This past weekend Barry and I headed over to Tazewell for the 21st Annual Varmint 1/2 Marathon in Burkes Garden. It was our third time running this race, and I was excited. I like going back to races I have run before, because I know the course and all of the logistics (where to park, restrooms, etc.).
This year they had packet pickup on Friday night at a local restaurant in town. I’m not sure if it was the first year this was offered, but it was the first time Barry and I have taken advantage of it. The restaurant was also offering a pasta buffet for runners, so we decided to take them up on that as well.
On Saturday morning we were up bright and early to make 25 minute drive from our campground into Burkes Garden. The race has grown significantly since we first ran it in 2012, so there was a bit more traffic getting there (there’s only one main road going into Burkes Garden and it’s curvy and goes over a mountain). Parking was tight, but luckily we arrived about 10 minutes before they were full. Once there, we did the typical pre-race stuff: pinned on bibs, used the porta potties, etc. We also checked out this year’s black sheep, which were ready and waiting for their new owners. Every 7th year the race has black sheep instead of white for the overall and age group awards.
Barry’s parents had also driven up to cheer us on and hang out in Burkes Garden. We hung out with them, and then made our way to the starting line just before the 8 AM start.
The race ended up starting about 10 minutes late, but before we knew it we were off! Barry’s mom snapped this picture of us with her cell phone as we ran by. She’s quite the photographer! (I think Barry was coughing…?)
Burkes Garden is a unique place for a road race. It definitely doesn’t look like what you’d typically picture for a road race. It’s on the smaller side (about 370 runners total between the half and 5K), and it’s a very rural area with beautiful scenery. The half marathoners get to run a full loop around the Garden.
The first mile starts out slightly downhill on the main road, with one heart pounding climb. Then runners hang a left onto East End Road and encounter another serious climb before mile 2. There’s plenty of shade during this section, though.
I was feeling alright during the first two miles. The hills definitely got my heart pounding and my calves burning, but that’s the way this race is. You can’t panic when your legs already feel like lead as you pass the mile 2 marker. You just have to keep chipping away and try to make up time and catch your breath on the down hills. And that’s what I tried to do, until I hit mile 3.
There was another mean climb between miles 3 and 4 that I had to really fight to get up. But once I got to the top, I took my first walk break of the day. I felt like I had just done a 400m sprint around a track instead of slowly climbing a big hill. Once I caught my breath, I tried to get my head back in the game as I began running again on the rolling hills through miles 4 and 5.
Sometime before mile 6, we hung a left on Banks Mill Road to run the backside of the loop around the Garden. This section isn’t as hilly as the first, but it’s never flat either. There is also very little shade during this stretch from miles 6 through 9. Luckily, it was only in the mid-60’s with about 75% humidity. But as you can see from the pictures, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. That makes for a gorgeous view, but it also gets hot with the sun beating down on you.
Since this race is a small race in a rural community, there are very few spectators. A few of the residents of the Garden will sit at the end of their driveways and cheer on runners. It’s always fun to see them and I always smile and wave. Other than that, your only spectators are people manning the water stops and these critters:
So with curious cows looking on, I worked on covering the stretch along Banks Mill and Gose Mill roads. We were nearly to mile 10 when we crossed the bridge and turned left back onto Burkes Garden Road, which we had started on.
This part of the race is always really tough for me. There is a long gradual hill that curves so you can’t see the top. Plus if you’re familiar with the race course, you know you still have an out and back on Litz Lane before you can continue on to the finish. But you do get to run past things like the Burkes Garden Directory, as I refer to it.
Just before mile 11, I made the right turn on Litz Lane for the out and back portion that is a little over a mile. This section is very mentally tough, as you watch all of the people headed back up the road and towards the finish.
All you want to do is get to the turnaround so you can head for home. But here’s the thing – as much as you want to get to the turn around, it’s also mostly down hill to the turn around. You know what that means. When you do finally turn around you’ll have to climb to get back to the main road. It’s tough, but finally I found myself approaching mile 12 and about to make the turn back onto the main road where the start and finish line are located.
The Varmint doesn’t let off during the final mile, with two more hills (including an uphill finish) that will try to break your spirit. Despite having a tough time that day, I was not going to walk in that final mile.
As I approached the first of the final two hills, I saw Barry sitting at the top of it waiting for me. I fought my way up the hill, where he joined me to run me in the last half mile or so. I had my iPod on and I was in a world of hurt, so I didn’t hear him asking me for my camera so he could get a picture of me. Oops. I climbed the last hill and ran towards the finish line, which seemed to keep moving away from me. Finally, I crossed it!
My official time was 2:31:16, which is my third slowest time at this race in as many years. It’s kind of strange though, because I felt better this year than I did last year when I ran 2:24. I think I could have fought harder on the hills during the middle of the race, but at the time I really felt like I was doing the best I could.
Every single hill made my calves feel like they were on fire during this race. Maybe my legs haven’t fully recovered from Carvin’s Cove two weeks ago, which was a really tough race. Nevertheless, I’m proud to have finished The Varmint for the third time.
I grabbed some post-race food (bananas and oranges) and got some ice cold Gatorade, and hung out with Barry and his parents at the picnic shelter. There was a live band there playing everything from Lynyrd Skynyrd to “oldie but goodies” songs. I caught up with Barry and got the scoop on how his day went. He had a solid race, and exceeded his own expectations by running 1:45:44, good for fifth in his age group. Unfortunately, neither of us got to take home a black sheep.
After hanging out for a bit and watching the awards, we stopped by the Burkes Garden General Store. I know the owner, and she had a strawberry pie waiting for me. Yum! Then we had to hurry back to the campground so that I could grab a quick shower and make it to my friend Jessie’s wedding in Appomattox. But we got held up, because they had the road closed going out of the Garden! It turns out there was a tractor trailer hauling cattle coming over the mountain, and they had the road closed until he made it. That set us back about 20 minutes. I took the world’s fastest shower, and hit the road for the 3 1/2 hour drive to Appomattox. I made it to the church just after the bride made it down the aisle, and was able to quietly slip in the back.
The rest of the evening was spent at Jessie’s wedding reception with some good food and good friends. It was great catching up with friends I hadn’t seen for awhile, and seeing Jessie so happy and so pretty! (she’s the one I met up with before the start of Conquer the Cove)
Once the party wrapped up, it was time to hit the road home. Barry stayed at the campground with the dogs, since we already had the reservation before we got the wedding invitation. So I was home alone for the night Saturday night. It was about a 2.5 hour drive home, and I got home just before midnight. After such a long day that started with a race and ended with a wedding, I pretty much collapsed in bed. Sleep never felt so good 🙂
What’s the most scenic race you have ever run?
Do you prefer loop courses, out and backs, or point to points?
13 thoughts on “Varmint 1/2 Marathon – Race Report”
Wow that looks like a rough race. Great job to power through. I wonder what the weather was like last year? That sun beating down on you plus the hills could of easily impacted your race. Oh man I was so looking forward to you and Barry holding a black pig lol.
Great race recap!
According to my race report from last year, it looks like the weather was very similar to this year’s race. Sorry we didn’t bring home any black sheep trophies for you! At least I got a picture 🙂
I haven’t had a good run at Varmint yet! All those hills in the sun make for one tough course. You also seem to be racing a lot. No doubt your legs are tired.
The Burkes Garden Directory signs always amuse me.
Love your pics! Now I feel like I ran the course this year. It was much more pleasant while I sat here in the air conditioning 🙂
It’s a tough race to have a good run, what with the hills and sun and general lack of shade. Although I failed to mention Barry ran a course PR for him this year. I’m glad you got to feel like you ran the race, from the comfort of your AC. 🙂
Ditto the above–I bet your legs were tired from your prior races! Great job on the finish!
I think I must be experiencing some kind of cumulative fatigue from all these races that started in March! The back half of the year is much lighter in comparison.
Ok, that out and back sounds terrible! If they need to extend the loop, they should make the out and back somewhere closer to the start, not the end.
I was at a wedding once last year where traffic had been terrible and then I got lost and I got there 10 min after it was supposed to start, but luckily they were running behind. It was an outdoor wedding and just as I was running across the grassy field to get to the seats from the side, the bride was walking down from behind. Luckily, everyone watches the bride so no one saw me running in (stumbling more like it as I was trying to run in heels.
It is the worst! I’m not sure how they could incorporate it earlier in the race, without reversing the direction of the loop. But they certainly could do an out and back on a different road earlier on in the race before we hang that first left turn.
Haha, glad I’m not the only one who has been late to a wedding! Sounds like you also timed it well :)The bride makes for a good diversion.
Looks like it was challenging with all those hills. Good job toughing it out.
When I ride I try to do loops. I get bored riding back over the route I took to get there. I even come home from work a different way than I go, just to mix tings up.
Thanks! Loops are usually preferable to out and backs. I like to come home from work a different way, too, every now and then. The interstate gets old 🙂 Speaking of which, I’ve already driven over 1600 miles this month for work. That doesn’t include the personal driving I’ve done to Tazewell and then to Appomattox this pat weekend. Whew!
Well… I had to come back to this three times but I finally finished your recap! I’m glad to have had it open while I’ve been busy here at my parent’s house and check into your story here and there 🙂
Sorry you struggled with the hills ~ but it sounds like it was a good race overall. The sheep are too funny, and I love that you always get a pie when you go to the general store. The bride was CERTAINLY beautiful!
Congrats to Barry for his fifth place age group finish. 🙂
Haha that was probably partly my fault – it was a long recap! Thanks for powering through 🙂 Despite a subpar performance, I still had a good time. I guess that’s what counts in the long run! Not every race can be a PR.
Great recap! Wow, you sure had a long day! I don’t know that I could have managed it all, especially with all of the driving!