The Oak Barrel was my first ever half marathon and this makes my fourth visit here. But this year isn’t really about me at all because this year was Daniel’s first attempt at the half.
As settings for a race go, this one has all the best that small town USA can offer. Jack Daniels is an awesome corporate sponsor, they really spare no expense on this. There is live music, free tours of their plant, food and drink (non-alcoholic, Jack Daniels is made in a dry county) for everyone and some really awesome bling! I think the whole town pitches in for the aid stations and celebration at the start and finish.
As courses go, it is not for the faint of heart. It starts off easy enough, flat to slightly down hill and it hits the lowest part about 2 miles in. This is the part that tends to suck people in, getting caught up in the excitement and ease of the landscape. Then the fun starts as there is a gradual but steadily increasing upward turn to the track. After your legs are starting to feel the strain you turn the corner to be met by Whiskey Hill. Even walking it is murder for all but the strongest runner as it feels like you are climbing a wall. The top brings a welcome flat and down hill before turning upward at nearly 20 degrees of climb for a short reminder you are in the hill country. Then you enter the rolling section of the course as you pass the halfway point. Finally you get to the downhill portion, steep and punishing for anyone not ready for it. All of that is capped off by a final 1 mile upward grade back to the finish.
That was what we had ahead of us, standing sleep deprived at the starting line with 1,498 other soon to be victims. I had endured this before but Daniel had not and I was worried that he might be one of the ones to get caught up in the moment and burn out. But no, he might be young and inexperienced but he is a very bright young man and he went out slow and steady. We crossed the line and we were off.
The first couple of miles were fairly uneventful as we talked about what was to come. Once we started to climb he asked at every turn if that was Whiskey in front of us and I simply told him he would know when it was. Then we turned the corner and I heard’ “Oh Crap!” from beside me. Yep, he knew it when he saw it. Up the wall we went and then we stopped for a drink at the conveniently placed aid station just past the top. To his credit, we were off again and on our way. About mile 10 he started to add a little more walking in, he was already farther than he had ever been before and we still had a 5 K left to go.
When we passed mile 12 he started picking up the pace again and deciding who we would pass. He would look ahead and say let’s try to catch the one in the blue then the one in black. One by one we went by them and looked for the next one. Finally it was there, the final turn was just ahead and there he went into a dead sprint, rushing to the finish line. He had done it!
His first half was in the books and Ladonna and I are so very proud of him. At 13 years old he had decided to set a goal and had trained while going to school and competing in soccer and doing football workouts. I have a feeling this is only the first in a long series of goals he will accomplish.