|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.
EXPO, THE MARRIOTT, and BIB Pick-up –
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 princess...next 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...|
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|