Napa Valley Marathon Race Recap

The Napa Valley Marathon certainly won’t go in the books as one of my best races, but I finished it. So I’m counting it as a win.

I avoided thinking about this race as long as I possibly could, in the same manner that I successfully avoided training at all for this race. It really didn’t hit me until I was packing my bag for the trip that I would be putting my body through a 26-mile run again. Once that realization hit, I was more than nervous. I knew I hadn’t prepared. I knew it would be hard. I was dreading it, but I managed to put it in the back of my mind so I could have a good time in California before race day. We spent a couple days in San Jose/San Francisco before heading up to Napa. I happily ate and drank my way through the trip.

Traveling for a marathon had some challenges I didn’t really expect. Firstly, there’s a lot to pack for a race! Didn’t make for a light suitcase. Then there’s the hydration issue. It’s much easier to properly fuel your body when you’re at home. I wasn’t chugging water while touring San Francisco and relying on public bathrooms. Same goes for loading up on pre-race day calories. It was also a little difficult to let my body adjust to the time zone difference in such a short period of time.

Once I got to the race expo on Saturday, I became extremely aware of what a small race this really is. I think there were both some good and bad things about doing a smaller race as opposed to one of the major city marathons. One major difference was the expo. There was a major lack of signage for everything with the race. You kind of just had to follow the crowd and ask around to find what you were looking for. The expo only had one apparel vendor, and then a few other marathons and running clubs with tables. The swag bag was comparable to other runs I’ve done. I got a nice duffel bag and a long sleeve tech tee, and of course a bag of sample foods and lots of coupons. I was very disappointed in the NVM merchandise available, though. I would have liked to get another t-shirt or a hat, but there was very little to choose from. I guess it goes with the territory of running a smaller race.

Expo day was a whirlwind of emotions for me. At this point, I really started to panic about whether or not I would even be able to finish the race. Then I became very upset with myself. There were definitely some tears. Luckily, Matt was able to calm me down and impart some good advice. He basically told me I had a choice… I could focus on beating myself up and being upset, or I could just accept that it would be hard and focus on finishing the race. So with the anxiety mostly out of my system, I finally started loading up on water and gatorade…. a mistake I would regret very soon into the race.

Race morning finally arrived. After a few hours of tossing and turning with very little sleep, I peeled myself out of bed at 4:30 am to gear up. Luckily, we weren’t too far from the finish line, where shuttle buses were taking runners up to the starting line. Matt dropped me off at the buses right before 5:15. I just made it onto a bus before they left, which is another gripe I have with this race. Buses were supposed to be there until 5:30 according to the pre-race information we were sent, but if you didn’t get there by 5:15, you were out of luck. The ride up to the starting line seemed never-ending.

I listened to my music and ate my pre-race meal of a bagel and a banana. When the buses stopped, there was mass confusion about what we were doing. The website indicated we could stay on the bus until 15 minutes before the race start. But we arrived at the race almost an hour before starting time, and most of the bus drivers were kicking people out! It was dark out and 40 degrees at this point. Every other runner was in long sleeves and gloves, with gear bags ready to check at the start. I was in a tank top and capri pants, prepared for the temperature to climb up to the forecasted 74 degrees. I wasn’t sure if people would be wearing extra layers to toss to the side at the starting line like I’ve seen in other races. I was already shivering, and I certainly was not prepared to stand outside for an hour. Luckily, someone on our bus talked to the driver and we got to stay on a little longer. About a half hour before start-time, I got off to get in the bathroom line. I don’t think the race organizers knew how to do math as the ratio of people to bathrooms throughout the entire course was far from acceptable. I managed to get out of the bathroom three minutes before the race started. I chugged my pre-race Gatorade fuel gel and tried to push the butterflies out of my stomach. Before I knew it, I was off and running.

The first few miles of the race, I was mainly thinking about how cold I was. It took me a good half hour to finally warm up. And by mile 10, I was so glad I wasn’t wearing more clothing. For a while, I was in awe of the scenery — rolling foggy hills with fields upon fields of posts where grapes would soon be growing. The sun was still low enough in the sky to have an orange glow, and I didn’t even think about the fact that I wasn’t wearing headphones. I was feeling pretty good and running on par with my Philly Marathon pace. The course was certainly hilly, which was a challenge. But for every big uphill, there was a downhill that allowed me to catch my breath a little. I ran with an even effort on the up/downs.

Around mile five, I put on my headphones as I saw someone else wearing them, and didn’t see any officials enforcing the rule. I made it less than a mile before a race marshal rode up next to me on his bike and gave me a warning on the headphones and told me I would be DQ’d if I got caught again. That was the end of my headphones. Also around mile five, I really started regretting all the liquid I drank the day before. In an ideal world, I would have spread my hydrating over several days prior to the race. I wasn’t that smart about it and my extreme water intake the day before the race just made my bladder incredibly full. I passed by the first bathroom stop because the line was incredibly long. There was only one or two port-a-pots at each stop, and the stops were few and far between. When I got to mile nine, I had to stop, even though the line was long. You would think runners would move a little quicker! I didn’t start timing right away, but I did record 8:34 of waiting, so it definitely took me over 10 minutes to make my pit-stop. When I got out of the line, I decided to try and make up for some lost time. This was another mistake. After a few miles of running a bit faster than my usual distance pace, my legs started to get tired. I slowed it back down and kept on going.

While the scenery on this run was beautiful, it got very boring very quickly. It was all the same after a while. There were also almost NO spectators. The race was on an isolated road that could be accessed only via crossroads, maybe every three miles. At some of the crossroads, there would be a few spectators, never more than ten. I never realized what a big help it was to have a crowd cheering you on until I didn’t have one. Another downside to a small race. A plus, however, were the water/aid stations. Without tens of thousands of runners, the stations weren’t congested and didn’t require slowing down or pushing people to get through. The water/gatorade cups were all full and cold and they didn’t run out (like they did in Philly). The volunteers at the stops were energetic. There was GU at two stops, with a selection of flavors. Orange slices and bananas were available about every other stop after the halfway point. I stopped at every water stop, alternating water and gatorade. I took both of the gels, a half of a banana, and 2 orange slices. That’s more than I’ve ever eaten during a race before, and it certainly caught up with me.

It was fairly smooth sailing until about mile 19. I hit the wall. My legs felt like lead. I was nauseous from all the sugar in my stomach. I did the unthinkable, and I stopped to walk. It was also incredibly warm at this point. There was no shade from the sun, which reflected from the asphalt and made it feel even warmer. 74 degrees is certainly not hot, but when you’re coming from an environment where you’ve been running in 30-40 degrees, it’s a huge difference, and it’s not easy for your body to adjust. I walked for maybe half a mile and then I forced myself to run again. I decided to alternate running for two minutes and walking for one minute until I got close to the end.

When I hit the 25-mile marker, I put my game face on and forced my legs to run. The last half mile turned off the highway and looped through town, nearing the high school where the finish line was. There were finally some crowds again. I felt energized and rounded the last turn where I FINALLY saw the finish line, and spotted Matt cheering me on.

I ended up finishing with a time of 5:14:10, with a pace of 11:59/mile. While I am slightly ashamed of this time, knowing I can do so much better, I still finished another marathon. That’s an accomplishment to be proud of, so I’m focusing on that. And if the experience taught me anything, it’s that running is 90% mental. I was lucky that I already had a pretty strong physical base from my training for the Philly Marathon last fall, but it really came down to believing I could do it, and forcing my legs to keep on going, when I didn’t think I could take another step.

I recovered from the race with a beer and a burger, followed by 2 days of wine and champagne tasting. Couldn’t ask for a better race recovery! I am trying to get myself back into the serious running routine now, in preparation for the upcoming spring races. However, I fear I might have come back from Napa with a stress fracture in my left foot. It’s sore enough that I know something is wrong, even though the pain is only an annoyance and not major. I am getting it checked out tomorrow at Rothman, just to make sure I am ok to start running again. While I’m on a temporary running hiatus, I am already thinking about my fall marathon. I’m excited to pick one, and I am looking forward to doing it right this time.



One thought on “Napa Valley Marathon Race Recap

  1. Your recap is as inspirational as it is precautionary — it’s great to know you’re capable of finishing a marathon without the necessary ramp-up in training, right? At the same time though, it won’t be the best you can do.

    I’ve done a few small marathons where the spectators are completely absent and I’ve also done Chicago / NY. They each have their perks. For the big ones, yeah, the music, the bombast and roar of the crowd are great and they can really push you. But in smaller races, it’s more an experience in zen running – getting you in this zone where you truly appreciate the simple act of running. You push yourself in those because your drive to move forward is the only motivation you have.

    Good luck in your recovery 🙂

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