Sunday, March 15, 2015

Napa Valley Marathon 2015

The 37th Annual Napa Valley Marathon (NVM) is my 9th NVM, my 38th career marathon, and my first marathon for 2015. It was simply unbelievable.  So far, I have been able to string 3 fantastic races in a row. Starting off my 2015 racing season with an-8 miler, Castle Coast in January, followed by the Kaiser Permanente 1/2 marathon in San Francisco in February, and then this March, NVM. I haven't posted a personal record in any of the three recent races, however, what I've been able to do  is hone a stronger finish. I'm happy to report that I am 3 for 3 in this department.

I had been holding my breath as to how I was going to do in Napa. I have been a little bit laxed with my training with holidays, family visits and life in general.  Although I didn't push as hard this training cycle, I believe my training was enough going into the marathon. I was highly satisfied with the way I executed the race.  I had 3 goals in mind for Napa. Goal "C" was to PR, of course, but if that didn't happen I was not going to be heartbroken. Goal "B" was a accomplishing a sub-four finish. Again, if it didn't materialize, I was not going to be disappointed. Finally, goal "A" was what intended to do: to have a strong finish.  Let me explain.

In February for the 1/2 in San Francisco, I was able to kick it in a higher gear in the last 5k. I had a strong finish and passed a number of runners, where normally I would fade due to fatigue or cramping, whichever came first.  I knew that I may not be able to replicate that kind of strong finish in the marathon, however, what I was capable of, was to resist the incredible urge to walk in the last 6 miles. I accomplished just that.  I only walked at the water stops to drink for 5-7 seconds. This was a huge accomplishment for me. I typically lose about 6-7 minutes in the last 10k. As a result, I've produced my 2nd best time on this course today at 4:07:01.

I may have mentioned this before, NVM was my 2nd marathon ever.  I have been in love with the course since running it for the first time in 2003. I've been back 9 times since then and each time I forget that it's a rolling hills course until I'm on it. I had deferred last year due to a plantar fasciitis (PF) injury. I couldn't complete the training so sadly I had to withdraw. Thankfully, I am now back on track and the PF is completely gone. It knocked me out for 6 weeks with a self imposed no running. I thought I was going to be a basket case for not being able to run those 6 weeks, but when your heel hurt so much when all you're trying to do is walk or stand still, then there's not much grieving you can do. Getting back into running took a lot of patience. it took me the better part of the 2014. It was upsetting not being able to get back to the same fitness level before the injury, but I learned quickly that it takes time and you can't hurry "it" where the consequences might be back to possibly being injured again. I digress, I will tell you the reasons why I keep coming back to Napa at the end of this report. For now, let's get to the nitty gritty, shall we?

The expo's theme this year was a celebration of the 1976 U.S. Olympic team which consisted of Don Kardong, Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter.  We got to the Expo late so we missed all of it. It was my fault; I took a wrong turn, believing I knew a better shortcut. Thank goodness my passenger, Heidi was patient as I tried to download an app to help us get back on track to Napa. No pun intended.
The three amigos...sorry I miss seeing ya'll.

We saved some money by staying at Motel 6.  The rest of the Napa hotels got a little "smarter" by insisting on a two-night minimum stay. "Ah no, thanks, I have to get back to work the next day."

Motel 6 was recently renovated so it was clean and had all the necessary requirements a marathoner needs...microwave, bed, toilet paper. Yes, I said TP. This harkens back memories from 6 months ago in the Ventura Marathon. America's Best Quality Inn in Oxnard was rationing TP like we're in a zombie apocalypse. Can you say never again?
...sporting my new duffel.

I am so happy that the shirt is not white for a change. I love this cobalt blue!

After securing our room, we headed to the Expo to get my duffel bag, shirts, and bib and for Heidi to sign in as a volunteer.  It was a quick and painless process. After the pickup, we headed to carbo-load to our favorite Italian restaurant called Ristaurante Allegria in downtown Napa. Since we were 1/2 hour late, we lost our "inside" reservation.  We had to settle to sit outside. Thank goodness we had heat lamps.  It was still freezing even with the heat lamps. We had our fill of pasta. Even Heidi carbo-loaded for her 5K race.

Linguini with Manila clams, fabuloso!

Around 7 pm, we got back to the motel to get our usual eve-of-race day-rituals, laying out our race clothes, pinning the bib on our shirts, getting the timing chip on the shoes, filling water bottles, and preparing race day nutrition.

This is the first time in 9 years, that I have decided to take full advantage of the BYOB (bring your own bottles) service, that NVM offers. I guess it took me this long to get serious about my race day nutrition.  I've been plagued with late race day cramping. So what I did was plan to use 4 aide stations that would give me what I want to drink. I purchased 4 throwaway water bottles from the dollar store.  I could have used the regular water bottles I guess, but I needed something to "pop" and grab my attention when I am running tired. I don't want to be searching for my water bottles in the middle of a race. I need to see it right away way before I approach the aide station. So my bottles were green and I tied a red balloon on it.  From 50 yards away I should be able to spot my personal drink.  Glad to report that it worked perfect.  At one point, I was not even thinking, I almost missed my bottle if it weren't for the balloon.  I passed the table and it was an afterthought, "Oh there's another balloon. Wait that's mine!"  I had to run back to get it. I liked using this service.  It makes you feel like an elite.
The special drinks to be transported to the aid stations. 
Can you spot my drinks?

As  I was preparing my water bottles, Heidi jokingly, asked how hard it would be to drink from it, if I had that silly balloon in my face.  Valid question. You might be curious to know too.  I already thought  about that. As I'm grabbing my drink, my plan was to pop it with the safety pin from my bib. You're probably asking what's inside my bottles. One bottle had pickle juice in it. The other two bottles have cola Nuun. One other bottle have beet juice.  The pickle juice was the best.   8 oz. was not enough. I gulped it like there was no tomorrow. I wished my bottle was bigger. It may sound weird but it was refreshing after running 16 miles.  The best part, it prevented my cramps.

The weather was perfect. It was around high 30's at the start to about 66 at the finish.  We had winds about 9mph, from the North, which i thought would be a slight tailwind, but sadly it was the opposite. nonetheless it couldn't have gone any better.the Napa course winds from Calistoga to Napa along the Silverado Trail. The first 6 miles have slight rollers but not quad-crushing bad.
One of the advantages of staying in the hotel sponsored by the marathon is that you get VIP treatment. To me that means, breakfast, specifically, coffee, before we board the buses. Our motel weren't serving coffee until the 5 am. The problem was we had to be at the high school at 5 am! So smart Heidi and Aileen decided to go to the Marriott and try to snag free coffee.  Can you tell how this is going to end?  We entered the hotel with confidence.  From 50 yards away, I spotted see the easel with complementary to NVP "marathoners only" --or something to that effect. The exact wording, I couldn't remember.  As we walked closer, I advised Heidi with "Let's walk confidently, and try not to look guilty, like we don't belong here."  Wel,l the coffee attendant must have read my lips as we walked, unwittingly towards her and attempted to enter the room with shiny silver coffee urn that seems to have halo all around it.  She stopped us in our tracks and asked, as if she knew, "May I see you room key?"
"Ah we don't have it."  (I think I had the deer in the headlights look.)
"Show me your bib."
"It's in the car."
"Coffee is for Marriott guests only."

We laughed all the way to the car. Really? "Heidi, how could our bibs be in the car?" Even  she knows we should have it pinned on our shirts.  I swear we are not good liars. It was way too early in the morning and we clearly needed coffee to be sharper.  By this time, it was already 5 am, so we drove back to Motel 6 and grabbed their piping hot coffee! Have you see the Seinfeld episode with the Soup Nazi? Yeah, this one was close.
An obligatory selfie...oh wait, Heidi is flagging her  hands up and down...she thinks I'm taking her picture...

...thank goodness I was quick to take hers...
...sending me off to my bus...see y'all in a couple of hours...

The runners boarded the buses at Vintage High School in Napa which took us to Calistoga. The buses were prompt. If you were late, you were out of luck.  You had to find your own way to Calistoga. I only know this because Heidi was a volunteer at the race day bib pick-up and that's exactly what happened to this English lady who was late. She missed the bus.  Incidentally, the boss of the bus drivers was in my bus and she radio-ed all the bus drivers who were parked by the school waiting on the wings and she ordered them to start driving back to the yard. The ride took about 50 minutes and the usual nervous chatter of other runners filled the air. I sat quietly to finish my breakfast of banana, bagel and Gatorade.

...thank you stranger for taking my picture at the start...

Once we got to Calistoga, we were allowed to stay warm inside the bus for as long as we wanted. I stayed for a few minutes then I got off to walk to the start line to drop off my special drinks and visit the porta potty.  I  then located my bus associated with my bib number to drop off my drop bag. I had about 10 minutes to do some abbreviated warm up and form drills way in the back of the start line.
...last bathroom stop...they are singing the anthem...

Then we were off. This race is punctual.  I let the runners go but not before I made a second stop at the porta-potties. It was a good start for me being in the back again. I avoid a bad start by going out too fast.  Being in the back secured a slower start for me. I relish being among the walkers.

After a good first two mile warm-up, I started picking up speed to get to my happy pace.  I was comfortable.  I was glad that I had a thin long sleeve on with a half zip. When it got warm all I had to do is pull zipper down.  I was also thankful I decided to go with shorts rather than capris. I would have been too hot.  One note about dressing up for these marathons, I always over dress. It's hard to convince myself before hand to under dress when I am shivering in the cold, but once I get moving, I always regret bringing more clothes.  Then the bad side is trying to tie the extra shirt around my waist and act like a wind drag. So I have learned to trust that I will be fine with just a shorts and light shirt if it's anything between 40-60 degrees. Today was perfect.

The miles ticked away quicker than usual this time around. This was a good sign. It meant I must have been enjoying myself. I was surprised since, it has been a while since I have ran a marathon without my iPod shuffle. I thought it was going to be a mental hurdle. One of the NVM rules are no head sets, for runners' safety.

Once I was over the last significant hill, between 19 and 20, I knew I was homeward bound. Mile 20 was when my race started. I reminded myself to resist the urge to walk and keep moving. I felt a lot stronger this time around and the urge to walk didn't really come to my head. I felt terrific each time I passed a runner in front of me. At the same time, I was thinking about if Mr. Cramps is going to rear it's ugly head, and when?
...26th mile foot in front of the other...

At the 26th mile, I heard Heidi yelling out my name, and it was awesome,  That was what I needed.  I had 0.2 to take out one more girl in front of me.  The girl in grey has been in front this whole time and she's finally getting closer to me.  I didn't know if I had enough distance left to overtake her. So with whatever kick I had left in me, I sprinted. In my head, "Take it, one more girl!"

...can you spot the finish line banner? it's less than a lap away...I'm about to bust a move to take girl in grey in front of me...
...and just like that...I am done...

The high school students as volunteers at the finish line are one of a kind.  They help with everything, asking if you are okay, are you able to walk, do you need assistance? They gave me water, hung my medal around my neck and ushered us to the shower, to the bag pick up and hot soup.  I don't know know if I was just hungry but the broth was simply amazing.  After I had bread and yogurt and had nourishment back in my body, I then showered at the gym.  It would have been great but, there was no hot water.  It was only cold water.  I was feeling a little wimpy so I only did a sponge bath.  Give me a break, I just ran a marathon.  This was the second time I used the gym.  Mind you, in the first time, they did not have cold water, only scalding hot water. Again that was a sponge bath kind of shower.  Maybe next year, they will have both?

...bling-bling #38...

...thank you Napa for a race run well...

...Heidi with her 5K medal...

If you're thinking about running your first marathon, I would highly recommend NVM. The course is net downhill, very much like Cal International Marathon in Sacramento. Rolling hills are concentrated in the first 6 miles.  The last significant hill is between 19 and 20. It is a long gradual hill, but soon after that you are rewarded with a flat last 10K. This is a marathoner-friendly course. The volunteers are priceless. Aid stations are well manned and consistent (Gatorade, not watery, not too sweet--just right). The race size is just right because you couldn't get any more personal touch than this. If you do this marathon, don't be too spoiled, no other organization will treat you like an elite. The bigger races (NYC, Marine Corps Marathon) when you finish, you are literally pushed through the chute, told to keep moving. Sad to say, a little "uncaring", "here's your water and nutrition, don't block the way." It's not their fault however for having 44K runners coming through.  That's the trade-off in a huge race, you're merely a number.  In Napa, you are special.  This is one of the reasons why I keep going back. Maybe I'll see you there next year. Happy running!