and the finish. For the first few miles we had the road to ourselves and it was great. The scenery was pretty, the roads were wide and we passed a couple of people. The wind was intermittent, depending on whether the corn fields had been plowed under or there were trees near the side of the road. There were lots of hills, but only a couple of big ones. Because it was cold, it was hard to climb the bigger hills.

After a couple of miles, the roads were open to traffic and that was a pain. Though most of the roads had very little traffic, some were pretty busy and the cars were way too fast and cutting it way too close. Deb and I met another Deb along the way and the three of us would go single file on the berm to get out of the way of the cars. Being country roads, they were uneven with some pretty rough patches, but I expected that. It did make my ankles and legs a little tired, but it was a public road.

Spectators lined sections of the race.
There were a couple of spots where you could tell the race directors had not anticipated problems caused by this many people. Entering Quail Hollow there is one road. There were pylons on the side and a big space in the middle -- we were not sure if we were supposed to be in the middle section or off to the side. There were tons of spectators walking and standing in the "short section" so we couldn't really walk there. There were occasional cars in the middle section, so we couldn't really walk there.

We did one loop in the park, then came around behind the finish line and ended up walking head-on toward the runners finishing. They were cutting it close to us, trying to use tangents at the end of the race, and we were trying to stay to the side to be out of their way, but still be on the course. Spectators were everywhere. It was a mess!

The course was scenic. The uncut
corn helped break the wind.
We left the park at about mile 7 and continued on country roads. For a while we could see the faster people coming toward us and it was fun to see Laura walking with a group of runners.

This last part of the course felt hillier. And as we walked it felt as if the temps were dropping. My core was warm throughout the race and when the wind stopped blowing, I was too hot! But as we went along, my hands were freezing and my legs were getting stiff. Yep, a sure sign the temps were dropping. Oh, and before I forget -- it snowed. During the race we encountered tiny pelting snowflakes.

We got to the finish in Quail Hollow uneventfully. It was fun that they announced our names as we came across the finish line. Though we knew we needed to catch a bus back to the winery, not one person said, "Go this way to catch a bus." We had to find a volunteer and ask.

Yea! We are getting on a bus!
The line for buses to the winery was HUGE! We could see Laura and Elaine ahead of us and they finished much earlier than we did. Laura later reported she waited in line for more than an hour! We waited for more than half an hour and ended up on the same bus with Elaine. Luckily they crammed the buses full of people and I was thankful I was out of the cold and did not mind that only one cheek actually touched the seat. The bus ride back to the winery was not long.

The winery was more than ready for us! The fires were still burning, there were tents set up with tons of picnic tables and there was lots of food. They had hot dogs, Subway turkey sandwiches, bananas, apples, chips, cookies ... And there was a lot of everything. There was also coffee and hot chocolate -- I would have loved another bottle of water, but could not find any. In addition, anyone over the age of 21 could get two glasses of wine! We grabbed our food, (I also grabbed two glasses of wine), and we went inside the winery in their restaurant section that was nice and warm. It was crowded with happy race finishers and was a fun atmosphere.

When I went outside about 4:30, there was still plenty of food left! There were still tons of Subway sandwiches, cookies and chips left.

The race packet included a really nice wicking hat, socks embroidered with the word "Stomp," and a technical shirt in a great purple with a really pretty logo. This year they opted to give away the hat and socks instead of medals. Unfortunately, my sized-small shirt is so absolutely huge, it looks like a men's XL. When we went to exchange them, we were told that someone gave women men's sized shirts and they were out of women's smalls. Crud! It's a shame, too, because this is one of the best-looking shirts I have received in a long time! Regardless, the hat and socks are cool.

I have mixed feelings on this race. The atmosphere was very fun! The fires outside were great. The participants were all excited. There were plenty of pre-race restrooms. The pumpkin cannon was fun. The course was difficult because of the hills and the rough streets, but I have done hillier courses. It was made tougher because of the weather and the fact the streets were not closed causing us to be on the edge of the road a lot. The loop in the park with the fast finishers and tail end people at the same time was just a mess. And doing this race alone would be hard. The long wait many had for a bus back to the winery was horrible.

The after race party was fantastic! It was one of the best I have ever seen! Tasting wines was fun and I'm sure inspired more purchases. The hat and socks are great!

So the good things were very, very good. The bad things were bad. I do think the good out-number the bad.

Would I do it again? I think so. It has lots of potential. My recommendation is to let the race directors figure out how to handle a crowd this big for a year or two, then try it again.

Finish time: about 3:11. Considering how cold it was, with rough roads, not bad.

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