Monday, March 7, 2011

Napa Valley Marathon

It’s hard to be anything but ecstatic with an 8 minute PR.  With that, I begin my not terribly epic and usually long-winded race recap.

I’ve dubbed myself an honorary NorCal "local" racer, as I realized I’ve crossed the country 3 times in the past year to toe the line for a marathon. What can I say? California has a lot of good stuff going on.

Friday was a nightmare logistically between the 3 hours of sleep and 6 hour plane ride, with a bunch of rather boring complications at the airport and rental company. Needless to say I was relieved when I finally made it to my host’s house in Santa Rosa that afternoon. Carrie (my lovely hostess) had been gearing up for Napa before plaguing herself with injury from a very serious round of Dance Dance Revolotion with her energetic daughters. So yes, even video games are off limits during taper.

I was completely exhausted all day Friday and was pretty terrible company for Carrie on the hour-long commute to Napa. Enjoying the passing scenery through my groggy eyes was enough to get me excited about running in wine country in spite of the sleep deprivation. We arrived at the expo at 6pm as the website claimed you could pick up your bib until 8pm, and were rather confused by the rude and unaccommodating volunteers. They apparently closed at 6, though did not seem to realize there was conflicting information on their website. A few of the volunteers were very nice and helped us get our bib, but as we stood there a woman sneered that they were locking the doors as soon as they (meaning us) left. She was also pretty unhelpful when we asked about parking at the start, and pointed out that since there will be thousands of family members who want to watch their loved ones start, we should take a bus instead. Screw it. We went to pick up our much-coveted duffel bags and shirts, but were surprised to find the shirt people already gone. When we asked a volunteer about it they said everyone left at 6. I  was baffled, it was 6:05. Were they really in that much of a hurry to leave when they saw runners coming in to the expo at 6? The volunteer told us to come back the following day during expo hours, and I said that wouldn’t be possible as we were an hour’s drive away. They said “sorry, but we’ve been here all day. We’re tired and want to leave”. WHAT?!!! I flipped out. I was exhausted, hungry, worn out,…and I tried very hard to calmly explain that as I had paid for my shirt, flown all the way across the country, drove for hours to make it to the expo, it would be nice if they could spend 60 seconds getting me a flipping shirt. Ugh. Anyways, I’ve never felt so unwanted at an expo before. Very disappointing.

Pre-race dinner
As usual, the gang met up for some pasta for some solid carbs and conversation.
James, me, Carrie, Jim

Race Day:
After a good 6 hours of sleep I woke up a few minutes before my alarm at 4:40. I was feeling pretty calm in spite of the rain pounding against the window, determining to mess with my head. I knew that had definitely improved since the last marathon (Chicago), but the mileage thing was still a concern for me. I ran an unimpressive 185 miles in Dec., 198 in Jan, and 207 in Feb. By far my lowest mileage to date for a marathon. Nevertheless, I was ready to rock ‘n roll.

We drove through the rain to the start with a short pit-stop on the way. By the time we parked and walked to the start area we both had to pee again. Carrie was pretty sure she wasn’t going to be able to race because of her leg, but she wanted to at least start and see if it would be manageable to run easy.  
No comment.

We stood in the warm rain in one of many super-long lines and at 10 minutes til the start of the race were still pretty far back in the line. We took off for a little hill on the side of the road where men and women alike were pissing in the grass. I was thankful for a long garbage bag to give me a little privacy. The things we do for races…
Potty lines...booo
Carrie was awesome and supportive and took my bag to the drop with only 8 minutes to spare. She knew I was getting antsy as I was gunning for a PR, and she still had no idea if she was even running. Bless you, Carrie.
The mad-scramble in the final hour (err, 8 minutes)

He isn't actually peeing, just looks suspicious. 
I pushed my way through the crowd to get up to the front, not wanting to get boxed in by anyone. I don’t know why it still surprises me to see people who clearly aren’t “fast” standing about 3 feet behind the line. 

I was tempted to tell the overweight guy standing in front of me that I would likely run him over if he didn’t go out at a 7:00 pace or faster. Before the gun went off  I met Guillame, which was fun. I was expecting to see Jim & James, but never did. I figured Jim was staying further back to be conservative and James was likely peddling a bagel off of an unsuspecting bystander. I did however see Ian Sharman, who re-claimed his world record for the fastest marathon in a costume (and who is also amongst the best of ultra-runners today). 

I should probably mention by now that it was raining steady, but with temps in the 50s it felt absolutely fine. I wore my Endurasoak singlet and cheap cotton gloves, which was just perfect. The gun went off and true to my prediction I was frustrated by the posers who had no business being at the front of the race. I told myself to calm down and skirted my way around everyone, and quickly fell in to a rhythm. It was hard holding back, as my legs were itching to go and we had a slight downhill. My plan was to average 7:00s, but with all of the slight hills I knew my watch would probably never actually say 7:00. Easy on the up, relaxed on the downs. Seemed like a comprehensive plan….

After the first mile I settled in next to a guy and we stuck together for about the first 7-8 miles. He was easy to chat with and I found that I missed about 5 mile markers in a row, and consequently had no splits to gauge my speed. I wasn’t sure how accurate the Garmin would be, so I really wanted to go by the splits. Oh well, I was feeling loose and happy and genuinely having fun. Tahoe Matt (as I aptly named him) told me about his gig as a high school principal, and how he has a system to allow kids to run with him to serve as detention time. I loved that he takes the time to do something so personal with the kids, and told him to watch St. Ralph whenever he needs a little inspiration. At some point I saw James run by us, looking as spry as a 16 year old with nothing to lose. He said he missed the start because of the port-a-potty lines, and was making up lost time. He looked good for his first sub 3 attempt.

Joan Benoit Samuelson came up behind us and ran in my range for a ways, and it was really neat getting to talk to her. I mean, how often do amateur (hobbiest?) athletes get to talk to legends during a race?  I was smiling like a goof knowing that I was now “fast” enough to run her easy run pace. Hey, it’s a start.  She told me she was only running 16ish miles, and encouraged me along. We also talked about the “weight in wine” award, and she told me she’d once won her weight in salmon! I’m still a little giddy by this.

Around 8, Tahoe Matt pulled ahead slightly (though I would later pass him) and I chatted up the next guy, Air Force Tim. We actually had a lot in common as he was stationed at DLI in Monterey, which is where I first fell in love with running marathons. I told him I was at DLI for 2 years, and Big Sur was my first marathon. He said he ran Big Sur last year too as his first marathon, and we exchanged stories about living and running around Monterey. He was looking really strong, and I had a feeling he was going to end up dropping me. We ran really well together and kept a pretty steady pace for the first few miles. I was hitting 6:5xs pretty consistently and felt good with that. Legs were fine, breathing was fine, everything seemed just fine.

Probably the worst part about this race is that there wasn’t a marker for the 13.1, so I don’t actually have a split for the first half (I suppose there could be worse not enough port-a-potties at the start). I hit 13 at 1:30:56, so probably a 1:31:35ish first half.  The water stops had been and would continue to be a breeze. The volunteers were fantastic, always making it well known who had Gatorade/water, and worked with you to make sure the cup made it in your hand. I was a little frustrated by the plastic cups, as they don’t bend at the top for an easy pour on the run. I muttered out of frustration at one point, and one of the volunteers said “Hey, we hate these things too!”. Good. The rain subsided at some point before the half, but I hardly even noticed. The clouds provided the perfect cover, and for the first time in a very long time I had no complaints about the temperature. At one point (while running uphill) I noticed the wind pick up a little, but gave it no though. I eventually spit, and when it came back at my face I realized we had a head wind. I felt panic for a nanosecond, and then thought about my 5k 2 weeks ago and laughed at the mild little breeze we were facing in this race.

There weren’t many spectators along the road due to lack of access to the course by vehicle, and I was completely relieved. A few people were complaining along the way, and I was secretly sending my thanks to the race director for making this a quiet, private course. Every once in a while I remembered to look around me and was continually amazed by the vineyards. I was sad to not have my camera, though I know I can’t be a photographer and run a PR in the same race.

Air Force Tim and I had it easy going, and around 18 we started picking it up. My plan was to maybe somehow by some miracle run a negative split (oh how funny my brain works at times), and I was still feeling ok. I was definitely working harder and breathing harder, but still no signs of anything bad to come. We passed a guy who ended up picking it back up to stick with us, and we became a pack of 3 running in tight formation navigating the slight hills with little to no conversation. I started breathing a lot harder, but other than that it seemed to be fine. Finally around 21 the wheels came off and I realized I was the only one breathing hard. Tim was still breathing easy and when I saw a 6:29 pace on my watch I knew I was in trouble. I immediately fell back and let them go, I couldn’t afford to get caught up in it. About .25 miles later the wheels did come off, and there was no salvaging the race.  By 22 I was in pain and seriously fighting for any semblance of a pace. I wanted to stop, walk, moan & groan about the tightness in my legs and the pain in my feet. My breathing was under control (probably because I had slowed down so much), but my legs were toast.

Even though I dropped my pace significantly (>30 seconds /mile), I was still picking off runners, and not a single soul passed me since I left Tim & Co. There were a lot of people fading hard and fast, but at a worst rate than me. I just focused on getting to the next aid station, and for the first time in many races never thought for a second about my finishing time. I would get there when I got there, and it would be the best that I could do.

Around mile 24 spectators starting coming out, and I was attacked by the clamor of cowbells and obnoxious noisemakers. If there was a way to sue the company who invented those, I would gladly join the plaintiffs. When I’m exhausted and in pain, the sound of those things just makes me feel that much worse. It hurts my brain and my soul. I know, I’m a poor sport.

I finally hit mile 26 and managed to pick off a couple more runners ahead of me who were really struggling. I knew I was almost done, but there were so many turns that I never saw the finish until it was right in front of my face. Sometimes it’s better that way anyways. 

I crossed at 3:04:16 (chip time), and was escorted by 2 volunteers to through the finisher’s shoot. They were pretty fantastic about making sure everyone was ok to walk, but I had a hard time getting people to leave me alone. A for effort, but I really just wanted to lie down. My legs were a tight, painful mess of nerves.

I saw James immediately and he wasn’t sure of his chip time. He came across at 3:00:xx on the clock, and was anxious to see the actual results. I convinced him to head over to the physical therapy room so we could get stretched out without having to do any of the work. This is the first time I’ve ever taken advantage of something like that, and it was heaven. I think my muscles recoiled in my legs and had no plans of ever coming out, but the girl working on me really helped. Air Force Tim was in there getting worked on when I arrived, and come to find out he ran a 3:01, which is insanely impressive considering he didn’t start his negative split until mile 18 (and he’s only been running marathons for a year…)

Carrie found us at the finish and I was sad to hear she didn’t run, but she’s wicked fast and will be kicking serious butt at her next race. Eventually James’s friend found us and greeted us with cups and a bottle of delicious champagne. After chugging my carb-free protein shake (seriously?), the champagne helped restore order. 
Champagne, water, & protein shake...why not? And yes, I look like a pathetic wet dog.  
I didn’t remember enough about specific points on the course to give a by-the-mile detailed report, but overall I found the course to be fast and fun. It’s not flat, but it has more downhill than up, and the uphill isn’t anything difficult. I would definitely run this race again, and plan on peeing in the bushes much earlier at the start.

Jim, me & James playing with the wine scale. 
Me & Carrie, the bestest hostess!!

3:04:16 (chip time)
12th female overall
4th age group
54/1755 overall

Mile 1: 6:53
Mile 2-6: 34:56
Mile 7: 6:56
Mile 8-9: 13:56
Mile 10: 7:05
Mile 11: 6:52
Mile 12: 7:07
Mile 13: 6:54
Mile 14: 7:09
Mile 15: 7:03
Mile 16: 7:22 (long hill)
Mile 17: 6:57
Mile 18: 6:49
Mile 19: 6:41 (oops)
Mile 20: 6:46 (oops again)
Mile 21: 6:45 (super-oops)
Mile 22: 7:07
Mile 23: 7:19
Mile 24: 7:23
Mile 25: 7:26
Mile 26: 7:23
26.2: 1:24 (6:09 pace)

Total Garmin mileage: 26.38 (not so good on the tangents, plus the usual inaccuracy of GPS watches)

What next? Maybe we should save that for another post...


  1. Terrific race performance and report! Loved your sense of humor through your account of the events of the weekend. I found it interesting that you had such a negative experience with the expo volunteers, one that contrasted greatly with those who were helping on the course.

    I was expecting something horrible when you mentioned fading at the end, but those late mile splits don't look bad at all. All in all, it looks like you had an awesome weekend.


  2. I was going to say -- that's really not too much of a fade!

    And, WTF with the Expo?

  3. Oh holla - you are running nasty fast! That is amazing. Sounds like a good race (aside from nasty Expo volunteers)

  4. Hey girl,
    Just stopping by quickly. Just want to say AGAIN, just simply awesome on your race. You should be extremely proud. Congrats, my friend...:)

  5. Outstanding performance. Not much that I can say other than awesome race and keep it up. I'd say that you held up pretty well in those last 4 miles too.

  6. That sounds like the greatest race ever! Congrats on your huge PR, and I can't believe you met JBS while running a marathon. So cool!

  7. Hey nice report Amy. Shame about those Expo people, but the race was great. I'll do it again in a shot. A lot of people seemed to lose their wheels completely at about mile 23. You did good with the mini-fade.

  8. Just found you through Runners World ultra forum - you're funny! Look forward to reading more of your stuff.

  9. I also stalked your blog through the trail forum on RW. ;)

    Nice race and congrats on your PR! When's the sub-3 attempt? I wish I could be half as fast as you!

  10. Nice report Amy! I have to admit, I called the 3:04 before you ran the race, though I think you may have had a minute or two more in you. I hope my next fade looks like that ;-)

  11. Thanks everyone, the support I get from you all is invaluable.

    It's funny you all say my fade wasn't so seemed like the end of the world at the time! I forgot to mention that for the first time I was actually momentarily pukey in the last couple of miles.

    Chris- Ha, another minute or two? No way! I left it all out there.

    Cory- And here I thought this was the most dry report I'd ever written... nice to "meet" you.

    MaddiMandi- Good answer just yet ;)

  12. Great report! I am seriously amazed at the Expo personnel. You should send a letter to the RD about that one. Anyway, onto the positive-- it's amazing how much you've improved in the past two years. You've gone from really fast to amazingly fast!

  13. HI Amy,

    I am the volunteer coordinator for the Napa Valley Marathon. I apologize for the terrible experience that you had at Expo on Friday. Honestly, it was my fault that I walked away at exactly 6pm from the t-shirts as I had to run to another post right when Expo closed. I have passed the blog on to our Board of Directors and we will be addressing the snafus at the next board meeting and make it better for next year.

    Carrie is an amazing person. She is actually one of my running friends. She is also an amazing runner as well

    Andrea Guzman, Napa Valley Marathon Volunteer Coordinator

  14. Andrea- First of all, thank you very much for getting on here and addressing my frustrations, I really appreciate your candor. I do hope the NVM will continue to improve as it is a terrific race and I have it on my radar to come back again next year. I honestly think it could have the appeal of a race like Big Sur, but with a much faster course. Don't forget to mention the bathroom situation at the start, I'm sure they've heard plenty about that already ;-)


  15. I like that Andrea commented, because that is a very frustrating experience! Amy, wow! :) As usual, I need to put aside a special time to read your reports, but they're always so enjoyable and funny. Congratulations on an awesome job, Elizabeth is right, you've gone from super fast to super-duper fast. Very cool you got to run with Joanie, what a memory to have!

  16. I'm late reading this report but it's just as tasty as I thought it'd be. Huge congrats Amy, sub3 is at your fingertips at this point, I'm really excited for the direction you're moving in. And that new body of yours? Fabulous!!

  17. Amy,
    I am always amazed how well you run on so little sleep. So happy for your great race and PR. I can tell from your report how you managed your race so well and made adjustments along the way. Can't wait to run with you in May. Congrats,

  18. That's freakin' awesome, Amy! WOW! I am with you on noisy courses and cowbells...I would much rather enjoy the sights and sounds of Mother Nature than that noise pollution. Congratulations!

  19. You seem really angry through much of this race.

    "I was exhausted, hungry, worn out,…and I tried very hard to calmly explain that as I had paid for my shirt, flown all the way across the country, drove for hours to make it to the expo, it would be nice if they could spend 60 seconds getting me a flipping shirt. "

    " I don’t know why it still surprises me to see people who clearly aren’t “fast” standing about 3 feet behind the line. I was tempted to tell the overweight guy standing in front of me that I would likely run him over if he didn’t go out at a 7:00 pace or faster."

    "The gun went off and true to my prediction I was frustrated by the posers who had no business being at the front of the race."

    "I was a little frustrated by the plastic cups, as they don’t bend at the top for an easy pour on the run. I muttered out of frustration at one point,"

    "Around mile 24 spectators starting coming out, and I was attacked by the clamor of cowbells and obnoxious noisemakers. If there was a way to sue the company who invented those, I would gladly join the plaintiffs."

  20. We are looking for people to Join the 15th Annual Team Spirit Long Beach 5k and 10K marathon and help put an end to breast and ovarian cancer today!. You can help distribute brochures and yard signs to local stores, offices, and restaurants! Are you a people person? We have many community events where Team Spirit needs a presence. Volunteer to work a table at one of these events to hand out brochures and spread information about Team Spirit, and recruit participants! Already attending the marathon? Then help volunteer the day of the event. We need groups to assist with set up, participant check-in, new registrations, and drive or co-pilot shuttle vans. We will also need people to man water stations, and course monitors to assure participants’ safety and morale.