Sunday, March 11, 2012

Napa Valley Marathon 2012 Race Recap

Thanks for waiting...the radio silence was due to a mishap Tuesday morning.  I finished the post at midnight on Monday after 7 hours of writing and re-writing.  I added a few more pictures on Tuesday morning, when on a whim, I decided to go back to the old blog interface, only to be erased completely.  To my dismay, I lost everything and not a single saved draft anywhere could be found. Finally, my inspiration came back and I present to you, my 2012 Napa Valley Race Report.
My newest bling #24, she spins too.

If you're going to run a marathon, you probably should include NYC and Napa Valley in your bucket list. One of the coolest things about having experienced running among 45,000 marathoners and against a small field of 2,500 runners is that I can appreciate the idiosyncrasies of both. NY is a mega marathon, with a huge crowd support who will carry you through the finish when you need it the most. However the course is packed, somehow never thins out, and you waste a lot of energy weaving through the crowds especially at that end when everyone else is walking and you are trying desperately to run. At each aid station, you are constantly jockeying for position to get hydration. As you finish, you are handed a bag of your nutritional needs and told by volunteers to keep moving and urged to get out of Central Park—there's no tender loving care here, but don't get me wrong. This is a small price to pay and it's worth it. Now let's look at Napa Valley Marathon. The crowd support is on the thin side. For the most part, it's just you and the Silverado Trail. On the upside, access to your hydration needs is flawless, you don't need to carry your own. It's a hometown kind of a marathon where you are definitely made to feel special especially as you finish. Napa has a special touch that they allow each finishing runner their very own volunteer to assist them at the end whether it be regarding sweat bag retrieval, pointing you to where the hot soup and even where the hot showers are. The volunteers are amazing, without them, the whole show will probably fall apart—okay I maybe exaggerating a little. But this is why I come back year after year—Napa Valley Marathon knows how to spoil runners.

We arrived at the Mariott Expo around 6 in the evening. We got caught in a little bit of Bay Area traffic, but I was glad that the organizers, extended the pick up hours to 8 pm. Needless to say, I missed the keynote presentation by Amby Burfoot, Runner's World Editor and '68 Boston Marathon Champ, and Dick Beardsley, from the famous 1982 Duel in the Sun with Alberto Salazar in Boston. It was one of the closest marathon finishes in history and Beardsley lost by 2 seconds to Salazar because a motorcycle cut him off near the end! That would have been great to hear first-hand. As I finally accepted that we wouldn't make it in time for the talk, when we got closer, butterflies fluttered in my belly after the sight of runners milling out of the Expo with their goody bags slung around their shoulders. My eyes transfixed on NVM signature schwag: the duffel bags. Oh and it’s green this year—chartreuse to be exact. I could hardly contain my excitement as Hubs tried to find a space to park. I was helping: one eye out for a space and another eye admiring the bag I'm about to have. Quick there's a space!

Where's the fire A?

Can you tell how anxious I am to get my stuff?

Making a bee line for it...

Found the registration, I just walked by Amby Burfoot interviewing Coach Bill Squires.

Now do you see Amby?

The weather was cool when we got in early that evening at the Expo. That's why it caught me off guard less than 24 hours later. Race day weather would turn out to be too hot for my liking, in the low 80's it felt like. One thing for sure is weather is something you nor I could control. No matter how property trained I was, one x factor for sure that can mess with my plans is the weather.

The Expo was small in scale. There were no lines. One small room held the registration and a bigger room next door was devoted to the vendors. I peeked in, but they were already breaking down tent so I guess it was a blessing. I don't think I would have walked away empty-handed. For sure I would have brought at least a gel or pair of socks. Signage was well placed. You knew where to go even if you were 100 feet away. I made a bee line for the registration and it must have taken 30 seconds after I showed my ID, I was handed my bib and disposable timing chip. I turned around to get my duffel and then scooted to the left and another volunteer handed me my Asics tech shirt. I signed up for the small, but thanks to the volunteer, after sizing me up, he recommended the XS. I was glad I took heed to his suggestion. The small looked like it was a medium. I would have swam in it. I have way too many running shirts that turned into nighties because they were too big for me. Bib, timing chip, t-shirt and duffel bag in hand, then off we were to our motel.
I think I was telling my daughter to take a picture of Amby.  She was like "Who?"

I don't know what I could possibly be asking at this point.

Got my bib and my timing chip!

Guy who talked me into an XS over Small--Thank you by the way!

Yeah, got my duffel, now I am part of the gang!

That's me and my groom!

My and my stop dinner!

I picked motel closest to the finish at Vintage High School so that Hubs wouldn't have to wake up at an ungodly hour just to drop me off to the bus area. I could use the warm up as well. John Muir Inn was a nice, inexpensive place. They had continental breakfast at 4 am! This was a pleasant surprise compared to last year, where we stayed in a dive. They wouldn't give me hot water for my oat-meal and turned me away to a 7-eleven across the street at 3 am in the rain. Talk about pathetic. They said that if they let me in it would be a security issue. Yes, I'm all danger—all 4 feet and 11 inches of me. Better watch out! Anyway, John Muir Inn had breakfast items such us, coffee, tea, hot water, cut-up fruits, bananas, bagels, yogurt—all kinds of food a marathoner would want and need to carbo-load. I would come back to this place for the price, the location and customer service, if I ever I run Napa again.

Kids love to horse around hallways don't they?

The other reason I picked John Muir was because of its close proximity to Marie Callendar's. I didn't want to venture too far out and since it was 30-second walk from our motel, it was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, MC closed for business about 8 months ago. We had plan B and it turned out better. Ristorante Allegria was an Italian place we visited 2 years ago by the opera in downtown Napa. I highly recommend this place. The food, ambiance and service is top notch.

Hubs and I enjoying our dinner at Ristorante Allegria

Pre-Race Morning –
All carbo-loaded up, I set my alarm to buzz at 3:50 am. However, a car alarm at 3:20 just outside our window went off for a full minute. I was wide awake by then. There was no point in going back to sleep only to risk waking up possibly in a stupor. I decided to get up and go about my marathon routine: eat breakfast, allow time for the meal to settle, take a shower and don my marathon outfit. At 5:10 am started the walk to the High School where I would board the yellow school buses. It was only a ½ mile walk so I told Hubs to meet me at the finish at 11 am. The ½ mile walk was a warm up. It was 39 degrees and I didn’t feel cold. However, once I got on the bus and had to time to relax and wind down, I felt the cold air. The ride from Napa to Calistoga where the start was, took less than 45 minutes. It didn't seem so long this time. I tried to get a short nap, but I sat adjacent to a couple who was giggly happy. I wished I had something to plug my ears. But the incessant laughter got a little bit on my nerves. Oh well, they must be happy since this is marathon day. Who am I to rain on their parade?
As soon as I got off the bus, the cold frigid air made me realize I must not have been smart not to wear throw away sweats. It was a decision I made because I didn’t want the hassle with bag retrieval after the race. For a few minutes I shivered. Once off the bus, first order of business was the potty line. The line was manageable, but they could use more. In fact, there were still people in line, when the Anthem began. I had a few minutes to stretch and do my final warm ups and drills. Then I went back to the line.
Away from the start, this was my warm up area...

Tulle fog behind me...

A fellow runner had the same idea as me...

This is the start, Calistoga...

Didn't see any spring water...

The Marathon –
I was not worried that I missed the start since there was chip timing. In fact, it took me a little more than 3 1/2 minutes after the actual gun went off. I stepped on the mat and pressed my watch at the same time. I reminded myself to stay calm and slow down the first 2 miles then go at my goal pace. I did fine the first two miles and I caught up to the mid-pack. After that 2 miles, I passed people left and right without really trying. The course is up and down and it was hard to maintain an even effort. I had to reigned myself a bit to remind myself that I need to negative split. But each time I looked my time I was in the mid 8’s. I keep pulling myself back and it was very difficult with the adrenaline coupled with the energy of the crowd, it was hard to gauge how fast I was going especially when I felt strong in the early miles.

You can see how hilly this course is right?

The weather was cool around 39 degrees in Calistoga when we started. I had on a long sleeve top with a quarter zip and it was enough to fend the cold air once I got going. I didn't wear gloves but it was fine because it was only needed for maybe the first two-three miles. I was glad I wore shorts because I started warming up soon after a couple of miles. When the heat came on, I knew that I needed to hydrate well to keep cramps at bay. I anticipated getting down 6 ounces of Gatorade at every aide station which was placed roughly every 2 miles on the course. There was no need to carry my own water since this is a small marathon there would be no traffic problems getting water. My nutrition was flawless, I had gels every 40 minutes with water.

Yeah, that's it, one foot in front of the other.

I was already burning up, but it took a while to shed the shirt. I just don't have the energy to lift my arms...

From Calistoga to Napa, I forget how hilly the course is. If I was not careful and went out too fast, my results in the back end would have been disastrous. I wanted to do a negative split where the first half is slower than the second half. In training I got this down. In race day, not so much. It is so hard to do. When I stepped on the mat, at the half way mark, the clock showed 2:02, but my Garmin showed 1:59. This was true since I started 2 minutes and some change after the gun went off. I was happy that I was somewhat in line with my goal. Everything up until this point was going the way I wanted it, but the heat was starting to worry me a bit. As early as mile 13, I felt my calves starting to cramp. I had two packets of salts and downed it with water soon after that. I also saw a few runners pull up on the side of the road to stretch their legs. It must be cramps. I prayed that if I were going to get them, let it be close to the end.
What am I thinking? What am I doing here?

Can I get some shade here?

Still smilin' but the heat already got to me.

Misty taking it! I just dont have it anymore...
Getting close to the finish: barely able to bring arms higher!

Struggling with Brigit...

A little after mile 17, I saw my pace started to slow. I had already peeled off my long sleeves shirt and I was feeling the effects of the heat. I kept drinking at every aide station. I may have drank a bit more than I needed since I had to stop 3 times for the porta potties. This was an incredible frustration I didn't anticipate. I kept an eye out for the ones with no lines. If there were lines, I would just hold out until the next one. There was no sense in figuring out how much time the stops cost me. What's done is done. As I jumped back into the course after my last stop, I hitched a ride with one of the runners whom I passed early on. We were sort of playing leap frog. I passed her, she passed me, and played like that for some time. In the latter miles just before 23, this gal was now running with another and they were just chit chatting it up. To get my mind off the distance, I tried to keep pace with them. I faded right after what I call the “picturesque bricks” wall. Every time I tried to run just a little bit faster, my calves gripped tighter. It was a constant negotiation for every step I took, was a reminder that it could be worse—just be glad I was still moving. There was no point in looking at my Garmin once I saw the second to the last turn ¾ of a mile away. The two girls who I let go have disappeared into the turn. I couldn't help but think, had I had more in me and able to latch on to them, I would have been that much closer to that finish line. I let the energy of the crowd take me (does not compare to NY, just saying). The crowd got bigger as it got closer to the finish. I reached the final turn and a few hundred yards I got to cross the mat. When I stopped looking at my watch, I had it in my head that I would be happy if I can break 4:10 this day. I don't remember seeing the clock when I stepped on the mat. I checked my Garmin and when I saw 4:08:47, I was elated. Good enough for today!

The Finish –
A volunteer hung my medal around my neck. Another one grabbed a hold of my arm to make sure I stayed vertical. Another one handed me with a bottle of water, already uncapped! (Thank you volunteers for being so thoughtful! After running a marathon, I sure don't have the strength to uncap bottled water.) I posed for the after pictures and right after that, I found the two girls I tried to pace and I congratulated them for an awesome finish. I told them that I tried to hitch a ride with them, but just didn't have enough. I couldn't remember who, but one of them mentioned that she tried to use me as a pacer. It's nice to hear because there is always someone who I pick and pace off of, and in turn, I am that person to someone else. Glad I could be of service to somebody else. Well we've exchanged numbers and names and we hope our paths will cross again sometime soon, maybe another marathon.
Chillin with the girls!

The big and small races, they have advantages and disadvantages. You got to experienced them both. The huge difference is the attention you get from a smaller race such as Napa. However, it's not the fault of the big races either that they can't give you personalized attention. It's a pure function of being huge. It's inherently impossible for a mega marathon like NYC to have that kind of runner attention in the end. They've got two major forces they are dealing with: the 2 million spectators on the streets and the 45K runners on the course. No matter what the case maybe, it's worth doing and experiencing both.

Well, it was another successful marathon for Napa. They sure know how to treat their runners. They know that that's their strength and I hope they continue to do so. That's exactly what draws me to this wonderful hometown race.
Elated at 4:08 and not a 4:10 finish!

My new friends Misty Yoon and Brigit Bingula


  1. Once again, you are my hero! Considering everything, I'd say you had a pretty awesome day. Your running has become consistent, yet at the same time you're improving. Your sub 4 is coming very soon. It's the little things holding you back at this point, and we have so little control of the little things.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks very much for the kind words Rich and thank you for reading! I have the same level of admiration for you. Your long running streak is out of this world. I wish I could do what you do. :-)

  3. Such a great recap of the race! Captures every detail. Thanks for memorializing it for all of us who were there. I'm relieved to hear I wasn't the only bugged by the heat that day. Granted, it wasn't a hot humid scorcher but warm for NoCal standards and for marathoning, I would think. Hey, would you tell Brigit I said congrats? She won't know my name but might recognize me by the pics from my blog. We were next to each other at the start line and had wished each other a good race. Glad to see that she rocked it!

    1. Oops: only *one bugged by the heat...

  4. Hi Tita, yes of course I will let Brigit know. She is a rock star. You are too for finishing in the heat. I thought it was just a challenge considering I live on the coast where it is always foggy. Thanks for reading Tita.

  5. Hi Aileen,
    I found you first.. hahaha^^ Wow! What a wonderful recap of the race! Good job~ and thanks for sharing! Running another one in April? Wow~You're a true marathoner! GOOD LUCK! :)


  6. Misty! I was looking for you.i saw a site with a food blog, not sure if it was you. I couldn't leave a message. Then I looked for you in you tube and saw a post with Aubrey running. Is she our daughter? Can't find you in FB. I might see you in Santa Rosa. Just waiting to see if I don't get into New York.

  7. Yup! That food blog is mine.. I love to cook!!^^
    I don't have FB account. Audrey is my niece.
    I hope you get into New York..otherwise see you in Santa Rosa.
    Oh~ Good Luck with SLO marathon too.

  8. Thank you Misty. Your pictures of the dishes are incredible. Makes me hungry. Pictures look like they're from food magazines. I love Korean dishes my fave is the kimchee soup, bulgoki, dakgui among others. Hope to see you maybe in Santa Rosa.

  9. I was thinking... My husband and I are already registered for CIM in December. If you don’t get into New York marathon, perhaps we may meet you at CIM. So far, CIM is my favorite marathon. You don't have to worry about Santa Rosa HEAT.

    Thanks for your visit to my blog and sweet comments. Really? I love Kimchi soup and bulgoki too. Love food!

  10. That's my plan if I don't make it to NY. Run CIM. You got it, I prefer cool marathons and NYC and CIM fits the bill. Just too bad they're only four weeks apart. I also love CIM because the three times I've ran it, I've improved my time. You guys are on the ball, taking advantage of early bird registration. Good for you. Keep in touch. I'd like to hear how your training is going.

  11. I tend to run better on flat courses.
    See Jane Half is a fun run.. half-marathon PR from there & ran three times. It’s relatively a flat course with quite a few turns, a couple bridges, and all paved! It starts off near the water, then go into residential, then through some business area, then around back to near the water again. Champagne and Chocolate at the Finish- nice touch… It’s a flat course so think before you register…
    I have just started to train for Mermaid Run Half(a flat course) in early May. I'm still recovering from Napa so only giving myself 60 -70% effort and doing mostly easy runs. Starting next week, I will start my speed training. After Mermaid Run I'm planning to start my full.

    I'm really excited about your SLO marathon. Your last long run was awesome! Keep in touch...good luck with SLO!

    1. Thanks for the insight for Jane. Got to think about the course more. Your plan to get back and ease into the traiining is sound. Good for you for taking your time. After SLO I will ease into my base and then start back up. Thanks for wishing me good luck, I will need all i can get.

  12. Hi Aileen,
    Wow!! A nice job!!!..finishing Ojai 2 Ocean Marathon!^^ How was your race? Lately my right hip area is bothering my marathon training is not going well. :(