Saturday, May 11, 2013

Napa Valley Marathon Race Recap 2013

My race review for the 2013 Napa Valley Marathon is long overdue. Thank you so much for your patience and now...

The Napa Valley Marathon is near and dear to my heart.  Back in the day, when the concept of running 26.2 miles was nothing more than an obscene idea in my head, I only opted to run 5Ks and an occasional 10Ks. It was here in Napa that this seed of possibly running a marathon some day, was planted.

 Exactly 16 years ago, on 3/2/1997, I ran the accompanying 5K to the NV Marathon, called 3Rs, (Reading, 'Riting & 'Rithmetic) which benefited Vintage High School's educational  programs. I ran 24:39; good enough for age group 2nd place finish. The course consisted of the last 3 miles of the marathon. I was humbled to think about the distance.  I was excited to witness the first man and woman to finish. But even more so, I was inspired to see ordinary people accomplishing their goals. They were normal people like you and me. They were an amazing testament who led by example, that nothing is impossible.  My take away that day and I never forgot it--anyone can run a marathon. Anyone.

Fast forward to 16 years later. After running Napa 7 previous times, I finally earned my personal best and personal course record.  Running Napa this year was not my intention.  It was my disappointing results at Sacramento that motivated me to sign up for Napa, the day after CIM. I knew that with the training cycle in preparation for the December race, I was ready for something big. However as it turned out, weather  hindered to my plans.

I was eager to jump into another cycle of training, but my training took a backseat as I started a new job with a longer commute.  I only made it to 3 days of running as opposed to my usual alternating 4-5 days a week. This lower mileage worried me a little as my best times were correlated to higher weekly volume.  This time around I was lucky to have ended up between 25-30 mpw. At my peak week, I topped off at 41 miles--a far cry from my typical 50.  Going in, I trusted that my training would serve me well, at the same time, I couldn't shake off that one, small lingering doubt lurking in the back of my mind.

The expo was held at the Napa Valley Marriott.  The theme this year was "Women in Marathoning". Legends such as Joan Benoit Samuelson, Nina Kuscsik, Lorraine Moller and Jacki Hansen were the guest speakers. Unfortunately, I missed the presentation, due to the traffic we hit in Oakland.

The schwagg is never disappointing. We were given a choice between duffel bags or backpacks.  The color was navy blue with citron trim or pink trim.
Navy Blue with pink trim.  Would have preferred the green trim.
Slight panic: I thought I left my shoes at home.
I ended up with pink trim duffel. The citron was too popular.  The tech t-shirts are white and a local artist was responsible for the artwork. The shirt's artwork is always colorful against the stark white background and is instantly recognizable. 

The usual suspects were in the goodie bag--bottle opener (not kidding), package of rice (not kidding either), pack of peanut butter, fruit snacks, plus ads for various marathons. I picked up my bib and timing chip, then off we went to our hotel and dinner.
The Salonpas, Gu Brew and chips were my fave.

This bottle opener doubles as a cork opener.

We headed to our usual place in old Town Napa, Ristorante Allegria.  This Italian restaurant is my favorite in the area. The ambiance is classy and relaxing.  Lots of other runners had the same idea as we were leaving, the wait got longer.  TIP: It pays off to make reservations early.

I wanted to retire early for the night so can get up easily at 3 a.m. I performed my pre race ritual and laid everything out before I went to bed.
Bib, chip, shoes, socks, shirt, shorts, gloves, sunglasses
My sustenance for breakfast and during the race.
When my alarm went off, I hit the snooze button once and got up.  I ate a banana and forced down a Clif Bar. It's hard to eat when you're not hungry. I showered to feel more awake then put on my gear.  I checked the weather because that would dictate what I needed to wear. I always bring 3 sets of running outfits. Weather can be unpredictable. Since it was going to be in the upper 50s near the end, I thought I would be fine with shorts and tank.  No arm warmers or gloves necessary. It was a good call.  I had my hubby's old baggy sweatshirt that I discarded at mile 2 which kept me comfortable at the start.

Our hotel, The Napa Winery Inn, conveniently served breakfast (coffee, tea, bagel, bananas and yogurt) at 4:30 a.m. for marathoners.  It was also a short walk to the high school where the buses were scheduled to leave at 5:15. It only took me 25 minutes.  That walk served to be my warm-up.  As I walked, a long trail of cars were passing by me, all headed to the H.S.  Pretty soon, more runners from my hotel came out to walk as well.  I never felt safer walking the dark streets of Napa.

The bus loading area was well organized and prompt. (TIP: For future reference there was race day pick up available for those runners who aren't able to attend the expo the day before.)  The bus ride took approximately an hour. We arrived in Calistoga at 6:15 a.m. The air in Calistoga was  a few degrees cooler compared to Napa.  That was a good sign. There were plenty of folks milling about, lining up for the porta-johns, warming up, drinking, taking pictures or just sitting down.  I used to get nervous while waiting for the start. The butterflies would start fluttering in my stomach, unlike this day, I was calm and relaxed. I had no worries. I didn't think about my goal time nor what I wanted to accomplish. I was just "in" the moment.

The race promptly started at 6:59. I took my time, meaning when the horn blew and I was still in my "office".  There were others who were still lined up. I was not the least bit worried since this race is chip-timed. I was only 2 minutes and 42 seconds behind the rest of the group. I liked  being in the back, since I had a bad habit of going out too fast. Being in the back prevented me from blasting off with the fast runners. It never feels like I am going too fast at mile one because everyone else is also going so fast and to top it off, my legs are peppy at the start.

Race splits

The course is net downhill as you can see from the elevation presented above. However,  I felt the ups and downs more on the first 6 miles as it is littered with little hills that crept up on me.  After the 6th mile, it was more manageable.  I was very much in tune with who was in front of me I hitched a ride with runners who seemingly held a great pace.  I stayed with them to keep from slowing down.  In past races, when I didn't pay attention, my pacing slipped and it was discouraging when I fell behind, not because I was hurt or tired, but because of my wandering mind.
Miles 15 to 20 had bigger and longer hills.  For whatever reason, it was stuck in my head that a huge hill awaited me at mile 18.  I thought that when I get over this hill, everything would be smooth sailing. It was a pleasant surprise that this hill I dreaded came unnoticed. I was already at mile 20 when I realized that I must have gone over that last significant hill. I wish every marathon would be this way, that I've passed a particular landmark without even realizing it.

The weather was fantastic all the way through.  At the latter stages of the marathon, when I would stop to get a drink from the aide station, I would immediately get cold. The sun's rays felt great on my body as it provided a bit of a warmth. This seemed to be the best weather for Napa out of the 8 times I've ran it.

My toughest mile was between 24-25.  I cramped up. Both legs. It brought up distant memories of the biggest Charlie horse that used to plague me in the middle of the night during pregnancy. The cramps were so strong it was scary, I almost toppled over.  My right leg--from my hamstrings to my calf--seized up like I never experienced before. I grabbed my leg until it subsided. I had to stop completely.  It seemed like an eternity.  People whom I passed before were now passing me. One lady in particular, felt so sorry for me that she yelled out "Poor Baby!" as she passed me by. Oh no, there she goes. We've been leap frogging all along. There was nothing I could have done but to stop until the cramps were done. My immediate thought was: I'm not going to finish with a decent time. I may have to walk this last 2.20 miles if I couldn't get rid of the cramps.  It would have been added pressure if I glanced at my time, so I didn't. I prayed that the cramps would subside. I tested it for a bit, then I kept going. I was happy that I was able to do a shuffle, ever so gently negotiating the fastest pace at which my legs would let me without waking up the cramps. I also gained on "Poor Baby" one last time.  I was simply grateful that I did not squandered too much time on the cramps nor did I have to walk the last two miles. This was my longest mile at 10:48 and still very grateful.
Immediately after the cramping episode.

I kept looking for the turns. I knew it was almost over once those turns came to me. And just as I approached Solomon Avenue, the second to the last turn, I saw my husband wind-milling his arms and yelling out to me, "Finish strong, you got a chance at your personal best!" I was unable to compute the information he yelled, because I knew I had lessened my chances from the cramps back at mile 24.  Could hubby be right? Moments later, as sure as daylight, the finish line came to me. I was finally done.

"Please, Please legs don't cramp on me now!"
For the 8th time, that red banner never failed to be a sight for sore eyes. As I stumbled toward the finishing mat,  I was greeted by my very own student, who uncapped my water bottle for me, ushered me to picture taking spot and directed me to the food and shower area. The students and volunteers were so helpful. Truly they are the gems of the organization.  I couldn't thank them enough.  They always make me feel like a superstar.  When I finally glanced at my Garmin, it read 4:02:56. Official results were 4:02:37.  Hubby was right.  I earned a new PR and my personal course record! Thank you Napa! I may see you again next year!

The 8th time was a charm!

Little things like this gives me shivers.

Marathon Poser.

Previous NVM tees turned into a wonderful quilt.