Sunday, March 06, 2011

Marathon #2 - Napa Valley

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After last fall’s adventure in Long Beach, I felt compelled to make another try at a marathon. And it seemed like it might be nice to have some type of training goal to work on over the winter season. So, after a bit of research looking at reviews on Racevine and exchanging ideas/brainstorms with running friends on Twitter and DailyMile, I decided that it would be fun to try out the Napa Valley Marathon on March 6, 2011.

This point-to-point marathon was situated through the heart of wine country, from Calistoga to Napa. Elevation decreased a few hundred feet from start to finish, and the course included beautiful views of vineyards and rolling valleys.

As the event neared, it became apparent that it was going to be a rainy (but not cold) race day. Yikes! As a spoiled Northern CA resident, I was known for being a little wimpy when it comes to rain. Plus the course had a lot of rolling hills. Oh, my. This was going to be interesting. And, of course, I was still very much a beginner marathoner, and not exactly a speedy runner. In the end, however it all went well. Woo hoo!

Decked out in a garbage bag poncho, I rode the bus with fellow DailyMiler Greg P. from our hotel to the starting line. We chatted about training and race strategy and tried not to notice how long the bus ride was – yes, you really get a sense for how LONG a marathon was when you ride the bus to the start. :)

This race gave runners the option to have custom drinks at the various aid stations (as if we all were elite runners – awesome!). As race organizers promised, I was able to quickly find the boxes for the correct stations at the start line and put two different bottles with my own little mixture for the stations at miles 9 and 17. Plus I had a third bottle with me – again with a mix of unflavored Sustained Energy mix.

There were plenty of porta potties along the start, and after taking care of business; it was time to line up. I did some chatting with Tamara, Chris, Lisa and Mark as we waited for the announcement that it was time to start! The fast folks in our group moved toward the front of the line. Because this race limited the number of registrants to 2400, it was refreshingly not overcrowded at the start, and there wasn’t the confusion that I’ve experienced at really large events.

From miles 1 to 7, Lisa and I took a steady, conservative approach to the run, hovering around 10:35 pace for 10 minutes, then walking for 1 minute. Just as we approached the mile 7 aid station, we parted ways. I loved having the company for the early portion of the race and tried not to stress out about all of the people passing us. After all I wanted to be careful not to make the mistake of my first marathon, where I started out too quickly and maxed my HR way too early.

At almost 3 hours into the race, my pace started to gradually get slower during my running segments. I still held to doing these every 10 minutes, but I was definitely slowing down. Then around 4 hours into the race, I was really starting to feel the pain, so I extended the walk breaks and added extra ones, usually around every 5 minutes.

Throughout the whole race, I was also very careful to generously drink my Sustained Energy and take gels frequently. I brought my own supply of gels and then took one offered at the mile-18 station. Last year, at my first marathon, I really felt like my nutrition had been lacking, which probably helped contribute to my “hitting the wall” experience so early in the race (at mile 18).

The rain was pretty steady most of the race, with occasional ‘lulls’ where it faded to sprinkling. I kept on my garbage bag poncho until mile 21, and was teased a little for it by the spectators – all in good fun. I was glad to have worn it however, as it helped keep me comfortable without feeling overheated. Worked much better than my rain jacket, which would have been too warm.

If you’re someone that craves a lot of crowd support, this rural race was not the one for you. It was held on the Silverado Trail road that weaves through winery valleys – very beautiful, but only accessible every few miles. That being said, every time there was a place where people could access the course, they were there, and they were very supportive and friendly. Many of them would literally go from spot to spot on the course, and I actually had ongoing conversations with several spectators, as they reappeared at accessible each location – so fun. Also, the volunteers at the aid stations were very helpful and enthusiastic – their friendly cheering and encouragement were greatly appreciated.

When I finally made those last turns to the finish area at Vintage High School, I was so happy to be there. I hadn’t been watching my overall time, just keeping track of the 10/1 intervals and pace and focusing on doing as much as I could with whatever energy I had throughout. So it was really great to see the time clock as I finished, showing 5:08-ish. I knew that my pace had slowed as the race went on, and with the extra walk breaks I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up. I certainly couldn’t have predicted a 23-minute PR (personal record) this time around, but that’s what happened. :)

  • Chip time 5:08:37
  • Garmin time (hit stop slightly after crossing) 5:08:50
  • Garmin distance 26.41 miles
  • Runner perks: technical shirt, awesome bag with great goodies, very nice medal and the ability to have custom drinks at the aid stations of your choice
  • More awesomeness: Official race results on their Website within an hour after the race was complete!
  • Highly recommended event