Varmint 1/2 Marathon & 5K
09 June 2018
One of Virginia’s smaller half marathon events, the Varmint Half Marathon & 5K usually welcomes more than 200 runners each year for the 13.1-mile and the 5K races combined, for a race that runs through Burkes Garden Community Center.
The race that takes participants on a loop course through the valley between two mountains in this part of the state’s Appalachian Mountains known to locals as “God’s Thumbprint,” with plenty of trees and farmland along the side of the road during the race and the green, misty mountaintops in the distance. The out-and-back race, which starts and finishes at the Burkes Garden Community Center on Burkes Garden Road, got its name from a story that’s been passed down for generations in this small community that sits about 3,000 feet above sea level, the highest valley in Virginia. Decades ago, a coyote had run loose in the town, killing local villagers’ sheep and causing thousands of dollars in damage to gardens and property. Reportedly, big-game hunters were called in from out of town to assist in the hunt for the “varmint,” as the creature came to be known, and they finally succeeded in hunting down and killing what turned out to be a large coyote.
The “varmint” (the name stuck) was later stuffed and put on display in a local museum, and the awards for the half-marathon — as well as the male and female overall winners of the 5K race — bear the likeness of the sheep it hunted today. Runners who feel up to the challenge of this race need to be ready for both a high-elevation run and plenty of sun — sunscreen, sunglasses and a good protective hat are all must-haves — as past years have seen plenty of sunny, warm weather throughout the event. The course follows a counter-clockwise loop along paved country roads, starting at the community center on Burkes Garden Road and turning on East End Road — where runners encounter the hillest stretch of the race — and then Banks Mill Road and Gose Mill Road before heading back onto Burkes Garden Road. Just before the last mile or so of the race, there’s a quick out-and-back detour onto Litz Lane, and then it’s on to the finish line. Note that for 2020 only, the 5K is fully virtual. There’s also a virtual half marathon option for those who can’t make it to the in-person event.
Nestled in a valley among the Appalachian Mountains in southwestern Virginia, Burkes Garden typically sees some of its wettest weather of the year in June, a month that has brought record temperatures here as low as 29 degrees (in 1988) and as high as 89 degrees in 1988). On race day (June 13), the average low is 52ºF and the average high is 73ºF.