Saturday, March 08, 2014

Napa Valley Marathon - A new PR!

I did it!  After 3+ years of talking about it, I finally ran another marathon and met my goal of a sub 4:30.  In fact I killed my goal and ran a 4:12, which I didn't think I was capable of.  I love when I surprise myself.  I thought a sub 4:30 was possible and maybe a little better but not a 26 min PR - 1 min for every mile ran.  The race itself is already a blur and I am having a hard time believing it happened.  This post race loss of memory only seems to happen when I run a really good race.  If I have a bad race, I can recall each disappointing mile in detail.

Here's what I do remember.  It was hard, I had really sore/tight muscles after mile 7ish, it rained (which is why I have NO photos), the last 8 miles were tough, I need a better sports bra (race pics confirmed this), it went by really fast, it was a beautiful course and I made a lot of mental deals with myself (i.e. run to the next milepost and you can walk for 30 sec) to get to the finish in under 4:15.

After walking over 5 miles on Saturday (don't ask) I started to question if I really could run a 4:30.  My muscles were sore and tight from the sports massage and the stupidly long walk. As I was packing, I opened a new box of my favorite Salted Carmel Gu and found the Golden Yeti (which means I won a free 24 back of more SC Gu + a chance to win a weekend trip to San Francisco, oh wait...).

Salty for the win.
We finally got out to Napa around 6:00pm on Saturday night, the expo was over but packet pickup was still open. This is where finally started to get excited for the race and mentally engage. I got checked in and then they handed me my gear bag.  Woah, woah, woah....what is this?  Apparently I had missed all the hype about how great the swag bags were.  To be clear the swag was nice, your normal samples, chips, bars etc... but the actual bag was what had me questioning if there was a mistake.

It's the little things.
Not too shabby for a gear bag.
After check-in we headed back to Sonoma for the night where a comedy of errors took place which included jumping my car 3 seperate times, getting stuck out in the rain and ending up at a restaurant with no real "carbs" on the menu besides beer.  I ended up with a quinoa salad and a fish taco. After 4 days of no booze I gave in and had half a beer on race eve.  Before you say a word, it was Pliny The Elder ON TAP, exceptions had to be made.  For you non-beer drinkers, this is like stumbling across a race entry to Boston.

On race day, I woke up at 3:45am and began the ritual.  Coffee, bagel, Justins, Nuun, Bodyglide, triple check everything and out the door.  After a 20 min drive to Napa, I parked at the high school no problem, grabbed my bag and headed over to the shuttles.  In this race everyone takes buses up to Calistoga since there is no parking.  I grabbed a seat next to a guy from Monterey who had turned 60 the day before and to celebrate he was running his first marathon in hopes of qualifying for Boston where he was originally from.  I love this sport!

After a 30 min drive or so 25+ school buses rolled up in the middle of surrounding vineyards.  It was just about this point when I realized just how well organized this race was.  A volunteer got on the bus and said portas are this way (and there was no line) and that the buses would all be staying until the 7AM race start so were welcome to stretch, hang out and stay warm until minutes before.  I ate two fruit leathers, finished my nuun and stretched out.  As I am writing this I am realizing just how much fiber I ate in that 24 hours pre-race.  Probably a good reason my stomach did not feel great after the race.  Noted.

At 6:55 I checked my bag and lined up and right on time we were off.  As soon as I crossed the start line I told myself to slow down.  My biggest fear was going out too fast.  I tried to just shuffle along with the pack and take it easy.  This course was perfect since the first 7 miles are rollers so it just kept me going a good steady pace.  I told myself to get to 7 and then I could pick it up.  Obviously I ran miles 4 and 5 faster than I intended but still felt good about containing my pace.

Mile 1- 9:48
Miel 2- 9:30
Mile 3- 9:18
Mile 4- 8:53
Mile 5- 8:54
Mile 6- 9:08
Mile 7- 9:28

I was told at 7 that the majority of the hills would be over so that was where my speed up plan would go into action.  At this point two things happened.  It started raining misting and I realized just how sore my muscles were already.  Every step was a reminder of the tightness; I felt strong but like I could be snapped in half.  I questioned if I could keep it up so I made a deal with myself.  Just get to 20 and then we'll see what's what.  Don't walk or slow down.  You did 20 twice in training; you can do it now.

Mile 8- 8:46
Mile 9- 8:55
Mile 10- 9:04
Mile 11- 9:04
Mile 12- 9:05
Mile 13- 9:11
Mile 14- 9:11
Mile 15- 9:11
Mile 16- 9:28
Mile 17- 9:21
Mile 18- 9:01

At 18.5 or so I saw MFR and stopped to say hi eat a handful of chocolate covered pretzels.  I started up again and saw a hill straight ahead.  I still had 20 in my head but that was the first official time I walked (besides aid stations).  It was maybe only 30 seconds but it set the tone for the next few miles and they were rough.  Mentally 19-23 were the worst miles.  I was still checked in but I was wet, chaffing and knew I was slowing way down.  Once I got to 20 I took another walk break and started to do the math. I figured even if I walked the last 10K I'd break 4:30. I knew a sub 4:15 was possible but I didn't let myself think about it I hit 23.  It's amazing what gets you through at this point.  I'd tell myself to run to "that tree" and then walk or run 1.5 miles  and regardless of the target I could usually do it.

Mile 19- 9:53
Mile 20- 9:37
Mile 21- 11:29
Mile 22- 10:35
Mile 23- 10:35

At mile 23 ish a group of locals were handing out little cups of homemade sorbet.  I took 3. Even though it was raining and cold, those flavored icy treats were the best things I had ever tasted.  I looked at my watch one last time at 23 and knew I could potentially get sub 4:15.  I was already celebrating that I would accomplish my goal.  Obviously being close to the finish pumped me up.  Once I slow down I have a very hard time ever getting my pace back up.  Looking at my splits, I am more proud of miles 25 & 26 then any others.  I sprinted through the finish with my hands over my head, feeling like i left it all out there.

Mile 24- 11:23
Mile 25- 9:54
Mile 26- 9:59
.4 - 3:50

I once again ran a positive split which is not ideal but knowing how hard the last 10K of a marathon is, I feel like I ran the best I could.  There is definite room for improvement but for now I'am just going to bask in the glow of my 4:12.
What it looked like when others crossed the finish line:)
Race Review: I can't say enough good things about this race.  It should be on every runners race bucket list.  The scenery can not be beat; rolling hills, surrounded by vineyards and oak trees the entire time.  For anyone who has done Hood To Coast, a lot of the course reminded of being out past Mist on the narrow coastal highway.  For a lot of the time we were running single file which also felt like HTC.

The organization was the best I've seen and I really enjoyed the small 2700 person field.  Aid stations were every two miles and had gatorade and water at each.  They had actual catchers (a la Ironman) at the finish line to take care of each runner individually as they crossed.  I had the nicest man congratulate me, get me a heat sheet, a water and medal and verify I didn't need medical before he want on to the next person.  The only downside was not being able to use headphones - though I didn't even notice and the course is not very spectator friendly.  The Silverado trail is closed to traffic and there are not a lot of access points but it made the areas that did have crossroads fun to run through because hundreds of spectators would be gathered there cheering, it gave you little bursts of energy.

If you're even kind of considering this race, just do it!  I promise you won't be sorry.  This is hands down my favorite marathon I've ever seen or participated in.  I love that it's just a marathon too, no half option.  Through May 31st, it's only $100 to register  (includes your shuttle to Calistoga)  which these days is unheard of.  Especially considering the sweet race bag.  I believe it sold out around October last year.  Mark your calendars, race day is March 1st, 2015.  Most likely I'll see you there.

Another one for the collection


  1. Kara, how exciting. I can't wait to do the Zooma Half with you and the fellow ambassadors in Napa this June. We do live in an amazing area, beauty is all around us. What a great run

  2. Great recap!! Way to pick the pace back up your last couple miles and finish strong. Ryan struggled a bit in miles 22-24...he said there was a long hill there that he didn't expect to feel so difficult. Congrats on the huge PR!

  3. I am so excited for you!! What a race!! What a PR!! Remember when you were going to pace me for a 2hr half...I think I need a pacer for a 4:30 full instead! What do you think?!! :) Congrats friend!! Awesome bag and medal too!!

  4. Congrats on a great race!!! Can't imagine a more amazing place to run a PR. Excited for you!