Disclaimer: I was offered and accepted a complimentary race registration for the Run the Vineyards Hawk Haven 5k. All opinions are my own. And my sister's. And my mom's. And our friends Kat and Dawn. But they all paid cold hard cash for this race, so the disclaimer is really only for me :)
A few days after publishing my Run the Vineyards Down the Shore 5k, I received the kind of email in my inbox I have only ever dreamed of - an offer to run the Hawk Haven 5k on the house! This was super exciting and a little intimidating. Did this mean I had to rave about the race? That I had to hide my own opinions behind a gloss of "everything was amazing, nope, not one critique, not one"? That I was selling out to the man?!?! I then considered that I probably had nothing to worry about - after all, I had already been to one event by Good Day For A Run and was duly impressed, so I figured the chances were low that I would be disappointed in this next go around. I am pleased to report that my instincts were correct! Whew, no disingenuous shilling needed here :) Below is my (and my running buds) 100% honest report.
If any of you were around this weekend, you know there was a strong front that moved in Saturday night - we went from a borderline balmy day to a chilly night to a wind whipped morning (side note: this made for incredible birding! When I called GD to see if he wanted to join us for breakfast, he had to decline because he was in hour 6 of counting a flight that usually only goes 3 or so hours. He tallied over 15,000 Yellow-rumped Warblers that AM!). Lil Sis and I cobbled together cozy running clothes and headed down to Hawk Haven Winery to get our run on.
Prior to the race, the RD (hi Ken!) did a great job with communication. He updated on Facebook and Twitter and sent no less than 3 emails the week of with pertinent information (plus two after, providing links to results and photos). Upon our arrival, we headed into the tent (with heat lamps! excellent call) where registration/bib pick-up took place. The line moved quickly, the staff working efficiently but with big smiles. The shirts were great - high quality and very soft. In a rare twist on the "race shirts never fit right" storyline, these shirts actually ran small! Say what? Very unusual - I made out ok because by the time I picked up my shirt they had run out of smalls and I was given a medium, which fit perfectly (I also, for the first time in my life, ran in a race shirt DURING the race because I needed an extra layer. It felt great!).
At this point, the RD was making the rounds, chatting it up with various groups of participants and saying things like "isn't it a great day for a race?" and "what a gorgeous morning!". I can't tell you how much I like this approach. I hate, in running and in birding, when the conditions are less than ideal and the leaders say things like, "ugh, if only the winds were calm" or "man, yesterday was sooo perfect for running, why can't it be today?" or "oh, the birding was so good yesterday, there is nothing here today". I much prefer the mindset that this is the card we are dealt and while it might not be perfect, there is still an awful lot to like (as in, it's not raining!). Loved his attitude and appreciated it very much.
We made our way over to the start line and Lil Sis and Kat did their own unique warm-up (which included making it rain) while Dawn pretended to check her music in an effort to distance herself from them.
I enjoy Sis' patriotism when she thinks the anthem is about to be sung - the video ends but you can see that when she realizes it was a false alert she goes back to "warming up."
The race started on time (check!) and we were off! Running Momma was here as well, but she prefers to start further back so we'll catch up with her later...I know the following pic is blurry, but I love seeing Lil Sis smiling and running!
A note about the course - it was awesome! It is not often you get a straight-up cross-country (XC) 5k in these parts (outside of your high school years) but that is exactly what this was. The course looped around the vineyard, offering bucolic scenery at every turn with nary a speck of pavement in sight. Speaking of turns, the course was extremely well-marked. Running Momma often (unnecessarily) frets about getting lost on a course and even she said there was no way that was happening here. Every turn was marked with flagging, signs and often a volunteer, offering words of encouragement.
Looking at the map beforehand, we were a bit concerned that there would be some crossing of faster and slower runners/walkers on portions where the course was shared but we did not have any issues. I can't speak for those that were at the front of the pack, though, so hopefully enough time had gone by that the slower runners were mostly out of the woods before the faster ones came back in.
The course wound past the fields and into the woods, which was super pretty. South Jersey subtle beauty strikes again! We spent these middle miles chatting away (and me snapping away, much to the annoyance of people behind me. Sorry, those people, I just needed to get a few pics!).
A second note specific to cross-country courses. After the race, Dawn was lamenting that her time was not as fast as other recent 5ks she has run. The wind might have played a small role in this, but the woods and the curvy course did a fair job of reducing its impact. What is more likely to blame was the uneven, soft surface. This is part of what makes XC so fun - the ground is not as consistent as pavement and the run becomes a bit more technical and slows you down. Fear not, it's just a result of the substrate, not a reflection of your training. This is also the reason that records of the same distance are fastest on a track, then a road, and slowest off-road. The more controlled the conditions, the faster you can go. But there is an awful lot to be said for an uneven, soft surface - it's easier on your body, makes different muscle groups (like those that stabilize your ankles) kick into high gear and generally offers better views, like the one below.
Before we knew it, we were in the last stretch of the race, which took us between two rows of grapes. On the novelty scale, I give this ending a 10. However, in my one critique of the course, if I were racing this event I would find the ending frustrating. To get into this "chute" runners had to make a sharp, 90 degree left turn. When you are trying to beat the clock, those types of turns are a killer because you have to slow down and then accelerate to regain your pace, which can really mess with your rhythm and already very tired body.
I came through the chute with Lil Sis and Kat, giggling and laughing, no harm no foul. But if I were racing, I can see it adding to the frustration because there was also not a lot of room to get around competitors if you were putting in a strong kick at the end. I think running through the vines was unique enough that the race organizers should keep it, but it might be better served elsewhere on the course, potentially in the middle or "nearish" end (the beginning would be too congested).
I headed back out on the course to find Running Momma, who was looking fantastic! I've said it before and I will say it again - running is a fountain of youth. My mom is 65 years young, training for the Philly half-marathon and a true inspiration to me.
Afterwards, we reconvened, grabbing our water and wine glass, which had a ticket inside of it that was good for a wine tasting or glass of wine. Hawk Haven offered a great variety of wines and our group enjoyed all the ones we tried. It was at this point that we got into discussing whether the race was a good value. At $40, it is on the upper limits of what a lot of people consider reasonable for a 5k. So was the group satisfied with what they paid for? Opinions were split - one on hand, it is hard to swallow spending $40 for about 30 minutes of running and some felt that for the price, there should have been a better post race spread (it was limited to water and bananas - you could purchase other food items from the winery, but in terms of what you got for your race entry, this was it). On the other, Hawk Haven charges ~$6-7 for their cheapest wine options and that was "free", the shirt was high quality, photos were taken of the participants, the race website is excellent, the course was lovely and the race organization was top notch. Even the grumblers admitted they would run this race again at that price point.
One different aspect of the cost was that pre- and day of registration fees were the same. I think this is a real win for the participants, because it means there is no benefit to pre-registering (which is typically cheaper) and you can wait it out to see if the weather will cooperate/you aren't sick/your kids aren't sick. Using this method, you do risk getting shut out if the race is sold out but if you are willing to take that risk, you can actually save money. This is because unless you had a promo code, the day-of fee was a few dollars cheaper because it did not include an online admin fee. I am not sure why the race organizers chose this option (ie no difference in pre- or day of reg fees) because it makes planning harder. I would not be surprised it they change this in the future but for now it is a win for runners who have a "wait and see" attitude when it comes to registration.
As was the case at the Cape May Winery, the post-race scene was very inviting and we wound up staying a good hour and a half after we completed the run. Once again, we enjoyed the guitarist and the laid back atmosphere. We also noted and were impressed by the Hawk Haven staff, who made the rounds checking on people and asking if they needed anything. You can tell these folks have the service industry dialed in and it showed. Nice work, guys!
We finally got hungry and cold enough (ok, the cold was mostly me, everyone else was content to let the sun's warmth do its thing, but my Raynauded fingers and toes were not having it!) that we reluctantly left the winery and headed to the Rio Grande diner for brunch.
The RD announced that next year the race will switch to early summer and take place June 28th (so mark your calendars!). On April 19th, Good Day For A Run will be offering A Run to the Taproom 5k at Cape May Brewing Company. If you just can't wait til then for another vineyard/brewery event, you can also travel a bit further afield from Cape May and register for the Valenzano 5k on November 9th.
We had a great morning at the 5k and I continue to be impressed with Good Day For A Run. I was grateful for the opportunity to run the race and report back on it to you all, so big thanks to race organizers for that!
Below are a few more candids (click on pic to scroll through)- thanks so much to our biggest cheerleaders and family photographer, Captain Frank, for many of the awesome images you saw above and those below!