This is another race my husband found online. The race gets its name from a coyote that wreaked havoc on the small community of Burke’s Garden, Virginia, back in 1952. The coyote killed more than 400 sheep and came to be known as “The Varmint” before it was finally caught.
Burke’s Garden is nicknamed “God’s Thumbprint”. From above, it looks like a volcanic crater. It is the highest valley in Virginia. The Varmint 1/2 Marathon course, known for its hills, traces the outline of part of the thumbprint.
Kurt had read somewhere that camping was allowed near the starting line. He emailed the race director to ask if this was true. She emailed back and said that there is a small camping area in a field not too far from the starting line. She said there’s no water or bathrooms, but we were welcome to camp if we wanted to.
We were under the impression that there would be more campers, but we were the only ones. There were very loud cows in the field behind us and the temperature dropped drastically overnight, but we managed to sleep quite well regardless.
In the morning, it was so cold that we had to sit in the car with the heat on to warm up enough to go back out and pack up the tent.
We drove the half mile to the starting line at the community center, and I made some coffee.
We were there well before the noncompetitive half marathon walk started at 6:30 am.
By the time we lined up for the start, the fog had mostly burned off, and it was starting to get warm. We couldn’t find any information about water stops, but we assumed there would be some. Neither one of us had brought a fuel belt or bottle to run with.
I was planning to treat this race as a long run, since 11.5 miles is the furthest I’ve run since November. Although… Kurt had told me that according to last year’s times, I would only have to run a 2:o5 in order to place in my age group. We had seen the prizes at the start/finish line:
I really wanted to win a sheep!
My plan was to just jog the first 5 or 6 miles nice and easy, and if I felt good after that, to pick up the pace a little. I wanted to win a sheep, but I also wanted to make sure that I didn’t run too hard and aggravate my IT band again.
The first few miles were very hilly. I took it nice and easy and just enjoyed the morning. I was amazed at how good I felt. I’d really been struggling for a few weeks, just feeling slow and out of breath during all my runs. But now I was feeling normal again, and as people started wearing out from the relentless hills, I started passing them.
On my last few long runs, I had been struggling to maintain a 10:30 pace, but each mile when I heard my Garmin beep, I’d look down: 8:41, 9:20, 8:47, 8:50. And this was on some seriously hilly terrain! True, these splits weren’t going to get me anywhere near my PR time. I had definitely lost some speed. But on hills, and with the very limited running I’d been able to do, I was feeling pretty good about my pace. I continued to feel really good until mile 10.
Right after the water stop (turns out there were plenty of water stops!) at mile 10, the running started to hurt. I had told myself that I would just treat this race like a long run, and that I’d just keep the pace easy. Up until now, I had done that. But now, I didn’t want any of the people I’d just passed to pass me back. I also wanted a sheep. I could see three women in front of me. I’d been gaining on them for a while. I was pretty sure at least one of them was in my age group.
I struggled up the hill. Just before the 11 mile mark, there is an out and back. I saw Kurt as soon as I started the out and back. He was more than a mile ahead of me! It was all down hill to the turn-around. This made it really hard for me mentally, because I kept thinking about how hard it was going to be on the way back.
Strangely, though, when I turned around, the up hill didn’t seem bad at all. I was exhausted, but I made myself keep up my pace. I realized that I wasn’t going to catch anybody in front of me, but I decided that I wouldn’t let anybody pass me, either. On the final stretch, I looked at my watch: 1:54. I couldn’t really tell how far I was from the finish line, but I definitely didn’t want to come in over 2 hours. I picked up the pace and crossed the finish line in 1:58:20.
It was my slowest half marathon in years, but considering the circumstances, I was quite happy with my time.
Kurt went and checked the results, which were posted by the finish line and came back and told me I’d placed 3rd in my age-group. Yay! I won a SHEEP!
There was a small local farmer’s market set up in the pavilion. I bought some homemade ice cream. Kurt got a hamburger.
Kurt went back to check the results again. I somehow got bumped to 4th in my age group. It was chip timing, so I have no idea how that happened. But, I didn’t get a sheep.
I guess we’ll have to go back next year for another shot at winning a sheep.
Mile splits: (1)9:23, (2)9:53, (3)8:41, (4)9:19, (5)8:46, (6)8:49, (7)8:45, (8)8:34, (9)8:53, (10)8:51, (11)9:07, (12)9:11, (13)8:36