This past weekend I ran (loose term) the Destination Races (DR) Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, my second in the DR Half Marathon series. The 2016 Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon (their premier race) was such an amazing experience, I made it my goal to complete all of the DR Wine Country halfs. Full disclosure: I am a Destination Races Ambassador. However, I was not an ambassador when I ran Napa to Sonoma, nor was I one when I signed up for this race. But I loved Napa to Sonoma so much, when a call for ambassadors was announced, I applied immediately!
The Wednesday before the race, my husband and I flew from Chicago to Santa Barbara, and I was lucky enough to receive a First Class upgrade on my flight (thanks, @AmericanAir!) We arrived in beautiful Santa Barbara, approximately 35 miles from the race course. We checked in at our hotel and were again pleasantly surprised by a free upgrade to a King Suite (thanks, @MarriottHotels!) The trip was already turning into something great! We checked in and then headed out to the quaint little Danish town of Solvang. Our first stop was the Carivintas Tasting Room on First Street, where the lovely Beth offered some great tastings and even better conversation. It turns out the Carivintas winery was one of the winery partners for the race, and we met up with Beth again at the post-race wine and music festival. Just outside the tasting room was the weekly farmer’s market, offering all kinds of farm-fresh goodies. We sampled some yummy spicy olives and moved on to the Presidio Tasting Room on Copenhagen Drive, where Ryan, the tasting room manager, helped us sample even more great wine! That evening, we had a great meal at the Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Buellton, CA.
The following day, we drove back to Santa Barbara and checked out the Old Santa Barbara Courthouse. Built in 1929, the building boasts beautiful architectural design, and from the tower offers a 360 degree view of the city, mountains, and ocean. We drove up the mountains and enjoyed some beautiful views.
That night, we had dinner at A.J. Spurs, a rustic log cabin in Buellton, CA, offering complimentary A.J.’s Hearty Vaquero Soup, Tequila Beans, Homemade Salsa (yep, mix’em all together), Garden Salad, A.J.’s Spuds, Rice Pilaf, French Garlic Bread and your choice of an Old-Fashioned Root Beer Float or an After-Dinner Liqueur. You bet your bottom dollar we partook in all of it!
On Friday we headed back to Solvang for the race expo and packet pickup. There were a number vendor booths, including one for Race Raves, where I got to meet Katie and Mike in person.
After the expo we headed to Santa Ynez for a tour of the town and an amazing dinner at S.Y. Kitchen, which happened to be the site for VIP access the morning of the race.
Race morning, like all race mornings, was an exciting time. I had my usual pre-race ‘breakfast’ of a double-chocolate muffin, banana, and a handful of almonds (hey, why mess with success?). My husband dropped me off at the race start at around 6:30 a.m., and I headed to the VIP area and had a cup of coffee under the warmth of heat lamps, popped in for a quick bathroom break, and then headed to the start line at around 6:59 a.m. The weather was perfect for the start of the race.
The course actually starts in the town of Santa Ynez, heads north to Los Olivos, and then heads back down to the town of Solvang. I didn’t train much for this race, and since I was sick the entire week leading up to the race, I had no expectations except to enjoy the view and just finish. Having started in Santa Ynez Valley, I should have realized that the course would naturally take us uphill. Did I mention I hate hills??? I didn’t think much about the course elevation until while waiting in line the morning of the race, one of the other runners mentioned “Corkscrew Hill”, which starts about 6-1/2 miles into the race. Hill? It was a freaking mountain! I debated whether I should wear long or short sleeves, and I was so glad I opted for short. Though the temperature started in the low-50s and barely made it into the low-70s, the course was completely open and the sun was shining brightly.
Being more of a walk-runner than a runner, I am always happy to finish a half any time under 2:45. What can I say? I’m built for comfort, not speed. Given my lack of training, how sick I felt all week, and the steep uphill climb for much of the race, I abandoned any thoughts of taking home a prize and took my time, stopped for some selfies, and stopped every 5 miles or so to refill my liter bottle with water and Tailwind Endurance Fuel. My official finish time was 2:49:59, and I couldn’t be happier.
The night of the race we had dinner at Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn in Santa Ynez, where we had the most amazing ahi tuna appetizer we’ve ever had! As a post-race reward I also enjoyed a perfectly-done prime rib, nicely complemented by a beautiful Pinot Noir from Presqu’ile Winery.
Overall, the race was well organized, reasonably priced (absent the cost of getting there from Chicago), and the course was absolutely beautiful! I’m not sure I will run Santa Barbara again, only because of the distance and cost involved. However, like Napa to Sonoma, this was a great race in a beautiful venue, and one I would highly recommend for running and wine enthusiasts alike! With a generous course finish time of 3:30, anyone with the endurance can easily walk this course. It is a great opportunity to see wine country from a completely different perspective, and the wine festival at the finish makes it worth the trip!
Have you done any of the Destination Races Wine Country Half Marathons? What is your dream ‘destination’ race? Use #promocode DRAMBJUR to receive $10 off of your registration fee at any of the DR Half Marathons (except the sold-out Napa to Sonoma race)!