Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Race Report: Napa Valley Marathon

Hey readers, guess what you have today? A choice… That’s right, you can choose door number 1: the short version of my Napa recap or… door number 2: every minute detail. Because I care.

Short version, a la my post race Facebook update:
"#5 is in the books, with a 10-minute PB on a gorgeous California day. Bring on the wine."
Long version… you might want to get a cold bevvy and a snack.

First things first: this race is so well organized. It’s clear that the Napa Valley Marathon folks love their racers and they take good care of them. While waiting for our flight to California, I was cruising the NVM Facebook page and watched a segment race organizers did for one of the CA local news shows. In the interview, they claimed their volunteer to racer ratio is 2:1. You know what? It showed! Every finisher has a “handler” just like at an Ironman race, to “catch” you (perhaps literally), suss out your medical needs, and walk you through the finish line gauntlet: medal, water, race photos. The pre-race Expo was small but very well done, and with free wine tastings! When I checked in at the Expo, I asked about the pasta options at dinner. I had purchased a ticket but was wondering whether anything would be vegan friendly. One of the volunteers disappeared to check and returned saying not to worry, just to announce myself at dinner, and they’d make me something special. And they did, asking what I wanted, and serving me a special pasta meal at my table. And although it was some 6 hours since I’d seen her earlier in the day, the volunteer from that morning was still “working”, and tracked me down at dinner to make sure I’d been looked after. Nice!

The food was delicious and they also offered unlimited beer & wine! Not something the serious racers wanted to over-indulge in but a nice treat for our long-suffering partners! It was also cool to be enjoying a meal with Bill Rodgers at the table to my right, and Dick Beardsley and JoeHenderson at the table directly across from me.

If I had the race to do over, I would probably stay in Calistoga instead of Napa. This beautiful point-to-point starts in Calistoga at 7 a.m. and runs you back to Napa. A convoy of buses leaves Vintage High School in Napa to transport runners to the start line… and they leave at 5:15 sharp. That’s a very early start to the day… a 3:45 alarm for me, reminiscent of Challenge! Fortunately, they let you remain on the buses until very close to the start – or until you need to join the porta-potty lines – which is a blessing because it’s COLD there in the morning… 1 degree Celsius race morning… but near 19 degrees by the time I finished. Yes, bring layers! Here I am (minus the long-sleeve throwaway I started the day in), ready to test drive the top from my A-race (IMCSmashfest Queen kit  in my B-race. And glad I did because the race photos clearly highlight, I’ve got some fit issues to sort out!

There is not much crowd support owing to the fact that there's very little access (with parking) to the junctions along the Silverado trail. However on the upside, where the junctions do allow parking, you've got spectators as thick and vocal and encouraging as at the finish line. It’s a great boost. Here I am running a vanity fartlek with a fellow runner through one of these junctions. 1202's motivation was a giant bag of peanut M&Ms. I know this because whenever her family were on the side of the road, they waved it at her and she got a little surge of energy... I dropped her somewhere later in the course so M&Ms will clearly only get you so far.

The course itself is beautiful. It’s a net downhill course but definitely not a flat course. Rolling terrain with most of the challenge in the first third of the course, despite all the chatter you’ll hear about “the mile 20 hill”. I’d read race reports before heading down where people universally grumbled about the hill at mile 20. It was mentioned more than once by the speakers at the pre-race dinner. And during the race itself, as we approached the 19-mile marker, a racer with a little sign on his back announcing this was his 11th NVM, was holding court with fellow runners, telling them how the hill began at this mile marker and didn’t relent and was the worst part of the course. I was aware we were running on an incline, but kept waiting to reach this mythical hill when a spectator clapped and commended us for conquering “the hill”. Whaaaat? These people do not know hills. LOL. I’d expected to finish the race never wanting to drink Stag’s Leap wines after enduring the hill but… Cheers!

Homemade sorbet is offered at the 23-mile mark. I’d read about this in race reports from previous years… and the runners around me who indulged were confirming those favourable reports: amazing! I didn’t take any because I was trying – and failing – to snag a 4:10 finish. Yeah, so what happened there? Well, honestly in a rare moment of patting myself on the back, I will say: I executed this perfectly. I need a 5:55/km pace to get that 4:10 and that’s exactly what I ran. Coach told me to use the first couple of kms to warm up, and just ensure I got them covered in 14 minutes. Check. Then to hold a 5:50 pace until the half, then to settle in at 5:55. Check.  I was working on being incredibly disciplined and not trying to match the pace of people who I was chatting with if it seemed they were running faster (or slower) and not falling in to the temptation to pick up the pace if someone passed me who I thought looked like they should run slower than me. I hit the half mark at 2:05 according to my Garmin… "Now just do that again." I told myself. Coach said to hold steady at 5:55 until I hit the 32 km mark and then if I felt I could go harder, to go harder. Well I didn’t feel I could at that point, so I just held to 5:55. At least I did that until the last km or so when I realized I didn’t yet have the finish line in sight, but 4:10 was looming. So what happened? I ran long. About 400m long actually… Some guy in a lawn chair at the end of his driveway called encouragingly “just another ¼ of a mile”… I looked at my Garmin and thought “Noooooo. My Garmin says I’m done. I don’t have another lap of the track in me!!!” I attribute the extra distance to poorly cut corners and a tendency to move to the left side of the road when the camber was particularly bad. The road camber along Silverado is the only negative part of this course in my mind; it’s practically banked in some sections! But at the end of the day, it’s still a beautiful, well organized race that I’m glad I ran.

Official time: 4:11:48. A 10-minute PB over Whidbey last year. And Strava tells me that at the 42.2 km mark, I was at 4:09:24 so [unofficially] I guess my met my goal… But still… just like all those failed sub-2 half attempts, it comes down to asking “Could I have run every km just 2 seconds faster?” Because if I had, I’d have that 4:10, extra mileage or not!

NVM is definitely good value, and a race worth running. This beautiful course, wonderful volunteers, and your registration fee gets you a sports bag, a long-sleeve tech shirt, finisher’s medal, and a bag full of goodies & coupons you can use if you’re making a vacation of it (and you should!).

Post-race, we enjoyed truffle popcorn and champagne at Carpe Diem at Oxbow Public Market. And the day after, we checked out of our Napa digs and headed up to Calistoga for a couple of days of winery tours and tastings, mud baths and massages, and a teeny-tiny recovery ride. J Sorry Coach, I couldn’t resist!

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