Sunday, March 10, 2013

Napa Valley Marathon Race Report

Warning, it's a long one!

Pre-Race: The afternoon before the marathon I drove with my aunt Rita to pick up my bib, long-sleeve tech tee (love it!) and snazzy race backpack (pictured below). I loved that the volunteers wrote our race number on laminated tags that were attached to the backpack for easy bag check before the race, well done!

After I picked up our goods and perused the race expo (not too big but lots of cool CA races to sign up for and shiny running stuff), Rita and I headed to the Napa Valley State Park campground to meet up with my aunt Marie, uncle Grant and pups Raydar and SOR (Son of Raydar). We drove most of the race course in reverse on our way, which didn't help my nerves. I felt like we were driving downhill the whole time (which meant it would be uphill during the race). I tried not to stress out too much about it and kept telling myself that I would be thankful for the "rolling hills" with much of the course being downhill as well. Once at the campground we set up our tents and enjoyed Marie's special pasta dinner with homemade meat sauce (from her very own cow!), along with a Sierra Nevada IPA. 

After dinner we decided to drive and check out the start area since it was only 4 miles away. We found it without any trouble (the 50 porta potties were a minor giveaway) and were back at the campsite within 20 minutes. Since my body was still adjusting to Pacific time I called it a night at 8 pm and fell asleep quite easily in my two-person tent!

Race Day!
^^5 am wake up call!

After a solid night sleep I woke up in a great mood ready to run! Breakfast consisted of a bagel (toasted!) with peanut butter and a cup of coffee. After a quick nail painting session (it's tradition), we were on the road at 6 am. My aunt Marie was running the 5K that started at 8 am at the finish so there were quite a few pre-race jitters in the car!

The Start: I arrived at the starting area around 6:20 and was able to use the porta-pottie with hardly any wait time. I kept my jacket on as long as I could but around 6:45 shed my last layer and handed off my backpack to the gear buses that would bring all our belongings to the finish line. 

Since Napa is a rather small race (~1,800 finishers this year), there were no pacers, corrals, or staggered starts. Everyone just found a spot that seemed to suit themselves and soon enough the national anthem was over and we were on our way!

Miles 1 - 3: I generally try to start my races a bit slower than "race pace" and today was no different. I ran comfortably for the first couple of miles and just took in all the sights and sounds around me. There was a lot of chatter at this point and I heard a few people talking about the Boston marathon which got me excited for spectating the event in just over 5 weeks!

After a couple turns we reached the first aid station. I realized that I still needed to pee and was able to quickly duck into the porta pottie and was quickly on my way under a minute later. 

Miles 3 - 10: I had settled into a nice rhythm and ended up striking up a conversation with a woman who was also running her second marathon. She had run the Nike Woman's marathon in SF last fall and was aiming to beat her time of 4:20. We chatted a bit and then fell into a rice rhythm alongside each other. I was still running pretty comfortably at this point and just enjoying the course and really loving the oh-my-god-I'm-running-amarathon-in-Napa-Valley-ahhhh thoughts I was having.

^^me and my new friend Maria enjoying ourselves!

Miles 11 - 20: Just after mile 10 I decided that it was time to try and pick up the pace and see if I had a PR in me. I stopped paying as much attention to the vineyards on either sides of the road and tried to focus on keeping my shoulders down and relaxed and my steps quick. There weren't many fans along the course but every 2 miles or so there was a cross street that would have a good crowd which were nice check points along the way. 

Around mile 12 I began to notice the sun was shining a bit brighter and the hills seemed to be getting a lot longer. I made sure not to check my watch while on the hills as I would likely not like the numbers I was seeing. I made a point to try and pick it up on the  downhills and was able to maintain average paces between 9:00 - 9:15. I came through the halfway mark at 2:07 feeling okay but fairly certain a 1:53 second half was not in my future. I was totally okay knowing I was likely not going to finish under 4 hours and just focused on keeping my pace steady and making up ground on the downhills.

Besides having my second Gu at mile 15 I really don't remember much between there and mile 20. My thoughts consist of vineyard, hill, sun, vineyard, long flat section, vineyard, etc. It was around mile 19 where I experienced what I can only imagine was some sort of tunnel vision. I was very, very focused on the ground in front of me and had trouble looking up as things would get a bit blurry and it felt much better just to look at the ground. I will also mention that it was around this point where my hands and fingers were quite swollen. I tried to keep my hands relaxed and low however they were getting quite "puffy" and uncomfortable. 

I knew that after mile 20 the rest of the race was downhill and I looked forward to thinking "less than a 10K!" for the rest of the race.

Miles 20 - 23: These were definitely the toughest miles of the race. I do not believe I hit "the wall," but was not the cheeriest of runners during this stretch. The course had come downhill and was basically a long, flat section as far as I could see in front of me. It felt never-ending and awful for most of this section. I remember passing the mile 22 flag and thinking to myself "I could be done now. If the race were over that would be totally okay with me."

For these three miles I focused on catching people in front of me while singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight to myself in my head. Oddly enough these were three of my fastest miles, but not the most enjoyable by any measure.

^^this guy in the orange took me forever to catch!

Miles 23 - 26.2: FINALLY I saw a break in the runners ahead of me and knew a turn was coming up! Almost simultaneously to turning the corner I got a new wave of energy and decided to really enjoy the last three miles. 

There were MANY more fans at this point, as well as a gazillion race photographers (I swear, almost every 20 feet there was a camera man. I almost ran out of smiles)!

I remember passing the mile 25 flag and thinking to myself that I was about to finish a marathon and honestly couldn't believe I had just run THAT far. It's pretty amazing what your body can do when the mind is on board as well. After a few more turns I entered a neighborhood and saw the mile 26 sign. The volunteer on the corner yelled "it's just around the corner" and I knew he wasn't lying (as fans usually are).  I began to sprint and was able to pass a few more people (like that guy in the green) on my way through. 

Official finish time: 4:07:07 (3+ minute PR!)

^^sooooo far.

And here are a bunch of post-race celebratory pictures!

^^post nap and shower dinner in Calistoga, CA.

^^Vern the campground host and I enjoying a glass of wine and medal wearing party!

^^A big, BIG thank you to all my wonderful aunts and uncles who housed me, fed me and cheered me on in Napa!!!! I couldn't have done it without them and am so happy to have such a supportive family!

All around this was a great race experience. It was well organized, beautiful and I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about signing up for next year's race!

And lastly, here are my splits:

Avg Pace
3 (bathroom break!)11:19.21.0011:19
*the time reads a little under since I forgot to start my watch until a couple yards after the start! Oops!


  1. Thanks for the runner's report and great pics of SF and Napa. Glad you had a great trip.

  2. Great job Jamie! I'm so glad you had such a wonderful time! Woot is right!