Saturday, April 17, 2010

Napa Valley Marathon - 3/7/10

I trained for 4 months for this race. It was going to be my first marathon. I'd planned to run the San Francisco Marathon in 2009, however a soccer injury 2/3rds of the way through my training prevented me from running it. However, when it came to deciding whether or not to play in my first soccer game of the season the day before the race, it was still a tough decision. Thankfully my sensible side won out and I opted not to risk injury or the sore muscles. If anything were to happen, I would never have forgiven myself, so instead I cheered my team on from the sidelines that Saturday.

Soon after the game, I packed up everything I knew I would need for the race and more. Running clothes. check. Running shoes. check. GPS watch. check. Lots of GU. check. Wristband. check. Body Glide. check. Confident I had everything I needed to run 26.2 miles, Julienne and I set off for Napa. On the way, we made a quick stop at Whole Foods to grab something to eat. Knowing I needed to start loading up on carbs, I put together a dream meal that I knew I would never be able to get away with under any other circumstances. Mashed potatoes and Mac and Cheese. Pure heaven.

We arrived just in time to catch the end of the expo. I did a quick look around, bought a few shirts, and picked up my bib and race goodies. I see now why their race swag has received so much praise. An ASICS long sleeve tech shirt, and a really nice Napa Valley marathon runners bag that was filled with samples galore. I began realizing just how much pain I was going to be in if and when I finished this race when I started wading through the samples and noticed the majority of them had to do with muscle recovery and pain relievers.

After a quick pasta dinner from Firewood Cafe, I laid everything out that I needed, and then it was to bed early for me for an early 4:30am wake up time. I surprisingly slept pretty well that night considering the torture I knew I was about to put myself through. I woke up at 4:30am, ate a granola bar, drank a bunch of water, applied the chip timer to my shoe, covered myself in body glide, got some last minute words of encouragement which I desperately needed at the time, and headed off.

As I walked down the hall of the Marriott in Napa, which was the host hotel, I met a women who asked me if I was nervous. I told her that didn't even begin to describe what I was feeling. She responded that it was her 52nd marathon and she still gets nervous before every one. Oddly, that calmed my nerves a bit. If this lady can run 52 of them, I can surely run one, right?

I boarded the bus that was shuttling us all to the start in Calistoga. It was pitch black outside. People were drinking coffee which I thought was a bit bizarre. I could barely stomach anything let alone coffee. There was one point when we were driving that it dawned on me, we'd been on the bus for at least 35 minutes, we still weren't at the start, and I had to run all the way back. That kicked my heart rate up a few notches. We finally arrived and there was at least 30 minutes before the start of the race. I stayed on the bus for a bit to stay warm talking to a man from New York. He'd run the NY marathon 3 times, and was going to be doing some business in Southern California so decided to come a bit early and run this race. I said my good-bye to him and headed to the starting area.

I was lucky and was one of the first people to find the porta potties so didn't have to wait in a long line. When I was done I stood off to the side doing some light stretching. I've never been a big stretcher, but felt if there was ever a time to do it, it was now. I was watching all the people around me nervously standing around waiting for the start. Everyone looked like runners with their fancy GPS watches, running visors, hydration belts, compression sleeves, and previous race t-shirts. Some people wore garbage bags with a whole cut out for their heads to stay warm. I dropped my runners bag off at gear check and gathered in front of the start, cold and anxious.

After the national anthem and a few words from CBS weather anchor Roberta Gonzales, my long anticipated journey began and all 1,750 of us set off. From the moment I ran my first half marathon 3 years prior, I knew that one day I would want to try the full. Now I was ready. I did everything I was supposed to do. I would finish this race. I tried to set some tiered goals for myself. My first and only real objective was to finish. The second was to not walk, and the third was to finish in under 4:15.

I fell into a pretty fast pace to start, but I was feeling really good, so I stuck with it. At mile 6 there was a house tucked back in the hills that was blasting Eye of the Tiger over the speakers. As that song always does, it really got me going. I met a women shortly after who taught me a game to play that would keep my mind busy. Work your way through the alphabet finding a word that starts and ends with that letter. I gave it a try. abracadabra, boob, cryptic, dreaded. I think it was at "e" that I decided to abandon the game.

Running down the Silverado Trail, I came upon mile 13 and I knew I was going to be in serious trouble. I'd just finished the first half in about 2 hours, my typical half marathon pace. There was no way I was going to be able to sustain that pace for another 13 miles. I remember thinking at mile 11 that I was going to kill this, that if I could only keep up this pace, I'd come in at a sub-4:00 marathon. I've never been so wrong in my life. By mile 15 my pace dropped to at least a minute a mile slower, and it was only going down. From there until mile 19, I really struggled. I missed the first GU stop on accident and was really low on energy. Over the next few aid stations, I loaded up on oranges. Not only did it help, but it gave me something to do. I kept getting the pulp stuck between my teeth, so I kept myself busy trying to dislodge them.

Finally mile 20 hit. While this is when most people hit the dreaded wall, I'd already hit mine, and now was just thrilled to hit this landmark. Only a 10K left. That's nothing, I've done it a million times. I took in the incredible scenery, the vineyards were beautiful and the weather couldn't have been better with blue skies and a slight breeze. This temporarily helped, but my
legs were burning. They didn't want to go anymore. I was not thrilled, but I had to give them quick walking breaks. Every once in awhile I would allow myself to walk .07 miles to rest them. It actually helped and allowed me to keep going.

I want to say it was at mile 22 or 24 when they had a small band playing and were handing out raspberry sorbet shots. That was quite a treat that I greedily took. It was around that time when I met up with a man who was playing on repeat "I Gotta a Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas on speaker from his music player around his arm. I stuck close by him for as long as I could singing it in my head since mp3 players weren't allowed on the course.

Mile 26, finally. I was almost there. We entered into a residential neighborhood, and the spectators were definitely out as we headed towards the finish at Vintage High School. As you passed them, you knew they were cheering for you since the runners were so sparsely spread out. People were yelling that the finish was right around the corner. As is customary with how I end my races, I broke out in a sprint to the finish. Tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn't believe I was finally at the finish. As it turns out, I wasn't as close as I thought, and now I was in a sprint that I knew I couldn't maintain. I slowed the pace down a bit, and crossed the finish line with possibly the biggest smile that has ever crossed my face. My GPS watch clock time was 4:35:38, and my official chip time was 4:36:35. I finished in the top 59% of my age group. Not great, but I'd just finished my first marathon.

After walking around for awhile, I found Julienne. I gave her maybe the sweatiest hug she's ever received. I was incredibly thankful I had her to share the moment with. I couldn't have been happier. After getting my belongings from sweat check and eating some soup, we headed back to the hotel. Luckily she drove, since at that point I could barely walk.

After a shower, answering some congratulatory texts, and making some necessary phone calls, it was time to eat. We headed to Downtown Joe's. The place was packed with marathon finishers and I felt right at home. We ordered a pitcher and met a man who was here to support his wife and friends who flew in to run the race. He was killing time while they all showered. A few beers in and we found ourselves eating and chatting with them all about there experiences. Two of them were 50-staters and this was their California race. I had a good time swapping running stories with them and getting their input on what their favorite marathons were to run. Apparently the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon is a must do.

After consuming a sufficient amount of food and beer, it was time for a nap, followed by more food, and then back to bed early. I was beat. Woke up early and we headed back to the city. I was sore, but nothing that I hadn't felt before. A free massage at work the next day did wonders to help my aching muscles.

Overall, I had a great experience. While I did have to walk for maybe a total of .70 miles, between walking through the aid stations, and the short walking breaks I gave myself, and the fact that I didn't finish in under 4:15, I accomplished my only real objective of finishing a marathon. I couldn't have been prouder. I remember being a little girl and cheering on my parents and aunt as they ran marathons, but I had no grasp of what they were actually accomplishing. Now I do.

I've heard a lot of people say that when they finish running their first marathon, that they can't imagine and don't want to even thinking about running another. Even at mile 23, I knew I would do another one, and soon. I made so many rookie mistakes, namely starting out entirely too fast. I know I have so much room for improvement and I can only get better at this. Next up: Coeur d'Alene Marathon over Memorial Day.

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