Will Run for Wine

Why every runner should consider a race with the Wine Country Half Marathon series

Hudson Lindenberger

Nine miles in and heading towards the finish line in the quaint town of Solevang.

Every runner has experienced a lack of motivation; just lacing your shoes is a struggle against apathy. If you are training for a longer race like a half marathon, sometimes the endless roads can wear you down; you need a finish line, a goal to train for.

How about a race through the vines and vineyards of some of North America’s most well known wine regions? Instead of running towards a finish line stocked with bananas, Gatorade, and lukewarm water, you were headed towards a music festival with numerous vintners liberally pouring their favorite varietals. That’s the type of motivation that can help you ignore the couch and instead hit the pavement.

The idea of creating an event that draws athletes due to its location is nothing new. Do you think that the Ironman Championships would be as big of an event today, if they had been held in Nebraska, instead of Hawaii? Doubtful.

In 2004 when Destination Races founder Matt Dockstader organized the first Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon, he created a template for a rapidly expanding and highly popular race series. Matt is your classic Californian; good tan, easy going vibe and his dog constantly by his side.

He explains the first race thus “ I loved to run, but I hated dealing with the large crowds at most races. I thought we could organize a fun event based around good times, instead of your normal corral finish where runners get a power drink and head out, we would create a festival to celebrate the finish. We encourage our participants to relax after their run, and enjoy the beautiful scenery they just ran through, with some wine and music.”  

Ten years later the Wine Country Half Marathon series has expanded to seven different locations spread across North America.

The races routinely sell out, but that’s not a bad thing. They usually cap registrations at 3,000 runners to maintain the intimate feel of the event. The smaller field, a plethora of wine at the finish and the beautiful locations might help explain the race series popularity amongst women runners. Over 70% of the runners at each event are female.

The main race sponsor for this year’s series is Newton Running, a company whose shoes are favored by elite triathletes and road racers. So why would Newton jump into this race series?

Mike Nesladek of Newton sums it up thus  “We are a shoe company with performance roots who see’s the market evolving, more people every day are running for fun, and enjoyment. We were founded out of a passion for running, everyone who works at Newton loves to run, if we can help more people enjoy running with our shoes then we are successful. Using knowledge we have gained from working with elite athletes, we have created a whole new lineup of shoes targeting the everyday runner. Destination Races seems like the ideal event to showcase our new products to the public.”

Walking amongst the runners after the race you see all shapes and sizes. There are large groups of women wearing pink shirts with the phrase “ Will run for wine” emblazoned on the back. Two guys who look like Magnum P.I. are loitering near the wood fired pizza oven, several younger girls dressed as bumblebee’s run by giggling loudly. I would say that this is more of an event than a distance race, looks like the formula Matt dreamed up ten-years ago works.

There are five races left in the series three in California, one in Oregon, and one in British Columbia. If you are looking for reason to hit the pavement and rack up some miles, maybe you should plan a trip to a race. After you book a hotel, buy plane tickets, and pay your entry fee I am betting you will spend the next several months training hard and focusing on your goal; a half marathon you won’t forget.


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