Napa Valley Marathon

On March 4, 2012 I ran my 6th marathon – Napa Valley. It is a gorgeous run. You are bused up to Calistoga, 26 miles north of Napa, and run down Silverado Trail past many vineyards and in to Napa.

If I were on a course in life to repeat marathons I would repeat this one. It is small (entry is capped at 2,500 runners), well run (34th year), beautiful (Napa Valley!) and fun. Plus, it is a great destination event – which is a blessing and a curse (when you should be relaxing in your room you want to go out).

This marathon I had the closest I have ever had to a nutrition plan: before and during. The good news is I never bonked or felt out of energy.

So – where to start? I woke up at 4 a.m. and ate my breakfast. As I got dressed I thought about the friends who have taught me things and smiled: Kimberly taught me to get naked before applying sun screen to be sure you don’t miss a spot, Julie taught me to not wear cotton underwear. I forgot a couple of items, and given the chafing, I won’t forget again in the near future!

I stayed at a hotel that was a partner of the race, so the bus picked me up from outside the lobby – which was terrific. At 5:15 we were on our way. I spoke with a gentleman who was from Colorado, and aiming for a 2:40 marathon which is about 6:06 minute miles. I know it happens daily for some people, but I truly respect people who can maintain a pace like that, especially when I reflect on my own efforts.

We stopped at the Napa High School and picked up more runners. I gentleman sat next to me. We chatted some – he is from St. Helena (on the road between Calistoga and Napa) and is an ultra marathoner training for his first 100 miler (he did a 24 hour race where he ran 105 miles, but aiming for his first 100 miler). We chatted and I learned about his training and races. I really enjoyed speaking with him.

Soon we were at the start. We could stay on the bus until 15 minutes before the race, but I got out and headed to the port-o-potties. They were still blowing up the starting line balloon when we got there. I placed my bag on the bus to take it back to the start.  I had enough time to cycle through the line twice and then headed to the start. It was very casual – no pace groups, no paces for starting – just people mingling and waiting. Soon the National Anthem was sung and we were off. There was a fog across the valley, and runners were disappearing in to the mist.

It was cold at the start – 40 degrees and dressed for it to get to 70. I had started with a couple of layers to shed – and there were places to drop clothing at each mile for donation.

The course was beautiful – rolling hills with an overall drop in 200 feet. As I ran I was amongst the same group of people for awhile and noted the conversations. For all the tough talk and “this endurance sport s better than that endurance sport” there was a good mix of ultra runners, marathoners, and triathletes (saw a few IM insignias around) and everyone seemed to enjoy being there.

I had a group of three behind me that had randomly met and they were just chatting away. Although I enjoyed hearing the conversations, I also wanted to get away. It is different when you don’t know anyone – you are on your own, and I was very comfortable with that.  Conversation around me seemed to cease about mile 13, and I started seeing people starting to walk more often. I stuck with walking water stops and getting my Gatorade and water. It worked pretty well for me. I never bonked or felt tired during the race.

I had a lot of thoughts running through my head. I realized all the people that believed in me, and that I had to believe more in myself to get the 4 hour mark. I also realized that mile 8 is a bit late for that revelation. I had the Yoda saying going through my head (Do or do not do. There is no try) and smiled and started motivating myself. I knew I could do it, and even when I lost the 4 hour mark, I knew I could PR and kept pushing. I realized and believed that I could hit a 4 hour (and faster) marathon on most any course – even Atlanta. I felt very encouraged and knew I was right.

Just after mile 15 I saw my cousin-in-law. He had talked about running with me. I wasn’t in the mood. I asked him how long he planned to run with me and he asked how long I wanted him to. My answer was “not long.” I still felt strong and good, and I wanted to make or break my goal on my own. He understood and went off to the side and let me run alone.

About mile 18 my quads started to burn. I have had that happen before. From how they felt I knew that all the standing yesterday brought it on about a mile or two earlier than what my body is capable of. Not sure how I knew that, it just seemed like that is what it was telling me. I knew that this meant my quads will be sore for a few days.  I know it is something that can be pushed through – it’s muscle discomfort, not bonking or something that will not pass. Part of me got a little afraid of running out of steam, but as mentioned, I knew that was not an issue. It was just pushing through the burn. I can – and I do keep pushing, but I still slow down some. Still working on pushing through that discomfort at the same pace.

I ran strong and consistent until mile 20. At mile 21 I slowed from 9 minute miles to about 9:30, and stayed there for most of the rest of the race. I took each mile as it was, encouraging myself all the way, knowing that a PR was in sight. “It’s just a 10k – you can do that easy.” At the 5k mark I remarked that I had run a solid sub 24 minute 5k, I had it, just keep going.

I picked up the pace for the last 0.5 miles or so, and ran it is nice and easy, happy with my results, and proud of my discovery/realizations. Next marathon I run, I will be ready for a sub 4. No ifs ands or buts.  I finished in 4:04:50. A PR by about 5 minutes.

A volunteer met me after the finish line and stayed with me for about 20 seconds or so just to be sure I was OK. They had a whole line of volunteers cycling through for each person crossing the finish line. Kind of a nice touch. Within a few seconds I heard Carlos calling my name and then spotted him. It was a course where spectating isn’t the easiest unless you drive down the parallel road and cross over periodically on a cross street to cheer people on, so we agreed I would just see him at the finish, which worked out perfectly.  I wandered to him and hugged him. And then we walked to gather my gear bag and post run food.

I spoke with someone at the hotel happy hour that evening that had run it, and he mentioned the heat. It had gotten in to the 70’s. Personally, starting I the 40’s and ending in the 70’s is almost perfect weather. Yeah, the 60’s would be ideal, but I am not complaining about the heat in the 70’s! Heat was never an issue.


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