Wednesday, March 9, 2011

2011 Napa Valley Marathon Race Recap - Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about the gory details of my 19th marathon.  Part 2 of this experience is the race review.  Some of you are thinking of jumping into your first marathon. I am hoping that this will give you an idea of what happens the night before from carbo-loading to the finish line when you earn your medal.  Enjoy!

Saturday at the Expo
It was already drizzling in Napa when we arrived at the Expo on Saturday.   I tried to jog my memory to remember what I did to prepare for wet weather running. I remember torrential rain in 2006. Two-ply lawn liners were distributed at the start and I wore that trash bag practically the whole time. This would only be my second time running a full 26.2 miles in the rain. This ought to be fun.

Good value for my racing dollars, I must say.
Our first stop was the race headquarters at the Marriott Hotel. The free seminars by legendary marathoners such as Joan Benoit Samuelson and Bill Rodgers were already done by the time we got there. I have become a pro at these Expos. I wasted no time, I was in and out. I picked up my bib #, timing chip and the awesome schwag that everbody went ga-ga over. I had a choice of a duffel bag or a backpack. It is similar to last year, the only difference was the color.  It was a steel gun gray, this year.  My duffel bag was attached with a laminated baggage tag where my race number was written. The idea was to use the duffel/backpack as our sweat bag to take to the start area, where the bag would be transported to the finish area at Vintage High School.   Next, I picked up the finisher's long sleeves Asics tech tee. As late as we got there, I was surprised they didn't run out of the small sizes.  That's what usually happens to me.  The t-shirt design this year was drawn by  a San Rafael artist and marathon runner, Tina Cash. It is a great looking shirt I must admit. New this year was the disposable timing chips.  It makes me laugh whenever I am asked, "Do you know how to put this on?" I want to be sarcastic and say, "Duh?" But I didn't.  I remember the first time I wore them in 2008 in Big Sur Marathon. There was a crowd of people milling around a monitor and I wondered what the commotion was. Runners were intently watching a video on how to put the chip on step by step. I thought it was overkill. It was as easy as peeling the adhesive off, slipping it in between your shoelaces, sticking the two ends together and whola.  The only tricky part was not to flatten the tape, so that the sensors could read the magnet as you glide over the timing mats. I remember people watched the 2 minute video over and over again to make sure they got it right. By then a huge traffic jam had formed. But I digress... 

At the HQ they offered pasta dinners for $30 a plate. I took my family to Marie Callender's instead. It was a good choice since kids ate free and they had my pasta dish that was suitable to my taste. After dinner, we went back to our lodging to unwind. It was time for me to lay out my clothes for the big day, pin my bib on my shirts, and do all my quirky night-before-the-race routine.

The Night Before
One thing I forgot to ask about our room was the availability of microwave and coffeemaker. Those are my two necessities for my power breakfast, coffee and oatmeal. I thought nothing of it, since they reassured me that they have continental breakfast at 5am.  Great, I thought. What I forgot was that I had to be at Vintage High School where the buses would transport us to the start in Calistoga at 5 am. Slight time conflict.  Especially that it was raining, I wanted to be there on time. My plan was to wake up at 3 a.m. as I needed to eat 3 hours before start time for digestion and allow time for the usual business we runners have to take care of.  At 3 a.m., I asked the  night auditor nicely if he would let me get hot water for my oatmeal.  I was turned away and told to go to 7 Eleven across the street instead. "In the rain?" I asked. "Sorry ma'am" Dismayed I went back to my room.  My husband still half asleep suggested that I use the hot water from the sink for my oatmeal.  Desperate and coffeeless, I tried it.  But it was not hot enough and didn't cook the grains. But I ate it anyway. I ate a banana and two Luna Protein bars, hoping that would fuel me for at least 3 hours.

Race Morning
At 4:45 am my husband dropped me off in front of Vintage High where all the buses were lined up.  I was among the first runners to arrive and I was on the lead bus.  No one was allowed to drive to the start. Everyone had to ride on the big yellow school buses.  The buses promptly left at 5 a.m. The road to Calistoga was dark and narrow and with the rain, the buses were even slower. Runners seemed happy and excited. the constant chatter of training, number of marathons they've ran, running advices and tips were all ringing in my ears.  I kept to myself, all I could think of was I wished this bus would get to the start so that I can go pee.  I imagined myself pulling the bus driver from up the driver seat, who seemed to be torturing me with the nice leisurely sunday drive. I tried not to think about it.  I had downed 20 oz. of water before getting dropped off. Whew! It took an hour to get to Calistoga. 
The Starting Line
Once in Calistoga, I did first things first. I had an hour to drink more water, do some strides, stretch and finally discard my warm up suit before the prompt 7 a.m. start.  I bought second-hand clothes to wear at the start and discard so that I didn't have to use the bag check. I like the ease of crossing the finish line, finding my family and getting back to the hotel to shower. Having to line up in rain-soaked/sweaty clothes to look for my bag is not appealing to me.  By 6:45 a.m.the sun was slowly rising. It was raining, but it was not that cold considering it was in the mid 40s.  The hour of waiting was too short.  In almost no time, the place got packed with runners.  One nice thing about NVM, is that it is a fairly small race. You're spread out after awhile and there is no bobbing and weaving you have to do unlike big races such as New York or Chicago.  While standing and waiting for the green light, I noticed that there were rebels all around me.  Under RRCA guidelines and USATF rules of competition, headphones are prohibited on the course otherwise you'd be facing disqualification. I had mine on.

The Course
A few words from 1984 Gold Medalist Women's Marathon, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and singing of The National Anthem, and then we were off.  The rain did not dampen our spirits. When that gun went off, it was all game. I happened to be in the wrong spot, as I got sucked in the energy of the crowd.  Runners blew down the trail in full speed.  As I ran, I noticed a few casualties on the ground--dead frogs, the size of my hand, laid sprawled out on the asphalt.  Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They didn't know pandemonium was about to shake the earth.  A few more steps will reveal detached frog parts...I stopped short of stepping on some, as I looked away trying to hold my breakfast in.

The course was point to point from Calistoga to Napa, along the Silverado Trail. We ran along the world famous wineries of the Napa Valley.  The course was not flat, as it was rolling and some gradual incline were rather long.  Photographers were spread thinly, mostly concentrated in the second half of the course. I would have preferred to see them in the front as well so that they can record the before and after story. But that's just my two cents. If you're one of those runners looking for crowd support, this may not be the race for you. There was no spectator cars that were allowed on the course so runners have the full span of the road. At certain intersections, suppport crew, friends and families were permitted.  But mostly it was just you and the scenery. The CHPs were all along the course and they adhered to the rolling closures. The course was shut down after 1 p.m.

The aide stations were evenly spaced at 13 points of the race, roughly about every two miles. NVM has a special program for being green called BYOB which stands for "Bring Your Own Bottle". It is an effort to reduce the usage of paper cups at aid stations. I decided that it was less stress for me to have to be on the lookout for my bottle had I used their program.  I figured it was easier to grab whatever cups came my way.
The volunteers at the course were so awesome. Even in the rain, they stood out passing water. One even asked me if I had everything I needed. I must have looked odd licking my last salt packet after it had busted in the plastic bag.  I used it in my last two ultras to relieve leg cramps and it worked like a charm.  But this day, it busted and I didn't have enough which hampered my progress as early as the 14th mile.

The Finish Line at Vintage High School
The course in Napa was re-certified this year and the finish line was moved to the front parking lot area of Vintage High School. This gives a much nicer view of the the runners coming as they approach the finish. This change makes it easier for families to meet afterwards.  Prior to that runners were fenced in and families had to remain outside the fenced-in area. I had to rely on my cell phone to find my family.

After you crossed that finished line, one thing that no other marathons have done is to be greeted with your very own personal volunteer. Water and the finisher's medal were handed to me. I appreciated the helping hand, making sure I am upright and not falling over right after stopping. The volunteers asked if there was anything I needed, whether I was in pain, if I needed some medical support. After reassurance that I was okay, they directed me to get my heat shield, more finisher's photo and the massage tent.  I was so sore, I couldn't even think of anybody rubbing my legs. It sounded great the day before, not this day. At the quad area was the gymnasium where hot showers were made available to runners.  After the shower, runners were treated to warm soup, bread, fruits and water, and coffee in the cafeteria.  
The race organizers have done a fabulous job with this event, year in and year out. This year was no exception. It is no wonder they have been around for 33 years. I must admit that it is here at the finish line of NVM in 1998 where my source of inspiration was sparked.  I stood there in awe as I watched runner after runner cross that finish line.  I remember feeling their joy, their tears and their excitement, in ultimately conquering a 26.2 miles of pure grit and determination, I wondered, if ever I would be able to, one day, run a marathon--just like them.

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