Racing Among Grapes

I always say you won’t run your best time, but you’ll have the best time,” remarks Fueled By Fine Wine race architect Chris Nagy

Fueled by Fine Wine Half Marathon provides unique race experience.

At the Fueled by Fine Wine Half Marathon in Dundee Hills, Ore., a marathon’s distance from Portland and one of the state’s premier wine regions, viticulture and distance running collide to create an intimate celebration of athleticism and enological artistry. The third annual half marathon, slated for July 15, will feature a post-race runners-only food area and a brand new racecourse. Every year, race architect Chris Nagy maps a new course on Google maps, drives or walks the area, then hires a company to measure the course using bike calibration; she does this to ensure that every winery that wants to participate in the race gets the chance.

“I pick about 10 wineries each year so everybody can get some exposure,” says Nagy, a stay-at-home mother who serves on the Dundee Hills Wine Board. “It’s not a certified course because I want runners to experience Oregon wine terrain. We’re opening up fences and I try to make at least 50 percent of the run in vineyards.”

A mix of asphalt, dirt, grass and gravel each year, runners should expect to traverse an undulating course sometimes with tight turns and steep grades. “It’s the hilliest half marathon we’ve ever done,” says 2011 race winner Renee Knapp, 32, of Eugene, Ore. Knapp’s fiancée, Joshua Gordon, 37, was the men’s race winner. “It was very hilly but I loved it. You’re among all the grape vines and, despite how hilly it was, it was really rewarding because the views were just breathtaking.”

“I always say you won’t run your best time, but you’ll have the best time,” remarks Nagy about the challenging course.

Nagy, who formerly ran the direct-to-consumer marketing for one of the local wineries, is a runner who uses her local connections to organize a challenging event and authentic Oregon wine experience for oenophiles. “I was sick of going to races and feeling like I didn’t get everything for the money I put up,” Nagy says. “Let’s not lose money, but let’s make sure runners are getting brand-name shirts, Reidel glasses, fantastic swag bags and free wine tastings.”

Registration, which costs $75, provides the chance for runners to donate to nonprofits such as the Dundee Civic Association or the Newfoundland Rescue Foundation. The event includes a post-race celebration that includes free wine tastings from 35 local vineyards, music and food such as strawberries, cheese, baguettes and artisan pizza. Because the race grows each year, thanks mostly to word of mouth, the event Facebook page and website, not all of the nearly 1,100 runners (1,500 are allowed to register) who finished last year’s race were able to sample the variety of gourmet foods the fleetest finishers did. Knapp did have to wait to receive her finisher’s technical shirt in the mail; however, as there weren’t enough shirts to give out on race day.

Nagy’s taking these growing pains in stride, though, and diligently sends out an e-mail to all race finishers, asking how she can improve the race next year. She implements changes quickly, such as the new runners-only food zone and bringing in additional port-a-potties. Every year after the event wraps, Nagy personally walks the course, picking up each gel packet and scrap of trash, to preserve the beauty of the area and ensure the local vineyards will keep participating for years to come.

“I remember coming up to the top of one of the hills and literally my breath was taken away by the view,” recalls Knapp. “You could see Mt. Hood and several other mountains; it was so clear that you could see five miles away. Just running through the wineries was amazing.”

 

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