flickr photo by ah zut
Yesterday’s running of the 31st Napa Valley Marathon was a lovely, rain-soaked event I thoroughly enjoyed.
If you’ve ever considered running this race, but have never gotten around to it, I encourage you to sign up for the 2010 edition. Since the field is limited to 2,300 runners, the NVM remains a small town event with an intimate feel. I found the race well organized, the volunteers helpful, cheerful, and spirited, and the scenery on the race course just beautiful. Round out your race weekend with a little wine tasting, fine dining, or just poking around the small towns strung along Highway 29, and you’ve got an unforgettable weekend.
The NVM is a point to point course, so those of us staying in Napa boarded buses at Vintage High School for the long ride up to the starting area in Calistoga. I ate a little breakfast on the bus and chatted with a couple of my seat mates as we rode through the early morning darkness. Seeing the windshield wipers going I knew it was still raining steadily, but it was so dark outside of the windows of the bus, I couldn’t get a sense of the landscape as it rolled by. When we got to Calistoga, and I stepped off of the bus, I got my first taste of the scenery which makes this race so special. The sun was just starting to illuminate the rain clouds which would accompany us throughout the race. Fog and mist obscured the low mountains surrounding the town, and rows and rows of grapevines bordering the road marched into the distance. Among all of this natural beauty runners were starting to gather near the start, while others checked their bags, or jogged down the course a bit to warm up. Gradually, it grew lighter, we were all led in a rousing chorus of the National Anthem (difficult to sing in the morning), and then we were off.
Now, I’m not going to go into a mile-by-mile account of my experience with the NVM. Besides the running, the hydrating, and the occasional GU, not a lot happened to me out on the course. But in the few days leading up to the marathon, since I felt strong and perhaps over-confident after all of my training, I got it into my head I could possibly use this race to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Combine my training experience with the overall downhill elevation profile for the course, and I thought I had a decent shot. To do this I would have to shave 15 minutes off of my previous and only marathon finish and come in at 3:20, a 7:38 pace. A tall order, but, when I checked my watch at Mile 5, I was on a 7:30 pace; I felt good and didn’t feel like I was pushing too hard. If I could keep this up for another 21.2 miles, I might make Boston.
That didn’t happen, however. Instead, this is what happened to my average pace as I passed through Mile 10:
Mile 10. 7:35
Little did I know, but by Mile 14 I was already losing too much time to comfortably make up. Without a wristband with 7:38 splits listed on it, I didn’t realize I was falling too far off of the pace, even though I kept pushing to maintain it and duck back under it. As a result, these were my splits:
The more I pressed, with a few off-pace exceptions, the slower I got until the disastrous Miles 24 and 25. By then the steady rain and, more importantly, lack of proper hydration, caused my legs to cramp so much I ended up walking for two short stretches. I had let the idea of running to Boston cloud my mind, and I ended up not running my race. My original goal for Napa was just to PR, which I did at 3:27:30, but, even with the beautiful vineyards framing the course and my own cheering section of friends and family at the finish, there was a little cloud hanging over my experience, and I didn’t cross the finish line hungry to run another race.
With a day to look at my race data more closely, however, I feel much better about what I did. In only my second marathon I shaved about 8 minutes off of my previous PR, and I did it in spite of rainy, wet, perfectly aquatic conditions. Before the race I got to chat with two new friends Julianne (@bicoastalite) and Michael (@bowerm), and my spirits were uplifted at the finish line when I saw Trish, Bill, Marianne, Tess, Gracie, and my mom cheering me and the other runners on. Now I know the course, and I know I need to stick to a better hydration and nutrition plan when I run it and other races. So you can bet I’ll be out there next year sightseeing in a way only runners can.