The Oak Barrel Half Marathon returns to Lynchburg on Saturday, bringing 1,200-plus runners, along with their family, friends, event organizers and volunteers to Moore County.
The race, which is one of the Mach-Tenn Running Club’s signature events, is quickly becoming one of the premiere half marathons in Middle Tennessee. The first 1,100 openings for the event were filled by mid-January and the remaining 100 were snapped up in mere minutes when they were made available online on March 17.
According to the event website, <www.oakbarrelhalf.com>, there are 1,211 competitors entered in the fourth-annual event. There were 1,050 participants in last year’s event.
One thing that makes the event so alluring is the combination of a challenging course, the natural beauty of Moore County and the opportunity the day affords for visiting historic Lynchburg. It helps that event organizers have coupled that with some pretty nice swag as well, including Swiftwick brand socks for race finishers, short sleeve technical fabric race shirts, a unique ‘Oak Barrel’ finisher’s medal and a post race food and finish line festival.
“We are a running club. We’re runners, so we know what runners expect when they come to an event,” said race director Melissa Miller. “We try to make sure we give that … that extra back to them. There are so many 5K’s put on by charities and other organizations, and that’s fine, but we try to add to that experience.”
“We’re not in this to make money, but we’re not in it to lose money either,” she said. “We want to take the lion’s share and put back into the race and leave the rest here for the local economy.”
Miller said that the club makes donations to each of the organizations that help with the event, like those who man the water stations along the route. After that, they make a number of other donations as well.
The winding course will take runners on a 13.1-mile loop through scenic Moore County, during which runners will ascend some 407 feet up to its highest point before descending back into Lynchburg.
Runners have been training for the race’s most notorious element — the climb up Whiskey Hill — for a couple of months now, with runs previewing Whiskey Hill on March 3 and March 17 drawing about 40 runners each day.
The grinding climb, which peaks at just better than 1,100 feet above sea level, is an Oak Barrel Half Marathon trademark and takes runners up the steep hill on Goosebranch Road. Runners will feel some relief — if they make it — at about the 5-mile mark, although they still won’t truly be over the hump until near the 7-mile mark when they turn right onto Campbell Lane and start the slow descent back into Lynchburg.
“It’s just ferocious. It has its own character,” said Miller, of the now infamous Whiskey Hill.
The race begins at 8 a.m. on Main Street, just off the square. The course takes a left and heads toward state Route 55, where it bends left again onto the Old Fayetteville Highway and then turns left onto Goosebranch Road.
Runners return into Lynchburg via Lois Ridge Road, Norman Wiseman Road, Tanyard Hill Road, Campbell Lane and Goodbranch Road. Residents should expect delays on these back roads during the race, while one lane on state Route 55 between Goodbranch Road and Mechanic Street will be closed to ensure the runners’ safety.
The awards ceremony is scheduled to start at 11:15 a.m.; the race should be wrapped by noon.
By ROBERT HOLMAN, MCN Editor (Robert Holman may be reached at email@example.com)