Race recap: 2015 Winter’s Hill Winery 5K

After going overboard and running three (yes 3!) 5Ks the day before, I was ready for a scenic, pastoral, low-key, and lone race on Sunday, August 16th, and the Winter's Hill Winery 5K more than fit the bill. I like driving to races almost as much as running them, and cruising the winding roads of Oregon Wine Country is especially fun, particularly on a slightly cooler bright summer morning. Winter's Hill Winery is perched high above McMinnville and Lafayette at the end of Hilltop Lane, so I had no illusions of a flat, fast course. I was just looking forward to great views in a peaceful setting, with no expectations of fast times or high placings. I arrived at the winery about an hour before race time to find friendly volunteers helping with parking and registration/packet pickup. I took the extra time to wander the grounds and take some photos. I could see the large hangers of McMinnville's air museum far below, and off in the distance a couple hot air balloons were silently rising into the morning sunlight.

As race time approached, we were called toward the starting line for final instructions. I was expecting to watch fellow Run Oregon blogger Brian Bernier quickly disappear into the distance at the start, because despite the fact that he was running the 10k, I knew he would be running a faster pace than me under the circumstances. Luckily, the race director announced that the 10k would start about five minutes ahead of the 5k, so I was able to cheer Brian on as he took off and wait a few minutes for my own start.

The staggered starts and the well-designed course were two of the things that made the race a success. The course was a 5k loop entirely on farm trails, run twice for the 10k, except for a short section of gravel road that was only run at the start and finish of each race. This cut down on congestion, as the 10k runners didn’t half to contend with 5k finishers as they finished their first loop and started their second.

After turning off the short initial gravel section, we ran along a path mowed through the grass in the woods. A slight uphill soon gave way to a long steep downhill, and I remarked to the runner next to me that we would have to make up the downhill before too long. He laughed, and sure enough the course was a constant roller coaster of drops and climbs, with a few short level sections providing occasional but limited relief.

In addition to the climbing, the footing was a little uneven at times, but that just forced you to heighten your concentration. I wasn’t going for a PR at this race, and the quiet and serene surroundings made up for the effort required on the lumpy vineyard slopes. Besides, there was a bottle of wine to be awarded to the first finisher 50 or over. (In fact, the last place finisher was also guaranteed a bottle of wine, so choosing a perfect vantage point to sit and watch the sunset was tempting too, though I’m pretty sure that’s not what they had in mind!) 😉

I had fun maintaining a relative sense of where I was on the course, and at one point we returned to a familiar intersection of paths. Somewhere past the 2-mile mark I spotted the main winery building up and to the right (and I mean UP). One final ascent along the edge of a field led us to the border of a section of vineyard and back to the gravel road for a last short sprint to the finish, where great complementary food from a local vender awaited.

The Winter’s Hill Winery Fun Run was a nice small, low-key, well-organized, and friendly event that showed off Oregon’s wine country very well.

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