The Painted Hills are breathtaking, indeed, and when you have the time to take them in they are a sight to see. When you’re lining up for a race that starts at the observation area for the Painted Hills, however, the only thing that’s breathtaking is the speedy descent down the gravel/dirt road that leads away from the park. And so it went this year as 14 of us got out of the shuttle to compete in the 20th running of the Painted Hills Half Marathon.
In recent years, the temperature at start time (8am) has been as high as 78 degrees, making the run difficult for all runners, as the temps soar to over 100 by the time one finishes. This year, the temp at the start was 46 and was only 58 at the end, making conditions as close to ideal as you can get. What makes this race even more ideal is the home town feel you get from the locals who live in Mitchell, a town of 126 people. Larry was our shuttle guide and the one who yelled “GO!” at the beginning of the race and his humor and sincerity were both appreciated.
The race takes off from the observation area at the park and winds down hill for the first mile, dumping the runners onto a paved road for the next 5 miles before turning onto a very rutted dirt road that takes runners up a decent grade for 4 miles. Just past the 10 mile mark, runners turn back onto pavement and run downhill into the town of Mitchell for the finish.
This is the road leading to and from the park that runners follow from miles 1-6.5
The elevation gain is not terribly significant overall but the dirt road that starts at mile 6.5 is worthy of remembering, as it will test you. As a guy who loves hills, this one takes you due east, right into the sun and even though the temps were down, one will feel the heat. Oddly, the pavement at the end was not a welcome sight but it also marked a mental point of recognizing I was only 3 miles, or so, from the finish.
The turnout was decent, as we nearly doubled the population of Mitchell, but more importantly, the organization was fantastic. The course was marked well, there were ample aid stations, the volunteers were all super friendly and while there were not many of us who ran the half, the turnout for the 5K was the highest the race has ever seen.
This race always takes place over Labor Day weekend and while that might be a busy weekend for all of us, I would highly recommend making it a point to check this race out. The views alone are worth it!