Running the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon

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Getting ready to race the Santa Ynez half marathon
Getting ready to race the Santa Ynez half marathon | Source
At the start line of the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, in Santa Ynez, Calif.
At the start line of the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, in Santa Ynez, Calif. | Source
Runners reach Los Olivos, the halfway point of the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon
Runners reach Los Olivos, the halfway point of the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon | Source

Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon Overview

The Santa Ynez Valley, also known as Santa Barbara wine country, is under two hours from Los Angeles but is as picturesque and bucolic a countryside as you can hope to find. The landscape is lined with grape vines, neat row after neat row, save for the occasional yellow hillside dotted with old California oak trees and grazing cattle or horses.

While most visitors to the area — which includes the towns of Santa Ynez, Los Olivos and the Danish-themed town of Solvang — come for the award-winning wineries and wine tasting, or for the Danish kitsch of Solvang, the Santa Ynez Valley also a number of cattle ranches and farms.

The Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon is one of several wine country events put on by Destination Races. Held annually on the Saturday of Mother's Day weekend in May, it attracts about 3,000 runners every year and routinely sells out well in advance. Take advantage of early bird registration rates before December 1 to save money and ensure a spot in the race!

The Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon is a wonderful first half marathon for anyone considering running that distance. The surrounding scenery is easy on the eyes, and the course is pretty much downhill for the entire second half of the race. There is one steep hill called the Corkscrew at around mile 7, but aside from that the worst you wil face are a few rollers.

Weather in the Santa Ynez Valley is usually pretty mild in early May. While it may reach the mid- to upper-70s during the day, the early morning when the race is run will probably be in the 60s, a very comfortable running temperature.

Runners and fan in Los Olivos, close to mile 6
Runners and fan in Los Olivos, close to mile 6
The final stretch of the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, which ends in Solvang
The final stretch of the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, which ends in Solvang | Source
A runner gets her digital race results, which can be printed minutes after finishing
A runner gets her digital race results, which can be printed minutes after finishing | Source

The course for the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon

The Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon begins in the center of downtown Santa Ynez, an old-world cowboy town (with a large Chevron station). Here, some 3,000 runners gather in the early morning light, ready to run 13.1 miles up and down this valley.

The course starts with a series of zigzags that keep runners moving parallel to HIghway 154. There are a few small rollers, but no significant hills as runners begin to spread out, the faster ones pushing ahead while the slower ones fall back, and all settle into their pace.

The first few miles pass houses and some larger estates. It then joins with Refugio Road, a long straight stretch with not too much to see, though there will be clusters of locals out cheering on the runners. The road connects with Roblar, where runners take a right and pass Dunn School and a lavender farm. The course then winds into Los Olivos, the halfway point and a charming town of wine tasting rooms and art galleries.

Not long after runners leave Los Olivos, they face their most serious challenge, but they also enter some of the most beautiful terrain of the entire race. Between mile6 and mile 7, runners reach the Corkscrew, a nearly 300 foot climb up a winding road. It is gnarly, but once past it, you can turn up the speed on an equally steep descent into lush vineyards. You even will pass a cattle ranch with buffalo! From there on, it's a pretty significant downhill until mile 11.5, when there's another notable hill. This hill is only about 100 feet, but it feels like more after running almost 12 miles!

The final bit has the most fans of the entire course. The only trick comes as you enter the town of Solvang, where the race ends. Many runners thought they saw the finish line and turned on the juice, only to realize that the chip sensort they ran past was not the end of the race — they still had one corner to turn and one-tenth of a mile to run!

Milling post race in downtown Solvang
Milling post race in downtown Solvang | Source
The wine tasting pavilion of the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon
The wine tasting pavilion of the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon | Source

Wine Country Half Marathon After Party

The entire town of Solvang turns into a street party at the end of the race. It may only be 9 A.M., but finishers collect their medals and their wine tasting glasses and head into the wine tasting pavilion. There they can celebrate their accomplishment with tastes from a variety of local wineries. Local brewers are also present, for those runners who prefer beer.

Destination Races has a live band play on the band stand during the post-race festivities, and a variety of businesses set up tents to sample their products. One tent even offered runners free massages!

If you are more interested in eating than drinking after you race, Solvang has many different Danish style bakeries and coffee shops to satisfy any egg craving. Or while you are in town, why not try an Ebelskiever, a filled pancake and a local delicacy?

Take the afternoon to explore the area. There are plenty of charming shops in Solvang along with the tourist traps, and the area has many more world class wineries than participate in the wine tasting pavilion.

Milling around Solvang after the race
Milling around Solvang after the race | Source
Sipping local wine after the Santa Ynez Wine Country Half Marathon
Sipping local wine after the Santa Ynez Wine Country Half Marathon | Source
post race massages
post race massages | Source
Wine tasting area
Wine tasting area | Source
Beer tasting, too!
Beer tasting, too! | Source

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