Saturday, May 24, 2014

Cheers to That - A Half Corked Success

I may have a few marathons and trail runs under my belt but, admittedly, that was a dozen years and many added pounds ago. Back in my running days, though, I was always enthralled with the thought of running one of the marathons through wine country - whether that be the Napa or the Bordeaux run - but I was never able to make it happen. When the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association introduced its Half Corked Half a few years back, I knew I was going to have to make it happen one way or another.

I didn't hear about the race in its first year until just before the start and it was too late to get involved. An injury and lack of training prevented any thought of running the next couple editions. Now, here we are at the fourth running and fortunately for the Winery Association - but unfortunately for would be runners - the Half Corked Marathon has almost become a victim of its own success. Demand for starting numbers has become something fierce. Such that, last year, all the spots were gone within a minute of them going on sale. Wanting to be as egalitarian as it could be, the Association introduced a lottery system to gain entry into this year's run.

I know about a dozen people who entered the lottery and not a single one of us saw our name picked in the initial draw. Hard to believe that you could be so disheartened by being told you can't run a half marathon, but it's true. We were all drowning our sorrows and bemoaning the training that we had under our belts. A week or so had gone by when, magically, I got the call that my name had been picked in the supplementary draw. Mr. Cool and I would be able to cruise through Okanagan vineyards after all.

As wrote in the posts leading up to race day, I'd actually picked up an injury over the last couple months. It was diagnosed as bursitis on the knee and it pretty much meant that I wasn't able to train for about 3 weeks leading up to the run and I wasn't sure that I'd even be able to complete the race. Having managed a couple 16k training runs for the first time in over a decade though and knowing how difficult it is to even get into the run, I was damned if I wasn't showing up at the start line - even if it meant that I had to walk a good part of the course or that Mr. Cool needed to carry me for a couple kilometres.

If you haven't guessed from the first couple pictures, this may still be (just shy of) a half marathon, but it is definitely operated as a fun run. A healthy proportion of the runners show up in costume - and there were some incredible outfits. Mr. Cool and I worked with the tiki room theme because it was easy to run in but I'm hard pressed to figure out how some of the participants were able to finish with their costumes in tact. The course winds through wineries - and some stunning scenery - on the Golden Mile and Black Sage Road benches but - costume or not - it isn't a course where one might look to complete a personal best time.

This part of the Okanagan is the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert that runs up the West Coast from Mexico. Therefore, the heat of the day can easily become an issue for participants. Knowing this, the organizers have wisely ensured that there are 14 water stations along the route to keep the runners hydrated.

And, since this is wine country, naturally, each of the water stations is manned by one of the 31 wineries that make up the Association. It was left to each winery to decide what to serve at their station and there was certainly a wide-ranging array of offerings - everything from Sangria at Tinhorn Creek and campfire wieners & beans to accompany Riesling at Rustico to a full spread of food and wine at Silver Sage.

I have to admit that the spray shower, set up at Stoneboat, was as welcome as any wine along the route though.

The award for best costumes went to the Red Planet team - we caught up to Marvin the Martian and crew at one of the pit stops and we marvelled at the thought of their running the whole race in their spaceship. After the race, I was gobsmacked to find out that they hadn't tried running in their ship even once before the start of the race. Yowzer!

Other favourites among the runners were the Walking Red, the various bridal parties - with or without pregnant bride, the grape bunches, the Ron Burgundy newscast team, the Dutch Brigade, and my own personal favourites: the grape-stomping Lucies. All decked out as Lucy from the infamous grape stomping episode (luckily for them, it was in the pre-fight wardrobe), there were more than a couple calls of "Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do!" heard over the day.

I'm happy to say that, with Mr. Cool's incredible patience and amiable pace, we managed to cross the finish line in tact and together. And, despite what I said earlier about no one being concerned about times, we managed to finish in personal bests. Admittedly, those personal bests didn't stem from stellar pacing, rather it's the fact that the course length of 18.6 km isn't a standard race length. Since this is the first time we'd run this distance, it couldn't help but be a personal best. Fancy that.

The race concludes with a festival-style tasting event with all of the Association's wineries that didn't man a water station during the race. I think it's safe to say that most of the runners sampled a whole lot more wine at the finish than they did during the race itself. Mr. Cool and I were sure to try at least one wine at each of the 14 stations but I definitely filled my coconut glass with water and ice along the course - as opposed to taking a free pour of wine to go - that is, until our final couple stations. I figured I could finish off the last so many kilometres wine in hand. I took it as a badge of honour that we crossed and toasted the finish line with some Quinta Ferreira Rosé in our tiki coconuts. It only seemed fitting for a run through wine country.

At the finish line tasting, I was reminded how I've always chuckled over the stories of women lifting their skirts for photos in front of the old Golden Beaver sign. The winery may have changed its name to its Latin translation - Castoro de Oro - but I thoroughly enjoyed telling the story to one of the blushing brides - with golden blonde locks - as he sidled up to the tasting table. Being the demure bride that he was, the skirt immediately came up. There were shorts though; so, I suppose we'll never really know if he was a natural blonde.

As the tasting wound up, surprisingly enough, Mr. Cool and I were thrilled to let the Mimster play chauffeur and take us back to the hotel for a well deserved nap.

On most days, a nap after a long run can easily signal the end of my day but, being in wine country, we decided to celebrate with dinner at Miradoro. We scored a skookum table on the balcony - from which we not only enjoyed our delicious dinners but had a great view of the first show of Tinhorn Creek's 2014 Concert Series. The Town Pants were serving up some rollicking Celtic tunes and it was a superb addition to a great day. I don't think my legs would have been up to much of the abandoned dancing that was happening below us but I did manage to tap my toes a bit to the wild rhythms.

If you look really closely at the photo below you might even see the ever-effervescent Sandra Oldfield kicking up her heels a bit to a jig or a reel. Girl's got some moves.

For a day full of wine, I haven't been adding a whack of bottles to The List. Admittedly, I did go back for multiple pours of Culmina Riesling at the finish line tasting but that didn't a bottle make. Ultimately, I couldn't miss adding a bottle from this event though and dinner provided the opportunity to do so - and add a very tasty bottle at that.

1616.  2009 Tinhorn Creek - Oldfield Series 2Bench Red (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Canadian wine scribe, Rick Van Sickle, called the '09 2Bench Red "simply the best red I have tasted from Oldfield." A Bordeaux blend of 45% merlot, 30% Cab Sauv, 22% Cab Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, it certainly hit the spot with us that evening. Dark and earthy, it got the blood coursing through my tired, old legs again. Maybe not enough to go for another run in the morning but at least enough to make it back to the hotel for a whole lot of log-sawing.

All in all, it incredible day - and weekend. The organizers and wineries deserve huge thanks and I'm not surprised to see why the run has become so popular in such a short time. I think it's safe to say that we're more than game to give the Half Corked Half another go next year. Indeed, Mr. Cool is already talking more elaborate costumes. Hopefully, I'll be up and running again by then - and be lucky enough to get starting numbers in the lottery.

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