The Napa Valley Marathon.
To some it’s a race. To others it’s training. To an ambitious couple from Sacramento, it was a bit of unfinished business.
You see, back in late 2009 the Mrs. and I began running and set our sights on the Napa Valley Marathon as our first marathon. In typical newbie style, we raged into training with little knowledge and less wisdom, letting our determination push forward until the injury gremlins attacked! Needless to say, a Napa Valley finish was not in the cards. In retrospect it was an important lesson for both of us, and has taught us how to train aggressively while staying relatively intact. We’ve done several races since, from 5K to 50M, but returning to Napa for a finish has always been on the to-do list.
My wife and I headed to Napa on Saturday to peruse the expo and attend a presentation about the legendary Boston Duel in the Sun between Dick Beardsley and Alberto Salazar. Not only did we get a dose of great storytelling, but we scored some great loot from the vendors selling their wares. And after a short stopoff at the hotel, we returned for the official pasta feed! I had no idea how much history was behind this race, but we heard several speakers while enjoying some very tasty vittles and I can’t quite express how much of a small town family vibe I got that evening.
4:00 came very early race morning, but my eyes sprung open and my heart skipped a beat. Race morning buzz. The feeling only increased in the next three hours, slowly building into a nervous excitement which vanished as soon as I crossed the starting line. Time to run, time to enjoy this.
The first five miles flew by in a rush of crowd weaving and getting my bearings. It wasn’t a gigantic race, but there were enough runners to make for a reasonably crowded start. It quickly thinned out a bit and a remained pretty comfortable for the rest of the race. Although finishing this race was a short term goal, it was really sort of a training run for an upcoming ultra in April. This meant that the pressure was off for a time and I could just enjoy the run and the course.
By mile 13 I began to feel a bit of soreness in my left leg and chalked it up to the unevenness of the road. The race is run on the Silverado Trail, and the old road is highly cambered to facilitate rain runoff and keep the road clear. Lately I’ve become used to trail running and all of the jumping around one needs to do on varied surfaces, so the repetitive motion of a long road race also began to take a toll on my wimpy legs. By mile 15, Laura and I decided to start throwing in walk breaks, still keeping a 15:00 pace or better while walking. It allowed us to really soak up the scenery, and boy was it fantastic!
The Napa Valley Marathon basically runs through endless vineyards and wineries between Calistoga and Napa, and the weather was absolutely perfect for appreciating it. From the sun burning off misty morning fog to passing wine-tour quad-bikes, not a moment passed without something to see. A little bonus was running right past grand archways and driveways of wineries with deliciously familiar names.
As the final miles counted down, I noticed two things. One, I didn’t notice any kind of “wall”. Aside from the weather getting hotter, I still felt pretty fresh overall. Actually, I was getting hungry. Two, I like dirt. In a few spots, I hopped onto a narrow loose dirt strip on the side of the road and LOVED it! The general aching virtually disappeared for a precious few minutes and refreshed me for a bit. It was a small treat and it kept me goin’!
The real excitement came as we made the turn off of the Silverado Trail and headed into town. The road flattened out and the spectators were in full force. Throughout the race, we’d been hearing sideline supporters and other runners call out our running club name and acknowledging our home town, but at around mile 25 something surprising happened. Amby Burfoot, of Ruuner’s World fame, trotted by on the shoulder and yelled, “Go Chips”. It was totally random and pretty neat. The crowd support got louder and rowdier as we ran through a nice little neighborhood and approached the finish. When I saw that finish arch, every ounce of fatigue and discomfort melted away and I suddenly felt great! We both stepped on the gas and ran through the chute at the fastest pace of the whole race. It felt phenomenal!
It is now over a week later and I look back on that race with great fondness. It was a fantastic opportunity to see some of the beautiful Napa vineyards from a completely unique vantage point and enjoy the company of great people. Running the race conservatively allowed me to finish and feel good for a 50K the next weekend, so I have absolutely no regrets.
It was exactly what I wanted it to be.