Last weekend I headed down to Temecula with a friend to face The Sandy Feet Half Marathon I had been half-dreading for the last month. I generally love road races, at least after they’re over, but I knew full well that I was undertrained for this race, and that’s just never fun. I was however, really excited to finally have a chance to explore the Temecula wine country a bit, and what better way than on foot?
We left Los Angeles nice and early on Saturday to allow a full day to enjoy Temecula before race day. We started in Old Town Temecula, which is brimming with adorable knickknack shops, fun restaurants, historical buildings, and tasting rooms. Old Town is also the site of a fantastic farmers market. That’s where I purged myself of all the excess money that had apparently been weighing me down. I don’t know what happens at places like that, but somehow the quaintness of a great farmers market causes you to believe you need things that you normally wouldn’t need, want, or maybe even look at twice. Examples would include my purchases of two homemade body lotions, sun dried tomato hummus, pistachio brittle, a candle, and $8 in walnuts. I am now broke, but my skin feels silky smooth and squirrels keep knocking on my door asking for handouts.
Next we made our way to Callaway Winery for a lunch and tasting. Callaway is a beautiful winery with a lovely outdoor garden venue, where there happened to be a wedding taking place that very day. There’s also a gourmet restaurant on the grounds named Meritage, where we had a lunch that included a duck salad with apples, more of those walnuts I apparently love so much, Gorgonzola cheese, and grape vinaigrette. I thought the dressing was a nice vineyard-themed touch.
A friend who happens to be a member at Callaway, met us for lunch, allowing us access to the members-only tasting room and lounge upstairs. The regular tasting room is lovely there too, but the upstairs lounge has full-length windows with a stunning view of the vineyard, along with tables where members can savor the wine while they chat.
I was careful not to go too crazy on the wine, as alcohol is not known for it’s benefits to endurance athletes. I chugged as much water as I could before we grabbed a light dinner and tucked ourselves into bed nice and early.
My friend was a good sport about the alarm that went off at 5:45 am the next morning, and she was nice enough to give me a ride to the race. As we closed in on Wilson Creek Winery, where the race would start and finish, we could see a row of rainbow-colored hot air balloons lying on the ground, starting to fill with gas. They looked like puffy flowers rising up with the golden morning sun. I’m sorry if my description sounds over-the-top, but it was really damn beautiful! You’ll just have to trust me on this one.
The starting line festival buzzed with excitement, and we arrived just in time to catch a hilarious warm-up led by a local radio personality. Runners love taking part in silly warm-ups – I’m not sure why. My friend saw me to the start line and we snapped a few pre-race shots, before she left me to face my self-inflicted punishment.
As the race started, my feet hit dirt road and I was instantly worried. I have absolutely no experience running on dirt instead of pavement and yes; you really can feel the difference. Dirt is softer on your legs, but that also means there’s
more resistance. The course also jumped right into a few quick rolling hills, which I found quite rude. We hadn’t even had a chance to warm up yet. My annoyance quickly subsided however, when I looked to my left to see that those same hot air balloons had now taken flight. About a dozen brightly colored balloons floated into the morning sky, backlit by the rising sun. Breathtaking! It was by far, the most beautiful and dramatic send off I’ve ever had for a race.
My poorly trained legs felt tired within the first couple of miles, but the view kept me going. The entire route was lined with gorgeous vineyards, rolling green hills, and stunning mansions. The magnificent houses were something I didn’t expect, but apparently there’s good money in winemaking. The fantasy of living in one of these luxurious homes surrounded by grapevines carried me through several miles.
I knew I was in trouble when the fastest runners started passing me on their way back to the finish. I’ve been in out-and-back races before, so I wasn’t surprised to see the top finishers so far ahead of me. What did surprise and unnerve me though, was how exhausted they all looked. Usually top runners look so composed. What had they been through? I was about to find out.
A few days before the race, I had ready that the route was hilly. They weren’t kidding! Miles 5-10 were relentless. The hills just kept coming, and some of them were steep. I almost never train on hills so there wasn’t much I could do but walk them. Luckily, what goes up must come down, so I did my best to make up time by running all the downhill stretches.
By the time I reached mile 10, I was pretty much walking the whole time. My legs felt like Jello, and I was happy to still be moving at all. Just when I thought I would completely run out of steam, I spotted Wilson Creek in the distance. Finally! I closed in on the finish line and broke into the best impression of a sprint I could muster after thirteen miles. I could see my friends standing amongst the vines, clapping and cheering as I rounded the last corner. It took 3h 29m, but I did it! Now onto rewards!
I’m sure I must have stopped for some water first but all I remember is me making a beeline for the tasting tables. I had earned my wine and I was going to make sure I got every drop I deserved. The staff managing the tasting took mercy on us runners with very generous pours for each taste. This meant that, in my dehydrated state, I had no problem getting incredibly drunk within minutes. I do remember tasting their crisp Grand Cuvee Champagne, the sweet and juicy Golden Jubilee, and their memorable and fruity White Cabernet Sauvignon. I had never had a white Cab before, and Wilson Creek’s is delicious, with flavors of strawberry and ripe apricot and scents of flowers, strawberry, and mint.
Wilson Creek is a gorgeous winery with a large tasting room, wonderful shop, and spacious lawn. The manicured grass and shady trees were especially nice for collapsing onto in a slightly drunk and totally exhausted stupor. It was a good day. As brutal as the hilly race had been at times, I was felt so grateful to have had the chance to take in Temecula’s beauty, as I became part of its landscape. It was an experience I will never forget.