Monday, March 7, 2011

Napa Valley Marathon: A Love Story

I returned from a conference in LA on Friday evening, and had not given much thought to the upcoming Napa Valley Marathon on Sunday over the past week. I was doing a few miles on the treadmill at the hotel, eating a lot of good carbs and protein, but not thinking about the race. On Saturday morning, this obliviousness came to a halt.

I started to panic a bit, worry that I wouldn't pack everything, that we wouldn't leave on time, that something would go wrong. We drove to Napa (on time), and it was cloudy and a little rainy. I didn't want it to rain. Not that I haven't run in the rain before, but I wanted the race to be ideal. I wanted to do my best, and for the conditions to be perfect. Everything had to be perfect.

We had appetizers at the hotel (The Blackbird Inn- highly recommend it), and went to a late dinner at 7:30. I had amazing pasta, and a very good bread pudding for desert. John insisted that I needed my own desert to carb-up for the race. Who am I to argue?

On Sunday morning, the alarm went off at 4:00. I didn't know where to start. John told me to wash my face. I got dressed, ate a banana and drank chocolate milk. At 4:45, we left for Vintage High School, with my travel cup of coffee, cold oatmeal made the day before, and bag complete with water, an old sweatshirt, and a disposable poncho.

When John dropped me off close to 5, I thought I was late. There was no line for the bus like at CIM, and there didn't seem to be many people there. I got on a bus, and we waited close to 20 minutes for the bus to fill. We drove for maybe 40 minutes to get to the start line in Calistoga. I once again realized how far I would be running. It took 40 minutes to drive, ad it would take me (hopefully) four hours to run. Reality.

I got off the bus, and braved my fear of the dark to use a port-a-potty. I walked around and ate my oatmeal, and dutifully finished my bottle of water and coffee. After waiting in line at the port-a-potty again, it was eight minutes until the start.

I lined up a good distance back, and took off my sweatshirt. I left it and the water bottle on the side of the road, and started to get mentally ready.

At the start, which consisted of someone yelling "GO," I walked for about a minute. I had a little hitch when I didn't press the bezel lock simultaneously on the Garmin, so it locked the wrong screen. I fixed it quickly, and started off.

The first few miles were easy. I checked myself constantly to make sure I wasn't below 8:50 a  mile, which I had decided was the fastest I should run (9:05 being the slowest). I did run a bit fast for a few miles, but not less than 8:41 (I think).

I employed the strategy of counting the miles until my next GU instead of total miles, and the first GU (5 miles) went by very quickly. It was raining hard, but hot enough that I couldn't wear the poncho for more than 2 miles. I was soaked, but comfortable.

The Silverado Trail is very campered. At times it seemed like you might fall of the side. I eschewed running the tangents for running on the flattest part of the road, and I think that helped preserve my joints and muscles.

The scenery was absolutely beautiful. With a rock wall on one side and a valley on the other, the first few miles seemed like running on Highway 17 to Santa Cruz. Trees, open space, and beautiful views for miles.

A bit after mile nine, I saw John. I was looking and looking, but didn't see him until he was right there and called out. It was nice to look forward to seeing him.

I saw John again at mile 16, and felt great. I saw him from a long way off, and waved a bunch. He got to try out the new camera, and braved the rain to see me twice on the course. What a sweetie.

By mile 16, I was doing great on time. I had run under 9:05 for every mile (except the one when I stopped at a port-a-potty, but that was 9:19). I decided that if I needed to, I could run up to the 9:09 that would still bring me in under four hours, and not try to maintain 8:50 or 8:55 as I had been.

The scenery continued to amaze me. Rolling hills that didn't test my abilities, light rain for the most part, and a headwind that didn't seem to slow me down. Wineries, vineyards, and houses greeted us as we ran past, and the same four or five spectators appeared every few miles.

By mile 20, I was excited. I knew I was going to run sub four. I was feeling great (well, sore joints and hungry, but otherwise great). I kept ticking off miles and taking in the scenery.

I was still going strong at mile 22, missed the 23 marker altogether, and was happy to see a colleague from Davis around 24 or so cheering for her friends. At 25, I picked it up. It had started to rain more but was letting up, and we were turning off the Silverado Trail into town.

For the last several miles, I passed a good amount of people. Some looked ill, with heads down like I had at the CIM. Some stopped to stretch. Some walked. I was happy to be doing great this time.

At the last turn towards Vintage High School, I really picked it up. I didn't think I had it in me, but I managed. Once I could see the finish line, I sprinted. The clock was close to hitting 3:58, and I wanted to come in under that. And I did.

John said he was amazed at how happy I looked as I ran past him toward the finish. I waved and everything. I wasn't that out of it when I finished. I had trouble figuring out how to eat a fruit at the bottom yogurt properly, but that was just excitement.

We got back to the hotel and I showered, and we left Napa. I am so happy with the race, both with how perfectly I achieved what I set out to do last August, and how beautiful the race was.

My chip time was 3:56:44.
I placed 37 of 144 F 25-29, 195 of 832 F overall, and 580 of 1755 overall.
2400 people entered the race, and 1755 finished in under 6 hours (the time limit). So I placed in the top 20% or so of entrants, and top 25% of finishers (overall, age and gender).

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