There are probably many reasons to run the Napa Valley Marathon, but two especially stand out to me. One: The weather. Sundress and flip flops the first week of March are highly appreciated. Second: The wine. It’s everywhere.
I picked up my bib number at the Marriott on Saturday and walked into the expansive courtyard to enjoy the sunshine when I spotted the wine tasting area. Shouldn’t all races have wine tasting at registration? It wasn’t until I was sitting on a sofa with a glass of Clos Du Val Cabernet in my hand, face tilted up toward the sun, soaking up rays on my shoulders, that I remembered I’d given up alcohol for lent. Aw crap!
I immediately decided this minor transgression didn’t count because,
A) I had actually forgotten, so it was completely innocent. (Besides, it was just a taste!) And
B)I’m pretty sure it’s a sin to go to Napa without drinking wine.
My conscience safely cleared, I thoroughly enjoyed the weather, the wine, and chatting with the other runners relaxing in the courtyard with me.
The idea of actually running the race was less appealing, and this idea occurred to me Saturday night when I crashed at a hotel in Fairfield and wondered what the hell I was doing there. The Napa Valley Marathon was to be my first “real” race of the season. If you read my season preview, you know I’d originally had high hopes for this race. (I was thinking 3:15, which would have been an 11-minute PR.) You’ll also recall that my health, and as a result, my training, fell apart in February. I now had fairly dismal expectations for Napa.
The icing on the pity party cake came when I started my period. It brought with it painful cramping, an aching back, and a flood of negative thoughts. Thoughts like What the hell is the point of a road marathon anyway if you can’t even run fast? And I won’t bother with my camera because I don’t even want to write a race report about this dumb race. Also, How am I going to make it 4 hours without changing my f**king tampon? And with that brilliant mindset, I set the alarm for 4:00 A.M. and went to bed.
I knew things would all be fine once I started running. Running fixes nearly every bad mood. I only wished I had a clue how to pace myself. Two weeks earlier, near the end of my illness, I’d run a 5K in 23:00 and it had hurt. That kind of pace should not hurt for 3 miles, so I was a little worried. I wasn’t sick anymore, but I knew the illness had taken a toll. I promised myself I wouldn’t run faster than 8:00 pace for the first ten miles.
So of course I went out at 7:40 pace.
I wasn’t sure if I was being stupid, but it felt pretty decent. We ran through mist covered vineyards as the sun rose gently, and although there were a couple of small rollers, the terrain was basically flat. I smiled at a few familiar faces and gloried in the freedom of running in just shorts and a tank top.
I hit the half marathon in exactly 1:40. I briefly wondered if I had it in me to run even splits. I would be extremely happy with 3:20. That seemed ridiculous though. Merely a dream.
The advantage of being an ultrarunner in a marathon is that you nearly always feel like you don’t have far to go. With only 13 miles left, I decided it was time to pick up the pace. The average pace on my Garmin said 7:39. I wasn’t tracking splits, but I did work on making that “average pace” number gradually shrink.
The miles seemed to fly by. Every time I came to another mile marker I’d think, Really? Already? They were just coming so fast.
Now I was steadily passing people who’d passed me in the first five miles. By the time I hit mile 19, I’d dropped my average pace to 7:30. This was good, I knew, and I smiled. I wanted to shrink that number even more.
By mile 21 though, I was still holding 7:30, and I could see I would have to fight for it. By mile 22 I started doing the math on the last 4 miles at 8:00 pace. I was getting tight, and with tightness comes worry.
A wonderful thing happened then. A woman passed me who was running strong, and I tucked in behind her. I held on for dear life. We ran the next mile in 7:15 and it killed me to stay with her. She was one of those tough-cheerleader types, which was exactly what I needed right then. I knew I had a chance at going under 3:20, and I wanted it, I really did. I also hurt like hell and wanted to stop.
Cheerleader woman was awesome and kept encouraging me to stay strong. I love it when people work together like that and help each other at the end of a race. It’s just so cool.
I worked desperately to stay with her for another half mile, knowing once I let her go that I could fade badly. She moved ahead, but miraculously, I never fully lost sight of her. My form fell apart and I felt like I was running nine or ten minute pace, but my average pace only dropped to 7:31.
It was one of those big smile finishes – the kind where you are so stoked you just start laughing. That was me, grinning and laughing and falling across the line in 3:19:08.
I could not have asked for anything more from this race. I can’t figure out how I pulled off a 7-minute PR with such a disastrous February behind me. Truthfully though, I don’t really care. I’m sore as can be and completely stoked. Racing season has begun!