Monday, March 02, 2009

Running the Napa Valley Marathon

Hello friends and relatives,

Many of you know I was running the Napa Valley Marathon on Sunday, March 2, here is my full story:

A lot of thought goes into trying to decided what pace to set for a marathon. One of the attractions of the marathon for me is that, unlike short distances, you can't bull your way through 26.2 miles with hubris.

If you want to run it, you have to have the training under your belt and you have to be smart...even the experts that have run 50-100 marathons say you never know what will happen after mile 20...that's where you need the hubris too!

So, as a beginner it's all especially problematic.

I'd had a few fantasies of faster paces during training, but when I saw the weather forecast (wind, rain) I was very "concerned" (i.e. read "scared";). I've never run in a hard rain. I have run in headwinds and they can be killer. Gulp.

My favorite running author (Hal Higdon) says forget the hubris and equations and what you "think" you can do...he recommends that if you never run a marathon (in my case not in a long long time) you should target 5 x your 10k race time as a good time to shoot for.

For me this is about 10:00 min/mile (or a 4:22 marathon). It's normally a very easy pace for me on long runs so I hoped that should give me enough extra oomph to see me through at the end.

I didn't sleep more than a few hours the night before. I heard the #$%@&! rain start at around midnight and every time it came down hard I woke up and sighed. I kept listening for the wind.

I awoke to that stupid pissing rain (the entire way as it turned out), and a light headwind of about 5mph (on the nose 2/3 of the distance). "Hey, could be much worse", I said to myself.

When I walked to the 7am start at around 6:30 (dawn-ish) I could feel that I was excited and I could see it too: my heart-rate monitor said around 105 (when it would normally be around 75) due to the adrenaline! At 7am we sang the national anthem and off we went!

The adrenaline rush died out by around the 4th mile and I found my groove and just ran the ~10:00 min/mile pace (with hill variations of course).

Passing through the vineyards, with horses neighing and roosters crowing and heavy lines of fog/mist along the hills was a real pleasure. The ups and downs of the hills were gentle (but noticeable). It was a really nice run, even with the rain. It was fun to see all the different people, each with their individual styles of tackling the course. During this time I was passed by a lot of people.

This marathon is not a good marathon for's an picture-postcard beautiful course down the Silverado trail in the Napa valley. You start in Callistoga and end at the Napa "Vintage" High school ("Home of the Crushers").

But, you can only watch the runners at a handful of cross streets that meet up with the Silverado trail. I told Toni to forget all the early spots... [ you don't need any cheering on then anyway] ..try to meet me at one of the second half spots.

The first half of a marathon is the easy're really just getting ready for the 'interesting part'. You feel really good and the temptation is to go fast, but everybody that's experienced tells you, in no uncertain terms, 'DON'T do it...don't go out too fast...'.

Every couple of miles there would be a clump of hardy spectators cheering us on....I got so I really liked having all the cowbells and clamor after the solitude of the open stretches. Also every two miles we had aid stations with a dozen or so wonderful volunteers out in the rain serving up water or gatorade (and after mile 17, orange slices!) I walked and chugged as much water as I could at every station.

Coming up at mile 16, saw the next clump, and quickly picked out Toni leaning out over the road (w/umbrella) and waving! It was a lift! She could see me 'cause I was wearing my favorite bright yellow shirt. I told her all was well so far, and high-fived her and kept on running...then she took off for the finish area. (Which I wouldn't be at for another hour and a half-ish).

After the last real hill at mile 19-20, I bombed down the backside onto the napa city area proper and by about mile 23 I realized I was probably going to make it! I didn't feel a big "wall" as my legs starting having to burn fat directly, just a little more discomfort (same as in my training runs).

So I kicked it in a bit faster (you can see that on the graph..pace goes down , heart rate goes up).

I passed many people walking or walk/running in the last 6 miles that had not been able to hold their pace or had muscle cramps of some kind and was grateful to not have any problems!

When a young strapping guy (you are trying to keep up with) moves to the roadside and starts _walking_ it's both a boost ("hey, _I'm_ still going!") and a _scare_ ("uh oh, am I going to have a problem too, should I go slower??").

finished 1019 out of 1864 finishers (2300 registrants)
finished 77 / 122 in the M50-54 age group

4:25 (hr:min) which is a 10:08 min/mile pace

[The marathons I ran at age ~24 were much slower therefore this was a
so-called "PR"]

[Yes, I'm a nerd:...enclosed is a graph (from my gps watch) of pace (in blue, minutes per mile, lower numbers are faster) and heart rate (beats per minute in red) vs miles.]

The finish area was not very fun for Toni..they don't seem to make it easy for the spectators there either. She managed to get a photo of me but it was hard with the chain link fence in the way!

But for the runners it was pretty posh... warm showers in the high school gym, hot soup + rolls and free massages for the runners! The 1st place man and women got their weight in wine as the prize!

After the race we zipped up to Yountville and had a AMAZING lunch at Bottega that Toni reserved the previous day (when we couldn't get in for dinner). Wow. I was hungry and the food was great is that? Nothing like eating good food after burning about 3500 cals in one go!

Needless to say I was really happy with how it all came off. It was a very intense day and I have a lot of good memories (and sore quads today!) from it. I'm already planning the next one....8)

Thanks to all of you for exhibiting interest in my endeavor (and listening to my boring endless running discussions during training ) Your interest helped motivate me during the race!